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What will follow Gaddafi in Libya and beyond?

Less than 24 hours after the death of Gaddafi, thousands of people have already committed predictions for the future of Libya to print and/or cyberspace. Some of those indulging in speculation are more informed than others, but the simple reality is that nobody knows what happens next.

Although I have visited the country, and have conducted numerous telephone interviews with people in Libya over recent months, I do not profess any special expertise. Instead of offering an opinion, I will restrict myself to posing some fairly basic questions.

The most obvious thing to ask is who will now control the Libyan state. The National Transitional Council has recognition from western governments, but that is not the same thing as recognition on the Libyan street.

Reports from the country suggest that there are other political forces on the ground, including city-based groupings that come from Benghazi, Misurata, Zentan and Tripoli and a number of smaller militias.

Pro-Gaddafi elements still exist, and are likely to demand a place in a future government. There are also the traditional tensions between Arabs and Berbers and between Islamists and secularists to factor into these equations.

Theoretically, all the ingredients are there for a protracted insurgency along the lines of what has been witnessed in Iraq. Many commentators argue that Libya’s terrain is not suited to guerrilla struggles, and insist that the country’s ethnic and ideological cleavages are not sufficient to spark chaos. I hope they are right.

There is also the issue of regional impact in a part of the world currently experiencing a wave of revolution. Gaddafi’s extrajudicial execution – probably a brutal example of cutting to the chase – was celebrated not just in Libya but in some of the more rebellious towns in Syria, too.

As Syrian protestors point out, the fate of dictators faced with Arab Spring uprisings seems intrinsically linked to their degree of cowardice. Tunisia’s Zine al Abedine Ben Ali skedaddled while the going was good, and is now holed up in Saudi Arabia. Who knows? Maybe they even gave him Idi Amin’s old villa.

Hosni Mubarak made a half-hearted fight of it until the Egyptian army forced his hand, and he is now in prison and on trial. Only Gaddafi went the whole nine yards, and paid the price for it. Bashar al Assad will no doubt be taking notes.

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