The reported death of former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who has been in hiding since rebels seized his government headquarters in Tripoli in August, offers hope that the country's worst fear, a devastating counter-insurgency, will not be realized.
Gaddafi was killed after rebel forces stormed his hometown of Sirte, where the last reinforcements of Gaddafi-loyal troops were hiding out, according to multiple reports. An official of Libya's transitional government, the National Transitional Council, has informed the U.S. government of the killing, the Associated Press reported.
Gaddafi's death suggests that the violent revolution may come to a close without spiraling into all out civil war or an Iraqi-style insurgency, but many issues surrounding Libya's future remain unsolved.
A few weeks ago, a top NATO commander told reporters that even with the possible fall of Sirte, the NATO mission would not cease until Gaddafi and his last remaining organized holdouts were captured or killed.
"When the ferocious beast is cornered, she will fight until the end," Adm. Giampaolo Di Paola, head of the NATO military committee, told Agence France Presse.
NTC forces captured Bani Walid, the other major city still held by Gaddafi forces, earlier this week.
On Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a surprise visit to the liberated Libyan capital of Tripoli, where she met with students and with American embassy personnel to discuss the promise of the post-Gaddafi era.
"We don’t know where he is, but we hope he can be captured or killed soon so that you don’t have to fear him any longer, and then you have to move forward," Clinton said during a town hall meeting at Tripoli University.
But Clinton also acknowledged that even without an armed insurgency, Libya faces major challenges in bringing together the many different factions and tribes who have had little in common prior to the uprising this year.
"One of the problems you will face is how to reconcile different people, how you will bring people into a new Libya and not spend your time trying to settle scores from the past," she said. "How do you overcome all of those terrible experiences and feelings and stay focused on the future? That will be a hard task for Libya. But I know you can do it."
As Foreign Policy's Blake Hounshell pointed out in a tweet Thursday, the appearance on television of rebel commander Abdel Hakim Belhaj to announce Gaddafi's death -- rather than the TNC's appointed leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil -- suggests an ongoing struggle for legitimacy among the new leadership.
Belhaj is a former Islamist militant, once detained by Libyan authorities at the behest of the CIA, who helped lead the rebel army to victory. His prominence and reputation in Libya poses a significant challenge to the Western supported TNC leadership, who largely derive their constituency from the isolated Eastern provinces of the country.
Libya's transitional leaders have pledged to hold elections within 18 months of the fall of Tripoli, and the elections' first stages could take place as soon as early 2012.
Gaddafi's demise comes at a fateful moment for the revolutions that have swept North Africa and the Arab world: In just a few days, the people of Tunisia, where the first dictatorship fell back in February, will take to the polls for their first democratic election.
But as the experience of Egypt has shown, the end of a brutal regime hardly means a seamless transition to democratic peace and prosperity.
Earlier this month, members of Egypt's temporary military regime, who have repeatedly postponed plans to fully deliver power to civilian authorities, brutally crushed a demonstration by minority Coptic Christians who were protesting repression of minorities by the authorities, killing two dozen civilians.