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Libya: Now the Hard Part Starts

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GADDAFI

More than four decades after he seized power, and more than seven months after the civil war began that led to his ouster, Muammar al-Gaddafi is apparently dead, forever removed from Libya's politics.

Gaddafi's death alters but does not transform the situation in Libya. Fighting could still continue for some time, as forces loyal to the former leader may well continue to resist soldiers of Libya's transitional government.

More important, the struggle for Libya's future continues. It is one thing to oust a regime; it is something fundamentally different to install a viable entity in its place. History suggests there is a fair likelihood that those who joined to oppose Gaddafi will soon find themselves at odds over how best to organize and rule the country they have now inherited.

For just this reason, outsiders, and in particular those in Europe and the United States who have done so much militarily to help bring about political change in Libya, should not delude themselves that their task is in any way complete. Much needs to be done to help the new Libyan authorities work together, be it to impose and maintain order or to stand up a functioning economy and government. On-the-ground training and advice may be the most important assistance the West can now offer this oil-rich but developmentally stunted country.

Events in Libya will be viewed differently throughout the Middle East. Protesters will be encouraged by this latest demonstration of the potential for political change, although they are likely to underestimate how central a role was played by NATO airpower. For authoritarian leaders facing challenges from their streets, Libya will underscore the winner-take-all nature of Arab politics. This reality will lead regimes in Syria or Bahrain and possibly the transitional military-led council in Egypt as well -- to continue to do all they can to remain in power and defeat those who pose a threat to their rule.

This blog was originally posted on the Council on Foreign Relations website.