A new day for Libya

A man holds a photo said to be A man holds a photo said to be the body of Moammar Gadhafi after announcement of the former leader's death in Tripoli, Libya (Oct. 20, 2011) Photo Credit: AP

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Libya, at last, is free of Moammar Gadhafi, the erratic tyrant whose 42-year reign culminated in his death yesterday as the last pockets of pro-Gadhafi resistance collapsed.

Like other Arab nations who've thrown off authoritiarian rule, Libya faces the difficult task of defining what it wants to be. It must form a stable democracy in a place where tribes have been the primary civic unit for centuries. It must put its oil wealth to use for the many rather than the few. It must create a society with rights for women and minorities. And it must build on its alliance with NATO, whose jets were essential in helping a popular uprising oust an entrenched despot.

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Unfortunately, Libya lacks the institutions that support democracy elsewhere. Islamists -- religious fundamentalists who were in the past suppressed by Gadhafi -- have played a leading role in the revolution, and while their leaders have insisted they want a pluralistic society, it's unclear if that's what Libya will become. Most of the nation's 6.6 million people are not very religious, nor is the population cohesive. Ethnic and tribal rivalries abound. Islamist activists, however, are among the most organized elements of society.

Western nations can have a positive influence in several ways, including by helping Libya get oil production back up to speed, and by releasing billions in frozen Libyan assets when the timing is right.

Building a free society will be painful. But ridding the world of Gadhafi is a blessing. hN

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