Muammar al-Qaddafi is dead, dragged out of a sewer like a rodent by revolutionaries he had once derided as "rats."
In so doing, Libyans have finally closed a chapter in their history that began on Sept. 1, 1969, when the late strongman took power in a military coup, proclaiming a Nasserite republic dedicated to "Freedom, Socialism, and [Arab] Unity."
In the end, for all Qaddafi's pretensions of ideological revolution and professed commitment to ruling on behalf of a people who loved him, his regime had become an old-fashioned family dictatorship, with key security posts doled out to his sons and trusted loyalists. Now that he's dead, Libyans have been given a double-edged sword: a chance to create a new political order from scratch.
Unlike in Tunisia and Egypt, where remnants of the old system still cling to power, the power bases of the former Libyan regime have been totally eroded. Don't be fooled by the fact that many of the transitional government's top officials filled ministerial positions under Qaddafi. The old social forces they used to serve have been entirely decimated by eight months of conflict.
Interestingly, it's hardly the first time Libya has gone through such a radical transformation. Although it had its origins in a standard military coup d'etat, Qaddafi's 1969 Libyan "revolution" actually represented a social upheaval in ways that Tunisian independence from France or Gamal Abdel Nasser's 1952 coup in Egypt did not. Going back further still, Libya's experience with Italian settler colonialism was far more invasive and destructive than anything other Arab states experienced in the 20th century. Even the settler colonialisms in Algeria and Palestine pale in comparison to the fascist policies that successfully uprooted the preexisting civil society and divided Libyans against each other.
For all these reasons, functioning national bureaucratic and civil institutions simply do not exist in Libya. Tunisians and Egyptians have their armies, labor unions, and a strong sense of national identity that supersedes local identities. In Libya, truly national institutions and a truly national discourse have never arisen -- Libyans see themselves as Tripolitans, Misratans, Benghazians, or Zintanis first. Yet, paradoxically, Libyans desperately crave national unity, as the fervent embrace of the pre-Qaddafi Senussi flag -- even outside of its original home in Cyrenaica (eastern Libya) -- amply demonstrates. Libya's revolution, with the exception of the regime's tribal strongholds like Bani Walid and Sirte, was a truly nationwide grassroots movement.