With ousted strongman Moammar Gadhafi dead, a Libyan student at Oklahoma State University is hopeful that he and his generation may now set about rebuilding his country.
Maher Eltarhoni, an OSU student from the eastern coastal city of Benghazi, said Thursday he thinks the country can now find peace after decades of oppression.
“The country will come to rest, to real rest,” Eltarhoni said.
Gadhafi was killed Thursday as revolutionary fighters overwhelmed his hometown of Sirte, a last stronghold of resistance.
Interim government officials said one of Gadhafi’s sons, his former national security adviser Muatassim, also was killed in Sirte, and another, one-time heir apparent Seif al-Islam, was wounded and captured.
The 69-year-old Gadhafi is the first leader to be killed in the Arab Spring wave of popular uprisings that swept the Middle East, demanding the end of autocratic rulers and the establishment of greater democracy. The movement has also toppled regimes in Tunisia and Egypt.
His death decisively ends a regime that had turned Libya into an international pariah and ran the oil-rich nation by the whim and brutality of its notoriously eccentric leader.
Eltarhoni said he learned about the news Thursday morning when he saw a story on Al Jazeera. He immediately called his family in Libya to make sure there hadn’t been some misunderstanding. There was no mistake, his family told him — Gadhafi was dead. Eltarhoni said he immediately knew what Gadhafi’s death meant for him personally.
“I can go home soon,” he said. “That was the first thing that ran through my head.”
Some days ago, Eltarhoni said, he saw a photo of a massive flag formed by stitched-together flags of France, Italy, the United Kingdom and the U.S., along with the Libyan flag — the red, black and green flag of post-Gadhafi Libya, rather than the solid green banner the country has used since 1977.
Eltarhoni said the image reminded him of the relationship between Libya and the West. NATO forces have played a key role in the Libyan revolution, providing air support for revolutionary fighters on the ground. As Libya begins to emerge from the ruins of the Gadhafi regime, Eltarhoni said, he hopes that relationship will continue.
As pleased as he is with Gadhafi’s demise, Eltarhoni said he’s disappointed the deposed dictator wasn’t given a fair trial. Putting Gadhafi on trial would have given the National Transitional Council, Libya’s interim government, an opportunity to increase its legitimacy in the eyes of the international community. With Gadhafi dead, he said, that opportunity has disappeared.
It was still unclear Friday morning exactly how and when Gadhafi died. Video on Arab television stations showed a crowd of fighters shoving and pulling the goateed, balding Gadhafi, with blood splattered on his face and soaking his shirt.
Gadhafi struggled against them, stumbling and shouting as the fighters pushed him onto the hood of a pickup truck. One fighter held him down, pressing on his thigh with a pair of shoes in a show of contempt.
Fighters propped him on the hood as they drove for several moments, apparently to parade him around in victory.
Later footage showed fighters rolling Gadhafi’s lifeless body over on the pavement, stripped to the waist and a pool of blood under his head. His body was then paraded on a car through Misrata, a nearby city that suffered a brutal siege by regime forces during the eight-month civil war that eventually ousted Gadhafi. Crowds in the streets cheered, “The blood of martyrs will not go in vain.”
Although he would have preferred to see him tried and sentenced, Eltarhoni said, he’s still pleased with the outcome. With Gadhafi gone, Eltarhoni said, he expects the few remaining resistance fighters will put down their arms. At that point, he said, the rebuilding process can begin.
“I’m so happy with what’s happening,” he said. “That just brings the whole tragedy to an end.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.