The stunning videos of the brutal killing of the former Libyan leader, Muammar Qadhafi, that are ruling the cyberspace in the Arab world have interrupted the domestic debate regarding its future, in Tunisia that goes to the polls on Sunday.
Along with blooded images of Qadhafi's capture that have gone viral on the Internet, newspapers, in Arabic and French, the language of Tunisia's former colonial rulers, have splashed large pictures of the former ruler's lifeless body, with apparent wounds to the head.
Despite their deep animosity towards Qadhafi's authoritarian if not egocentric ways, many young Arab supporters here of the pro-democracy Arab Spring have criticised the summary execution. “We never liked Qadhafi who was a close friend of our own dictator Ben Ali. But if you believe in democracy and rule of law, then even Qadhafi deserved a fair trial,” says Nabil Mosbahi, who runs a computer store in downtown Tunis.
The outrage caused on account of the slaying of Qadhafi, who had been clearly captured alive, as shown by several videos, has continued to spread worldwide.
Responding to the circumstances of his death, which have decisively drawn closure to the era of the former Colonel's iron-fisted rule, but have raised serious questions about the commitment of his foes to democracy and human rights, the United Nations has called for an investigation. “Taken together, they [the images] were very disturbing,” Rupert Colville, spokesman for the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said. The Human Rights Council is already investigating killings, torture and other crimes in Libya, Mr. Colville said. He anticipated that Mr. Qadhafi's death will also be tagged to the ongoing investigation.
“It is a fundamental principle of international law that people accused of serious crimes should if possible be tried,” Mr. Colville observed. “Summary executions are strictly illegal. It is different if someone is killed in combat.”
Faced with a negative international response, TNC officials have postponed Qadhafi's burial, citing their inability to arrange for a secure location, and to allow for a probe into the former strongman's death. Al Jazeera is reporting that Qadhafi's body is being kept in cold storage in Misurata, Libya's third largest city. The Associated Press is quoting senior TNC member, Mohamed Sayeh as saying a “third party will come from outside of Libya to go through the paperwork" relating to Qadhafi's death. He added that the deposed Libyan leader, who had become a fugitive after Tripoli's fall in late August, would be given a private burial in accordance with Islamic principles.
As it heads for polls on Sunday, there is debate in Tunisia, the cradle of the Arab Spring, on the future of the region's uprisings, especially in Egypt, Yemen and Libya.
Qadhafi's killing has drawn attention to the question whether the culture of settling scores with primordial vengeance should prevail over demands for rule of law. But the former Libyan leader's death is not eclipsing the other arena of debate in Tunisia, regarding the role of Islam in post-revolutionary Arab societies. Many ask whether Turkey can provide the model where respect Islam is blended with constitutionalism and more culturally accommodative secularism.
Islamist theoretician and politician, Rachid Ghannouchi, whose Ennahda party is expected to do well in Sunday's poll has lauded the Turkish and Malaysian models of political Islam as worthy of inspiration, completely rejecting the violent extremism espoused by the Al-Qaeda. Questions have also been raised regarding maintenance of “stability” that has been taken up by rulers such as Yemen's Ali Abdullah Saleh, over the need for “creative destruction,” which allows pulling down old authoritarian institutions but, in equal measure, advocates the establishment of modern ones. On a more practical plane, the question of job-creation resonates resoundingly in Tunisia, as well as Egypt and Yemen, where many supporters have not joined the “revolution” because of an idealistic pursuit of civil liberties, but more on account of bread-and-butter issues.