With inspiring determination and grit, Libyan citizens literally are putting their lives on the line in an effort to topple their longtime dictator, Moammar Gadhafi.
While Gadhafi, 69, came to power in a bloodless coup four decades ago, he turned against his own countrymen with a vengeance over the last week — culminating in the slaughter of hundreds of civilians continuing into this week.
The chilling prediction by one of Gadhafi's sons that the streets would "run with blood" reportedly became all too true within moments of the speech Monday, as armed government mercenaries turned automatic weapons on crowds of protesters.
Further reports of Gadhafi loyalists commandeering ambulances to cruise the streets of Tripoli and shoot civilians show just how much the situation has unraveled. Only in its savagery, though, does the Libyan turmoil differ from the heroic struggles of Egypt's people — 300 of whom died in the process of toppling President Hosni Mubarak.
Mubarak's fall fanned the desire for freedom across the Middle East. But the push for more democratic institutions won't be easy, as evidenced by Libya's suffering. It's vital, therefore, that U.S. officials support the drive for democracy in any way possible.
Given the horrific events in Libya, certainly, there is no way back for Gadhafi. Despite his defiance in a rambling, largely incoherent speech Tuesday, in which he blamed everyone but himself for the slaughter of pro-democracy demonstrators, Gadhafi's only way to cling to power now is with brute force. About the only test of will worth seeing Gadhafi pass is his vow to "die as a martyr."
As in Egypt and Tunisia, the protesters' desperate desire for freedom is fueling the uprising. There are encouraging signs, as well, that Gadhafi's regime is crumbling from within — with divisions evident among police, the military, and tribal leaders who control some of the nation's vast wealth-producing oil reserves.
In the event Gadhafi is toppled, an immediate concern would be that — with little government structure in place — it's unclear who or what would follow the dictator. Then again, who wouldn't be an improvement over Gadhafi and his loyalists?
For Americans and others in the West, the instability in the oil-rich country certainly will hit home as oil prices continue to rise.
But that spike will be a price worth paying in the long run if Libyans and other Middle East citizens gain the chance to build a future founded upon freedom.
Guest editorials do not necessarily reflect Herald-Leader views.