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Analysis: Gadhafi's death a cautionary tale in troubled region, spurs Arab Spring activists
CAIRO (AP) ' Images of Moammar Gadhafi's bloodied body flashed on TV screens across the world may send shivers down the spines of Syria's Bashar Assad and Yemen's Ali Abdullah Saleh, two leaders clinging to power in the face of long-running Arab Spring uprisings.
For the millions of Arabs yearning for freedom, democracy and new leadership, the death of one of the region's most brutal dictators will likely inspire and invigorate the movement for change.
Gadhafi's death sent ripples across the Arab world and set the Internet's social networks abuzz with comments, mostly celebrating the demise of a leader whose bizarre and eccentric behavior over the years defined the woes of an Arab world mostly ruled by autocratic or despotic leaders.
"There is an emotional connection between the revolutionaries in the region. Hope is contagious," said Egyptian activist Mona Seif. "Our revolution is one. The fall of another tyrant is a victory for all of us," she said in a post on her Twitter account.
Gadhafi was shot dead in the final battle for his hometown of Sirte on Libya's Mediterranean coast. He had been in hiding for the two months since the capital of Tripoli fell to rebels who rose up against his 42-year rule in February.
The 69-year-old Gadhafi ' the first leader to be killed in the Arab Spring wave of popular uprisings ' had vowed to fight to the end. In his world of nationalism and desert valor, it was a fate better than the perceived humiliation of exile or incarceration endured by Tunisia's Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak.
But while the death of Gadhafi and the triumph of the uprising in his North African nation has instantly given heart to pro-reform activists dreaming of change, the Arab world will watch closely what happens next in Libya ' and to whether the region's "Assads" and "Salehs" will see in his fate an incentive to cling to power and crack down even harder on any sign of unrest.
"Winning the war in Libya is the easy part. Building democracy will be the tough part," said Ronald Bruce of St. John's College in Santa Fe, N.M. "It is going to be chaotic, but the Libyans will be up to the task."
Ominously, regional and ethnic differences have already surfaced in Libya. Another source of tension is the conflicting views of the country's Islamists and liberals about what post-Gadhafi Libya should look like.
On Thursday, Libyans set aside their worries and differences to celebrate, firing in the air and singing in the streets.
Similarly, most Egyptians were ecstatic when Hosni Mubarak stepped down in February after 29 years in office. But optimism and jubilation soon gave way to differences between the youth groups behind the 18-day uprising that forced the Egyptian leader out and the military council that took over the reins of power.
With the economy in tatters, crime significantly up, labor unrest spreading and almost daily street protests, Egyptians are far from certain about the future of their nation, even though some believe the worst may be behind them.
Gadhafi's death instantly resonated across Arab countries touched by the Arab Spring.
"This will signal the death of the idea that Arab leaders are invincible," said activist and blogger Hossam Hamalawi. "Mubarak is in a cage, Ben Ali ran away, and now Gadhafi killed. ... All this will bring down the red line that we can't get these guys."
On hearing the news, thousands staged jubilant demonstrations to celebrate Gadhafi's demise in Syria and Yemen, countries where months of massive street protests have yet to bring regime change.
Tens of thousands of Yemenis danced and sang in the streets of several cities in that Arabian Peninsula nation. Their celebration was met with violence when security forces loyal to the regime opened up with tear gas and live ammunition.
"Saleh must be feeling more isolated now after Gadhafi's death and feels the noose getting tighter around his neck," Yemeni analyst Ali al-Horeiby said of his nation's embattled leader. "His time is up."
Omar Idilbi of the Local Coordination Committees, which helps organize the demonstrations and documents human rights violations in Syria, said protesters in several Syrian cities chanted slogans congratulating the Libyans on Gadhafi's death but also stressing the movement's peaceful nature.
"There is more confidence now in the future of the Syrian revolution, confidence that popular will cannot be crushed. Many of the protesters tonight are saying that what happened to Gadhafi should be a lesson to Arab tyrants," he said.
In the tiny Gulf nation of Bahrain, the largest opposition group, Al Wefaq, said Gadhafi's death was "a very important message for all those who rule their people with an iron fist."
Al Wefaq led demonstrations and sit-ins by Bahrain's Shiite majority demanding greater rights from the nation's Sunni minority rulers. At least 35 people have been killed since the revolt began in February.
"Congratulations to the Libyan brothers on the fall of the arrogant, unjust ruler who murdered and antagonized his people and sowed divisions among them," Al Wefaq said.
Hendawi is the AP's bureau chief in Egypt. AP corespondents Sarah el Deeb in Cairo and Barbara Surk in Dubai contributed to this report.