No one is an expert on Libya’s rebels, and we haven’t a clue who the next leader of the country will be or how he will be chosen. (Libya is very much a man’s world so the next leader absolutely will be a he.) Even so, small indications about what to expect from the future government do bubble up once in a while.
The Chinese are trying to ingratiate themselves with Libya’s future leaders after opposing the assistance given them by the West, and they’re meeting resistance. “We don’t have a problem with western countries like the Italians, French and UK companies,” says a rebel official in charge of the Agoco oil firm. “But we may have some political issues with Russia, China and Brazil.”
Muammar Qaddafi has few real friends in the world, but thug regimes from Caracas to Moscow have been sticking up for him anyway. He isn’t exactly Moscow’s or Beijing’s man, but that’s how he is perceived.
The Muslim Brotherhood in next-door Egypt desperately wishes it was the other way around. I recently interviewed one of its leading officials, Esam El-Erian, in Cairo. He yelled at me and my colleague Armin Rosen for an hour. One of his phantasmagorical grievances is his accusation that Qaddafi is an American tool. “Qaddafi is your man,” he said. “Who protected Qaddafi’s military coup d’etat? Who protected him? You had all this military power. You could have stopped him. Who protects all the dictators of the Arab world? Your men are there everywhere, from the king of Morocco to the king of Bahrain.”
The handful of Egyptians who have paid exactly zero attention to what has been happening might find this plausible, but no one in Libya—no matter how badly they are informed—could possibly believe anything of the sort. The people I met there on my visit in 2005 understood perfectly well our government and their government were mutually hostile, that the United States was their tyrant’s nemesis, that no blame whatsoever could be heaped on the West for the daily oppression they suffered. Qaddafi’s sulfurous fulminations against the United States have been a constant longer than I’ve been alive. They likewise know perfectly well that the U.S. and NATO were instrumental in their liberation, that without us the Brother Leader of the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya would still be their master.
None of this means Libyans will emerge as pro-American as the Albanians, the Kurds or the Israelis. They probably won’t. At this point, however, Russia and China need to worry much more than we do about being de-friended.