Such opposition to outside intervention is not aimed only at Western forces. Local jihadis appear equally fearful that if Western countries do enter the war, their global jihadi brothers might seek to turn the southern Mediterranean into their next theater. “We think we can do it ourselves without Osama bin Laden,” says Islamist leader Busidra, who is close to Libya’s jihadi groups. “Otherwise the rest of the world will be against us and join in, and it will be like the Spanish civil war.” Concerned about their own survival, he fears, military regimes in Algeria and Egypt could prop up the Qaddafi regime, not least with fresh supplies of mercenaries.
A no fly-zone would offer reassurance to the rebels, and further show those tribesmen still allied with the colonel on which side the world stands. But it would be unlikely to satisfy the fighters and the rebels’ diplomats, who are desperately soliciting arms and other reinforcements. “Why won’t America and Britain send us weapons via Egypt?” said a gunner heading away from the front to replenish his ammunition. “If we had missiles we would have been in Tripoli by now.”
A quick overthrow of Qaddafi might not guarantee stability either. The carve-up of spoils has yet to begin. In the past, the strongman dominated; but with a more consensual politics each faction will demand its share. Oil workers will likely form unions, the army will want its reward for switching sides, and the tribes seek royalties for using their land for drilling and piping oil. They all want a greater proportion of the wealth that Qaddafi hitherto kept for himself and his allies. If any of the constituencies is dissatisfied, a central authority is likely to be too weak to prevent them from resorting to force to further their claims. Thanks, after all, to their looted caches of weapons.
—March 10, 2011