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Nicolas Sarkozy: The most popular man in Libya

Ryan Calder, former PhD student in sociology | March 30, 2011

There is no question who the most popular man in Libya is right now.

“I love Sarkozy!”

“Sarkozy mia mia!” (Mia mia means, literally, “100%.” It’s a common expression meaning “great.”)

“Sarkozy is number one.”

“Thank you Sarkozy! Also, thank you Obama. Thank you Cameron.”

There are French flags all over Benghazi’s central square. One was draped over the central Courthouse building until a few days ago — it was even larger than the rebel flag draped on the building. “Merci,” reads one sign.

One petroleum technician I spoke with in Ajdabiyah two days ago (March 27) said that the Libyan people want Nicolas Sarkozy to come to Libya and be their new leader. I’m not sure he speaks for all Libyans, but you get the picture.

Today, a rebel fighter in Ras Lanuf turned and pointed to his five comrades in the back of his pickup truck. “If it weren’t for Sarkozy,” he said, “all these guys would be dead. So would the people of Benghazi.”

The word “Sarkozy” has actually become shorthand for foreign air attacks on Qaddafi’s troops. Yesterday and the day before, there was great optimism on the rebel side as Coalition jets pounded Qaddafi’s forces, allowing the rebels to advance at lightning speed.

But today, when there seemed to be no foreign air support in the Sirt Plain, the rebels were forced to retreat. They don´t have the armaments to fight Qaddafi´s forces on an even playing field.

“Qaddafi’s forces have up-to-date artillery pieces that can fire 40 kilometers,” one rebel told me today. ”But this thing here,” he said, pointing to the light artillery piece in his truck, “is ancient. It’ll only fire five kilometers. Without Sarkozy, we can’t compete with Qaddafi’s technology. His militias will overrun us.”

Another rebel showed me the date and serial number on his Russian-made Kalashnikov. It was made in 1976. “They [Qaddafi’s troops] have better weapons: tanks, rockets, heavy artillery.”

Today, as the rebel line retreated from Wadi al-Ahmar (east of Sirt) to Al-Nawfaliyah to Bin Jawad in the absence of Coalition strikes, one rebel fighter looked at me and said,

Ma feesh Sarkozy al yawm. ¨”There was no Sarkozy today.” Meaning no air support.

Another asked: Wayn Sarkozy?

“Where’s Sarkozy?”

Cross posted from Ryan Calder’s blog, Revolutionology: Observations by a Sociologist in Libya.

Comments to “Nicolas Sarkozy: The most popular man in Libya

  1. Dear Professor Badt: Yes, I’m happy to speak. Please contact me at I’m currently in Tokyo.

    In reference to the other comments on this post: My post was by no means an endorsement of M. Sarkozy. It had nothing to do with my own opinion of the man who was president of France at the time. For what it’s worth, Sarkozy’s politics happen to be very far from my own. It was also not my commentary on French involvement in Libya, nor on foreign intervention in Iraq or anywhere else.

    I was reporting on the mood in Benghazi at the time I was writing, back in March 2011 — nothing more, nothing less.

    In retrospect, I can understand how some might have interpreted what I wrote above as my personal opinion about Sarkozy, since I did not offer in the post a countervailing position to the opinions of the Libyans I spoke with. But those who interpreted my writing thus were incorrect.

    It is also important to understand that a countervailing position was simply not evident in Benghazi at the time. On the streets of Benghazi, support for foreign air support for the opposition appeared unanimous and vociferous. Was that because it may have been dangerous, or at the very least seemingly unpatriotic, for a Libyan in Benghazi to voice a countervailing position publicly at that time? Perhaps. But on the other hand, given that Benghazi faced being swarmed by Gaddafi’s forces, I have no doubt that the overwhelming show of support for foreign air support was genuine.

    The larger moral questions, viewed from the global vantage point (whatever that is), are complex. In the case of Libya, did foreign intervention save lives and reduce the prospect of imminent civilian suffering? In the short term, probably. In the long term, it is too early to say. Does foreign intervention in any conflict have real human costs — costs measured in the lives of innocent people? Yes. I arrived at a hospital in Ajdabiyah shortly after the bodies of a family of nine killed by an errant NATO bomb strike were brought there; I am aware of this. Does the absence of foreign intervention — as in Rwanda, for example — also have such costs? Yes. Do decisions made in Paris, London, and Washington about foreign intervention depend not only humanitarian concerns, but very much on domestic election prospects as well? Of course; most policy decisions in liberal democracies do. Does foreign intervention in general, and did the NATO intervention in Libya specifically, touch on enormous questions of national sovereignty, the global imbalance of military might, and neo-imperialism? By all means. Are questions like these simple? Never.

    To those who limn history in Manichean terms: you run a fool’s errand.

  2. Dear Ryan Calder,

    I am a film professor in Paris, writing in the hopes that you might have a moment to offer an opinion on Bernard-Henri Levi’s involvement in Libya, for a piece I am writing for the Huffington Post.

    As a film journalist, I interviewed BHL at Cannes, about his documentary on his intervention in Libya. Since the political situation is so delicate, before I write my piece, I would prefer to have the opinion of experts in the field.

    Might you be so kind to speak by phone for a few minutes about your opinion on his intervention?

    If so, I would most appreciate and could call at your convenience.

    all my very best,

    Karin Badt
    University of Paris8

  3. Typical American perspective…a bit disapointing because I was expecting a student from Berkley can see and do something different.

  4. hi you are thank’s this peaple for what for the meserable life in iraq or this peaple dont loves arab’s whey you love him this is shame of you you arabic or because you speak from USA i want to tell you something the USA and FRANCE want arabs like blak peaple in the past and sorry for my bad english

  5. So now that Moussa Koussa has turned up on our doorstep what do we do with him ?
    Hand him over to the Scottish police ? remaind him of P C Yvonne Fletcher ? Remind him of the role he played in arming the IRA? Put him on trial ? send him back to Lybia ? Give him immunity ? Use Gaddafi’s frozen assets to fund his stay ? put him up in Gaddafi’s sons house here in London that is occupied by squatters? … Whatever we do it is going to make most people angry and question our involvement in this episode and arming the rebels is a very dangerous road to go down, didn’t we do that in Afganistan ? And look at our relationship with that part of the world now. Is Gaddafi going to become the next Idi Amin and see out his days in luxurious exile ?

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