(To be clear: This post has nothing to do with MY opinion of Nicolas Sarkozy. I am writing about Libyan public opinion in Benghazi. -Ryan)
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?