Libya: The Dictator Has Fallen! Long Live [Fill in the Blank]!

As NATO jets bombed the military positions of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, the watching rebels cheered, “Allah Akhbar!” Now that is a common Muslim expression, not just used by Islamists, and yet there is something symbolic about it. Allah did not bring the rebels victory, the United States and Europe did. Nevertheless, Allah will get the credit.

And that means the triumph will be attributed to the rebels’ piety rather than the West’s warplanes. In political terms, Islamism is likely to be more attractive than a pro-Western stance. But that doesn't mean Libya will be an Islamist state; it merely means it won't be a democratic, pro-Western one.

Of course, the key factor here is that nobody, including the Libyans, knows what’s going to happen there. There are multiple factors: regional (eastern versus western Libya); ethnic (Berbers and Arabs); ideological; factional; personal; and recent defectors from Gaddafi’s regime versus rebels. The stakes in loot and oil money are high.

There has been no change in Libya’s social make-up. The rebels have looted, burned, and killed civilians, with a special animus toward black Africans, a group identified with Gaddafi’s regime by the rebels.

Thus, the prospects for violence and internal disorder are tremendous.

Of course, Gaddafi is one of the world’s worst dictators. The same, albeit with somewhat less justice, was said of the shah of Iran and President Mubarak of Egypt. With equal justice it was said of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. The determinant of how things will work out, however, does not depend on the evilness of the dictator but the goodness — in competence, unity, tolerance, and moderation — of those who overthrew him.

Certainly, I’d like to see Libya as a happy, democratic, prospering country. But one has to analyze the facts. There is no reason to believe in a great outcome. At best, a regime might come into existence that maintains stability, reduces repression, and spends some of the oil income for the benefit of its people.