Analysis - Will Libya's rebels stay loyal to Western allies?
LONDON (Reuters) - NATO air power might have won Libya's war and ousted Muammar Gaddafi, but any expectations that might automatically usher in a nakedly pro-western government could prove wide of the mark.
It is still far from clear exactly who will emerge to rule a country that has known only Gaddafi's rule for four decades, and how much loyalty they might feel to their one-time allies.
But the coming months will almost certainly see a scramble for power and influence between desperate rebel elements and foreign states and firms for control and access to the country and its oil wealth.
The events of the so-called "Arab Spring" might have moved several countries closer to democracy, but they have also ousted rulers whose unpopularity was often in part linked to their closeness to the West.
New governments in the region know that they must be seen to walk their own path if they are to retain legitimacy.
Tripoli's new rulers, if they are to survive, will have to manage a heady range of competing interests and voices from tribal leaders to Islamist groups, multinational oil giants and the world's most powerful Western and emerging states.
"At the moment, there is something of a sense of euphoria in London, Paris and Washington and relief that they will not be stuck in a longer war as they were beginning to fear," said Rosemary Hollis, head of Middle Eastern policy studies at London's City University.
"But as the dust settles, the next age is that they will realise things may be rather more complicated."
Libya's rebels have already signalled reluctance to allow any permanent NATO troop presence -- although it is not clear whether any Western states would have wanted one anyway. But the real interest, as ever, will be in oil and money.
By Monday afternoon, with firefights still taking place on the streets of Tripoli, the post-war jockeying was clearly starting. China and Russia, until recently critics of Western action in support of the rebels, swiftly moved to recognise them as the legitimate government.
Meanwhile, Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi announced he would meet the rebel leader in Italy in the coming days -- seen as a relatively upfront bid to reclaim access for Italy's oil giant ENI.
ENI was the largest player in Gaddafi-era Libya, and has clear hopes of simply carrying on where it left off. Other firms including France's Total, Austria's OMV and Britain's BP will also be looking to return to their former assets and operations.
It took years for foreign governments and firms to negotiate access to Libya's resources with Gaddafi's regime in deals that were heavily criticised at the time for being untransparent and perhaps corrupt. Now they may be revisited.
PRO-FOREIGN, NOT PRO-WESTERN?
Wartime support may prove diplomatically helpful, but disagreements among the rebels and Western governments and firms could also spoil the party, perhaps giving an advantage to any new firms who wish to enter the fray.
"I would say any new government is going to be broadly pro-foreign investment but it would be a mistake to say it will be purely pro-Western simply because of the military support," said John Drake, a senior risk consultant for UK-based consultancy AKE, which advises several oil firms operating in the region.
"In fact, many on the rebel side have been exasperated at what they saw as a relative lack of military support. They wanted more money and arms and feel they didn't get it."
Some sources in the oil industry say rebels may have even asked individual oil companies directly for money and weaponry. With those pleas apparently left unanswered, it is unclear how keen the rebels will be to honour Gaddafi-era contracts.
But other oil industry experts say that if they want the oil flowing once again fast, they have no choice but to deal with the firms that ran key oil facilities under Gaddafi. Anything else, they say, would simply take too long.
"When a new government is installed... they will need money and the only way to do that is to get production onstream fast," said Stefano Casertano, senior fellow at German think-tank BIGS-Potsdam.org.
"To do that they will need ENI. (They) have not just the contracts but the geological know-how from working there for years. To get that would take a long time."
But in the longer run, he said the Italian firm -- regarded as one of the closest to Gaddafi's regime -- could easily find itself facing what he described as "a diplomatic-type attack" aimed at seizing or renegotiating its holdings.
REPEATING PAST MISTAKES?
Basic security could prove a larger and more immediate problem. Watching the rebels advance into Tripoli late on Sunday night, one oil executive told Reuters his primary concerns were that -- as in Iraq -- dictatorship might be followed by chaos.
"My only reservation is that it is too good to be true," he said. "This will be a country with no civil service, no institutions, no military, a need for reconciliation, or oil wealth to fight over and a tribal culture keen not to lose out."
Whilst some see the hand of Western intelligence agencies and special forces in helping ferment the Tripoli revolt, analysts say it may prove much harder for Western powers to control the shape of the aftermath.
To succeed and retain their access and avoid being blamed for any disasters, they will need to walk an uneasy line between influencing events and being seen to be too controlling.
The best outcome for the West, they say, would be for an independent Libya to find its own voice -- albeit hopefully one that did not challenge the West too directly on issues such as tackling Islamist militancy or support for Israel.
"From Iraq, we know that the first days, weeks and months are key for any long-term stability," said Daniel Korski, senior fellow at the European Council for Foreign Relations, a long-term supporter of the war and veteran of reconstruction efforts elsewhere.
"The West must be there to support an orderly transition, resist crowing... yet make clear to the rebels they must hold the standards they felt Gaddafi never met."
Speaking in Moscow, the head of the Russia-Libya Business Council Aram Shegunts told Reuters he believed Russian firms would be completely kicked out of Libya on the orders of NATO.
But some other analysts suggest such draconian action is unlikely. Particularly coming after the Iraq conflict, any such blatant attempt to favour Western firms might be seen as a sure sign the conflict was little more than a Western oil grab.
"It's going to be a difficult balance," said City University's Hollis. "For the moment, this looks new and promising but there's a real risk that we just end up repeating the mistakes of the past. As things stand, I'm not hopeful."
(Editing by Andrew Roche)
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