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What About the Rebels?

Question from one of our readers, "What about the rebels?"
Though I'm in agreement with most of what your statement says, like many people, I have questions about the nature of the rebels in this case, as contrasted to those in Egypt, for instance. I've seen reports that there is an Al Qaeda presence in their ranks, also opportunists sucking up to Western imperialism, especially some of the blokes claiming leadership who jumped off the Qadaffi government sinking ship. And who's this Libyan expatriate from Falls Church, VA? CIA?  I'm sure there are some decent elements although they all seem hopelessly disorganized.

Frank Brodhead responds (4/11/11)

Most everyone has questions about the rebels. Unlike the revolution in Egypt, where there was media access and, in a sense, time to get to know them, the rebels in Libya faced heavy military repression after just a few days, and there is now zero access to the rebels in most of Libya, especially Tripoli.

As in Egypt, Tunisia, and just about all revolutions, at this stage the rebels in Libya are a mixed bag, as Qaddafi has alienated huge numbers of people. As you note, in the east the rebels seem to include some radical Islamists, some military units that defected in the opening days of the fighting, and some former regime officials, including the former Interior minister, who is now the head of the eastern military.

Publicity about the Islamists and the former Qaddafi supporters, as well as former opposition person Khalifa Hifter who has been in living near Langley, Virginia for a decade or so and has returned and has been linked somehow with the CIA, has played an important role in discrediting the Libyan rebels, compared to e.g. the Egyptians. In particular, the presence of Islamists have been used by both people opposed to US intervention and by the Republicans in Congress as reasons not to support the uprising. The presence of CIA, etc. people in eastern Libya is also a cause for concern about the political direction of the revolution.

As the CPD statement says, we think that U.S./NATO intervention should be opposed and the rebels supported. As far as we can tell (a West Point report is part of this story), the Islamists have little power, we are talking about fewer than 100, and they have never had much support outside of one small city east of Benghazi. The former regime people and the defecting army units are unknowns in terms of politics, but as they have staked their lives on the success of the rebellion, they are at least for the moment on the same page as the rebels.

We think that when we think of "the rebels," we need to recall that the rebellion was originally strong across the whole country, not least in Tripoli, that many hundreds have been killed in the suppression of the rebellion in the western two-thirds of the country, and that a strong spirit of anti-government opposition still exists even in areas where police/military crackdown has put it out of sight. As in Egypt, a great many people in Libya are strongly motivated to get rid of their leader and government, in line with the spirit of the uprising across the Arab world.

As we see now in Egypt, the "revolution" is not over just because Mubarak is gone, and won't be over in Libya when as soon as Qadaffi is gone. In both cases, the mixed bag of rebels will have to fight it out to determine what direction their country will go in. This may take years; and during this time we think it's important, while opposing U.S. intervention, to remain supportive of the rebellion in general and of the progressives and radicals in the rebellion who want justice and freedom, but not U.S./NATO domination for their country.

Additional comment from Thomas Harrison and Joanne Landy, CPD Co-Directors:
If, however, there comes a time when the rebellion is decisively hijacked and controlled by reactionaries carrying out U.S. wishes then we would cease to support it. But thus far the situation seems fluid, and the uprising deserves our support.