Michael J. Totten is understandably cautious about Middle Eastern revolutions. So he interviewed someone who's on the ground in Benghazi about the situation in Libya:
Susanne Tarkowski Tempelhof is on the ground in Benghazi, Libya, working with the Shabakat Group which she says “has an extensive network in country amongst the transitional government, tribal chiefs, rebel forces, former Qaddafi officials, and the civilian populace.”
I don’t know her personally, but we have many friends and colleagues in common, people I trust more than anyone else in this business. So when I found out she was over there and had embedded, so to speak, with the anti-Qaddafi rebels, I had to ask her some questions that hardly anyone seems to have an answer to yet.
MJT: Who, exactly, are these rebels you’ve met? Are they democrats? Tribal leaders? Islamists? All of the above? What?
Susanne Tarkowski Tempelhof: The rebels I’ve met so far are mainly young, educated, middle class, urban people with a powerful wish for democracy.
If you look at the demographics in Libya, 82.6 percent of the people are literate, an estimated 88 percent live in cities—mostly in Benghazi and Tripoli—and about half the population is under the age of 15. So the young urban rebels in Benghazi may be fairly representative.
The tribes exist here, but they’re more of a cultural phenomenon than a political one. I don’t think anyone here imagines, or wants, the tribes stepping up to power, though this may differ somewhat between regions.
About the Islamists—there are radical elements amongst the rebels, to be sure, but they are a minority, and they’re all grateful to the West at the moment. You would be amazed to see the number of people around here waving Western flags and thanking the West, especially France. ...
That's certainly encouraging, and if you're like me you could probably use a little encouragement these days. I can't say whether this report is accurate, and nobody can say where this will all end up; but for whatever it's worth, there it is.
Barry Rubin explains why Western liberals need to be cautious about siding with the "rebels" they see on the news in the Middle East and North Africa; in this case, we're talking about Egypt:
Aside from well-meaning, hi-tech independents, the April 6 Movement was helped—or, if you wish, infiltrated--by four groups. Tagammu is Egypt’s leftist party with strong Marxist overtones. Three other organizations have their origins in apparently liberal groups. These are the al-Ghad party, led by former opposition presidential candidate, Ayman Nour; the Kifaya movement, and the National Association for Change led by Muhammad ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Nobel Peace Prize winner, and presidential candidate. ...
Go to the post for more details about these guys, and for a prediction about what Egypt will look like by the year's end. (Hint: Don't picture Sweden.)
Western allies of Middle Eastern reform were not wrong, and are not wrong, to stand in solidarity with those forces that truly represent the causes of individual liberty and democratic governance. But we must do so without illusions about how easy or quick the battle will be, and without being seduced by the fallacy that every enemy of the incumbent dictator is a friend of freedom.
In The Road to Fatima Gate, Michael Totten tells, in nineteen chapters, the story of how the March 14 protest movement in Lebanon was slowly but inexorably crushed by powers greater than itself. I spent a full day reading the book in one sitting; it's utterly captivating and impossible to put down. And while it is a sobering story, it is also ultimately a hopeful one.