Home/Daniel Larison/We Know Who The Rebels Are, And That’s The Problem

We Know Who The Rebels Are, And That’s The Problem

It’s being said that Younes was back at the Brega front when he was recalled to Benghazi yesterday for questioning, on suspicion, apparently, of betraying the rebels by maintaining links to Qaddafi. Younes was then apparently shot, along with a pair of his officers, and his body was burned; the corpses were dumped in the streets. The head of the Transitional National Council first said he had been assassinated by pro Qadaffi loyalists, but a rebel minister, Ali Tarhouni, later said that another rebel leader had confessed that his men, who had been sent to bring Younes to Benghazi, had killed him.

With someone like Younes—a man of no allegiances, or too many —anything was possible. For now, the question of identity that has hung over the anti-Qaddafi enterprise since its beginning has deepened considerably. Who are the rebels? ~John Lee Anderson

The question of identity is one that skeptics of the Libyan intervention have used to good effect (“how can we support a group we don’t know very well?”), but it is strange that the question keeps coming up. It’s not as if there is that much uncertainty about “who” they are any longer. They are mostly Libyans drawn from the ranks of traditional opponents of Gaddafi’s regime: Amazigh in the Nafusa mountains, merchants in Misrata, and tribes from Cyrenaica. They represent those parts of Libya that have been neglected or severely mistreated by the regime. Their numbers have been supplemented by defectors and opportunists, including Younes, and there are also former and current Libyan Islamic Fighting Group members and other Islamists fighting alongside them. According to one rebel minister, it was a band of Islamist fighters who were responsible for Younes’ death. Bruce Crumley explained:

Though Tarhouni used elusive wording in making the allegation, he suggested Younes had been killed by extremists within the rebel-allied Obaida Ibn Jarrah Brigade. The thesis is those militants hated Younes for having served Gaddafi so faithfully—including as the interior minister who implemented Gaddafi’s ruthless repression of Libyan Islamists he considered a threat.

Whether this specific charge is true or not, it has hardly been a secret that there were Islamists among the Libyan rebels. If war supporters acknowledged this, they have usually insisted that this was no problem at all. It has also been no secret that there have been divisions among rebel leaders. The TNC’s lack of effective control over rebels elsewhere in the country has been obvious for weeks, if not months, and the disorder and disorganization of the rebels have been on display since the fighting began. To ask who the rebels are at this point is to pretend that all of this comes as a new, disturbing revelation. This is how Jackson Diehl could write the following line without any trace of sarcasm (via Scoblete):

Until last Thursday, Libya was beginning to look like the relative good news in the troubled summer that has followed the Arab Spring.

Diehl continued:

Two senior members of the TNC touring Washington last week talked cheerily about their plans to stabilize the country after Gaddafi’s departure and quickly install a liberal democracy. “Libya is actually the easy case,” one veteran Washington democracy expert enthused to me after hearing them speak.

It is amazing that anyone could say that. Of all the political transitions in the region, Libya’s will be one of the most fraught and difficult. One can only hope that people in positions of authority don’t believe what this “democracy expert” is saying. It sounds just like the blithe indifference that accompanied claims that Iraq was a natural candidate for democratization, and it will likely have similarly unfortunate consequences.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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