The Libyan Revolutionaries

Who are they? What do they think of Western intervention?

Prominent revolutionaries at the rebel headquarters in the Benghazi courthouse include a veteran of the Afghan jihad against the Soviet Union, an unveiled female professor who sports black leather jackets, and a Libyan-American who likes to discuss French wines.

“Everything is still fresh. What we want is democracy, and once we have parties, everyone could express themselves,” says Salwa Bugaigis, a lawyer and a rebel spokeswoman. As for the uprising’s Islamist component, she adds, “As you can see,…I’m unveiled, I’m modern, and they respect me. If they were al Qaeda, they wouldn’t even look at me.”

The Libyan revolution’s slogan is “freedom,” not an Islamic state, and for its banner it adopted the red, black and green flag of the pro-American Libyan kingdom that Col. Gadhafi overthrew in 1969. The bearded face of Omar Mukhtar, the hero of Libya’s 1930s struggle against Italian colonialism, and his slogan, “We shall win or we shall die,” beams from thousands of Benghazi cars and storefronts.

Islamist and secular alike, Libyan rebels express their gratitude for the Western airstrikes, drawing a sharp distinction between the air campaign against Col. Gadhafi and the American entanglements in Iraq and Afghanistan. A handful of today’s Libyan revolutionaries fought American troops in those conflicts.

“When America occupied Afghanistan and Iraq, it spread corruption and killed innocents,” said Rafat Bakar, a thick-bearded revolutionary activist in the city of Baida. “A Western intervention in Libya would help us get rid of the tyrant and of injustice.”