As reports come in that CIA operatives are aiding Libyan rebels and Western leaders are considering arming them, the question of who Libya's revolutionary force actually is -- is worth answering. Juan Cole at Informed Comment makes the argument that the fears that the Libyan rebels are either al-Qaeda members, Hezbollah members, or other revolutionary ne'erdowells is likely false. However, that doesn't mean we shouldn't establish a sense of who and what the rebels represent.
Knowing thy allies should be as critical as knowing one's enemies, as the U.S. learned in supporting and arming Afghan rebels in the war against the Soviets in the 1980s. The BBC reports that Nato Operations Commander, Admiral James Stavridis, has said that there are "flickers" of al-Qaeda activity among the rebels, but overall there's a question mark in who these individuals are.
Jon Lee Anderson for The New Yorker writes on his take of who the opposition in Libya is:
Significant questions remain about the leaders of the rebellion: who they are, what their political ideas are, and what they would do if Qaddafi fell. [...] There is a Benghazi city council, and a Provisional National Council, headed by a bland but apparently honest former justice minister, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, who spends his time in Bayda, a hundred and twenty-five miles away. [...] The members are intellectuals, former dissidents, and businesspeople, many of them from old families that were prominent before Qaddafi came to power.
I'm not saying that we shouldn't support the overthrow of Gadhafi, but understanding the politics of those who wish to take his place is critical -- for Western dealings with them now and in the future.