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Young Rebels: What to watch for in Libya

30 March 2011

The decision by the Obama administration to commit U.S. resources in establishing Libya's No-Fly Zone as a means of protecting Libyan citizens from slaughter by Gadhafi's troops has prompted Americans to ask--who, exactly, are the citizens we are protecting? Ragui Assaad comments on Libya's rebels and considers the future of Libya in rebel hands. This piece was originally published in the Minnesota Post and is reposted here. The views expressed in this article are those of the published author.

"We welcome the fact that history is on the move in the Middle East and North Africa, and that young people are leading the way," President Obama said in his Libya speech on Monday night.

He gets no argument about his point that young people are leading the uprising against Libya's long-time dictator, Muammar Gadhafi.

The more pressing and divisive question as U.S. missiles pound Gadhafi's airplanes and armored tanks is where this new generation might lead a liberated Libya. Where is this history going?

Because of political isolation over the decades, experts outside the country know very little about Libya's young agents of change.

"Libya has been a bit of a black box for all of us who study the Middle East," said Professor Ragui Assaad of the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. "Whenever we do comparative work across the Middle East, Libya almost drops out for lack of data."

Assaad spent two recent years in Cairo working to document rising frustration among youth across the Arab world. Some of his findings are reported in the book "Generation in Waiting: the unfulfilled promise of young people in the Middle East." His reports also can be found on the website of the Middle East Youth Initiative, a project of the Brookings Institution and the Dubai School of Government.

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