The Arab World's Reaction

Middle East
The World

FIVE years ago a furious mob in Libya's second city, Benghazi, torched the Italian consulate, the city's only European diplomatic mission, prompting police gunfire that killed ten people. The rioters' anger had been sparked when an Italian minister donned a T-shirt sporting a cartoon, originally printed in a Danish newspaper, that ridiculed the Prophet Muhammad.

But xenophobia had long simmered in the city.   Today Benghazi's rebellious citizens cheerfully fly the French tricolor, in recognition of France's crucial, just-in-time dispatch of warplanes to save the city from recapture by forces loyal to Libya's embattled leader, Muammar Qaddafi. When their revolt began last month, many rebel leaders had bridled at the thought of Western intervention. Now they unanimously welcome the no-fly zone, and pray it may extend to tactical support for their ragtag forces on the ground. The fast-spreading Arab spring has similarly upended many other givens in the region's politics.

Old alliances have foundered and new ones are emerging as governments grapple with, or are overcome by, forces of change. Leaders have been compelled not merely to pay lip service to their peoples' demands, but to respond to them. The regional order, always fragile, is now also fluid.

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