Around August 1, the uprisings in the Middle East will confront an entirely new obstacle: the fasting month of Ramadan, when many Muslims refrain from eating or drinking from sunrise until sunset. What will the holy month mean for the civil war in Libya, the struggle between security forces and protesters in Syria, the political stalemate in Yemen, and the persistent calls for reform in Egypt?
Earlier this month, NATO said it would consider not bombing Libya during Ramadan if Muammar Qaddafi's forces also honored a ceasefire, perhaps in part, the AP speculated, because the alliance worried that bombing Tripoli during the month of peace, prayer, and reflection could "provoke a backlash in the Islamic world." France's foreign minister, however, later indicated that NATO's campaign would continue in August after representatives of Muslim countries told him that "there is no contradiction between the religious rules during the Ramadan period and the continuation of our military intervention."
Now, as AFP notes today, the Libyan rebels are asking France for arms to help them storm Tripoli within "days" as they ratchet up a "pre-Ramadan offensive" on all fronts. "During Ramadan, the endurance of even the hardiest volunteers will be tested by desert battle without food and water," AFP writes, especially as temperatures soar. Still, it's not clear how many fighters will actually fast. Last week, a rebel commander explained, in the words of The Washington Post, that "Islam permits fighters to forgo fasting during Ramadan in times of war." One rebel commander tells AFP that "if there is fighting during Ramadan, we will fight as usual. We will not stop until we have liberated Libya." A young rebel righter adds, "Ramadan is a good time to be a martyr."