The tendency to nitpick at the credentials of opposition figures -- which is fair enough considering there are plenty of self-serving opportunists out there and the world is still reeling from Ahmed Chalabi's manipulations -- is something that increasingly bothers me about political discourse in this region. I was guilty of it myself in 2005 regarding Ayman Nour, a politician whose career I was familiar with long before he became the poster boy for the "Cairo Spring." I'd always recognized that Nour was a talented populist but saw him as ultimately second-rate and unlikely to appeal to Egypt's elite. Looking back, I regret not giving him more credit and that especially the Arabic media (not just the state-controlled part) did not give him more of a chance. He may have been far from perfect, but he had the courage of his convictions (or maybe ambitions, but does it matter?) and I look back and believe he achieved something quite unique: he campaigned against a practically all-powerful president and tried to challenge him as an equal. In essence, he called the bluff of Mubarak's pretense to open up the political scene and presidential race, and put all his effort in it. The 7% score he got in the elections, while perhaps apparently small, was actually quite an achievement. I think the regime knows this, hence the five-year sentence and horrible treatment he is receiving in prison.
The Middle East will not be able to have credible alternatives to the existing regimes unless we start putting some faith -- some suspension of disbelief -- in the leaders who try to emerge against them. If we go along with the press attacks on these figures, the campaigns of disinformation, and wait for a knight on a shining armor -- well, we might be waiting for a long time.