Libyan anti-Gaddafi protests (R) 311.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah)
“Cut off the snake’s head – it’s the only way.”
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The words are jarring
coming from Mohamed Eljahmi, a soft-spoken software engineer living in
Cambridge, Massachusetts. But Eljahmi – a Libyan by birth who has spent the last
three decades in the United States – is also an activist, a role he inherited
from his brother Fathi, one of Libya’s most prominent dissidents until his death
in 2009 after five years in government custody.
Gaddafi: ‘My people love me'
“The only way is to cut
off the snake’s head, to remove Gaddafi,” Eljahmi says. Without foreign
intervention to bomb the strongman’s headquarters, he says, the opposition may
have little chance of removing Gaddafi from his Tripoli stronghold. “I don’t see
the rebels having enough power to overtake him, unless there is a large-scale
defection from the army.”
Eljahmi adds that he is inclined to believe a
Libyan human rights group’s estimate that forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi have
already killed 6,000 people in two and a half weeks of fighting.
mercenaries have had clear orders to shoot to kill, and not to leave bodies,”
Eljahmi adds. “A lot of people have disappeared.”
The Associated Press
reported on Tuesday that after pro- Gaddafi militia shot at protesters in the
western city of Tajoura, survivors said the bodies of slain protesters were
dumped on pickup trucks and taken away. Relatives told the AP that they were
searching for relatives to bury but could not find the bodies.
says officials in a hospital near Tripoli told him the bodies of Libyans killed
were quickly hidden from view lest they serve as evidence of Gaddafi’s
“I didn’t just hear it from regular people, I heard it from
hospital folks – doctors and nurses,” Eljahmi says. Medical staff told him that
they had heard gunfire in the street, but outside the hospital, “they found a
lot of blood in the middle of the street but no body.”
staff found a man dead in his car and another lying on the side of the road.
“The one on the side of the road, his head was blown out, his brain was next to
Medical staff told Eljahmi that forces loyal to Gaddafi did
everything possible to prevent the wounded from getting help. Last week, they
said, gunmen entered the hospital, fired in the air, then went to the blood bank
and destroyed the entire blood supply.
“These things are not reported in
the media,” Eljahmi says, noting that the incidents in question happened last
week when there were almost no foreign reporters in Libya.
he has very little contact with friends and family in Libya, though he
occasionally manages to speak with them by phone or voice-over-Internet
providers like Skype. “It’s very difficult,” he says. “Libyan security has
created a wall, a division between myself and my family because of my
brother. They threatened my family with harm should I ever contact
Fathi Eljahmi was imprisoned in 2002 for daring to tell a
government conference in Tripoli that real reform would require a constitution,
free speech and democracy. After a brief US-mediated release, he was imprisoned
again two years later for calling for democracy in a TV interview.
treatment for a medical condition during his five-year incarceration, he slipped
into a coma and died in a Jordanian hospital.
“My family endured a lot of
brutality at the hands of the Gaddafi regime, so I’m not surprised by the
violence in the country now,” Eljahmi says. “My feeling is that Gaddafi may
eventually be dislodged, but at what price? “Being an Arab, I feel sad for the
Arab people. Most Arabs are poor, they’re destitute and they live under brutal,
primitive, backward and corrupt regimes. There’s no good health care, no
educational system. A crisis is building up,” he says.
“The US and the
West, including Israel, have to accept that democracy will bring with it
uncertainty,” he says, acknowledging Western and Israeli fears of Islamist
takeovers in Libya and the wider region. “But that unpredictability, it is going
to be of a political, not a confrontational nature.”
Asked if he would
like to visit Israel, Eljahmi says, “Why not? I see that Tel Aviv is a
beautiful, clean city – it doesn’t even look like the Middle East! Israelis are
nice people – the only difference I have with Jews is that I’m not very fond of
This reporter can’t resist giving voice to the hackneyed
dream of every Israeli to scoop humous in once-hostile capitals: “One day you’ll
come eat humous in Tel Aviv, and we’ll do the same in Tripoli.”
likely, Eljahmi says. “We Libyans, we like couscous.”