Escape from Libya

Posted: Monday, March 14, 2011

The last time we heard from my father was early in the morning of March 1, when he phoned my brother to tell him, “I’m about to be arrested.” My father, who called from my family’s house in Tripoli, urged my brother, who lives in Manchester, England, to look after the family and to continue fighting the Libyan regime, no matter what happened to him.

Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s regime had already arrested three of my brothers who still lived in Libya. Only my mother and two sisters remain free, at least for the moment.

Because I hold a British passport — I was born in the United Kingdom and lived there until 1989 — I managed to make my way out of Libya the day after my father’s arrest.

Life in Tripoli has become impossible, with the city a virtual ghost town. No one goes to work or school. People go out only to obtain the basic necessities. No one goes out after dark for any reason.

Looking back, it’s clear it was only a matter of time until my father, Abdul Rahman, an outspoken critic of the Gadhafi regime, would be arrested.

As soon as the uprising began, he began giving interviews on the BBC, Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya television, using his real name.

Of course, it was dangerous, but my father said he wasn’t afraid.

Once we learned of a plot to kill my father, we fled our home and sought shelter with friends scattered across the city.

But the regime has a lot of informants. Three of my brothers were tracked down almost immediately and jailed. We still do not know the charges they face or where they are being held.

My father knew that he was the regime’s real target. Once he heard that his sons had been arrested, he returned to our home and waited.

He didn’t have to wait long. We’re not sure exactly what happened, except that the authorities vandalized our home while making the arrest.

“I think you should leave,” my mother told me shortly after the arrest. “If you stay it will only make things worse.” So even thought it meant leaving my mother and sisters behind, the next day I boarded a ferry evacuating British citizens from Libya.

Now, I just wait. Wait for Gadhafi to fall. Wait for the international community to act.

I’m not sure what the international community is waiting for. Do they expect some magic figure to emerge? What number of Libyan lives must be sacrificed before foreign leaders decide to act? Those who worry about the possible outbreak of a civil war are mistaken. A civil war requires two big groups that fight one another because they want different things. That isn’t the case here.

Here it is just Gadhafi’s troops fighting against the people.

The only way that Gadhafi can hold onto power is if he kills 6.5 million Libyans. If that happens, then he is welcome to stay and rule over the Libyan desert.

• Sewehli works for an oil and gas company in Libya and provided this article to The Institute for War & Peace Reporting, a nonprofit organization that trains journalists in areas of conflict. Readers may write to the author at the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 48 Grays Inn Road, London WC1X 8LT, U.K.; Web site:

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