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Home The Feuilleton of MilSan and MikWag Eman al-Obeidi and the el-Qaddafi Thieves

Eman al-Obeidi and the el-Qaddafi Thieves

Cowardice is the greatest sin.

Mikhail Bulgakov


At the Rixos Hotel, in the center of Tripoli, the 100 Journalists sat at breakfast, consuming their daily ration of propaganda.  A damsel in distress burst into the room and threw herself at their feet.  In slippers, a veil and a black robe, she came to tell them a story.  Her name was not Scheherazade and it was not a tale from A Thousand and One Nights, but she did hope that her story would keep her alive for at least another day.

The woman’s name was Eman.  The western chevaliers, who had sworn fealty to the truth and were telling it from Tripoli, were shocked by what they heard.

Eman had been travelling with her brother-in-law to Tripoli when she was stopped at a checkpoint and abducted by the Black Knights of el-Qaddafi.  She pulled up her skirt, exposing blood on her thigh, and shouted, “Look what Qaddafi did to me.”

She said that for two days fifteen men had raped her.  They bound her with rope, urinated and defecated on her, filmed her and swore at her.  “They violated my honor.”  The journalists saw bruises on her face and rope burns on her arms and ankles that attested to the truth of what she said.

That is all we know about the sadistic violation of Eman.  She only had a few minutes to tell her story before the Black Knights put a tablecloth over her head and abducted her once again, this time to the fortress of the evil Qaddafi himself.

Why did Eman go to the Rixos Hotel?  We may never know.  Perhaps she thought the journalists would save her.  Perhaps she was thinking of the stories that follow, the stories of people living in impossible circumstances who nevertheless stood up to evil — regular people, who risked their own lives, hopes, and dreams to protect the lives, hopes, and dreams of others.

It was Friday, March 25.


Sendler’s List

Irena Sendler was a Polish social worker who lived in Warsaw during the Nazi occupation of Poland. Irena hid her Jewish friends, fed them and gave them shelter. As an employee of the Social Welfare Department, she was allowed to enter the Jewish ghetto to check on the spread of typhus.  She smuggled Jewish children out of the ghetto in suitcases and ambulances and placed the children with Polish families. She fabricated hundreds of documents to help Jewish families.

Irena placed the names of the children she saved in jars, hoping that after the war she would be able to reunite them with their families.

The Gestapo arrested Irena before the war was over.  Tortured and humiliated, she was supposed to be hanged.  But the execution never happened.  Her life was spared, as were the lives of 2500 children whose names she saved in the glass jars.  She was not a bystander; Sendler stands out for having stood up.

There are many stories of courage from that time.  Some have never been told.  Some, like Irina’s, are not widely known.  And some, like Oskar Schindler’s, have been immortalized in film.  However, every such story is a shining example of courage.


Hotel Rwanda

Paul Rusesabagina's immortalized story takes place in Rwanda, during the genocide.  He saved a thousand lives.  Rusesabagina was Hutu, and his wife Tutsi.  When the killings started, Paul moved his family into the Hôtel des Mille Collines for safety.  Other families came to the hotel asking for help. As Paul himself said, he couldn’t turn them away.  He thought that they all would die; that the militias would come and kill him, his family, and everyone else.  The whole country smelled of dead bodies, he said, “We could hear a buzzing sound everywhere and realized it was the sound of flies as they swarmed on all the corpses. By God’s grace, all those who stayed with us, lived." 

Welcome to Sarajevo

Michael Nicholson was a British journalist for ITN stationed in Sarajevo when the Serbs were slaughtering the civilian population.  Nicholson evacuated 200 orphans on buses from a bombarded building.  He saved their lives, and the life of a young girl named Natasha who had been abandoned by her mother in an orphanage.  Nicholson wrote Natasha’s name onto his own passport and brazened his way through border control with her.  The film is called Welcome to Sarajevo.


Welcome to Tripoli

Welcome to Tripoli? No, dear reader, there will never be a book or a film by that name, nor will there be a Hotel Rixos.  If anyone tells you otherwise, cut out his lying tongue!

According to the journalists, Eman’s appearance at Rixos triggered a scuffle.  At first, the hotel staff tried to calm her down.  Then the newsmen tried to intervene.  But then the scene at the Rixos transformed like in a chapter from Sinbad the Sailor.  The personnel of the hotel turned into secret police.  A member of the hotel's kitchen staff drew a knife.  "Traitor!" he shouted.  Another staffer tried to throw a dark tablecloth over her head.  A government “minder” pulled out a pistol.  Journalists snatched pictures and turned on their recorders as they raced to get an exclusive. The secret police dragged Eman into a car.  Eman’s last words were: "If you don't see me tomorrow, then that's it."

Afterwards, the journalists said that the woman seemed honest and sincere although they had at first wondered about her sanity and whether she spoke the truth.  One said they did what they could to protect her.  It was a fight they were “certain to lose” and that “at the end, there was nothing else they could do.”  Some lost equipment, a few were kicked, others stood by.

The 100 had been living in fear since they arrived in Tripoli.  Their brethren had been abducted and beaten.  Ali Hassan Al Jaber, a cameraman for Al Jazeera, had been murdered. Although they outnumbered the secret police and waiters, they did not disarm the man with a pistol, they did not disarm the women with knives, they did not spirit Eman away into hiding, and they didn’t even get Eman’s story.

The journalists watched her go, scared and sorry, excuse the expression, like mice in a trap.  Bystanders, they did so little to stop the evil.  But they have footage of it.

On March 26, a Qaddafi spokesperson said that Eman was a prostitute and that she was either insane or drunk.  A few days later, spokesperson Ibrahim Moussa said that Eman is "fine, she's healthy, she's free with her family."  Then she was charged with false accusation of rape.  Then a spokesman said that a few female reporters would “hopefully” be permitted to speak with Eman.”

Eman’s brother-in-law said that her family had been offered money if Eman changed her story.  Her mother responded, ”I stand by my daughter.  So does the entire family and tribe.” Eman’s father said to reporters, "We are just like the rest of you.  We are glued to the TV hoping that we will hear something about her. God willing she will be alive and safe"

Eman’s mother said that when Eman was a girl of nine, she dreamed of becoming a journalist.  But freedom of speech is not in the Green Book of Gaddafi.  So, Eman became a lawyer.  At age 29, she became a victim of a madman’s apparatus and screamed out her story to the world, to her dreamed-to-be-fellow journalists, whose courage, she thought, she shared.

Why did the journalists from the lands of the free and the homes of the brave allow this to happen?  Yes, they are in a war zone, under close governmental watch and they have to protect the equipment and come back alive.  But they could have acted together in the name of that which is right and noble.  They could have saved at least one life.  In the worst case, a few of them might have died in the name of justice; the rest would have been expelled.

Then there would be heroes whose names would be worth remembering and a story worthy of the telling.


No Fairy Tale Ending

The tale of Eman is an ancient story retold in a modern setting.  The old: a brutal tyrant and his men versus an innocent woman.  The new: tanks, the U.N., secret police, propagandists, journalists… But where is the heroic man?   Is the new twist that the hero is a woman?  It’s true, but far from new.  A slave girl named Morgiana was the hero of one of the ancient tales, the one named after her master Ali Baba.  Through intellect and cunning, she thwarted Cogia Hassan, the leader of the 40 thieves.  Dispatched him with a dagger, and in so doing won her freedom.

We may never know whether Eman was as cunning as Morgiana.  Perhaps Eman saw that she could thwart el-Qaddafi: irregardless of whether the journalist–chevaliers would act chivalrously and protect her, they would certainly tell her story and in so doing inspire the freedom fighters and the timorous world to bring down el-Qaddafi and the murderous thieves.  A gang whose singular goal was to protect the treasure of oil and gold stolen from the Libyan people.

Only time will tell whether this story has a fairy tale ending.  For those who can’t fall asleep without one:  Attorney Eman Al-Obeida’s defiance is the dagger that brings down el-Qaddafi.  She lives to see this day, and while exiting the Fortress Bab Aziza, she turns and utters the magic words:

“Close, sesame!”