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Wednesday, 13 June, 2007

Libyan dissident :
The Koran And Democracy Rule Each Other Out

Libyan dissident: The Koran and democracy rule each other out

Martin Novák

Prague – The organizers of the conference "Democracy and Security: Core Values – Sound Policies," at Prague's Czernin Palace, where U.S. President George W. Bush will also speak today, intentionally invited several dissidents and opponents of dictatorships in the Middle East.

One of these is Libyan Mohamed Eljahmi. A critic of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, he had to escape his homeland, and for several years has lived in the United States.

He is one of the best-known personalities of the Libyan opposition, which is scattered in exile among numerous countries worldwide. His brother, Fathi, is a political prisoner in Libya. He is being held in solitary confinement, and relatives have had no news from him since last August.

"We only hope he is still alive," Mohamed Eljahmi told Aktuálně.cz during an interview at Prague's Hotel Savoy.

Qaddafi's era won't end immediately

Aktuálně.cz: Mr. Eljahmi, Muammar Qaddafi has ruled Libya for nearly 40 years, since 1969. Do you see any signs that that era could be coming to an end?

Mohamed Eljahmi: I don't think so. He's still the same, tough dictator. He still has everything firmly in his hands - all the institutions necessary to run a dictatorship. He is still relatively young (65 years old – ed.) I don't see any force that could displace him from power in the near future.

Aktuá In recent years relations between Libya and the western world have improved – mainly with Great Britain and the United States. The UN economic embargo is a thing of the past. Have the lives of most Libyans changed for the better?

Mohamed Eljahmi: I wouldn't say so. In Libya, a system is still in power that I would call Orwellian. It is similar to what George Orwell portrayed in his book 'Animal Farm.' He mainly wants people to be loyal to the regime. 10 to 20 % of Libyans work for the secret police and also take part in persecuting and spying on other inhabitants. The secret police are all-powerful. Nepotism and corruption have grown in the country to gigantic proportions. With its rapprochement with the West, the regime is only trying to close the door on its past crimes, on its terrorist acts.

The world isn't pressuring enough to set the Bulgarian [nurses] free

Aktuá Are you convinced that the regime in the end will just release the five Bulgarian nurses held for six years now and sentenced to death?

Mohamed Eljahmi: I hope so, but I'm not so sure about it. They're innocent. The entire process is founded on lies. Qaddafi is just using them as pressure for talks. He wants to exchange them for the terrorists who were convicted to life in prison for the airplane explosion over Lockerbie. The world should pressure Qaddafi more to let the nurses go. They've suffered enough.

Aktuá In recent years there has been talk of Muammar Qaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam, as a successor. He allegedly isn't against reforms and changes, and is more oriented to the West than his father. Could his strengthening influence mean a turn for the better for Libya?

Mohamed Eljahmi: I don't connect hope for positive changes with Saif al-Islam. He isn't very different from his father. He has a lot of influence, leads various foundations and charitable organizations, but nobody knows where they get their money from. He presents them as non-governmental organizations, but they're all absolutely non-transparent. Saif al-Islam belongs, I would say, to the brood of new Middle Eastern dictators who are the sons of dictators and are showing off an image of technocrats. For example, Bashar Assad in Syria or young Gamal Mubarak in Egypt are the same as Saif al-Islam. Saif al-Islam may speak and appear more cultured than his father Muammar; he dresses well, but the content remains the same.

Qaddafi considers himself a new prophet

Aktuá Reports have leaked out of Libya that Qaddafi is having a hard time with an Islamist opposition. That this has lead even to a rebellion or a tough fight in Benghazi in the east of the country. Qaddafi himself has expressed himself critically toward Osama bin Ladin and Al Qaeda.

Mohamed Eljahmi: Yes, it's true. The Islamists have carried out an assassination attempt on him in Benghazi. They tried to kill him. Qaddafi is now enforcing a collective punishment, which is common in Libya. When some individual or group from a certain town or region carries something like this out, the revenge is meted out on an entire city and its inhabitants. The regime has stopped giving money for infrastructure there, for schools or for health care. Qaddafi has used the incident and has started to present himself as an anti-Islamist, but this isn't true. On the contrary. He is using Islamist rhetoric and ideology for his own needs. Of course he is different than Osama bin Ladin. He speaks like a theologist and quotes the Prophet Mohammed. Qaddafi thinks that he is something like the reincarnation of Mohammed. He himself feels he is a new prophet.

Aktuá In the West, some people say that it is more risky or even impossible to bring about democracy in Islamic countries. They argue with the cases of Algeria and Iraq, where pluralistic elections were held, but everything ended in great bloodshed. What is your opinion? Is it realistic that Libya would become a democratic country? Or is there a specificity, a sort of Islamic democracy?

Islam democracy does not exist

Mohamed Eljahmi: As for Libya, many people who have tried to push for democratic ideas have been killed, imprisoned or forced to leave the country. Unfortunately, these people's programs never had a chance to materialize. The Arab world is missing the will for people of different opinions to coexist. The need to dominate is prevailing. Whose fault is this? Autocrats like Qaddafi and also theocrats. It will of course take a very long time until changes begin to take hold. But the West is responsible for this as well. It gave precedence in many countries to stability before freedom, and it has ended up badly. This led to September 11, for example. We need to break through barriers. The barriers that exist between people in the Middle East and people from other areas and cultures and were built by autocrats like Qaddafi.

I am skeptical of the concept of so-called Islamic democracy. Democracy can flower only in a secular state, where faith is a private matter for its inhabitants. You can't have a democratic system and at the same time have the Koran as your constitution. They rule each other out. A country's laws must be secular and enable the freedom of religious belief.

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