How a daring band of anti-Qaddafi activists helped turn the tide in Tripoli
Special report: The small anti-Qaddafi Free Generation Movement took huge risks to raise rebel flag and post video of flash protests. The insights they gained in challenging the regime may help shape a new Libya.
(Page 2 of 4)
But it was at some of these very funerals and rallies, where crowds vowed to sacrifice their blood and souls for Qaddafi, that Mhani would show up, give a chant or two, and then make contact with foreign journalists who were present.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
As the war ground on early last summer, Mhani told the Monitor – on an encrypted Internet line connected to the world through a satellite dish stolen from the roof of a government ministry – that there was only one outcome if he were caught: execution. And that was before Qaddafi's agents broke into the inner circle of the FGM, raided their houses, interrogated family members, and imprisoned and tortured a key member for a month.
"We tried to be as careful and calculating as we could ... but there were times when we had to take risks," says Mhani. He left Wales last February for Libya as the uprising began, calling his hospital on his way to the airport. He was determined to play a role in his homeland.
'I saw people dying in front of me'
Mhani and the FGM were inspired by the success of people-power revolutions in two of Libya's neighbors, Tunisia and Egypt, and at first expected that a sit-in at Green Square would remove Qaddafi, Egypt-style. They recognized early on that Libya's path would be different.
"Very quickly, I experienced what happens when you try to go out on the street peacefully. I saw people dying in front of me, I saw security forces shooting at us," says Mhani. He went underground amid arrests, interrupted communications, and vigilant security forces.
"Every member of the Free Generation Movement was willing to die for the cause of the revolution," he says. "We were scared a lot of the time, but we didn't feel courageous. We felt like we were undertaking an obligation.... Fear was overridden by a sense a duty, a sense of passion."
What they would have died for was the outsized voice they gave to Qaddafi opponents in Tripoli. The FGM created 10 videos that came to be called "Voices of Tripoli," showing people speaking at well-known locales, to the camera, against the regime.
The videos were broadcast by Al Jazeera English, with faces disguised. The FGM also filmed a brief miniprotest that they staged on a public street. Al Jazeera English broadcast that footage, too, and its team was kicked out of Tripoli.
Such activities increasingly caught the attention of the regime and its informers.
"Trust was really difficult in Tripoli," says Mhani. "We were cautious, but we didn't fear the security apparatus. We didn't fear the [military]. We didn't fear the regime. We feared the informants."
At first, the FGM had a low assessment of the regime's security capabilities – an assessment they later revised upward. "We didn't feel the regime had the apparatus or were equipped enough and intelligent enough to track down our operations," he adds. "But we knew that at one point an informant might get the better of us, because we were on the streets; we were active."