Libyan academic fears future reprisal from Gaddafi’s regime
By: Kaitlin Kimont, Co-Editor-in-Chief
Before Makram Omar became a married man and a first-time father, he would have given up his life for his home country, Libya. But his priorities have now changed.
“My life is different now. Some people don’t care if they die because they care about their home, the good life and their country. I was like that, but I care about my life differently now,” Omar, 39, said.
On Feb. 17, conditions in Libya changed, along with Omar and his family’s future. That’s when the country was inspired by the pro-democracy uprisings across the Arab world.
Libya dissidents had planned on the “day of rage” for the major political protests to begin against dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s 42-year control over the government. The protests have became significant because of the callousness and violence that has been taken against protesters.
“We expected this to happen,” Omar said. “But no one can tell the future of how this will end.”
Libyan rebels, however, insist they will not take measures like those Gaddafi has chosen.
“We need justice, but we are not killers,” Omar said. “We are human, we believe in God and we are not terrorists. They are the ones killing children. They are butchers.”
Omar’s cousin was killed in the protests. His wife and children did not know for some time of his condition. Omar said that Gaddafi’s regime pays people off to not ask questions.
“We have no Libyan media; it’s Gaddafi media,” Omar said. “It’s like the Mafia. Everything is run by his family and everything is hidden.”
Omar and his wife, Nada Elfeirgani, 25, came to the United States last year on Nov. 7 so he could study English at Dominican through the English Learning Services (ELS) program. Later, he plans to earn a doctorate in political science, possibly from another institution.
In Libya, he received a master’s degree in political science from Garyounis University in Benghazi.
It was important for Omar to leave Libya and continue his studies when he did because he and his wife were expecting their first child, Omar Makram Omar, who is now 3 months old.
“I want to be useful to my country and I want my son to be proud of me,” Omar said. “I must feel like I am his hero.”
Coincidentally, Omar’s son was born on the day that longtime Tunisia President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was ousted out of power.
“This is my dictator,” Omar said, referring to his son. “He is the one that controls me.”
“When he cries, he won’t stop until he gets what he wants,” Elfeirgani said.
Omar and his family cannot return to Libya because Omar’s negative opinion of Gaddafi is known amongst government leaders.
“They kill for no reason; they kill because you have a different opinion,” he said. “But that is no reason to kill someone’s father, or for a wife to lose her husband.”
His family’s visa expires in October, but the state is trying to come up with an alternative plan for them. They are here through a student visa but they are trying to obtain a work visa that will allow Omar to be employed temporarily.
Unless Gaddafi is overthrown, they will not return to Libya.
“If we can’t stay in Chicago, we will go somewhere else,” Elfeirgani said. “Makram will either die or be in jail, and I won’t know anything and I will not sacrifice that.”
It was especially important for Omar’s wife to leave Libya when they did. In November, she was seven months pregnant.
“There is no food or medical care,” she said. “It is very hard to live there now [with a newborn]. We are lucky to be here now.”
Omar, his wife and his son have been living in Chicago for about five months and have assimilated some American traditions. Their neighbors had them over for their first Thanksgiving, and they celebrated Christmas and New Year’s together, too.
Only if the regime in Libya changes and a democracy is formed will Omar and his family will return home.
“We will come back to Libya. Our home is there and our family is there,” Elferigani said.