Germantown man spearheads anti- Gaddafi protests
Libyan family living in exile longs for homeland
As citizens of Libya are kept awake by bombs and gunfire, a Libyan-American family in Germantown also has sleepless nights.
Naeem Gheriany has not visited Libya since 1980, but he has been instrumental in organizing a Libyan-American response since the first stirrings of active protests this year against Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi. Gheriany's family is on edge; its members largely have been out of contact with relatives in Tripoli since the unrest began Feb. 15.
Gheriany's daughter, Fatima Abdurrahman, 17, described the family's roller coaster of emotions, as opposition forces have gained and lost control in Libyan cities.
"There are no words to explain the levels of hope we have and then the total hopelessness the complete despair," said Abdurrahman, a Watkins Mill High School senior. "We all want to go back. We feel like that is home."
Her father has helped Libyan-Americans organize a response in opposition to Gaddafi and in support of recognizing the Libyan Interim Transitional National Council as leaders of the anti-Gaddafi movement, according to Ibrahim Mohamed, chairman of the North American Libyans, an advocacy group that held an April 17 conference in Bethesda to organize Libyan movement abroad.
The conference brought together Libyans in the U.S. and Canada to declare the legitimacy of the anti-Gaddafi protestors, to recognize the Interim Transitional National Council as the leaders of the movement, and to create a systematic approach to supporting the protests abroad.
A chance to go home
Gheriany, a nuclear scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy, took about five weeks off work to help organize press conferences in Washington, D.C., on March 11 and April 18, and the North American Libyan conference last month in Bethesda.
Gheriany dedicated many hours and used his contacts, which are spread across the U.S., to help organize the events, Mohamed said.
More than 300 Libyans attended the March 11 event, Mohamed said. They talked about the revolution and decided the best way to respond to it.
They created three working groups: for media, political and humanitarian efforts, Mohamed said. They want the U.S. government to declare the legitimacy of the Libyan Interim Transitional National Council, as France has done, and also want Americans to be aware of the peril faced by Libyans under Gaddafi's regime, Gheriany said.
About 4,000 Libyans live in the U.S., said Mohamed Bugaighis, chairman and a founder of the American Libyan Freedom Alliance, a nonprofit organization established to promote democracy and human rights in Libya. There is no 2010 census data on Libyan-Americans, but there were about 5,300 in the country in 2000, according to census data.
Most of the U.S. Libyan population resides in the D.C. area and in Los Angeles, Bugaighis said.
There might be 400 to 500 Libyans in D.C. and parts of Northern Virginia, he said, but not many in Maryland. The Libyan population in Montgomery County is not known, according to Lily Qi, a community liaison in the Montgomery County executive's office.
Gheriany's voice quivered the night of April 17, after the conference.
"We needed to get people together and let them talk to each other, and hopefully create some synergy," he said.
Many who attended the conference have been living in exile, Mohamed said. If Ghaddafi is removed from power, they can go home. Mohamed and Gheriany are among them.
"That is why we are here," Mohamed said. "I have dreamt about this day since ... forever."
Gheriany and his wife, Mariam Eddeb, first came to the U.S. in the 1970s so he could attend graduate school. As a student, he became a leader in a group opposed to Gaddafi, who has been Libya's leader since 1969, and a member of the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, a revolutionary group that was established in Sudan to topple Gaddafi and establish a democracy in Libya.
After the National Front attempted to assassinate Gaddafi in 1984, the Libyan leader hunted down opposition groups. Members in Libya were jailed, executed or arrested, Gheriany said.
Because going back to Libya was too dangerous, the couple made a life in America, helping organize protests against Gaddafi whenever the Libyan leader made headlines.
Eddeb's eyes well with tears when she talks about her siblings and other relatives who are confined to their homes in Tripoli, surrounded by fighting. Resting while unrest tears their homeland apart is not possible, Eddeb said.
Abdurrahman, who will graduate this year, longs to be with her family in Libya. She has been there four times, traveling with her mother and four siblings. She would love for her father to be able to go with them.
Gheriany also wants to see his family, and would love to retire to his homeland. It could all happen if Gaddafi was gone.
"I have a lot of memories there," he said. "And I have been deprived from those memories."