‘When I heard that Qaddafi was killed,” says Abdul, who’s from Lebanon and doesn’t want his real name used, “I had to laugh because not too long ago he was calling his people cowards, rats. And it turns out that he ended up running like a rat, hiding in a ditch. If he’d had any decency or pride in him, he’d have shot himself. I think he should have had the courage to either fight or kill himself before he got to that point.”
It’s ten o’clock on Friday night. I’m sitting in the dank light of the sidewalk outside the Med Cafe downtown, a gathering place for Middle Eastern men.
Guys around me play noisy cards, smoke hookahs, talk about the double-whammy news that hit last week: the killing of Muammar Qaddafi in Libya and the final pullout of U.S. military personnel from Iraq.
Two days, two wars ended.
Time to celebrate? Or recalibrate?
Muneer Bakhsh is worrying about the spreading revolution reaching his country, Saudi Arabia.
“Everybody’s worried. The whole regime is watching what’s going around, and your neighboring countries collapsing, and the rulers are getting killed. So it’s definitely bringing some tension back home.”
Bakhsh, who’s an aerospace engineer with Goodrich, was in Saudi Arabia in September to see his mom in the holy city of Medina. The atmosphere had changed, he says.
“But we don’t think citizens will revolt in Saudi,” he says, “because our king provides us [citizens] with a lot of the necessities that the Libyans and the Syrians and the Egyptians and the other Arabian nations do not have. [The royal family] shares the wealth. They paid for my scholarship here, they paid for all my education. And I’m a basic Saudi citizen. I’m not a prince. My dad was a mechanic in Medina. If they were tyrants, they wouldn’t want us educated. I think there are over 30,000 scholars from Saudi studying in the U.S. So we’re not going to say, ‘We don’t like our rulers,’ as they have been doing in other Arab countries.”
Tom Alkas, a Chaldean Christian who comes from Iraq, doesn’t think the end of the war in his country is a reason for celebration. He runs the Babylon Restaurant in El Cajon. “The war was 100 percent wrong. It was a mistake to send troops from the beginning. What they were expecting didn’t happen. Everybody in Iraq didn’t support them. And all those troops to get one person, Saddam? A lot of troops suffered. A lot of troops died. A lot of money spent. I’m sure it was a mistake.”
“For American people, the withdrawal, it is good,” says his wife, Athila. “Because they are going to be home for Christmas. They are going to be very happy. For the Iraqi people…I’m not sure.”
“Bad idea, bad idea!” says George Kharat, another Iraqi Chaldean. “Everybody’s going to kill each other back home. It’s going to be like a religious war. When the Americans leave, all Iraqis will fight each other.
“And all the revolutions? I don’t like to watch those because it’s only technique. Mr. Qaddafi, he was old. Mubarak of Egypt, he’s old. They were on their way out, anyway. So what the [Islamists] did was, to show the people around the world that these people wanted revolution. But who is under that? It’s the Muslim organization. So they can control the Arabic countries, as a Muslim country. Why is Al Qaeda around Saudi and Yemen? Because these two countries support Al Qaeda from under the table 100 percent. They started with Tunis. They came up to Libya, they came up to Yemen. Now they’re starting with Syria, Jordan, Saudi…the Islamists are pumping these revolutions so they get influence in all these countries. Believe me.”
“The Arab Spring?” says John, a distinguished-looking retired mechanical engineer from Iraq, who is also Chaldean. “Not good. In Tunisia, they had a very good government! Now the people are getting stricter Islamic law. After Qaddafi, just like Tunisia, Libya will have more Islamic law because the people who have helped these revolutions will rise to the top and force strict laws according to more radical Islam.”
By phone, I talk to a Libyan American in Solana Beach. Mase Mansori, 25, works in his dad’s store, which specializes in ceramics and light fixtures from North Africa.
“Dad was so upset that he wasn’t back there in Libya to fight with his people,” Mansori says. “But he’s got business to attend to. Family didn’t want to let him go. But it means a lot to him. [The family had] a big role when Qaddafi took over 40 years ago. Because Dad comes from a very well off family, the Mansoris. His father was very big in the oil and in the military and as a teacher-educator. He had car dealers, grocery stores, so many different businesses.
“Qaddafi turned Libya into this third world country and took everything from everyone. We had interests in oil. He tells our family, ‘Oil is mine now. But you can keep one of your stores, and you’ll pay me for the [privilege].’”
Mansori’s father and other family members left Libya after the revolution. “The parents stayed, the older ones, because of their home and roots. But actually, over the years, things changed, and things [eased up a bit] because Qaddafi’s own kids were a little more…in college and growing up, and, ‘Dad, you know, we need to be a bit more business-savvy with things.’ Things were improving, but the Egyptian revolution came along and inspired our boys to rise up and fight.”
Mansori says he believes that Libya can be a tourist destination again. “Come on, it’s in our [Marine Corps hymn]: ‘From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli.’
“It was a beautiful place in my dad’s time. Qaddafi destroyed it. So it’s good to know it’s liberated now.”