The Corner

Fathi El-Jahmi, R.I.P.

Fathi El-Jahmi, Libya’s leading dissident, passed away this early morning, his brother Mohamed informs us.

Mohamed has done yeoman’s work to keep Fathi’s case in the news. The tragic end to Fathi’s fight for democratic reform really is an indictment of the ease with which U.S. policymakers make promises and fail to follow through on commitments, and how poorly we treat our friends.

In 2004, Pres. George W. Bush cited Fathi’s release from prison as a sign that Libya was changing, but ignored his case when he was re-arrested 2 weeks later, apparently for the crime of granting an interview to the Voice of America. 

Libya’s foreign minister later signaled his disdain for Fathi and suggested that the State Department wasn’t too serious either. (That Assistant Secretary of State David Welch left the State Department and cashed in on his Libya contacts for business raises uncomfortable questions about how diplomats handle accounts when they are looking for a retirement post, but that’s nothing new). 

Fathi’s brother Mohamed met President Bush in June 2007 in Prague at a conference on democracy and dissent, and received a promise that both National Security Advisor Hadley and Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte would follow-up on the case; neither appear to have done so, however. Certainly, neither reported back. To his credit, then Sen. Joseph Biden was consistently responsive on Fathi’s case.

A month after the conference when almost every dissident who attended told me that they had received absolutely no follow-up from the administration and with Fathi’s case in mind, I penned this Wall Street Journal article on Bush’s broken promises. If only its conclusions had been proven wrong.

Mohamed, our thoughts are with you and your family. Fathi, rest in peace.

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Civil-Military Relations, and a senior editor of the Middle East Quarterly.

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