He didn’t lose the battle:
Remembering Mohamed Nabbous
Pioneering independent Libyan journalist Mohamed Nabbous died four years ago today. Reported.ly’s Andy Carvin offers this remembrance.
I THINK I’D GOTTEN four hours of sleep. Or maybe five. But I had no right to complain.
Earlier that day, during the first hours of March 19, 2011, I’d been glued to the livestream of Mohamed Nabbous, the young Libyan entrepreneur who had become an Internet sensation for his riveting accounts of the first weeks of Libya’s revolution. With help from some friends, he’d rigged an Internet connection during the earliest days of fighting in Benghazi, streaming footage from multiple camera angles like a security television monitor. Within a month, he’d become the online face of the revolution. And now he was bracing for an attack of horrifying proportions.
Initial successes by Libyan rebels in late February had mobilized much of the country in support of the cause. In recent days, though, all was chaos, as panicked forces were pushed back by Gaddafi’s forces from one town to the next, until they’d reached Ajdabiya, due south of Benghazi. And Gaddafi was promising to raze Benghazi once his troops got there.
Mo hadn’t always been in support of international intervention. Like so many other supporters of the revolution, he insisted that Libyans had started the uprising against Gaddafi on their own, and they would end it on their own, too. But as pro-government forces advanced toward Benghazi, Mo began to plead for international assistance — they just didn’t have the firepower to win on their own.
While politicians debated the fate of Libya, Mo was extremely anxious, as was clear as he began his livestream during the early morning hours of March 19:
Hello? Sound check, sound check, sound check.
I would like to say that I think we are being bombed right now.
Mo and his pregnant wife Samra lived on the southern outskirts of the city. Gaddafi’s advancing forces would reach them first — and now Mo could hear explosions in the distance, rattling the windows of his apartment.
It’s shaking the windows in here. Oh my God. This is loud. I wish I had a very super mic for you to hear. I’m gonna call the guys again. Hang on a second….
This was about 10 bombs right now, in turns, you know? While I’m talking to you right now…. There it is again.
OK, the windows are really shaking right now. And that’s again. When I say “that’s again,” that’s bombing.
Allahu akbar, allahu akbar, allahu akbar….
The explosions continued.
La illaha illahallah, allahu akbar. There’s — that’s another one. That’s another one. That’s another one. That’s another one. That’s another one.
I’m not kidding. I’m not — that’s another one. I’m not making this up, people — so many bombing is happening right now.
In the chatroom of Mo’s livestream account, people were urging him to evacuate. “Mo, get out,” one person said. He was furious.
Get out?!? Go where?!? Don’t tell me to go out. Get out? Go where? I have nowhere to go, this is my city. It’s not going to matter anymore! It’s not gonna matter.
Within a few moments, Mo’s mood had changed. He wait inside any longer; he needed to report from the field.
OK, it’s really getting closer. I’ll get dressed.
OVER THE COURSE OF THE NEXT HOUR, Mo drove around southern Benghazi, one hand on the wheel, another holding a camera, his phone balancing in his lap. The phone allowed him to continue livestreaming, as his wife listened to his call and relayed the audio to the rest of the world. Whatever footage he was recording would have to be uploaded later. Even without visuals, though, I was riveted to his livestream, fearing that disaster could strike at any moment. I shared his reports as best I could to my Twitter followers.
It was now past 12:30 a.m. my time; almost dawn in Benghazi. Ironically, I’d planned on calling it an early night, but didn’t.
As Mo drove around the empty streets of Benghazi, looking for the site of the rocket attack, his anxiety regarding the international community’s indecision got the best of him:
I don’t know what the UN are doing exactly. Are they waiting for more casualties? As I have heard, they’ve wiped Ajdabiya, and people had to flee from there because it was a massacre. Thousands of people were dead in there, and no one is doing nothing yet. They’re still waiting for the [UN Security] Council to do something, you know, tell them something? For God’s sake… How much should we pay before someone does something?
How much — I want a freaking wireless camera right now! If something goes wrong I want this to be on tape. People should be seeing if anything goes wrong.
Thankfully, for his sake, Mo called off his search and decided to return home until morning could shed some light on what was going on.
Nobody knows what’s happening, and that’s wrong. We should know. We should be informed of what’s happening. We can’t just be left in the dark like this.
Okay. Right now I’m gonna head home…. I know that we’ll survive this night.
Back in front of his computer, Mo tried to calm his supporters, who had begged him to not go outside.
Don’t worry, don’t worry. Don’t worry, everybody Skyping me, they were worried about me. Listen — I always tell my wife that I’m a devil, so nothing’s gonna happen to me, okay?
I’m not meant to die easily, so… Don’t worry about that.
I’m sure I’m being saved for a bigger….
His voice trailed off.
Confident that Mo was safe at home, I went to bed.
IT WAS NOW MORNING in Washington D.C., and as I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, I wondered if Mo had even bothered to get some rest. As I began to catch up on his latest livestreams, it was clear he hadn’t. The videos showed that he had found the neighborhood where the rocket damaged had occurred.
I wanna show you inside this guy’s house, he wants me to see and show you, how everything is down from the glass, and here as well. And that’s some of the — Oh my God, oh my God. You should be able to see this. Everything has fallen down, even the aluminium, everything is down, everything is broken in his house….
This was aimed at civilians! The UN should act! I mean, what if this family was sleeping in this room?!?
As I watched the videos, I received a curious message from a source close to Mo and his team in Benghazi.
“Did you hear anything about Mo being hurt earlier today? I heard he got shot at.”
I had no clue what they were talking about.
Unaware of any problems in Benghazi, I continued to watch Mo’s latest footage. He’d managed to find another neighborhood where a rocket had claimed two casualties — both children.
Oh my God, Oh my God, look at those. This is actually blood; we’ve had casualties in here, you can see. This is blood, you can see right now.
Gaddafi has attacked here in Benghazi city. And as you can see, look what happened. These were two missiles inside of Benghazi city right now…. This is the blood of kids: one of them is five, the other is four months old. And these were actually attacked today. And as you can see, we can see the sky out of this hole, it happened right here, in the roof of this room.
I mean, these are civilians! I don’t know… I mean, what is this? You can see… Who would do such a thing?
Meanwhile, I continued to receive disturbing messages from friends and associates of Mo. They’d heard he’d been shot at, perhaps even hit. One was even convinced he was dead. I had no idea what to believe. But then I heard from a colleague whose sources in Benghazi were impeccable. They left no room for uncertainty.
“Not for posting yet, but Mo is dead.”
The messages came pouring in. Still in complete shock, it hadn’t occurred to me to check the livestream’s chatroom. Then I got a message from one of its members. “plz come andy to Mohammed Nabbous room 2 report He has left us He died this morning as a martyr please help us spread the news.”
I went to the chatroom and could barely process what was being said.
WeekiWacheeWoman: He was MURDERED.
freedom0001: i’m gonna miss mo… an so sad
000DM: 7ura, his wife confirmed it
Anonymoosh: All we know is he was shot, and died of his unjuries
freedom0001: we will all carry on his great work
CalyxxNC: My heart is with her
There were two new videos Mo’s archive that I hadn’t listened to yet. Both of them broke my heart.
Hello everybody, check check check, if you can hear me. Right now we are attacked in Benghazi from everywhere. A plane has crashed right now, near the area of the university in Garyounis, near the area of Garyounis, and right now I’m behind on, on, on, on a pickup, I’m talking to a guy about what I know. He has a 12-and-a-half [mm anti-aircraft gun] on the back of his car. We are trying to go here from Benghazi to go do something.
[Machine gun fire]
Imshee, imshee, yalla ya shabab!
We have bombs right here in front of us right now, in front of us right now.
[Yelling, gunfire, more yelling. Someone yells “Hey Abdullah!” in Arabic.]
Right now, I’m in the back of the truck…. Right now I’m going to be –
[Machine gun fire gunfire GUNFIRE]
Yalla, yalla! Ya Abdallah!
Everybody, I can’t see everything from here, we are on top of this bridge. I can’t see everything from this side. You can here the shooting.
We are actually inside — they’re shooting right now…. We’re in the back of a… We’re in the back of a….
[END OF AUDIO]
Hello? Check, check, check. Can everyone hear me?
[Deep breath; a sniff]
I’m Mo’s wife, and —
— I want to let all of you know that Mohamed… has passed away… for this cause.
Lā ʾilāha ʾillà l-Lāh, Muḥammadun rasūlu l-Lāh.
[The shahada — “There is no God but God, and Muhammed is his prophet.”]
[Silence; a long sigh]
He died for this cause and —
— let’s hope that Libya will become free.
Thank you everyone, please pray for him.
And let’s not stop doing what we’re doing until this is over. What he started has got to go on, no matter what happens.
I might not be able to come online much because of the funeral and all, but I need everyone to just… I need everyone to do as much as they can for this cause. Please keep the channel going. Please keep videos, post videos, and move just… every authority you have to do something against this. There is still bombing, still shooting, and more people are gonna die.
[A long, plaintive sigh]
Don’t let what Mo started go for nothing, people. Make it worth it. He has…
[Deep breath; a pause]
I envy all the shuhada [martyrs], so I think God gave him his wish, and inshallah, ya rab [God willing, oh God].
I have to go now. Please keep the channel moving, and keep the videos posting, and just — I will try, if I have any news, I will try and come to give you the news we have, even though that Mo…
There isn’t much to do. But I will try my best to keep this going.
Not long after Samra posted the video, NATO began its attack on Gaddafi’s troops south of Benghazi.
MO DIDN’T LIVE LONG ENOUGH to see the birth of his daughter, Maya, who will turn four years old later this spring. He didn’t live to see the newly invigorated opposition push towards Tripoli and eventually liberate it. He didn’t live to see the capture and humiliation of Gaddafi, captured on so many cameras, or the footage of Gaddafi’s body, splayed out for the curious in a walk-in freezer. He didn’t see the celebrations on the first anniversary of the uprising, or Libya’s first free elections in over a generation. He didn’t see petty squabbles tear apart factions that were once united in opposition to Gaddafi. He didn’t see the assassinations, the kidnappings, the murder of the US ambassador, more kidnappings and assassinations, the formation of two competing governments, the destruction of Tripoli’s airport or the beheadings of Egyptian Coptic Christians by a newly formed Libyan offshoot of ISIS. He didn’t live long enough to see his country being abandoned by the west, to sink inexorably toward chaos, toward entropy, suppurating into political detritus, devoid of possibility.
MO HAS BEEN DEAD exactly four years now.
I often wonder how he would react to Libya’s current plight.
In one of his earliest interviews, he fatefully said, “I’m not afraid to die; I’m afraid to lose the battle.”
Mo indeed died, and many, if not most people would argue that Libya has lost the battle. It’s hard not to look back and wonder if it was all worth it. But despite the moments of despair, Mo was an optimist. Despite occasions of feeling lost, Mo always regained his willpower.
He was in this for the long haul — and battles sometimes go on for a very, very long time.
For Mohamed Nabbous, the battle for Libya’s soul was just beginning. Who are we to say if it’s truly lost?