Image: Libyan protest at the White House
Carolyn Kaster  /  AP
A woman, who does not want to be named, waves the flag of Libya as she and others demonstrate in support of Libyan rebels in July, calling for an end to the regime of Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi, in front of the White House in Washington.
By Gloria Goodale Staff writer
Christian Science Monitor
updated 8/23/2011 2:33:21 PM ET 2011-08-23T18:33:21

As rebels battle for control of the Libyan capital of Tripoli, many Libyan-Americans who have opposed the long rule of Muammar Qaddafi are continuing their efforts to support the struggle. From the onset of the conflict in February, many Americans with family ties to Libya have dropped everything to be a part of what they feel is a historic moment for them and their native country.

• Shahrazad Kablan left her life as a teacher in Cincinnati to join the team of Libyans, now 40-strong, working with Libya TV in Qatar. She is working around the clock to deliver news to Libya.

• Ali Tarhouni, a University of Washington economics lecturer, precipitously left his family and students to become finance minister for the rebel factions. He's since taken up the crucial oil and gas portfolio.

• Esam Omeish, since 2006 chief of the Division of General Surgery at Inova Alexandria (Va.) Hospital, is currently on a tour of medical duty in Libya.

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Even Libyan-American students are dropping out of school to take up arms: One in Virginia (name withheld for security) dropped out to train with a Benghazi brigade and is now reported to be in Tripoli, while another South Carolina family is mourning the death of their son, who left school to join the fighting on the eastern front in the early days of the struggle.

Story: Heavy fighting reported outside Tripoli

Those who aren't dropping everything to hop on a plane are replacing the web of fear engendered by the Qaddafi regime with a web of social connection and action. That means coordinated networks of Facebook, Twitter, Skype, and e-mail users who once were too scattered and too afraid to contact one another but have been increasingly galvanized by the faltering prospects of Mr. Qaddafi.

"I was very impressed with how quickly [the Libyan-American community] sprang into well-organized groups. They are not a very large community, but many of them know each other," says Mouaz Moustafa, executive director of the Libyan Council of North America. The number is tough to track, complicated by the fact that Libyan expatriates — many of them political exiles — made deliberate efforts to remain invisible to the long tentacles of the Qaddafi regime.

Mr. Moustafa estimates the number to be between 10,000 and 15,000.

"They have used all these organizational tools to create a very impressive network of organizations in nearly every state to help. We send humanitarian aid, lobby the US Senate, and do media outreach," Moustafa says.

Video: Gadhafi rule crumbles as rebels surge (on this page)

This sophisticated organization is not surprising given that the Libyan-American community is very well-educated, points out Tamim Baiou, chairman of the political committee of the Libyan Emergency Task Force in the Washington area.

This is because many have ties to a group of some 5,000 students who came from Libya to the United States in the late 1970s and early '80s and did not return. "Now we are seeing that some of these actual students many years later are fulfilling their desire to go home again or help," Mr. Baiou says. "Or it is their children and grandchildren."

Businessman Emadeddin Muntasser, who has a master's degree in electrical engineering, came to the US as a student in 1981. He didn't return because it wasn't safe, he says. "Qaddafi was hanging students in the streets," he says.

This past February, he formed Stand With Libya, an ad hoc committee of about 20 to 30, and held weekly public rallies in Boston, tapping into the 200 to 300 Libyan-Americans in that area. Between events they wrote thank-you letters to US service members, collected funds, and kept the story alive for newspapers and local TV channels. They have also trained medical professionals to respond to the kind of urban-shelling injuries that are common in Libya.

Image: Gadhafi's main compound in Tripoli
Sergey Ponomarev  /  AP
Smoke rises over buildings Tuesday in Moammar Gadhafi's main compound in the Bab al-Aziziya district of Tripoli, Libya.

"We put in about 15 to 20 hours a week," says Mr. Muntasser, who notes that much effort is now being focused on disaster cleanup and infrastructure building.

Asma Ramadan was 2 years old when her father left Libya to study in the US and then became a political exile. She is now a mother and Ph.D. candidate in organizational industrial psychology, and she's spent four hours a day for months coordinating humanitarian relief and political awareness. She also connects media to Libyans around the world so they can tell their stories. Her small network of 30 to 40 colleagues has raised money by selling recipe books and sweets.

Although there have been some isolated reports that Qaddafi may be found, the stance of one teacher in Washington, D.C., is illustrative. Her fear is so palpable that she won't tell her personal story to the press until "Qaddafi is dead and buried."

This article, "Libyan-Americans pitch into support rebels' cause," first appeared in the Christian Science Monitor.

Daniel B. Wood, staff writer, also contributed to this report.

© 2012 Christian Science Monitor

Video: Gadhafi rule crumbles as rebels surge

  1. Transcript of: Gadhafi rule crumbles as rebels surge

    CURRY: All right, Richard Engel with some important reporting from Tripoli this morning. Richard , thank you. Andrea Mitchell is NBC 's chief foreign affairs correspondent and she now joins us. Andrea , good morning.

    ANDREA MITCHELL reporting: Good morning, Ann.

    CURRY: You have had your eye on Libya for years. How do you see this playing out?

    MITCHELL: Well, first of all, this is just the beginning, as Richard has been reporting, the excitement in the streets. The challenge still for this Transitional National Council is to create a government , to create civil order. There are still, of course, pockets, resistance to be overcome. But once they do take control and it's clear that Gadhafi era is over, they still have to create a government . And this is a tribal society. There have been factions within this Transitional National Council . The State Department and NATO have been working very closely, particularly in the last couple of weeks -- the State Department and European allies and the United Nations -- to try to get them to reach out and bring other tribes in. But it remains to be seen. This is a work in progress and there are big challenges ahead.

    CURRY: Meantime, if Gadhafi is trying to run -- and that's the real question, as to whether or not he is...

    MITCHELL: Right.

    CURRY: ...but if he is trying to run, there are some limits on where he can go because he has -- there's an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court charging him with crimes against humanity, right, Andrea ?

    MITCHELL: Exactly. He would only want to go someplace like Russia , like perhaps Venezuela or Zimbabwe , some government that would not send him to The Hague to face charges of crimes against humanity. So that is the challenge, for him to find an exit strategy. Their best thinking, American intelligence, is that he may still be in Tripoli , but they really don't know.

    CURRY: Mm-hmm. Meantime, this is already having an effect on oil prices .

    MITCHELL: Indeed.

    CURRY: I understand they've gone down already on the expectation of this, that the outcome of this will mean that there'll be increased oil production . Where do you see this -- how do you see this playing out, Andrea ?

    MITCHELL: I think oil prices will come down, and producers are seeing on the futures market that their stock is going up precisely because the oil companies believe they will now be able to get in.

    $2.30 Current Price $106.32

    MITCHELL: Libyan oil is very, very valuable. It's highly grade, sweet, light crude oil . It's about a little less than two million barrels, at least, before the war. And the rebels did not attack any of the oil fields . Those are still intact. That is the future of Libya , the fact that they have that resource, they have that supply, and if they can get a government together, they can get back on line and the expectation is that this will lead to more oil. America has not been importing oil from Libya , of course, because of the sanctions, but it's a global market . So global prices will come down, and it is about 2 percent of world supply.

    CURRY: Meantime, as you know, the president released a statement overnight in which he said that Libya has reached the "tipping point" and that Gadhafi , quote, "needs to relinquish power once and for all." No mincing words there at all from the president, Andrea .

    MITCHELL: Clearly. And the president had a conference call with all of the top players at 9:00 last night -- I talked to someone who was on that call -- and he said that the best advice they are giving the president is that this tipping point has happened but this still is a work in progress and there is a lot of trouble that could lie ahead, potentially. They do not know if this new council will be able to hold it together.

    CURRY: All right, Andrea Mitchell . Thank you so much this morning for your reporting.

Photos: Libya's uprising against Gadhafi

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  1. People gathering in Benghazi, Libya in mid-February of 2011 as protest against the rule of Moammar Gadhafi grew, in part triggered by the arrest of human rights activist Fethi Tarbel. EDITOR'S NOTE: The content, date and location of this image could not be independently verified. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Buildings at the entrance to a security forces compound burn in Benghazi, Feb. 21, 2011. Libyan protesters celebrated in the streets of Benghazi, claiming control of the country's second largest city after bloody fighting, and anti-government unrest spread to the capital with clashes in Tripoli's main square for the first time. (Alaguri / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi speaks on state television. Feb. 22, and signalled his defiance over a mounting revolt against his 41-year rule. (Libya TV via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Libyan U.N. ambassador Shalgham is embraced by Dabbashi, Libya's deputy U.N. Ambassador after denouncing Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi for the first time during a Security Council meeting at the headquarters of the United Nations in New York on Feb. 25. Shalgam, a longtime friend and member of Gadhafi's inner circle, had previously refused to denounce Gadhafi. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Thousands of Libyans gather for the Muslim Friday prayers outside the courthouse in the eastern city of Benghazi on Feb. 25, 2011. Perhaps 8,000 people gathered for the midday prayers with a local imam, who delivered his sermon alongside the coffins of three men killed in the violent uprising that routed Gadhafi loyalists from Benghazi. (Gianluigi Guercia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Rebels hold a young man at gunpoint, who they accuse of being a loyalist to Gadhafi, between the towns of Brega and Ras Lanuf, March 3, 2011. (Goran Tomasevic / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Pro-Gadhafi soldiers and supporters gather in Green Square in Tripoli, March 6, 2011. Thousands of Moammar Gadhafi's supporters poured into the streets of Tripoli, waving flags and firing their guns in the air in the Libyan leader's main stronghold, claiming overnight military successes. (Ben Curtis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Rebel fighters jump away from shrapnel during heavy shelling by forces loyal to Gadhafi near Bin Jawad, March 6. Rebels in east Libya regrouped and advanced on Bin Jawad after Gadhafi forces ambushed rebel fighters and ejected them from the town earlier in the day. (Goran Tomasevic / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Libyan rebel fighters take cover as a bomb dropped by an airforce fighter jet explodes near a checkpoint on the outskirts of the oil town of Ras Lanuf on March 7, 2011. (Marco Longari / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Libyan rebels fire rockets at government troops on the frontline. March 9, 2011 near Ras Lanuf. The rebels pushed back government troops westward towards Ben Jawat. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Libyan government soldiers aboard tanks at the west gate of the town Ajdabiyah March 16, 2011. Libya's army pounded an opposition-held city in the country's west and battled fighters trying to block its advance on a rebel bastion in the east amid flagging diplomatic efforts to end the bloodshed. EDITOR'S NOTE: Picture taken on a government guided tour. (Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Libyan people in Benghazi celebrate after the United Nations Security Council authorized a no-fly zone over Libya, March 18. Thousands of Libyans erupted in cheers as the news flashed on a giant screen in besieged Benghazi late March 17. After weeks of discussion, the UN Security Council banned flights in Libya's airspace and authorized "all necessary means" to implement the ban, triggering intervention by individual countries and organizations like NATO. (EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A picture combo shows a Libyan jet bomber crashing after being apparently shot down in Benghazi on March 19, 2011 as the Libyan rebel stronghold came under attack. Air strikes and sustained shelling of the city's south sent thick smoke into the sky. (Patrick Baz / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Residents of Benghazi flee the city along the road toward Tobruk, in an attempt to escape fighting in their city, March 19, 2011. Gaddafi's troops pushed into the outskirts of Benghazi, a city of 670,000 people, in an apparent attempt to pre-empt Western military intervention expected after a meeting of Western and Arab leaders in Paris. (Reuters TV) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Vehicles belonging to forces loyal to Gadhafi explode after an air strike by coalition forces, along a road between Benghazi and Ajdabiyah March 20, 2011. (Goran Tomasevic / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. A rebel fighter carries his weapon outside the northeastern Libyan town of Ajdabiyah, March 21, 2011. A wave of air strikes hit Gaddafi's troops around Ajdabiyah, a strategic town in the barren, scrub of eastern Libya that rebels aim to retake and where their fighters said they need more help. (Finbarr O'reilly / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A Libyan rebel prays next to his gun on the frontline of the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, south of Benghazi, March 21, 2011. The international military intervention in Libya is likely to last "a while," a top French official said, echoing Moammar Gadhafi's warning of a long war ahead as rebels, energized by the strikes on their opponents. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Libyan rebels retreat as mortars from Gadhafi's forces are fired on them near the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, March 22, 2011. Coalition forces bombarded Libya for a third straight night, targeting the air defenses and forces of Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi, stopping his advances and handing some momentum back to the rebels, who were on the verge of defeat. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A Libyan man is comforted by hospital staff as he reacts after identifying his killed brother in the morgue of the Jalaa hospital in Benghazi, March 22, 2011. His brother was killed earlier in fighting around the city of Ajdabiya. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Volunteer fighters training at a rebel army training camp in Benghazi, March 29, 2011. Pro-government forces intensified their attacks on Libyan rebels, driving them back over ground they had taken in recent days. The rebels had reached Nawfaliya, but pulled back to Bin Jawad. (Manu Brabo / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Smoke billows as seven explosions were reported in the tightly-guarded residence of leader Moammar Gadhafi and military targets in the suburb of Tajura. Two explosions also rocked the Libyan capital Tripoli on March 29, 2011, as NATO-led coalition aircraft had been seen in the skies over the capital. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. A Libyan rebel urges people to leave, as shelling from Gadhafi's forces started landing on the frontline outside of Bin Jawaad, 93 miles east of Sirte, March 29, 2011. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. General Abdel-Fattah Younis, former interior minister in the Gadhafi regime who defected in the early days of the uprising, is greeted by Libyan rebels at the front line near Brega, April 1, 2011. (Altaf Qadri / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Libyan men show the V-sign for victory as they stand on the deck of a Turkish ship arriving from Misrata to the port of Benghazi who were evacuated along with others the injured in the fighting between rebel and Gadhafi forces, April 03, 2011. The Turkish vessel took hundreds of people wounded in the Libyan uprising for treatment in Turkey from the two cities of Misrata and Benghazi. (Mahmud Hams / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. A wounded prisoner from Gadhafi's forces is transported in the back of a pickup truck by rebels, on the way to a hospital for treatment, half way between Brega and Ajdabiya, April 9, 2011. Rebels say they took two prisoners after a clash with soldiers near Brega's university outside the government-controlled oil facilities, marking a noticeable advance by rebels. (Ben Curtis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. In this image taken from TV, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi makes a pubic appearance in Tripoli, April 14 2011. Gadhafi defiantly waved at his supporters while being driven around Tripoli while standing up through the sunroof of a car. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. A rebel fighter celebrates as his comrades fire a rocket barrage toward the positions of government troops April 14, 2011, west of Ajdabiyah. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Gadhafi supporters hold copies of his portrait as they gather at the Bab Al Azizia compound in Tripoli, April 15, 2011. Rebels held much of eastern Libya by mid-April, while Gadhafi controlled the west, with the front line shifting back and forth in the middle. (Pier Paolo Cito / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Doctors work on a baby who suffered cuts from shrapnel that blasted through the window of his home during fighting in the besieged city of Misrata, April 18, 2011. Thousands of civilians are trapped in Misrata as fighting continues between Libyan government forces that have surrounded the city and anti-government rebels there. The Libyan government has come under international criticism for using heavy weapons and artillery in its assault on Misrata. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. MISRATA, LIBYA - APRIL 20: Libyan rebel fighters discuss how to dislodge some ensconced government loyalist troops who were firing on them from the next room during house-to-house fighting on Tripoli Street in downtown Misrata April 20, 2011 in Misrata, Libya. Rebel forces assaulted the downtown positions of troops loyal to Libyan strongman Moammar Gaddafi April 20, briefly forcing them back over a key bridge and trapping several in a building that fought back instead of surrendering, firing on the rebels in the building and seriously wounding two of them during the standoff. Fighting continues between Libyan government forces that have surrounded the city and anti-government rebels ensconced there. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images) (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Libyan rebel fighters carry out a comrade wounded during an effort to dislodge some ensconced government loyalist troops who were firing on them from a building during house-to-house fighting on Tripoli Street in downtown Misrata April 20, 2011. Rebel forces assaulted the downtown positions of troops loyal to Gaddafi, briefly forcing them back over a key bridge and trapping several in a building where they fought back instead of surrendering. Two rebels were seriously wounded during the standoff. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Rebels tread carefully as they prepare to invade a house where soldiers from the pro-government forces had their base in the Zwabi area of Misrata on April 24, 2011. (Andre Liohn / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Libyans inspect damage and an unexploded missile at the Gadhafi family compound in a residential area of Tripoli, May 1, 2011. Gadhafi escaped a NATO missile strike in Tripoli that killed one of his sons and three young grandchildren. EDITOR'S NOTE: Photo taken on a government guided tour. (Darko Bandic / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Moammar Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, center, leaves the funeral of his brother Saif Al-Arab Gadhafi, who was killed during air strikes by coalition forces, at the El Hani cemetery in Tripoli, May 2, 2011. Crowds chanting Gadhafi's name gathered in Tripoli for the funeral of his son and three grandchildren. (Louafi Larbi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Fleeing migrants and Libyans are seen on board an International Organization of Migration ship leaving the port of Misrata on May 4, 2011, as Gadhafi forces continued to pound the city. (Christophe Simon / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Libyan men watch as the main fuel depot in Libya's third largest city, Misrata, burns following a bombing by Gadhafi's forces on May 7, 2011. Libyan regime forces shelled fuel depots in Misrata and dropped mines into its harbor using helicopters bearing the Red Cross emblem, rebels said as they braced for a ground assault. (Ricardo Garcia Vilanova / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Libyan rebels celebrate near the airport of Misrata on May 11, 2011 after capturing the city's strategic airport following a fierce battle with Moammar Gadhafi's troops -- their first significant advance in weeks. (Ricardo Garcia Vilanova / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Women react after a protest against Moammar Gadhafi's regime in Benghazi, Libya, on May 16, 2011. Luis Moreno-Ocampo, prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, announced that he would seek arrest warrants against the leader of Libya, Moammar Gadhafi, his son Seif al-Islam and the country's intelligence chief on charges of crimes against humanity. (Rodrigo Abd / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Tripoli street in Misrata is seen from the terrace of a building used by Gadhafi’s snipers before the rebels took control of the area on May 22, 2011. The weeks-long siege of the city ended in mid-May and Tripoli Street was the site of the fiercest fighting in the battle and a turnin point in the war. (Rodrigo Abd / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. A rebel fighter gives water to a soldier loyal to Gadhafi after he was wounded and then captured near the front line, west of Misrata on May 23, 2011. (Rodrigo Abd / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. An uncle, left, prays over the body of one and a half year-old Mohsen Ali al-Sheikh during a washing ritual during the funeral at his family's house in Misrata, May 27, 2011. The child was killed by a gunshot during clashes between rebels and pro-Gadhafi forces earlier in the day. (Wissam Saleh / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. The body of a drowned refugee floats near a capsized ship which was transporting an estimated 850 refugees from Libya, approximately 22 miles north of the Tunisian islands of Kerkennah, June 4, 2011. At least 578 survived the sinking. (Lindsay Mackenzie / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. A photograph taken from a video by a National Transitional Council (NTC) fighter shows Mutassem Gadhafi, son of Moammar Gadhafi, drinking water and smoking a cigarette following his capture and shortly before his death, in Sirte, Oct. 20, 2011. (- / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. A photograph taken from mobile phone video of a National Transitional Council (NTC) fighter shows the capture of Moammar Gadhafi in Sirte on Oct. 20, 2011. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. This image provided by the Libyan Youth Group on Nov. 19, 2011, shows Seif al-Islam Gadhafi after he was captured near the Niger border with Libya. Moammar Gadhafi's son, the only wanted member of the ousted ruling family to remain at large, was captured as he traveled with aides in a convoy in Libya's southern desert. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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