The story of Eman al-Obeidy, a Libyan woman who burst into a Tripoli hotel full of foreign journalists in April to say she'd been raped by Muammar Qaddafi's security forces, has taken another improbable turn. Al-Obeidy escaped from informal house arrest in Tripoli in early May, fleeing to the Tunisian border with two defecting Libyan military officers and driving to the French embassy in Tunis with French diplomats. At the time, CNN's Nic Robertson reported that al-Obeidy had subsequently traveled to Doha, Qatar because the Libyan rebels had representatives there and Qatar was a rebel ally. "This could certainly be a place where she could expect to get their help ... and feel safe," he said. Days after al-Obeidy arrived in Qatar, her parents left their home in rebel-controlled eastern Libya and joined her.
Now, Robertson is reporting that Qatar wasn't so safe or helpful after all. On Thursday, he writes, al-Obeidy was forcibly removed from a Doha hotel by Qatari authorities and deported back to rebel-held Benghazi in Libya on a military plane. Al-Obeidy, speaking to CNN by phone from Benghazi, said she'd gone into hiding, adding that the Qataris had beaten and handcuffed her and seized cell phones, laptops, and money belonging to her and her parents, who were also deported. Hours before her deportation, al-Obeidy told CNN that armed guards had appeared outside her room to prevent a representative from the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), which had been preparing to resettle al-Obeidy in another country, from helping her. CNN's Elise Labott reports that the U.S. State Department is now working with international organizations to help al-Obeidy find asylum in "a third country."
The reports are bizarre. Al-Obeidy, after all, escaped from Qaddafi's regime. So why would the Libyan rebels--Qaddafi's enemies and vocal champions of al-Obeidy's cause--interfere with her resettlement? Even if the rebels had a reason to interfere, why would they do so heavy-handedly? And why would al-Obeidy be deported only to then go into hiding? A couple explanations have surfaced.
One explanation is rather banal: an expired visa. Vincent Cochetel at UNHCR tells Robertson that Qatari authorities had informed his organization that they had a court order about al-Obeidy's visa expiring, even though UNHCR argued that it had already granted al-Obeidy refugee status.
The other explanation suggests the relationship between al-Obeidy and the rebels had soured recently. The opposition's Transitional National Council in Benghazi, Robertson notes, facilitated al-Obeidy's escape to Qatar. But al-Obeidy "believed the Council was using her, and had made public statements saying so. The Council denied that--but her presence in Qatar appears to have become an embarrassment to the TNC." The Washington Post's Simon Denyer adds that al-Obeidy "had been under pressure from the rebels to return to her home country for some time, and had come under fire for complaining about the lack of support she had received from the rebels and in particular from rebel official Mahmoud Shammam in Doha." An unnamed opposition official tells Denyer that the rebels asked Qatari authorities to send al-Obeidy home. Denyer also learns that the Emir of Qatar had given al-Obeidy cash to go shopping and deployed a security guard by her hotel door when she first arrived, but had gradually withdrawn those privileges in recent days.