Long before I became involved with technology I worked as a reporter in the Middle East. My work there introduced me to many important characters of that era. Some of them, like Yassar Arafat of the Palestine Liberation Organization and King Hussein of Jordan, are long gone from the scene. I effectively predated Mubarak, and in those days Bahrain was mainly known as the only place on the Gulf where drivers were polite and you could legally buy a drink. But one constant that remains is Colonel Qaddafi of Libya, though he’s not what this column is about. It’s about Major Jalloud, Qaddafi’s right-hand man.

I have no idea if Major Jalloud is still alive or not. Certainly he doesn’t come up in a Google search past the early 1990s. But that doesn’t matter because whether his name is different or not, there will always be a Major Jalloud in Qaddafi’s Libya. And that’s why we’ve seen so far 200 protesters die in that country.

I’ve always been struck by the similar styles of Qaddafi and Fidel Castro of Cuba. In fact I think Qaddafi based his public persona on Castro, they are so much alike. These men rose as revolutionaries, remember, and like to be identified with their military backgrounds. But going further, they’ve deliberately tried to maintain a common touch by Castro wearing fatigues, never a dress uniform, and Qaddafi — an absolute dictator — never taking a military rank above colonel.

Both men pretend to answer to some form of revolutionary council, to be not above the law — their law, of course. And each tries for folksy touches to connect himself with the common people. For Castro it’s baseball (he’s a pitcher, or was) and for Qaddafi it’s embracing a Bedouin heritage that’s not real for him or for his largely urban nation. He camps-out in the desert with his tent and his carpets, his air conditioning and satellite TV.

In order to maintain that folksiness while at the same time run a ruthlessly repressive regime, both men have been very successful in pushing down by one level the bad-guy role. The muscle starts somewhere just below the top, and in Libya that’s with Major Jalloud.

Thirty-five years ago when I knew him, Qaddafi was a young gun and very full of himself, but the sense I always had was that he knew it was all for show and he didn’t really take himself too seriously. I asked him one time, for example, how to spell his name. After all we’ve seen it in print with a G and a K and a Q: which did he prefer? “Spell it any way you like, ” he said (in pretty fair English, by the way — something else that seems to have strategically disappeared over the years). “All that matters is spelling it correctly in Arabic.”

Major Jalloud was something altogether different. Qaddafi’s second-in-command back then, he either didn’t know there was showbiz in the Colonel’s act or he simply didn’t care. Jalloud saw his role as extending the rule of a ruthless tyrant as efficiently and as far as possible. My friend Jacek Kalabinski, who was covering Libya for the Communist radio network in Poland at that time, though he later became a leader himself in the Solidarity movement, put it best: “You can see death in Jalloud’s eyes.”

At the heart of every command decision for Jalloud was the option that someone would die, or at least that‘s the way it seemed. You could joke a bit with Qaddafi, as you can imagine I did, but not with Jalloud, who appeared to have no sense of humor at all.

Nor did anyone who worked for Jalloud. They all believed the revolutionary rhetoric and were determined to enforce it as needed against the people of Libya — killing citizens if they must to preserve the revolution that had freed those very people from the long-forgotten monarchy.

Libya had probably needed political change back in 1969 when Qaddafi and others (conveniently gone shortly thereafter, notice) took down the monarchy. I think history will show, though, that the cure was worse than the disease.

So now we have Libyan troops killing Libyan citizens in both protests and funeral processions. This is completely consistent with Major Jalloud. And it will continue until the government falls or all the protest leaders are dead. Not until the protests end — until the leaders are dead. That’s Major Jalloud’s way and the people of Libya probably know that by now.

Libya is not Tunisia, not Egypt, and not even Saudi Arabia. Libya is a case unto itself. Today’s version of Major Jalloud will see the protests there quickly over followed by months of assassinations to make sure they never happen again. Or if new protest leaders keep emerging to replace those who fall, then Libya, too, may experience regime change, which I guarantee will involve at some point an attempt by Colonel Qaddafi to resume his revolutionary identity and claim leadership of the very movement that is against him now.

Hopefully that dodge will fail, but it will inevitably involve Qaddafi turning on Jalloud, trying to make his number two into the bogeyman before having him killed.

“Scary, isn’t he? ” Qaddafi once asked me of Jalloud.


Update — A very helpful reader, Mohammad, has been monitoring the Arabic-language version of Google news for this story and has information to add: “Looking him up in Arabic reveals that he (Jalloud) went behind the scenes in 1993, due to some disagreements with the Qaddafi. However, it seems Qaddafi tried to put him back in one political position back in Nov 2010, and some of the comments on that page suggests that he was being prepared as a scapegoat for the future (http://translate.google.com/translate?js=n&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&layout=2&eotf=1&sl=auto&tl=en&u=https://www.adnkronos.com/AKI/Arabic/Politics/%3Fid%3D3.1.1167196587)- his name is translated by Google to as Leather (Jalloud is a version of an Arabic word meaning Leather). News just came that Qaddafi tried to put him in charge now to lead the anti-protest efforts in Benghazi but he refused (http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=auto&tl=en&u=ttp://aawsat.com/details.asp%3Fsection%3D4%26issueno%3D11773%26article%3D609158%26feature%3D, last few paragraphs). It is very sad to see what is happening over there in Libya, and I hope it will not become another genocide as the regime is bringing in mercenaries from Zaire to kill the demonstrators according to eyewitnesses, probably since the country’s own army is not willing to go against the people to the level the Qaddafi wants it to.”