“Tell me, if I were a Libyan citizen could Baghdadi Mahmudi have me hanged?”
“The prime minster?” said Waleed in amazement.
“Yes,” I said looking intently at him.
“But he is only the prime minister.”
If I had called a horse a vacuum cleaner or a bomb an angel of delight, everything would have been clear to Waleed. But that I should confuse the chain of command, the relative status of a prime minister with the Brotherly Leader, so subverted his mental universe that he could not speak for a moment. Waleed’s mind was adroit and nimble, however, and he quickly recovered his aplomb.
“My dear Belmont,” he said. “You are confused by the words prime minister and Brotherly Leader. It’s not logical, I know but it’s the way things are. The first exists on an entirely different level than the second. The prime minister is completely subordinate to the Brotherly Leader. The prime minister, for example is not a real prime minister, in the sense of being the head of government. But we call him the prime minister. There isn’t even a president, for goodness sake. I’ll explain the whole thingamajig to you some other time. But no, dear friend, you will never be hanged. You will never have your head cut off by the prime minister, no matter what you have done.” He looked affectionately at me and with something like admiration at an ignorance far beyond anything even his nimble and adroit mind had yet conceived.
“Only the Brotherly Leader can do that,” he added, laughing heartily.
A colonel burst into the room.
“Gaddafi is leaving Libya!” he announced.
“I hope he has time to pack,” I said, laughing heartily.