Colonel Bogey: A Gadafi Profile

 Skrevet av Gisle Tangenes - Publisert 02.09.2006 kl. 01:53 (Oppdatert 23.08.2007 kl. 00:18)

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An officer and a gentleman
When you start out a humble desert bedouin and get expelled from high school for plotting against the King, Idriss I, it's a rare achivement to run your own country at 27. That is just what Muammar did on September 1, 1969.

The young, British trained Gadafi had only served in the King's Army for four years when he in 1969 rose to Adjutant of the Signal Corps; hardly the most conventional launching pad for a coup d'état. But with a little help from his friends -- and for whatever reason, the CIA -- Muammar seized the day. This utterly shocked and befuddled his
senior officers, who had been brewing on a putsch of their own.

Now it was the Royal Family's turn to be expelled, and thoroughly. By 1984, even the King's late dad had been exhumed and thrown out into the desert.

Thirty-nine years after the coup, so many portraits of the leader grace the capital that, as a saying goes, there are twelve million Libyans: six million citizens and an equal number of Gadafis. Notwithstanding this, and the 32 transliterations of his name, there is but one Muammar Gadafi.

'Beauty will save the world'

Gadafi with one of his Amazons
To paraphrase James Brown, "it's a Muammar's world, but it'd be nothing without a woman." The Colonel sired all his five children during a brief marriage in the 1970s. There has since been no lack of female company.

“Women should be trained for combat, so that they do not become easy prey for their enemies,” runs a Gadafian doctrine. Libya's female fighter pilots are a case in point. Then there is his world-famous Amazon phalanx of womanly bodyguards, honed in all the finer points of armed and unarmed combat (and loyal to boot: one of them sacrificed her life in 1998, shielding Gadafi from an assassin with her body).

Officially they are all virgins, but there is no queue in Tripoli to bet one's last dinar on this. Gadafi has also mused that: "If a woman carries out man's work, she will be transformed into a man, abandoning her role and her beauty." To avoid this, the Amazons wear lipstick, pearl airrings, nail varnish, and liberal amounts of perfume.

Gadafi and Teca Zendik (19)
The Colonel's taste for women in uniform was also in evidence in 2002, when Libya hosted the first Miss Net World beauty pageant. Under the motto 'Beauty Will Save the World', the entrants -- many of them flown in from Europe in Gadafi's private jets -- competed in army uniforms and T-shirts plastered with heart-framed portraits of Gadafi's mug. (The US contender, 19-year-old Teca Zendik, refused at first to wear the latter, but after he turned on his charm, she returned to America as a Libyan citizen and an Honorary Council for Libya.)

Other recent objects of his affection range from South African pop star Brenda Frassie, brought to his residence by armed soldiers after a concert in Burkina Faso, to the 35-year-old Best Kemigisa, Queen Mother of the historic Ugandan kingdom of Toro.

Dictator in drag

"The Michael Jackson of Arab rulers" is alleged to keep in touch with his own feminine side. Not only does he change his colorful, flowing gowns at least thrice a day; he has also been known to experiment with cross-dressing. Bob Woodward, in his book Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA 1981-1987, quotes CIA reports to the effect that Gadafi, vacationing in Spain and Mallorca, had worn make-up and stomped around in high-heel shoes, having his staff buy him a teddy bear.

Similarly, Qaddafi and the Libyan Revolution by David Blundy and Andrew Lycett contains this little gem:

At a function in Tripoli, Muammar Qaddafi had to walk up some steps to a podium. He did so with some difficulty and appeared to be limping. "Look at his leg," said one diplomat. "He's had a stroke." "No, look at his shoes," replied an Italian colleague. Qaddafi was teetering, like a girl at her first dance, on huge Cuban [high] heels.

Do I have the book for you!

The Green Book Center
Unlike George W. Bush, whose favorite philosopher is Christ, Gadafi's favorite thinker is himself. This screams from every page of his contribution to political theory, the so-called Green Book, which, though billed as a three-volume magnum opus, is basically a trilogy of glorified pamphlets.

The Green Book sets out, among other things, the "Third Universal Theory"; an alternative to both capitalism and socialism. There are also insights on everything from childcare ("Nurseries are similar to poultry farms in which chicks are crammed after they are hatched") to the limits of representative democracy ("It is invalid and undemocratic for a committee or a parliament to be entitled to draft the law for the society"). The Colonel still considers the work, as he put it in a 2004 interview, "a guide for the whole of humanity, not just Libya." On the Greens' 1992 victory in German elections, he sagely remarked: "They all read my Green Book, and made good electoral progress."

Gadafi has also published a book of short stories and essays, Escape to Hell and Other Stories. One story, 'The Astronaut', concerns a space traveler who returns to earth. After failing to find menial work, and talking to a peasant, he tops himself. (Some consider this the highlight of the book; others prefer the 15 blank pages at the end.) The author has plugged the English edition on the BBC, CNN, and Canadian TV, and in a live video uplink with the New York press.

Screenshot of hacked blogsite
Yet truth is stranger than fiction, and certainly in the Colonel's case. In a 1980s foray into scholarship, he disclosed that Shakespeare was in fact an Arab poet whose real name was Sheik El Zubeir.

For those who starve for Gadafi's take on current affairs, there is excellent news: Like Ahmadinejad, he blogs! The blogsite is now back up after an unfortunate recent incident wherein it was hijacked by some of the Colonel's detractors, who made what they felt were improvements of the content.

Tough on crime

Libyan cyber-dissidents are well advised to exercise caution when critiquing Gadafi, who is the reigning world-record keeper in journalist imprisonment (assuming that Abdullah al-Darrat, of whom nothing has been heard since he was jailed without charge or trial in 1973, remains alive). The Green Book offers a refutation of the freedom of the press:

Any claim that a newspaper represents public opinion is groundless because it actually expresses the viewpoints of a natural person. Democratically, a natural person should not be permitted to own any means of publication or information.

To underline the important point that liberty comes with responsibility, Tripoli's amusement park has a grim-looking "House of Terror." But why stop there? According to Maxim magazine, Gadafi has commanded that Libya's frequent public hangings be televised.

Yet he also has a lenient side. In 1988, he took charge of a bulldozer to ram the gates of a Tripoli prison, releasing 400 inmates. A few days later, he magnanimously tore up blacklists of dissidents.

Then again, his benign intervention cannot be relied upon. He declines to get involved in the ongoing cangaroo trial of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian physician, who stand accused of intentionally infecting 426 children with HIV. The defandants having confessed under torture, the prosecutor is demanding death by firing squad. But there is hope: Tripoli suggests that €4.4bn, or $5.5 bn, in compensation from Bulgaria might settle things.

Not in your league

Gadafi 1973
Gadafi's inspiration is the pan-Arabist Egyptian dictator Nasser, whose (not at all high-heeled) shoes he has craved to fill since his idol's 1970 death. This iron-clad ambition has made for entertaining schoolyard brawls with fellow Arab despots. When Nasser's actual successor, Sadat, saw fit to exclude him from the 1973 war against Israel, Muammar sulked like a schoolgirl stood up by her date. (Perhaps to compensate, he suggested torpedoing the Queen Elizabeth as it carried Jews to Israel.)

Even more miffed would he become when Egypt and Tunisia declined his generous offers to merge their respective countries under his rule (other candidates for merger include Syria, Sudan, and Chad).

In 1977, Egypt attacked Libya after Israeli intelligence warned Sadat of an assassination plan. To be sure, this might have been practical joke by Mossad; but trying to off other Arab leaders is an abiding interest of Gadafi's: As late as 2004, while publically denouncing terrorism, he allegedly ordered an ambush on Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abduallah.

Smoking at Arab League summit
Relations with Arab capitals deteriorated further when they hung Libya out to dry -- as if it weren't dry enough -- after the UN imposed sanctions in 1992. Gadafi took his ball and went home in spectacular style, announcing that Libya was no longer in the Middle East. Closing the Ministry of Arab Unity, he made it clear that henceforth, he would strive for African Unity. You guessed it: under his rule.

Hell hath no fury like a Colonel scorned, which has left its mark on Arab League summits ever since. The journalist Robert Fisk relates how, during one such event in Cairo, Gadafi arrived in a golden robe escorted by his Amazons and greeted the host, President Mubarak, before he "promptly pretended to confuse a public lavatory with the door of the conference chamber." Mubarak's smile was unforgettably pained.

In 2004, Gadafi left the Arab League summit in a huff when it failed to take up his proposed solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict: a state called 'Isratine' ("We have had Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia, so why not?") In his address to the 2005 summit, he blasted Israelis and Palestinians alike as "idiots."

This was not the first time he had demonstrated tough love for Palestinians. At one point he deported half of the Palestinian refugees in Libya, telling them to walk back home.

Da Colonel got wheels

Gadafi himself is partial to driving. While plotting his coup in the late 1960s, he cruised around in a turquiose VW Beetle now on display at the Jamahiriya Museum in Tripoli. But his choice of vehicle has come a long way from these modest origins.

On the 30-year anniversary of his big day, he unveiled "the Rocket": a James Bond-ish saloon in a "metallic Libyan revolutionary green" with tinted windows and -- wait for it -- rocket-shaped front and rear. Gadafi had personally invented this design for the benefit of mankind. Dukhali Al-Meghareff, chairman of the Libyan company which produced the prototype, extolled the car as "revolutionary in automotive history":

"The invention of the safest car in the world is proof that the Libyan revolution is built on the happiness of man."

Mr Al-Meghareff told a news conference at the rocket-car launch that Mr Gaddafi had spent his time during the sanctions "thinking of ways to preserve human life all over the world".

He added that the provocative name of the car was meant to highlight that while others made rockets to kill, Libya designed them for humane and peaceful purposes.

Darling, did you pack the camels?

Long-distance travel is conducted in appropriate style. Here is the Times reporting on Gadafi's transcontinental trek to, and from, the African Union summit in South Africa, 2002:

He showed up at the start of his African adventure with two Boeing 707s, his own personal jet and two transport aircraft, including a giant Antonov, as well as a ship full of goat carcasses. He insisted on making his own security arrangements, although some of his hosts balked when they discovered that this meant two 46-seat buses containing crateloads of sub-machineguns, AK47 assault rifles and rocket-launchers.

It is his plan to make the long drive home, stopping off along the way to preach his vision for the African Union, which he wants to mould into a powerful organisation that will take on the United States and the West, with himself as its leader. It helps that everywhere he stops he doles out millions of dollars in aid to cash-strapped governments and promises further, lucrative help if he is assured of that country’s support.

On the road
Portions of the aid were disbursed by the Colonel himself from his open-top limo, resupplied from a car stuffed with $6m in cash. The convoy included 70 armoured vehicles carrying 600 security personnel, a mobile hospital, and a vehicle rigged with a jamming device knocking out the local telephone systems.

Whenever circumstances allow -- and sometimes when they don't -- Gadafi brings along a selection of his camels, so he can enjoy his habitual morning drink of fresh camel milk. Other large quadrupeds may also feature in the entourage. Tito's head of protocol once told Fisk how Gadafi arrived in Belgrade with a "white charger upon which he intended to ride in triumph to the non-aligned summit in the Yugoslav capital."

'Thou shalt raise poultry' and other commandments

Teacher of his nation
The Colonel's compatriots are routinely exposed to such eccentricities. In 1977 Gadafi decided that, in order to achieve national self-sufficiency, every Libyan family had to raise chickens. Vast quantities of poultry and cages were imported and sold for the equivalent of $150 per household (refusing was not an option). However, since it proved tricky to raise chickens in, say, a Tripoli apartment, many citizens elected to devour the birds.

Another grand initiative involved moving all major government functions from Tripoli to the desert village of Surt, near Gadafi's birthplace. Despite the revolutionary tenet that "Life in the city is merely a wormlike biological existence where man lives and dies meaninglessly," this met with recalcitrance among bureaucrats and lesser dignitaries. One fine day Gadafi noticed that every timed he called the Prime Minister's office in Surt, he was told that his underling was in Tripoli "for the day." Finally getting the picture, he promptly summoned up bulldozers to flatten the PM's Tripoli office. (It is not known whether he operated one of them himself on this occasion.)

Saif al-Islam Gadafi had a London exhibition in 2005
You don't know that a dictator has truly gone off the deep end before he starts renaming the months after his personal fancy, like Turkmenbashi has. Gadafi, however, was not content merely to relabel the Gregorian months: he also has changed the Islamic Lunar calendar so as to begin with the Prophet's death rather than his birth. Since this has only partly caught on, Libyans differ as to whether they are now in 1374 or 1436. What is clear is that they have just left the month of Hannibal.

Gadafi's five kids have pet projects of their own. The oldest, Saif al-Islam, once bought two rare Bengali tigers named Fred and Barney from a Milan Zoo and brought them along to his studies in Austria. (It should come as no surprise at this point that Saif al-Islam -- who is an architect as well as a painter sprinkling his art with his father's portrait -- is considered the sanest and most down to earth among Gadafi's spawn.)

Penalty shootout

Yet the principal family interest is European football. Stuff magazine reported in February 2003:

During a soccer game in Tripoli, Libya in February 1997, a team sponsored by a son of President Qadhafi suffered a questionable call and started a brawl. When spectators jeered, Qadhafi and his bodyguards opened fire on them. With guns! Some fans returned fire, resulting in a death toll claimed by some to be as high as 50 — which included the referee, who sat out the rest of the game. Afterward, Qadhafi declared a period of mourning and ordered that all national TV broadcasts be transmitted in black and white. A nice touch, if you overlook the fact that no one in Libya owns a color TV. [Nonsense. The Gadafis do.]

Other sources place this incident in July 1996, suggesting that the gunfight was between the respective bodyguards of two Gadafi sons, who were backing opposite teams. But who knows; perhaps these are commonplace events?

The most football-mad Gadafi is al-Saadi. As the rumors have it, he wanted to buy Liverpool FC for $300m and play for Manchester United, but had to settle for a stake in Juventus and playing for its Serie A rival Perugia. A ferw months after signed up for the latter in 2003, he was however suspended indefinitely for doping -- unsurprisingly, given that Muammar hired Ben Johnson to improve his son's fitness and speed.

Proudly sponsored by Gadafi

Nonetheless, the Beautiful Game is at most a hobby for the Colonel. No other petty tyrant in history has taken such pains to export his own eccentricities, be it through armed intervention in Chad or by a mutual defense pact with miniscule and far-away Guinea.

A friend to his friends
You might think he would resent the competition, but in fact Gadafi has revealed a special penchant for supporting tyrants whose extravagance and quirkiness approach his own. In his heyday, he sponsored the unholy trinity of African loons: His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea, and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular; Mobutu the All-Powerful Warrior who, Because of his Endurance and Inflexible Will to Win, Shall Go from Conquest to Conquest Leaving Fire in his Wake, President of Zaïre; and last but not least, Bokassa I, Emperor of Central Africa by the Will of the Central African People, United within the National Political Party, the MESAN.

Propping up the established order is all very well, but for a true revolutionary, it easily gets stale. Apart from the major international terrorist operations which he allegedly has bankrolled, the Colonel has patronized the entire encyclopedia of worldwide rebel movements. Lest the Libyan people complain that their oil revenue has been squandered, here is an incomplete list: The Japanese Red Army, the Basque group ETA, the Baader-Meinhof Gang, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the Philippines, Kurdish separatists, Scottish revolutionaries (!), radical indigenous groups in South America, the New Jewel Movement in Grenada, the Black Panthers, and the Nation of Islam. To the latter he attempted to donate a handsome $1bn in 1996, but the US federal government threw a spike in the wheel. Its leader, Louis Farrakhan, was similarly barred from accepting $250,000 associated with the prestigous Gadafi Human Rights Award.

Another of Gadafi's faves is the IRA. In the Colonel's view, his arms shipments sparked the peace process with the British Government.

But times they are a-changing. In February 2001, Gadafi informed Time magazine that he wanted reconciliation with the West. "I supported all liberation movements fighting imperialism," he confessed, "but I believe that is over now."

So over is it, in fact, that he repeatedly has commandeered his beloved bulldozers to remove the various training camps for "liberation movements" across the Libyan dunes. Or so we are told.

The big tent style of diplomacy

The Colonel's coming in from the cold has been throroughgoing enough to land him back in Brussels in April 2004, for the first time in 15 years.

Naturally it raised some eyebrows when, instead of settling in at the Val Duchess chateau, he pitched a blue Bedouin tent on the palace grounds, whence he rebuked the Italian EU President Romano Prodi for the crimes of Mussolini. But at least this demonstrated a new willingness to communicate, unlike in October 2002, when Gadafi closed Libya's airports and severed phone links with the outside world in a demand for compensation from the former colonial power. People who phoned Libya received a recorded message: "As part of the mourning over the victims of the savage crimes committed by the Italian fascists against the Libyan people, all international telecommunications are to be halted today."

Showing Blair his footsoles, an Arab sign of disrespect
Meanwhile, in February 2004, Silvio Berlusconi had sipped mint tea in Gadafi's tent outside Tripoli, the inside of which is embroidered with favorite quotations of himself. The US assistant secretary of state, William Burns, followed suit in March. In the same month, Tony Blair visited the tent for talks and an extraordinary joint television interview. It did not occur to the British PM that showing the soles of one's feet, as Gadafi did to Blair throughout the event, counts as a serious personal insult in Arab culture.

In October 2004, Blair sent off a friendly letter addressed to "Dear Muammar" and concluding, "Best wishes, Yours ever, Tony." In return, Muammar has characterized Tony as a man "who could be a revolutionary." That's probably a compliment. In any case, it may now be a question of time when Reagan's "mad dog of the Middle East" will park his camels at the ranch in Crawford -- or until Bush himself is parked on a pillow in Gadafi's tent.

Tourist trap

The Libyan flag, designed by Gadafi
In the meantime, why not pay a visit yourself? Though you must still have your passport translated to Arabic to be eligible for a costly visa, Libya now welcomes tourists. In 1999, two young Spanish women had their flight delayed by 24 hours. Arriving finally at their hotel, they were met by a man in flowing robes: "Hi, my name is Muammar Gadaffi. On behalf of Libyan Arab Airlines and Libya I wish to apologize for the long delay. Such things are not supposed to happen," said the Guide of the Revolution, and disappeared.

Gadafi's hospitality does not stop there. On one occasion he ordered the good people of Tripoli to paint their rooftops green (you get the idea he likes that color) so that the desert city would appear lush to visitors flying in. One never gets a second chance to make a first impression, after all.

There is, however, still some room for improvement when it comes to making Libya a holiday hotspot. All cruise ships stopping by are immediately boarded by officials who shut tight and seal every container of ethanol.

Now see what y'all have done!

Fearless critic of Libya
Moammar is not resting on his laurels. In an unusual series of speeches over the summer, he has slammed his own country for its reliance on petroleum and imports. "We don't produce anything. We sell only oil and consume everything... it's a catastrophe," he thunders, echoing his remarkable 2004 address to the opening session of the Libyan People's National Congress: "No one separated Libya from the world community," he then said. "Libya voluntarily separated itself. No one has imposed sanctions on us or punished us. We have punished ourselves."

But who are "we," Muammar? Oh, right. The empowered Libyan masses.

Libya, see, is not a military dictatorship! It's not even a republic (jumhriyya). In Volume I of his Green Book (1977), Gadaffi coined a new word for the "direct democracy" of revolutionary Libya: jamahariyya, or state of the masses. Hence his own, strictly unofficial title: Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahariyya. As the Guide told a delegation of US black publishers, including the aforementioned Louis Farrakhan:

Since 1977, I handed over the power to the people. We seized power, and then we handed the authority and the power to the people on March 2 1977. For these reasons, the Libyan people have no opposition in politics or in authority or in power because they wield power. They are in power.

So don't you try to run away from your policy failures, you ungrateful bastards.

Behind you all the way always
Libya is the only democracy on the planet, explained Gadafi by videolink to an auditorium at Columbia University, New York, in March 2006. Dressed in purple and seated in front of a map of Africa, he told his audience that jamahariyya is superior to the "farcical and phony" representative democracy of the West: "Nations like the USA, India, China, and Russia are in great need of jamahariyya. It could be their salvation."

But... wasn't it beauty that will save the world?

Anyway, Blair's and Bush's new chum cautions against counter-revolutionary elements in the world's so far only democracy. On September 1, 2006, in his two-hours televised speech to the Libyan people, he brought this home in no uncertain terms: "Thanks God - our revolution has won.... Our enemies have been crushed inside Libya and you have to be ready to kill them if they emerge anew!"

Good on ya, Muammar. Some of us began to fear you might be getting old. Hey, how about that promotion to General at last?

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