Qaddafi’s Harem

qaddafi-2This review of Annick Cojean’s book was published at NOW.


Today is the beginning of the end of the era of harems and slaves and the beginning of women’s liberation within the Arab nation.” Muammar Qaddafi. September 1981.

The Arab world is still crammed full of tyrannies self-labelling with terms such as ‘popular’ and ‘democratic’, sectarian regimes pretending to be secular, reactionary regimes describing themselves as progressive, and ‘resistance’ regimes which resist nothing but their subjects’ life and freedom.

The current post-revolutionary chaos in Libya provokes two orientalist responses: the crude (statist-leftist) version, that the uprising was a foreign conspiracy; and the subtler (because it’s never quite made explicit), that the Libyans made a terrible mistake by rising, because their fractious ‘tribal’ society can only be held together by a strong man of Qaddafi’s calibre. After him, goes the implicit argument, the inevitable deluge.

“Gaddafi’s Harem” by French journalist Annick Cojean provides a fact-based corrective to those fooled by Qaddafi’s illusions, specifically those impressed by the radical feminist image evoked by his once highly visible – and sexily transgressive – corps of ‘Amazon’ body guards. It will change the minds too of those who saw the dictator from a distance as a lovable buffoon.

His regime was capricious, yes, at times even darkly comedic, but it was based on undiluted sadism. The cramping stagnation it imposed for 42 years, and the fact that it refused to budge except by force of arms, are the prime causes of today’s anarchy. The means of domination it employed – psycho-social as much as physical – tell us a great deal about the universal megalomaniac personality, as well as certain cultural weaknesses in the Arab world and beyond.

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Qaddafi’s Racism

It really is very amusing to hear faux-leftists pontificate on how Qaddafi and his multi-millionaire playboy sons ran a socialist, anti-imperialist state even as they tortured rendered suspects for America. It’s even more of a scream to hear them describe the dictator as an anti-racist.

The Daily Kos has a good piece examining Qaddafi’s racism. It describes his mischief-making in Africa, where he funded a variety of tyrants, separatists and terrorist militias, quotes from his embarrassing Green Book – demonstrating his view of Africans as lazy, promiscuous and undeveloped – and reminds us of his deals with Berlusconi, whereby Italy would invest In Libyan projects in return for Qaddafi’s control of ‘black migration.’ This last horror was something that preoccupied Qaddafi, as the following quote shows:

Tomorrow Europe might no longer be European, and even black, as there are millions who want to come … We don’t know what will happen, what will be the reaction of the white and Christian Europeans faced with this influx of starving and ignorant Africans… We don’t know if Europe will remain an advanced and united continent or if it will be destroyed, as happened with the barbarian invasions.

Text in full after the break.

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Cockroach Rule

Mussolini and his mistress. April 1945

Our informant in Tripoli, last I heard, was at home, terrified, trying her best to remain calm amid the sound of heavy gunfire.

Tripoli is very hotly contested. Reports suggest eastern Libya, meanwhile, has become an anarchist’s paradise. Benghazi, Tobruk, al-Bayda and smaller towns and villages are in the hands of the people and revolutionary soldiers. Committees have been formed for neighbourhood protection, rubbish collection and traffic direction. The mood is peaceful, triumphant and fearless. Two war planes have been landed in Benghazi by pilots who refuse to bomb the people. Another crashed outside the city after its pilots parachuted out. Today the city of Misurata, in the west, has also been liberated.

Qaddafi’s regime has already collapsed. The army in Misurata, and in the Jebel al-Akhdar region, has joined the people. A statement by high-ranking officers asks all military personnel to head to Tripoli to remove Qaddafi. The Interior Minister and the Justice Minister have resigned, as have many diplomats. All prominent Libyan tribal and religious leaders have backed the revolution. At least a quarter of the country’s oil output has halted; a tribal leader in the east threatened to stop supplies to Europe if Qaddafi continued to kill – and indeed the pipeline to Italy is now dry.

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Blood in Libya

bread, freedom, human dignity

A report from a friend in Tripoli. She must remain nameless.

I’m here and safe for now, al-hamdullah. There is no internet in Libya, and maybe there will be no electricity in the coming days. I uploaded software late at night to get the internet, and very few have access to this software.

The death toll in Benghazi is growing, almost 80 are dead just in 3 days. It’s getting dirty here and the media coverage is too little. We are not getting the international attention and I am afraid if the Libyan protesters are ignored, this murderer will seal Libya off from the world and ruthlessly kill any protest before they even have the chance to begin.

Yesterday, I left work and I went to Sahat el-Ghadra, where all his thugs were supporting him. They got all kids out of schools and forced them to carry posters of his pictures and everyone to hang the stupid Libyan flag inside their cars and … the number of flags around Tripoli are more than the number of bloody flags you can see in the US.

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The Autumn of the Patriarch

Brother Leader

Muammar al-Qaddafi is neither a president nor a king (although he did call himself ‘King of Kings’ at one Arab summit). No, what he is, as well as Colonel, is the Brother Leader, and the Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab State-of-the-Masses (he invented the Arabic word jamahiriyya for the last chunk). I’ll refer to him here as Qaddafi.

Qaddafi is famous for grandstanding – his female bodyguards, his tent, his flamboyant dress. In interviews he growls and flicks his hands. At Arab League meetings he puts his feet on the desk, smokes cigarettes, gets into shouting matches, dramatically swans out. Sometimes he says things worth saying, and he’s often provided a laugh for Arabs who don’t live in Libya.

Qaddafi thinks he’s a lady-killing revolutionary of Guevara proportions and a tyrant of the stature of Mao; hence his Green Book (not to forget his fiction). At the same time, he thinks the people, not he, are in control of Libya’s destiny. And perhaps – we can hope after Tunisia and Egypt – he’s right.

Ideologically he’s swung from Arabism to Islamic socialism to pan-Africanism, but it’s all been hot air. His hosting of a diversity of ‘revolutionary’ groups, including religious cults, reinforced the impression that he was either stupid or insane.

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Changing the Air

Zein al-Abdine Ben Ali is in Abha, Saudi Arabia. France wouldn’t have him. (Despots, note the speed with which a sponsor drops a client who has outlived his usefulness.) Arab activists are calling for protests outside Saudi embassies.

In Tunisia, the extent of the people’s sacrifice over the last month is becoming clearer. Reports describe Ben Ali’s police terrorising rural areas with punitive rapes and random murders.

And the terror continues. Since Ben Ali’s fall, Tunis and other cities have been plagued by violence. Some of it, such as attacks on Ben Ali family businesses, can be classed as revolutionary. Some more of it is the natural result of taking the lid off after so long; a mix of exuberance, criminality, and what Gazmend Kapplani calls an ‘orphan complex’:

Tyrants are merciless beasts, precisely because they leave behind distorted societies worn down by oppression and above all suffering from an orphan complex. Those who give themselves over to indiscriminate looting and destruction the minute the statues come down are like orphaned children robbing the corpse of a false and terrifying father.

But the most terrifying violence appears to be organised by Ben Ali’s militiamen. Tunisians report battles between army forces on the one hand and ‘police’ and other highly-trained, well-armed gangs on the other. Some of these gangs have been driving through residential areas shooting randomly at people and buildings.

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