During the revolution I was a volunteer columnist for the Intifathat AlAhrar (Uprising of the Free) newspaper, which was published by the Tawasul organization. Most of my articles revolved around the state of the on-going revolution at the time and the changes in society.
But as I was rummaging through some old files to clear up disk space, I stumbled on this draft of an article that never got published. It brought back some memories and so I decided to publish it here.
Every uprising has its memorable moments, whether it was the lone man roaming the deserted streets of Tunis telling his people not to be afraid, to the confrontation between Egyptian protesters and Mubarak’s camel & horse thugs, or the tearing down of Pearl Square in Manama.
But when your revolution is against a man who wears flowing silk and velvet robes to UN meetings and surrounds himself with female ‘virgin’ bodyguards, prepare yourself for some very odd situations. In no particular order, the more memorable events of Libya’s uprising are:
#10. Yellow Hats – During the beginning of the revolution, widely circulated rumors about African mercenaries abounded. These were Gadhafi’s “riot police”, so to speak, except instead of water hoses and shields, they shot you in the heart. And they got paid $2,000 a day to do it.
But it didn’t stop there. People were reporting sightings of large groups of ‘yellow hat men”. These were men armed with clubs, wearing yellow construction hats, presumably to help them identify each other.
Of course, being Gadhafi supports, it never occurred to them that it would also help the angry mob to identify them as well. Needless to say, they weren’t around for long.
#9. Gadhafi’s First Speech – Protests have never gone unpunished in Libya before. But when the Gadhafi regime was faced with a situation that had gotten too out-of-hand, their solution was to confront the people, in the form of Seif Al-Islam Gadhafi’s televised address.
When dealing with angry protesters, the last thing you want to do is call them rats, accuse them of being stoned and threaten to burn the country. Unfortunately, no one shared these gems of wisdom to the Gadhafis, and the result was an even angrier mob.
In a hilarious display of poor judgment, it was then announced that there would be an address by none another than Brother Leader himself. The state T.V. channels broadcast that Muammer Gadhafi would shortly be giving a speech to the people. Would he also rave like a lunatic? Shout threats and vow to destroy the country?
It didn’t broadcast until 1 am, and if you blinked you would have missed it. It was a 15-second commentary on the rain, and how he wasn’t in Venezuela. There was also an umbrella.
Of course he made it up to us later with an hour-long threat-filled tirade about hallucination drugs and how the West wanted to colonize us.
#8. Secret Abortion Clinic – You’ve probably heard the phrase “only in Libya”. A combination of circumstances has made this country the setting for some very unlikely events.
After the freeing of Tripoli, a lot of secrets came out. Mass graves, underground tunnels. And an abortion clinic. Under the UNIVERSITY.
An entire suite was found under Tripoli university, including a bedroom, Jacuzzi, and a fully equipped, state-of-the-art female clinic. Why under the University though?
It is believed that Gadhafi posted people there to look for attractive young females, whom he could seduce (read: rape), without going to the trouble of kidnapping them from their home. Apparently he wasn’t a fan of contraceptives, which is where we think the clinic comes in.
#7. Condi Rice Photo Album – A good many odd things were found in Gadhafi & Son’s numerous houses, including a tortured maid, golden weaponry and a maze of tunnels. But one of the most peculiar items discovered was a photo album dedicated solely to pictures of Condoleezza Rice. Yes, the former American Secretary of State.
Apparently Gadhafi had a crush on Ms. Rice, even composing a song for her called Black Flower in the White House. Which is bizarre considering that he refused to shake her hand on her last visit. Was Gadhafi just a shy schoolboy? Or a borderline obsessive maniac? (Hint: it’s the latter)
#6. Magic Man – Revolutions bring out the best and worst people to the limelight. We saw the emergence numerous activists, leaders who embodied the best of the Libyan people.
And then there were people like Yousif Shakeer, a talk-show host and purported ‘political analyst’ who began his appearance on Libyan state television as a guest speaker and was eventually given his own show. Now, I could compile a list exclusively for the weirdest Yousif Shakir moments, but for now I’ll just mention one of the most well-known; when he called upon jinn to help Gadhafi.
Rosary swinging in hand, Shakir quivered with concentration as he held what is probably the first ever live television jinn-summoning. But either the jinn were anti-Gahdafi or Shakir needed more lessons in black magic, because they did not come to the deposed dictator’s aid.
#5. The Spluttering Spokesperson – One of the qualifications for any job with the Gadhafi regime is the ability to lie unabashedly in the face of a mountain of evidence, even at the cost of your own personal image. You must dismiss reason and logic, and focus solely on denying whatever allegations are being made.
This was the task assigned to Moussa Ibrahim, mouth piece of the regime itself. No matter what the media outlet was, Ibrahim would assert, with unwavering confidence and no trace of irony, that there was nothing going on in Libya and all the problems were caused by outside forces.
When Tripoli was finally breached and Bab Al-Azizya was crashing around their ears, Ibrahim emerged in a presser to state that Tripoli was under their control and they were prepared to defend it, while simultaneously asking for a ceasefire.
But possibly the biggest mishap occurred on an interview he did with BBC, when he claimed that “not even God” could stop the Libyan people “if they wanted their dictator” (which you can watch here, scroll to minute 14:40). Way to echo the sentiments of a religious nation, Mr. Ibrahim.
#4. Gadhafi’s Last Stand – No tyrant lives forever, and Gadhafi was no exception to the rule. However, it’s how the tyrant ends which really matters in history. Some, like Hafiz Al-Assad, pass away unremarkably, while others face a violent ending.
In Gadhafi’s case, it was the latter, with a twist of poetic justice. After a NATO attack on his conveys left the ex-leader between a rock and a hard place, he was found in a hole by the same people he called rats. Horrific endings are not uncommon for despots, but how many of them were found with a solid gold gun?
Apparently Gadhafi liked to defend himself in style. This is not the first weapon owned by Gadhafi that was valuable enough to feed the entire Libyan population for at least a year. Among his stockpile were another gold rifle and a diamond-encrusted pistol. And he never even got to use them. Just goes to show you that when buying weapons for self-defense (or murdering your people), reliability always trumps ostentatious glitziness.
#3. Bab Al-Aziziya’s Nightly Raves – Everything Gadhafi did was in gaudy, tasteless style, including the “spontaneous” organized protests that took place in his compound. These took the form of nightly festivities with authentic Libyan wedding bands to boot (East Libyan of course, to show that half of the country that he didn’t hold any grudges).
Every night on Libya’s state tv channel we were treated to an exuberant party of Gadhafi supporters dancing and chanting their support for the Green Man. Flags of supportive countries (which dwindled every night) were waved violently at the cameras, as if to say, “Who needs you France? We have Algeria!”
But one of the highlights of those celebrations was an honest-to-goodness wedding. Yes, that’s right, a bride and groom, bedecked in “imperialist” wedding gown and tux, sat perched atop a chaise longue on stage while the revelers convulsed in dance below. It’s unclear what the message was (Gadhafi supports marriages? Married people support Gadhafi?) but we can say with certainty that it is the most unique wedding we’ve ever seen.
#2. Abdul-Jalil’s Liberation Speech – Few occasions are as momentous in a country’s history as the day it is liberated. The longer and crueler the dictatorship, the bigger the event.
Libya’s liberation declaration on October 23rd was one such day. The 42 years of oppression ending with the death of the tyrant left even the most inarticulate citizen eloquently proclaiming their joy.
And no man had greater opportunity to voice what Libyans were feeling than interim PM Mustafa Abdul Jalil, who was scheduled to give the “official” declaration in Benghazi’s Keesh square. Standing on the podium with the eyes of the country on him, Abdul Jalil declared that Libya was free….and that men can marry 4 wives.
In his effort to emphasis that Libya will become an Islamic country, and unaware that timing is everything, Abdul Jalil nullified a Gadhafi-era law prohibiting multiple marriages during his speech. Because nothing says “dawn of a new era” quite like polygamy.
As you can see, I never actually finished the list. I don’t know if it was due to my inability to find more events to write about (10 point lists are hard, okay?) or if I was demotivated to complete it after the newspaper was discontinued. It’s funny how much of this stuff I forgot, or how sardonic I could be (oh, to be 20 again).
It also brought back memories of a time when we believed wholeheartedly that the country was headed towards nothing but success. Abdul-Jalil’s speech now seems like an ominous foreshadowing, rather than just a goofy comment from an incompetent politician.
There are very little events in Libya today that could provide material for a lighthearted article, which is why I shared this one. So share your experience with me. What is the strangest moment you remember from the Libyan revolution that deserves the number 1 spot?