Libyan leader cut a flamboyant, eccentric figure

By Christopher Torchia

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Feb. 27 2011 9:55 a.m. MST

FILE - In this June 10, 2009 file photo, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, left, and Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, back to camera, review a honor guard upon his arrival at Rome's Ciampino military airport. Gadhafi was many things over many years: a dashing icon of Libyan revolution, a brazen patron of terrorists, the custodian of vast oil wealth, a dictator whose flamboyance masked grit and guile, and a longtime pariah on the road to rehabilitation in the West. From his cadre of female bodyguards to his penchant for pitching a tent on foreign visits, he was an object of fascination, ridicule and revulsion. Now, in perhaps his final reinvention, Gadhafi is an apocalyptic figure, the dispenser of terrible bloodshed who seeks to keep power four decades after he ousted King Idris in a coup when he was an army captain.

Andrew Medichini, File, Associated Press

Moammar Gadhafi was many things over many years: a dashing icon of Libyan revolution, a brazen patron of terrorists, the custodian of vast oil wealth, a dictator whose flamboyance masked grit and guile, and a longtime pariah on the road to rehabilitation in the West.

From his cadre of female bodyguards to his penchant for pitching a tent on foreign visits, he was an object of fascination, ridicule and revulsion.

Now, in perhaps his final reinvention, Gadhafi is an apocalyptic figure, the dispenser of terrible bloodshed who seeks to keep power four decades after he ousted King Idris in a coup when he was an army captain.

In sending warplanes and helicopters against protesters, and in threatening to turn Libya into "hell," Gadhafi has spurned even the facade of legitimate leadership amid a widening revolt that seems close to toppling him. Yet he does not appear aware of that, or to care, thereby subjecting the fate of Libya's 6 million people to the foibles of one man's narcissism.

Once known as "Brother Leader of the Revolution," Gadhafi again stands at an intersection of brutality and buffoonery.

The man lampooned for his eccentricities is the same one who funded Italy's Red Brigades and the Irish Republican Army, and whose regime was implicated in the bombings of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, and a French airliner over the Niger desert in the late 1980s.

Some examples of Gadhafi's eccentricities:

— He has shown a penchant for conducting state business in tents, pitching them in Moscow, Paris and Rome, among other locales. For a September 2009 visit to New York to give a speech at the United Nations, he tried and failed to make camp in Manhattan's Central Park and Englewood, New Jersey. The white cloth tent, lined with a tapestry featuring camels and palms, later appeared in Bedford, New York, in a courtyard of a stone manor house on property owned by real estate magnate Donald Trump, who hinted that he had been tricked into renting his land. Politicians eventually declared Gadhafi unwelcome, and Bedford issued a stop-work order.

— Gadhafi's personal bodyguards, known as the Amazonian guard, consisted of young women said to be martial arts experts. They often carried machine guns and sometimes wore military-style uniforms with matching camouflaged headscarves. In 2006, Nigerian authorities stopped dozens of Gadhafi's bodyguards, including members of the female corps, from entering Abuja, the capital, with weapons in a dispute that lasted hours and saw the exasperated Libyan leader storm away from the airport on foot before a compromise was reached.

— Dapper and handsome in his youth, he cultivated an increasingly flamboyant appearance over the years, donning garish military uniforms with braids and huge, fringed epaulettes or flowing, colorful Bedouin robes and clothing with African patterns, along with sunglasses and fly whisks. His hair grew scruffy and he sported a goatee and scraggly mustache. In his first televised appearance after protests broke out in Libya, he appeared with an umbrella and a kind of hunter's cap with flaps over the ears.

— In a 2009 speech at the United Nations, he rambled about jet lag, the assassination of U.S. President Kennedy and a proposal that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict be settled by creating one country called "Isratine," where the two peoples live together. He also tore up a copy of the U.N. charter in front of the delegates, criticizing the Security Council as a form of global feudalism. "It should be called the 'terrorism council,'" he said. On Saturday, the Security Council imposed sanctions on Gadhafi, his children and top associates to try to stop his attacks on the opposition.

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