Traces of Gaddafi's gilded life

Tent commandments
  • Image Credit: AFP/EPA
  • Tent commandments: A picture combo shows revolutionaries taking souvenir pictures inside the tent where Libyan leader Gaddafi used to receive foreign dignitaries at the Bab Al Aziziya compound in Tripoli and Gaddafi meeting with Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila in the same tent on July 17, 2008 (top and bottom). Top right: A man plays the piano in the ransacked seaside summer house of Hannibal Gaddafi, son of Muammar Gaddafi.

Tripoli: His name of choice was the Brother Leader, though his nearly 42 years of rule were rarely brotherly, and his leadership left one of the world’s most richly endowed countries in shambles.

Now, as the former subjects of Muammar Gaddafi comb through his family’s mansions, farms and seaside villas, the properties are revealing the details of lives lived far removed from the people, ones filled with the signs of their peccadilloes and rivalries.
At one farm, horses wandered by marble statues of lions, tigers and bears, and reindeers grazed by the wood deck of an empty pool. At the home of one son, Sa’adi, there were signs of a life mundane in its seeming frustration. A man who drifted through stints as an athlete, soldier and Hollywood movie producer, Sa’adi kept the English language self-help book Success Intelligence in his master bedroom. Given Gaddafi’s noted flamboyance, the residences of the House of Gaddafi were not quite as grand as people might minor have supposed.

Faux grandeur

They lacked the faux grandeur of Saddam Hussain’s marbled palaces. There are no columns that bear the Gaddafi’s initials, or fists cast in replica of his hands, or river-fed moats with voracious carp.

“For somebody who’s very rich, he was very cheap,” said resident Fuad Gritli, as he drove through a sprawling parcel near the airport known as the Farm, where Gaddafi lived.

In the sanctum of the Farm, there are rolling, irrigated fields. Camels wandered unattended. Still standing was a tent where he met foreign dignitaries, its canvas decorated in pictures of camels and palm trees. “We weren’t allowed to get anywhere near, not even the gate,” Gritli said. “Gaddafi was not living like a rich man, I admit that, said Malek Al Bakouri, a 27-year-old doctor from Tripoli, as he drove past a guest house where water cascaded from a broken pipe in a city suffering from a shortage of it. “But his sons, all the people in his tribe, and all the families around him lived good, and they lived good for 40 years.”

Gaddafi's sons’ behaviour would have made a reality show proud — Sa’adi was a professional soccer player, and Hannibal repeatedly had brushes with the law in Europe. But the sons’ villas on a sand bluff overlooking the Mediterranean had a distinctly 1970s feel. They were not lavish; the brown paint on the patio decks was peeling. But to the young fighters roaming through Hannibal’s quarters — furnished overwhelmingly in whites and blacks, and ringed with plastic grass — there was just enough luxury to inspire envy. “We’ve got to take this over!” said Bahaeddin Zintani, a 23-year-old revolutionary who took turns with his brother lying in bed and posing for pictures before a home gym fitted with a mirror. “This is the first time I’ve even seen anything like this.”

On a black granite bar, there were cases for Johnnie Walker Blue Label and Dom Perignon Rose, all empty.

Muatassim, the fourth-eldest Gaddafi son and the country’s national security adviser, surrounded himself with more luxury. He regularly arrived in a convoy of cars to a farmhouse in the Ain Zara neighbourhood of Tripoli protected by high walls and gates on four sides that were made to look like cinder-block walls. A driveway with a fountain featuring four-horse drawn carriages, and then, an ostentatious pool bungalow, with Roman columns at the entrance and topped by gold domes that looked like Hershey Kisses.

Amid the scattered shards of gilded furniture were relics of Sa’adi’s mundane if coddled life: directions for a battery-powered Barbie doll, mermaid floats that children must have played with in the swimming pool out back, a phrase book of English vocabulary for the finance business. Through his long reign, Gaddafi posed as an ever-struggling revolutionary, his ideas encapsulated in The Green Book. (In one memorable passage, he defended freedom of expression, even if a person chooses “to express his or her insanity.”) But the avowed simplicity never matched his lifestyle, prone as he was to epaulets, billowing robes and shirts emblazoned with green maps of Africa. His all-female contingent of guards was supposedly sworn to celibacy.

At Muammar Gaddafi’s residence in Bab Al Aziziya, his fortress-like preserve in the heart of Tripoli, there was a white binder with hundreds of pages of clippings about him. Graffiti on a wall nearby taunted the Brother Leader, now nicknamed for another distinguishing trait: unmanageable grooming. “Where’s the guy with the crazy hair?” it said.




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