Sholto Byrnes examines the life of Colonel Gaddafi and his curious relationship with the west in this profile, published last year in the New Statesman.
Gaddafi is the last of that generation, and while others who cloaked themselves in the rhetoric of Nasser have fallen, failed or died, it is the young man once praised by the Egyptian president who now appears to be becoming the kind of Arab leader with whom we can, and with whom we wish, to do business.
Throughout the Nineties and Noughties, Gaddafi transformed from a tyrant to a laughable autocrat in the eyes of the west. He was a bit weird, but he was a man we could do business with, seemed to be the gist of it. And the west did a lot of business with him, something that could prove the final straw for the struggling Silvio Berlusconi, according to James Ridgeway at Mother Jones.
The press struggled to see past the female bodyguards, which was part of Gaddafi's plan, according to Ben Macintyre in the Times (£).
Gaddafi's female bodyguards have kept the tabloids salivating for years, but they too are part of the act. Unlikely tales of repeated assassination attempts foiled by the "killer virgins" help to maintain the illusion of permanent danger, of a nation under threat. From time to time the "Guide of the Revolution" has announced that he is standing down, his mission completed, only to be called back to power by staged rallies of adoring Libyans.
As Gaddafi strutted across the international stage, life in Libya remained a struggle. The New Yorker contains this rather eloquent description of it.
Here's a story they tell in Libya. Three contestants are in a race to run five hundred metres carrying a bag of rats. The first sets off at a good pace, but after a hundred metres the rats have chewed through the bag and spill on to the course. The second contestant gets to a hundred and fifty metres, and the same thing happens. The third contestant shakes the bag so vigorously as he runs that the rats are constantly tumbling and cannot chew on anything, and he takes the prize. That third contestant is Libya's leader, Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, the permanent revolutionary.
Hopes for reform lay briefly on the shoulders of Gaddafi's son Saif. His PhD expounded on the role of civil society in democratisation (you can read it, here). Unfortunately, these words did not translate into action, according to Andrew Solomon of the New Yorker, who argues in this blog post that the protests stem from a lack of reform, endemic poverty and – that worldwide phenomenon – discontented youth.
If the causes of the unrest are unclear, however, the actual events are even murkier. With few mainstream media outlets in Libya, reports are based around grimy, unclear clips, often taken on mobile phones.
The following video appears to show government troops opening fire on protesters. [Warning: extremely graphic images]
After reports – spread by, of all people, William Hague – circulated that Gaddafi had fled to Venezuela, the Libyan leader appeared on state television last night and, in a bizarre public address, said:
I am satisfied, because I was speaking in front of the youth in the Green Square tonight, but the rain came, praise to God, it is a good omen.
I want to clarify for them that I am in Tripoli not in Venezuela. Do not believe these channels – they are dogs. Goodbye.