The US embassy in Libya was evacuated today. “Due to the continuing violence resulting from clashes between Libyan militias in the immediate vicinity of the U.S. embassy in Tripoli, we have temporarily relocated all of our personnel out,” said State Department spokeswoman, Marie Harf.
Almost 23 months after the 9-11 attacks in Benghazi, more than 3 years after the Arab Spring of 2011, and better than 4 decades after Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the son of a Bedouin goat herder, set up the Libyan Arab Republic in a coup d’etat of September 1, 1969, Americans are being asked to leave. “Security has to come first. Regrettably, we had to take this step because the location of our embassy is in very close proximity to intense fighting and ongoing violence between armed Libyan factions,” said John Kerry, the US Secretary of State.
There are costs associated with anarchy. And sometimes, there are costs associated with peace.
In the first days after 20 October, the day Gaddafi was shot, the Parisian journalist Annick Cojean, a reporter for Le Monde, started an interview with one of the young women who lived in his basement. One day as a 15-year-old schoolgirl in Sirte, Soraya had been given the honor of welcoming The Guide with a bouquet of flowers. “He pressed my shoulder, placed a hand on my head, and patted my hair. And there my life ended,” she remembered. A day later, she was driven off across the desert. She was cleaned up, and given a short blue satin dress. Then she was escorted upstairs, where The Guide asked her to sit on his bed. “You’re going to do everything I ask you to do,” he said. “I’ll give you jewelry and a beautiful house, I’ll teach you how to drive and give you a car. One day you may even be able to study abroad if you want. I will take you wherever you want to go. Do you hear what I’m saying? Your every wish will be fulfilled!”
“I want to go home to mama,” she said.
Gaddafi surrounded himself with women for the 42 years he held onto power. There were the Daughters of Muammar Gaddafi, his revolutionary troops, who served drinks and posed for photo ops. “I am the master of Libya,” he let one of them know. “Every Libyan belongs to me, including you!” Sexually accessible to their master, many were married off after a few months or years to his soldiers. “As he usually did with most of his ‘daughters’ (Khadija had the famous identity card), Gaddafi one day assigned her a husband, chosen from among his guards.”
Others were recruited in schools. “Sooner or later every girl was confronted with sexual exploitation,” said a University of Tripoli student named Nisreen. “You can’t count the girls who failed their exams because they refused their professor’s advances. Or those who were aghast at their grades and then found they were being offered some very private courses.” The Guide’s morals were contagious. Schools and universities were perpetually restocked, natural fishponds for him.
“Every place where women regularly spent time was a potential source of women for The Guide,” as Annick Cojean went on. His agents worked as wedding crashers; his procurers combed through prisons.
But mostly, he coveted his subordinates’ women. “What really excited him was the idea of possessing the daughters or wives of powerful figures or of his opponents, whether it be for an hour, a night, or a few weeks. It was not so much about seducing a woman as, through her, humiliating the man,” said an unnamed informant. Millions of euros could be spent on a woman like that.
In a Darwinian universe, politics is a means to sex. Sex wasn’t the only cost Gaddafi imposed, of course. “Was there a single place in Libya where one could escape?” Soraya asked. “His police, his militia, his spies were everywhere. Neighbors kept an eye on neighbors and even within some families there might be denunciations. I was a prisoner and at his mercy,” she understood.
The armies of men and women who took part in the Arab Spring, the front lines that eventually caught up with the Colonel in a sewer and stabbed him in the backend with a bayonet, were protesting against extortion and corruption, incarcerations and executions. They were coming out of hiding, and they were talking. After almost half a century of repression, Libyans were living up to their promise.
May the dust settle on a free people.
Cojean, Annick. 2012. Gaddafi’s Harem, translated by M. de Jaeger. New York: Grove Press.