Monday, August 29, 2011

Gilded Traces of the Lives Qaddafis Led



The New York Times

August 27, 2011

Gilded Traces of the Lives Qaddafis Led


TRIPOLI, Libya — His name of choice was the Brother Leader, though his nearly 42 years of rule were rarely brotherly, and his leadership left a country with plentiful oil in shambles.

Now, as the former subjects of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi comb through his family’s estates, farms and seaside villas, the properties are revealing the details of lives lived far removed from the people, and ones filled with the signs of their peccadilloes and rivalries.

At one farm, horses wandered by marble statues of lions, tigers and bears, and on a sun-baked day, reindeer grazed by the deck of an empty pool. At the home of one son, Saadi, there were signs of a life mundane in its seeming frustration. A man who drifted through stints as an athlete, soldier and Hollywood producer, Saadi kept the English-language self-help book “Success Intelligence” in his master bedroom.

Given Colonel Qaddafi’s noted flamboyance, the residences of the House of Qaddafi were not quite as grand as people might have supposed.

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

But in Baghdad and Tripoli, the physical remains of the leader’s rule still projected the distance between power and powerlessness. As rebels and residents started to pick through the detritus of the Qaddafis’ lives in recent days, there was a sense of laying claim to a country commandeered by the Arab world’s longest-ruling leader — and speaking their minds without fear about the country they have inherited, and the leader they hope they have left behind.

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

There was also a sense of something incomplete. Even as people pulled back the cloak on the Qaddafis’ lives, the colonel and his children remained at large.

In the sanctum of the Farm, there are rolling, irrigated fields. Camels wandered unattended. Still standing was a tent where Colonel Qaddafi met foreign dignitaries, its canvas decorated with pictures of camels and palm trees. NATO bombers seemed to have no idea where he was; their hunt destroyed an unfinished Moroccan-style house, other tents built with more expensive canvas and a knot of bunker-style concrete buildings for official use.

As Mr. Gritli and a friend drove along roads that seemed to lead nowhere, they shook their heads. Rebels rolled through a compound still not secure. So did looters.

“We weren’t allowed to get anywhere near, not even the gate,” Mr. Gritli said of the years before the revolt that shattered the colonel’s hold on power.

“Qaddafi was not living like a rich man, I admit that,” said Malik el-Bakouri, a 27-year-old doctor from Tripoli, as he drove past a guesthouse 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.”

Colonel Qaddafi’s sons’ behavior would have made reality show producers proud — Hannibal repeatedly had brushes with the law in Europe. And Seif al-Islam, the heir apparent, began his ascent with promises of democracy, then ended his tenure with a pledge to turn Libya into a country “like Saudi Arabia, like Iran.” (“So what?” he added.)

The villas of some of the sons on a sand bluff overlooking the Mediterranean, though, failed to match the ostentation they displayed in other facets of their lives. They were not lavish; the brown paint on the patio decks was peeling, and they had a distinctly 1970s feel. 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 in a country whose wealth was squandered.

“We’ve got to take this over!” said Bahaeddin Zintani, a 23-year-old fighter 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 Pérignon Rose, all empty. The patio opened to a spectacular view of turquoise waters.

“All I can ask is why?” said Mr. Zintani’s older brother, Serajeddin, carting an Israeli-made rifle. “Why can’t we live like this, the good life? Every day you walk out and see the sea.”

Muatassim, another of Colonel Qaddafi’s sons 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 neighborhood 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 led to an ostentatious pool bungalow, with Roman columns at the entrance and topped by gold domes that looked like Hershey Kisses.

On Saturday, fighters from Misurata toured the house, stunned. “It’s like some Aladdin castle,” one said. “He doesn’t care about the Libyan people. Just living in heaven.”

Another fighter walked out with a book of stamps depicting the Brother Leader.

In a diplomatic cable from 2009 released by WikiLeaks, Muatassim was described as “ambitious and competitive,” and as being groomed as another potential successor. “Considered little more than a playboy two year ago, Muatassim has surprised many observers by the seriousness with which he has taken his new responsibilities as the national security adviser,” wrote Gene A. Cretz, who was then the United States ambassador to Libya.

In the charred remains of his house, limes littered the floors of a barroom. A painting of samurai doing battle was the only one not ripped from its frame. Chinese lanterns hung on long deck by a massive pool, with a gazebo in the middle. Mohamed al-Hutmani, who lived nearby, walked around the grounds, through the lemon trees and olive groves that covered several acres.

“We were not allowed to stop our cars on the street,” Mr. Hutmani said. “It was impossible to think that I would enter this place.”

Rebel guards closed the former home of Colonel Qaddafi’s daughter Aisha because too many Libyans were wandering through, having their pictures taken and looking for souvenirs.

Through his long reign, Colonel Qaddafi 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 said to be sworn to celibacy. Interspersed in his ravings were the words of a man with the healthiest of egos, even as health, education and housing in his country crumbled. “King of kings,” he once declared himself.

At his former residence in Bab al-Aziziya, his leadership’s fortresslike 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.

David D. Kirkpatrick contributed reporting.

© 2011 The New York Times Company

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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Alas, today's policy is to create violence and rule on them, and it is still the beginning.

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