Muammar Gaddafi will go down in history as Libya’s most brutal, eccentric, and mercurial ruler, a man who implemented his vision of dictatorial rule until he was ousted by his own people. His iron grip, brutal reign, and even whacky wardrobe have been well documented, but his penchant to impose random rules over his people can be further explained by examining Gaddafi’s interests and phobias.
A common saying in Libya was that “at night Muammar dreams; by day, he implements” noting the odd rules Gaddafi would impose on the country almost without notice, such as randomly forcing store owners to paint storefront doors green. He also forced Tripoli's main medical school to take 2,000 new students, beyond the 150-student limit, because too many Libyans were going abroad for medical treatment.
He had an all-female bodyguard corps, which he once explained by saying, “there are no men in the Arab world.” The 400 women first appeared with Gaddafi in the 1990s and came to be referred to as “the Amazonians.” The women were all renamed Aisha, after Gaddafi’s only daughter, and took a vow of chastity. In public, they usually appeared well groomed and clad in high heels. In 2009, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi went to shake hands with one of the women, only to be met with a harsh glare from the female guard. Five women have come forward and said that they were raped and abused by the now defunct leader.
Gaddafi also relied heavily on a “voluptuous blonde” Ukrainian nurse named Galyna Kolotnytska. He refused to travel without her because, as he put it, she knew his routine. Once the revolution started she deserted Gaddafi and went back to Ukraine.
Gaddafi loved flamenco dancing. To mark his 40th year in power, Gaddafi decided to stop in Seville, Spain, on his way back to Libya from Venezuela specifically to attend a flamenco dance performance. Some have compared Gaddafi to the Roman Emperor Nero, who famously fiddled while Rome burned, by saying that Gaddafi danced while Libya burned.
Gaddafi also had an aversion to heights and flying over water. When abroad, he disliked staying in hotels, perhaps due to his acrophobia, and instead pitched a Bedouin tent “as it offered him a non-verbal way of communicating that he is a man close to his cultural roots,” according to U.S. diplomatic cables on Libya.
The former Libyan leader will go down as one of the most suppressive autocrats in modern history. But, his taste for the uncanny and penchant for smoking cigars when he disagreed with someone will be remembered for years to come.
Photo Credit: IL LI