Thursday, October 20, 2011

The cult figure that dies with Muammar Gaddafi

He was everywhere. For more than four decades, Muammar Gaddafi's image adorned countless buildings, billboards, banners, railings and lamp-posts. Giant portraits hung in hotel lobbies and offices. Miniature laminated versions swung on green ribbons around the necks of his supporters.

Some showed the "brother leader" saluting, stern-faced in full dress uniform. Others had him benignly beaming, or with his hands clasped in supplication, or against a backdrop of the rays of a rising sun.

His face was on T-shirts, baseball caps and wristwatches. Schoolchildren took lessons beneath his gaze, hospital patients were treated within his view.

Gaddafi was not the first, and will not be the last, leader to develop a cult of the personality in order to entrench his position. Like Gaddafi, many of them adopted honorifics such as brother, guide, leader. They all created societies ruled by fear, using networks of informants to report dissent.

But the entire modern state of Libya was built around one man and his eccentric philosophies and whims. Nowhere was the cult of Gaddafi more evident than at Bab al-Aziziya, the sprawling compound in the Libyan capital which was the nexus of his dominion.

For months the hard core of the Gaddafi cult flocked there to act as human shields against the "crusader aggressor", as they described Nato warplanes.

They came wrapped in loyalist green and ready to die. The long queues and rigorous security checks did not deter them. Sometimes there were tens of thousands, sometimes the numbers dwindled to a few hundred.

Young women, faces elaborately made up below their hijabs, were kept to one side from the main event. Young men, stripped to the waist in the heat of the north African night and intoxicated with love for their leader, sang, chanted, danced and prayed. As a night out for Tripoli's loyalists, the throbbing Bab al-Aziziya gatherings were as good as it got: a cross between a political rally, religious gathering, football match and rock concert.

One sultry evening, almost voiceless from chanting, Randa Mohamed, 28, told the Guardian that she loved Gaddafi more than her husband and would "do anything" to protect him. A flinty regime official gently traced the outline of his face with her finger as she showed the Guardian the screensaver image of Gaddafi on her mobile phone.

As with all cults, some were genuinely enthralled and some were too afraid to voice doubts. Open dissent was impossible. At a coffee shop in a mainly loyalist neighbourhood of Tripoli, a middle-aged man sidled up at the counter. Looking straight ahead, he spoke out in a low voice out of the corner of his mouth. "We need our freedom. Out, out. We are very afraid. Please don't ask me anything." With that, he turned to face the crowded cafe and, pumping his clenched fists in the air, cried "Allah, Muammar, Libya, we bas [enough]!" – loyalist Libya's ubiquitous chant.

The irony is that any other closet rebel sympathisers within earshot would have shrunk further into their seats or felt compelled to join in the display of devotion.

From : The Guardian