21 October 2011


The Libyan dictator had hunted my family since I was two

First came the rumours from a friend in the US, then from my wife in London, then came confirmation with a picture from Tripoli. Gaddafi was dead and I felt an explosion of relief, as if a heavy weight had been lifted off my chest. I feel as if I have awoken from a coma to hear the sound of the independent national anthem and feel the breeze from the flag of independence waving high in the sky.

When I was 2 the dictator seized power in a military coup. As my family were associated with the deposed monarchy we were condemned as anti-revolutionary. We had property confiscated and my father’s businesses were taken over. In effect we were the victims of a witch-hunt.

I felt it when I went to study political science at university in 1984. My immersion in the academic world ended abruptly, when I was kicked out “because of your surname”. I later learnt that it was on the orders of a nephew of Gaddafi who worked for the intelligence services. The 1990s were then spent fighting the Gaddafi regime before my enforced exile in London.

Living in the UK has taught me the most important lesson for Libya’s future — that freedom is the lethal weapon against extremism. I can feel it having lived in the most tolerant country in the world. I have lived it.

People ask if extreme Islamists will take control of Libya, but I don’t see them being a significant part of its politics. We have experienced a revolution of the people, with zero ideology. Libyan society would be an unsuitable host for strong Islamism.

Before his death I had hoped that Gaddafi would be brought to justice. He brought suffering to tens of thousands of people and I wanted to see him at the International Criminal Court in The Hague hearing their stories. Gaddafi was notorious for dodging any form of justice; once again, for one final time, he has cheated it.

But his death has a positive side. It removes the likelihood of a terrorist campaign against a new government. No doubt a few will see Gaddafi as a martyr, but their number will be small.

After decades of ruling with an iron fist, Gaddafi spent his last days on Earth running for his life, hunted by those innocent souls who have been victims of his regime. I hope his death is a spur to them to work together to match the rebels’ success in overthrowing him with political success.

When I ask why, over the past eight months, he commanded a vicious war against his own people who were peacefully protesting for rights and democracy the only explanation I can think of is “boredom”. After 42 years of unchallenged dictatorial rule these months gave Gaddafi a chance to practise his favourite habit — killing, terrorising and spreading fear.

For decades he exploited Libya’s wealth to construct an almighty image of himself as an invincible heroic figure. He reminded me of the Mongol leader, Tamerlane. This 14th-century “almighty” ruler had a limp, a deformed nose and was blind in one eye. Yet all his numerous self-portraits he commanded, on pain of beheading, were to be painted without these flaws.

Ultimately, it is not an heroic legend that will characterise Gaddafi’s life. History will judge him as a key member of the “evil only” club, up there with Stalin, Hitler, Ceausescu and Mussolini, while we Libyans will remember him as a lunatic murderer.


The original article was published in The Times on Friday 21st October 2011. Full article available at The Times website