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June 12 2012

The Gaddafi archives – in pictures

The Gaddafi Archives: Libya Before the Arab Spring is part of the London festival of photography

Muammar Gaddafi's photo archive gives an insight into the 'Jamahiriya'

Libyan dictator always had an eye for the camera, whether it was posing with world leaders or harking back to his Bedouin roots

Muammar Gaddafi ruled Libya for 42 years before he was overthrown last summer and killed by rebels in October. So it will take some time before his countrymen are able to escape his giant shadow. Even as a young man – he was 27 in 1969 when he and his fellow officers overthrew the western-backed King Idris – Gaddafi had an eye for the camera and for posterity.

Archives seized after the revolution contain a rich photographic record of his poses, achievements and friends, though his hugs of welcome for fellow Arab leaders from Yasser Arafat to Egypt's President Gamal Abdel-Nasser, his hero and inspiration, often masked stormy private relationships.

Gaddafi's penchant for elaborate military uniforms and powerful allies is combined in a shot of him standing hand-in-hand with the ageing Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in 1981, at the start of a decade which saw Libyan backing for the IRA and other terrorists, retaliatory US air attacks on Libya as well as the notorious Lockerbie bombing. Years of sanctions followed until Gaddafi finally came in from the cold and shed his pariah status for a brief honeymoon before the Arab spring erupted.

Images found by Human Rights Watch in state intelligence buildings and Gaddafi family residences make up a unique archive of the years when the Jamahiriya or "state of the masses" was run according to the precepts of the "Brother Leader's'' Green Book, and was effectively closed to the west.

Gaddafi often harked back to his Bedouin roots – receiving visitors in a tent pitched inside his Bab al-Aziziyah compound in Tripoli before the Nato-backed revolution ended his control of the capital.

In one undated picture he lies sprawled happily and barefoot on the sand, foreshadowing the unmarked desert grave he was buried in last October after being killed by rebel fighters on the outskirts of his home town Sirte.His rotting corpse was left on display in a meat store for three days in a grotesque parody of a conventional lying-in-state for a mourned national leader.

Hatred and vengeance were the products of decades of the repression that was an important part of Gaddafi's Libya. One grim shot in this exhibition shows bodies dangling from makeshift gallows in a Benghazi sports stadium – the result of one of his periodic "revolutionary" show trials of the dissidents he hunted down without mercy at home and abroad.

The Gaddafi Archives: Libya Before the Arab Spring London Festival of Photography © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

August 25 2011

Gaddafi compound reveals dictator's taste for bling - and Condoleezza Rice

Bab al-Aziziya ruled by 'bigger, better and with more gold on' interior design principle beloved of other deposed despots

Libyan rebels raid Gaddafi family mansions – in pictures

There was the gilded bronze statue, of course, the golden pistols and a peacock-feather flyswat topped with a gold elephant. But among all the grotesque finery seized by jubilant rebels from Muammar Gaddafi's Bab al-Aziziya compound since his ignominious flight, one item emerged yesterday that may give a more revealing insight into the dictator's thinking than all his bling.

A group of rebels accompanied by an Associated Press photographer found an album full of pictures of the former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice. Here she is in a smart black suit and gold necklace, addressing an unidentified gathering, here speaking from a podium, perhaps at the UN. Here consulting with an unnamed world leader or diplomat.

The exact location in which it was found is unclear, but so exuberantly has Gaddafi spoken in the past of his fondness for Rice that it seems likely the album came from his personal collection. "I support my darling black African woman," he told al-Jazeera in 2007.

"I admire and am very proud of the way she leans back and gives orders to the Arab leaders … Leezza, Leezza, Leezza … I love her very much. I admire her and I'm proud of her because she's a black woman of African origin."

The Rice album aside, those seeking an insight from the items looted from Gaddafi's compound into the dictator's state of mind may be struck by a faint sense of deja vu. Aside from their megalomania, fondness for brutality and (frequently) ignominious ends, dictators unwaveringly seem to share a taste in possessions and interior decor that might best be described as exuberant.

Saddam Hussein famously gold-plated his taps; he did the same to his lavatory brushes. US soldiers entering his palace in Basra in 2003 found huge Moorish screens carved from teak, enormous columns clad in marble with vaulted ceilings and stained-glass windows seemingly everywhere.

Romania's Nicolae Ceausescu demolished much of historic Bucharest to construct a 1,100-room presidential palace of such scale that it is now said to be the world's second largest building; he did not survive to see it completed.

Among the many luxurious residences of Mobutu Sese Seko, Congo's president for 32 years until his death in 1997, was a Chinese-style palace at Gbadolite (he also had a "private" and a "presidential" palace in the same town, which earned it the nickname "the Versailles of the jungle") surrounded by 40ft railings topped in gold.

Gaddafi, for his part, erected the requisite statues in his own image, and sported heavy golden necklaces and the braided military cap gleefully looted by a rebel fighter earlier this week. A gold plated tea trolley was found. In the home of his daughter Aisha, now also fled, rebels discovered – in an enormous marble hall at the entry to her palace – a large gold chaise in the shape of a mermaid with Aisha's own face.

"You just have to think what it takes to be a dictator," notes the style commentator Peter York, who, as author of Dictator's Homes, literally wrote the book on the subject of despot decor. "You have fought your way there. Even if you did have capital-G "Good" taste, it wouldn't work with your people, many of whom are not very literate. The point is to impress and intimidate to the max. To say, 'I'm fantastically important and powerful." The home of a dictator is, he notes, "a world entirely without irony".

York has gone so far as to formulate a number of key principles which, he says, invariably inform how a dictator will deck out his humble palace. They include building big – "everything is wildly, fantastically oversized" – installing gold, glass and images of oneself everywhere, and emulating everywhere a particular style of ancien regime French grandeur that is wholly fake. "They like old-style because it looks serious but they don't like actual antiques because they're old."

Key principles include "Ferrero Rocher twinkly" and "testosteronic symbolism" – the eagles, lions, elephants and other aggressive animals dictators like to employ as symbols of the imperial, yet slightly savage, power.

Karen Pine, professor of psychology at the university of Hertfordshire and a specialist in consumerist culture, said Gaddafi's interior design principle – "bigger, better, with more gold on" – has "nothing to do with taste or style"; its only purpose being to reinforce to others, and himself, his elevated position. As she notes, "it can't be very relaxing" living in such a space.

But just as dictators create themselves, very literally, as icons – striving for ubiquity in their image, always expressed in heroic or godlike terms – so is their fall a very literal one, says Pine. "The fallen idol is what we are literally seeing. We talk of 'toppling' dictators, just as we do their golden statues." Gaddafi's image has been stripped from walls and lampposts in Tripoli; soon his finery and golden weapons will have vanished too. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Gaddafi, the great-taste dictator of interior design

Sorry to disappoint you, but a peek inside a Gaddafi palace reveals that dictators and decadence don't always go together

He was once hailed by Vanity Fair as "a sartorial genius of our time", despite a look that appeared to be a fusion of Michael Jackson and Sylvester Stallone – with an added flanking battalion of virgins – but what we've seen of Colonel Gaddafi's interior design taste so far has been disappointingly tasteful. Given that he had a merciless will, billions of oil dollars, a well-established hierarchy of minions, and even a signature colour, you might have expected something more spectacular than the recent pictures of his daughter Aisha's palace (AKA "the prostitute's palace") suggested.

True, the gold-mermaid-with-Aisha's-face sofa in the stairwell pushed the right buttons. But other images of the home revealed that the swimming pool had a rather nice vaulted timber structure, the bedrooms were discreetly wood-panelled and the gym was utilitarian.

Yes, they were objectionably oversize and luxurious, and spoke of obscene, ill-gotten wealth, but where were the stuffed rhinos, the gold-and-onyx swans, the lifesize replica of the Albert Memorial?

The Gaddafi family is in danger of failing to live up to our expectations of dictator chic.

There are more problems. Take the colonel's inconvenient disavowal of luxury hotels on foreign visits in favour of a traditional tent. If David Cameron did that, it would be a laudable eco-friendly statement. Images of Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam's London home were similarly disappointing, even stylish. And let's not forget, amid much fanfare, that Saif convinced Norman Foster to help develop eco-tourist facilities in Libya. I was among the planeloads of confused guests who were jetted out to Libya for the launch of this bizarre project, named the Cyrene, which declared itself one of the largest and most enlightened sustainable-development projects in the world – an environmentally sensitive mix of tourism, conservation, biodiversity and town planning. I wonder how that's going now?

Why is it so important to us that dictators have no taste? Somehow images such as Imelda Marcos's shoe cupboard or Ceausescu's vast Bucharest Palace of the Parliament are a necessary component in the story of a dictator's downfall. They're the final proof that these people really were evil, just in case there were any doubt. We didn't find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but just look inside Saddam Hussein's cavernous baroque palaces.

The link between megalomania and bad taste used to be a given – just pick up a copy of Hello! – but what do we do if it isn't there? Recent images of Osama bin Laden's spartan accommodation also presented this problem. And perhaps excellent design sensibility is what made baddies so chilling in James Bond movies. You never saw a gilded swan statue in Blofeld's lair. Yet to go the other way and actually praise the taste of dictators and their ilk is a dangerous business, as editor James Brown discovered during his brief tenure as editor of men's magazine GQ, when he included "the Nazis" in a survey of most stylish men.

Is there enough evidence so far to condemn the Gaddafis on taste grounds? Probably. There's that ridiculous gold-fist-crushing-plane statue in his Tripoli compound. There's the description of his bedroom in Peter York's lovable 2005 book Dictator Style: Lifestyles of the World's Most Colourful Despots: "Black silk sheets, black headboard, black everything really, including, above the bed, a set of black panther figures …" There's also this alleged video of Aisha's wedding.

Is that enough or, like the WMD hunters in Iraq, do the Libyan rebels need to do more digging? © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

July 06 2011

Power: portraits of world leaders by Platon – in pictures

Gallery: Photographer Platon's new collection of images, Power, provides glimpses of what lies behind world leaders' carefully constructed auras

June 04 2011

The art of rebellion

In cities that have fallen to the rebels, such as Benghazi, the beleaguered leader is the subject of taunts and derision, the visual outpouring of pent-up hatred

In Tripoli, official portraits of Muammar Gaddafi are everywhere: on giant murals and billboards, in hotel lobbies, offices, shops, homes, and schools. The "Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution" usually appears as a sort of deity or in military uniform with rays of light shining behind him. Throughout Gaddafi's reign, his obsessive control of how and where his image appears has been straight out of the dictator's textbook.

In Benghazi, a day's drive east along the Mediterranean coast, there are also lots of public pictures of the man who has ruled this desert country for more than four decades. But here, his image is used as a weapon against him.

Caricatures of the vilified leader and anti-regime or pro-democracy graffiti are popping up throughout the city centre and in recently trashed army bases, on building sites and on any suitable walls. There are posters of Gaddafi pumping petrol into a winged camel, Gaddafi with the tail of a snake and a forked tongue, Gaddafi as Dracula, Gaddafi as a clown, Gaddafi being bitten by a dog, Gaddafi getting a boot in the head. The variations are countless. Another popular theme is an often bloodstained Gaddafi terrorising or slaughtering his people or plundering the oil-rich nation's wealth.

Tobruk, al-Bayda, Derna and other towns in the rebel-held east have also joined in this artistic act of rebellion, and their walls also sport caricatures ridiculing the flamboyant strongman whose many eccentricities make him a perfect target for satire.

But Benghazi is the centre of the movement. Agence France-Presse sent me to Libya in late April to replace a correspondent in Misrata, a coastal town which has been bitterly fought over. However, in the end, the agency decided to keep me in Benghazi.

From the moment I arrived, the city was buzzing. It was nearly three months since the anti-Gaddafi uprising had started there and the revolutionary fire burned brighter than ever. Gaddafi was still in power in Tripoli, his forces still controlling most of the country, but the frontline was, and still is, far from Benghazi, and the rebels are using the time to take stock, train their fighters and build for the future.

"We have a dream," is the slogan – written in English – on giant billboards that have started to appear across the city. Benghazi's seafront is where that dream is most evident. The red, green and black flag of the uprising is everywhere, alongside French, British and US flags, a sign of gratitude for the Nato air strikes keeping Gaddafi's forces at bay. Frenzied anti-Gaddafi rallies are held on most days in the seafront square, with tribal leaders, politicians or rebel fighters making fiery speeches, sparking wild applause and much celebratory gunfire.

The revolution has lifted the lid on a repressed society and the people of Benghazi are making up for the lost years. They have quickly set up newspapers, radio stations and rap bands to say things that just a few months earlier would have got them locked up or worse. But the Gaddafi caricatures are the most striking manifestation of the new-found freedom of expression.

They weren't the first thing that caught my eye when I arrived at the courthouse. What did were the hundreds of posters bearing the photos and the names of those killed or missing since the uprising began. But inside, and on the walls of most nearby buildings, the mocking pictures dominate. I started taking photos of the drawings with my iPhone, at first just to show my friends and family back at home. But it became a little obsessive when I decided it was my duty to catalogue these works of art that might not last.

The heady atmosphere in Benghazi made me speculate that this was what it might have been like in Havana at the start of the revolution, and the revolutionary art reminds me of the murals of Che Guevara and other rebel motifs that still adorn walls in Cuba.

Nobody could tell me who was responsible for the wall paintings around the city, but I did find a group of young men who were churning out paper drawings of the detested dictator. They told me they had reached not for their guns but for their coloured pens and spray cans when Libya's revolution started in mid-February. One of them had paid for it with his life, gunned down by secret police. The group now goes by the name of their dead colleague, Qais al-Halali, and continues its work from a ramshackle office in a makeshift "media centre" next to the court.

When the uprising began, al-Halali and his friends started drawing caricatures on paper and distributing them around the city for people to show at demonstrations or hang on walls, one of the group, Akram al-Bruki, said.

"He got a message to stop", al-Bruki continues. It was delivered by Gaddafi's security agents before they were chased out of the eastern part of city. "But he didn't stop. When we started doing this we swore that no one would stop us." © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Libyan street art - in pictures

Protest graffiti and fly posters vilifying Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi spread through rebel-held cities

May 16 2011

Saif Gaddafi: dictator's son who mingled with British high society

Libyan leader's second son, named as a war crimes suspect, built a network of powerful contacts in London

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, named as a war crimes suspect by the chief prosecutor at The Hague on Monday, was a magnetic presence for British politicians, bankers and business people who wanted to deal with oil-rich Libya but not with the international pariah his father had become.

He built powerful establishment links from university education and politics to high finance, architecture and publishing. The billionaire hedge fund investor Nat Rothschild, the Labour peer Lord Mandelson, and the architect Lord Foster were among his contacts, while Oxford University Press was going to publish his book, Manifesto, which called for civil society and participatory democracy in Libya. In it, Saif wrote: "I believe it is the duty of the people to rebel against tyranny." OUP cancelled publication in February "because of recent events in Libya".

To some who knew him in London he seemed more like an international playboy than the powerful son and likely heir to one of Africa's longest-standing dictatorships. Two years ago he moved into a £10m house complete with a suede-lined indoor cinema not far from an area of north London known as Billionaire's Row.

He would dine at China Tang, Sir David Tang's restaurant at the Dorchester hotel, and mix in a jet-set world of dinner at the Cipriani and drinks at Annabel's, according to Luca del Bono, an Anglo-Italian businessman who had dealings with Saif on plans, which never bore fruit, to take Italian fashion brands to Libya.

"He used to be quite social in London," Del Bono said. "If you went to the clubs he would be there. Last time I saw him he said he had just been to Downing Street. He was obviously connected."

The London School of Economics accepted a £1.5m donation from the Gaddafi international charity and development foundation chaired by Saif, of which the LSE said it had received £300,000.

The LSE, where Saif studied for a PhD gained in 2008 from the university's centre for the study of global governance, also agreed a £2.2m contract with the regime to train Libyan civil servants and professionals, of which £1.5m has been received. Lord Woolf, the former lord chief justice, is now investigating the deals, as well as the award from Gaddafi's charity of £22,857 to cover costs for academic speakers to travel to Libya. Prof David Held, an academic adviser to Saif at the LSE, was invited to join the board of the foundation but he later stepped down over concerns about a potential conflict of interest.

Anthony Giddens, a Labour peer and former director of the LSE, twice met Muammar Gaddafi on trips in 2006 and 2007 organised by Monitor Group, a US lobbying firm.

"The political class in this country have courted him," said Conservative MP Daniel Kawczynski, chairman of the parliamentary all-party group on Libya. "Lord Mandelson and others have seen him as the main interlocutor with the Libyan regime. Saif has branded himself as the caring face of the Libyan regime and they have added to that branding.

"That was inaccurate and, as events have shown, the man was as gung ho as his father when it comes to suppressing the Libyan people. A lot of people who have supported him and interacted with him will have to explain themselves."

Rothschild is said to have been invited to Saif's 37th birthday party in Montenegro, and Saif has been to the Rothschild family villa in Corfu, once meeting Mandelson there while he was in government as business secretary.

"He has a close relationship with Nat Rothschild," said a Libyan source in London familiar with Saif, who asked not to be named. "I know about a dinner in early 2010 that was organised in New York in Saif's honour where Rothschild was one of the principal organisers.

"There must have been a dozen to 20 mainly American-Jewish business families. Saif spent the evening talking about what his father will and won't allow in Libya, the business opportunities in Libya and how they wanted to encourage influential business people to be involved."

A spokesman for Rothschild said there was no business relationship between the two men and said they knew each other socially.

The Libyan source said that one reason why Saif had so carefully cultivated his contacts in the UK was because he had persuaded his father to adopt a strategy for Libya that involved manufacturing the impression of a difference of opinion between them. Saif would be seen by the outside world as a reformer and his father could be seen to be taking a ceremonial role. "The truth is they were never intending to develop the country," the source said. "They were only interested in maintaining power, and the plan was to keep people poor."

Saif commissioned Foster to oversee the development of the Green Mountain area of Libya, in the north-east of the country. He also invited Robert Adam, one of Prince Charles's favourite architects, to attend the launch in 2007.

"This was supposed to be their entry into Mediterranean tourism, and they were buying global PR," Adam said. "They laid on a dinner, a tented hotel, flights in private jets, the works. I was paid for by the Libyan state. I knew this wasn't the nicest government but I didn't do any work for them. I turned up and looked at it rather cynically."

Foster spoke alongside Gaddafi and talked about the area's enormous promise. "This is one of the most beautiful and little-known landscapes on earth," he said. "We've been given a unique challenge: to establish a sustainable blueprint for future development which will be sensitive to the history of the Green Mountain and to its conservation."

Saif said: "We share a determination to build for our children a future full of opportunity and fulfilment and a dedication to the protection of their heritage."

Foster was also asked to draw up a masterplan for part of Tripoli. A spokeswoman for Lord Foster said "We are not going to comment."

Saif also hired British PR advisers. The firm Brown Lloyd James was retained to handle the management of Saif's reputation.

Peter Brown, one of the company's founding partners, is a friend of Mandelson. He was unavailable for comment.

"BLJ New York did provide some PR services to Libya but have not done so since 2009," said Oliver Lloyd, executive vice-president of BLJ in London. "The UK office has never had a contract with the Libyans or received any payments from the Libyan government or either Muammar or Saif Gaddafi."

Judges to decide

The international criminal court's chief prosecutor has asked a panel of ICC judges to approve his request for arrest warrants against Muammar Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam and his brother-in-law, Abdullah Senussi.

That panel will consider the application and can accept it, reject it, or ask for more evidence, a process that could take weeks or months.

If the arrest warrants are approved, there is no guarantee they will be enforced. The ICC has no police force of its own.

It has the option of asking the UN security council to empower others to carry out the arrests, but the prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, made it clear he would not be seeking the help of outsiders like Nato. Instead, he said it would be up to Libya  to hand over the suspects.

"My office has not requested the intervention of international forces to implement the arrest warrants. Should the court issue them and the three individuals remain in Libya, Libyan authorities have the primary responsibility to arrest them," he said.

A second batch of indictments is expected in September. Moreno-Ocampo indicated that this time allegations of mass rape will be looked into, as will attacks against immigrants by the Gaddafi regime's opponents.

Julian Borger © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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