This article is more than 6 years old. Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gaddafi pictured in Paris, France, in AP Note: This segment contains content that may not be appropriate for younger listeners. When Moammar Gaddafi was killed by Libyan rebels in , his obituaries featured a litany of the atrocities committed in his 42 year rule. But hardly a word was said about his harem: women and men who were kept trapped for Gaddafi to rape when he pleased.
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This article is more than 6 years old. Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gaddafi pictured in Paris, France, in AP Note: This segment contains content that may not be appropriate for younger listeners. When Moammar Gaddafi was killed by Libyan rebels in , his obituaries featured a litany of the atrocities committed in his 42 year rule. But hardly a word was said about his harem: women and men who were kept trapped for Gaddafi to rape when he pleased. That world has now been brought to light through the story of one of the young woman who was in the harem.
She was chosen to present him with flowers. The next day she was taken from her home and put in the harem. She stayed there for five years. Cojean says in Libya, where the conservative culture does not allow for the discussion of sex, women who have been raped are not seen as victims, but as a guilty party.
The taboo around sex makes it almost impossible for the women who were part of the harem to tell their stories, Cojean says. Soraya and her dark eyes, her sullen mouth, and her big resounding laugh. Soraya, who moves quick as lightning from laughter to tears, from exuberance to despondency, from cuddly affection to the hostility of the wounded.
Soraya and her secret, her sorrow, her rebellion. Soraya and her astonishing story of a joyful little girl thrown into the claws of an ogre. She is the reason for this book. I met her in October , on one of those jubilant and chaotic days following the capture and death of the dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
I was in Tripoli for the newspaper Le Monde investigating the role of women in the revolution. It was a frenzied period and the subject fascinated me. I was no expert on Libya. In fact, it was my first time visiting the country. I was enthralled by the incredible courage of those fighting to overthrow the tyrant who had ruled for forty-two years, but also genuinely intrigued by the complete absence of women in the films, photographs, and reports that had recently appeared.
The other insurrections of the Arab Spring and the wind of hope that had blown across this region of the world had shown the strength of the Tunisian women, present everywhere in public debates, and the confidence and spirit of Egyptian women, whose courage was clear as they demonstrated on Tahrir Square in Cairo. But where were the Libyan women? What had they been doing during the revolution? Was it a revolution they had wanted, initiated, supported?
Why were they hiding? Or, more likely, why were they kept from view in this country that was so little known, whose image was monopolized by their buffoon of a leader, who had made the guards of his female corps—the famous Amazons—into the standard-bearers of his own revolution?
On the first point they were not incorrect. Being a female journalist in the most impenetrable of countries offers the wonderful advantage of having access to the entire society and not just to its men.
Consequently, it took me just a few days and many encounters to understand that the role of women in the Libyan revolution had been not only important but, in fact, vital to its success. These women had risked unbelievable things: arrest, torture, and rape. Rape—considered to be the worst of all crimes in Libya—was common practice and an authorized weapon of war.
They had committed themselves body and soul to this revolution. They were fanatic, spectacular, heroic. Had the author of the Green Book not endlessly proclaimed that men and women were equal? Had he not systematically presented himself as their fierce defender, raising the legal age for marriage to twenty, condemning polygamy and the abuses of the patriarchal society, granting more rights to divorced women than existed in most other Muslim countries, and founding a Military Academy for Women open to candidates from all over the world?
Our paths crossed the morning of October I was completing my investigation and was ready to leave Tripoli the next day to go back to Paris, via Tunisia. I was sorry to be going home. The International Criminal Court, which had launched an investigation into these rapes, was itself confronted with terrible difficulties when its lawyers tried to meet with the victims.
As for the sufferings that women endured before the revolution, these were brought up only as rumors, accompanied by many deep sighs and furtive glances. Never a first-person testimony. Not even the slightest story from a victim that might implicate the so-called Guide. But then Soraya arrived. She was wearing a black shawl covering a mass of thick hair pulled into a bun, large sunglasses, and loosely flowing pants. Full lips gave her the appearance of an Angelina Jolie look-alike, and when she smiled a childlike spark lit up her face, which was beautiful even though already etched by life.
It was a brilliant day in Tripoli, a city on edge. Each city district had bought a camel and slaughtered it in front of a mosque, sharing it with refugees from towns that had been devastated in the war. Incapable of going back to work and picking up the normal routine.
Libya without Gaddafi. Gaudy vehicles kept on crossing the city, discharging rebels from hoods, roofs, and car doors, flags blowing in the wind.
The drivers were honking, each brandishing a weapon like a treasured girlfriend you might take to a party. Soraya was looking at them from a distance and feeling depressed. Did the revolution make her appraise the disaster of her life thus far? She had no words for it, was unable to explain it. All she felt was the burning sense of utter injustice. The anguish of being unable to express her grief and howl her rebellion. The terror of having her wretchedness, unheard of in Libya and much too difficult to explain, summarily dismissed.
She was nibbling at her shawl, nervously covering the lower half of her face. Tears appeared on her cheeks, but she quickly wiped them away. She had to talk—the memories were too much to bear silently. No one could ever imagine. No one. Then I had a terrible taste in my mouth. I had wanted him to live. To be captured and put on trial, to be judged by an international court.
I wanted him to account for his actions. One of those victims whose dishonor and humiliation reflect on the whole family and the entire nation. Guilty of having been victimized.
With all of the strength a twenty-two-year-old girl could muster, Soraya energetically refused this. She dreamed of justice. She wanted to testify. What had been done to her and to so many others seemed to her neither innocuous nor forgivable. What was her story? She was about to tell it: the story of a barely fifteen-year-old girl whom Muammar Gaddafi noticed during a visit to her school and abducted the following day to become his sexual slave, together with other young girls.
Imprisoned for several years inside the fortified residence of Bab al-Azizia, she was beaten, raped, and exposed to every perversion of a sex-obsessed tyrant. She was bitterly aware of it. After weeping and lamenting over her situation, her family ultimately decided that she was no more than a slut. Beyond redemption. I was speechless. That would be too dangerous; they had already made her suffer enough. But then the story was picked up and translated all over the world.
It was the first time that an account from one of the young women of that mysterious place of Bab al-Azizia had been circulated. Although they had no illusions about the mores of the Guide, others considered it so horrifying that they had trouble believing it. The international media tried to find Soraya, but in vain. I learned that fathers and husbands would keep their daughters and wives confined in order to keep them away from the eyes and lust of the Guide.
I found out that, born into a family of extremely poor Bedouins, Gaddafi was a tyrant who ruled through sex, obsessed with the idea of one day possessing the wives or daughters of the rich and powerful, of his ministers and generals, of chiefs of state and monarchs.
He was prepared to pay the price. Any price. For him there were no limits whatsoever. However, no one hesitates to pour scorn on Gaddafi and to demand that light be shed on his forty-two years of depravity and absolute power.
They list the physical abuse of political prisoners, the atrocities committed against opponents, the tortures and murders of rebels.
They tirelessly condemn his tyranny and corruption, his deception and madness, his manipulations and perversions. And they insist on reparation for victims. But no one wants to hear about the hundreds of young girls whom he enslaved and raped. Those girls should just disappear or emigrate, wrapped in a veil, their grief bundled up inside a bag.
The simplest thing yet would be for them to die.
The terrible truth about Gaddafi's harem
Also known as "The Guide," Gaddafi required all of his female guards to be virgins, and he named them all after his only daughter, Aisha. They travelled with him everywhere, and they were generally tall, always immaculately groomed, dressed in high heels, with their long hair flowing freely. The first thing they knew was NATO was on one side and the leader of the other side claimed he opposed Israel. Apparently that was all they needed to know, because most never bothered to investigate the real conditions in Libya and the 42 years of utter madness the people were revolting against. But it added: Ukrainian nurse, Galyna Kolotnytska with Gaddafi Qadhafi relies heavily on his long-time Ukrainian nurse, Galyna Kolotnytska, who has been described as a "voluptuous blonde.
Gaddafi's Harem: The Story of a Young Woman and the Abuses of Power in Libya