From a Gadhafi daughter, a glimpse inside the bunker

From a Gadhafi daughter, a glimpse inside the bunker

DONNING A NEW ROLE Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi’s daughter Aisha, surrounded by bodyguards, attends a pro-government rally in Tripoli on March 18. NYT

Aisha el-gadhafi, the daughter of Col Muammar el-Gadhafi of Libya, likes to tell her three young children bedtime stories about the afterlife. Now, she says, they are especially appropriate.

“To make them ready,” she said, “because in a time of war you never know when a rocket or a bomb might hit you, and that will be the end.”

In a rare interview at her charitable foundation in Tripoli, Aisha, 36, a Libyan-trained lawyer who once worked on Saddam Hussein’s legal defence team, offered a glimpse into the fatalistic mind-set of the increasingly isolated family at the core of the battle for Libya, the bloodiest arena in the democratic uprising that is sweeping the region.

She dismissed the rebels as ‘terrorists’ but suggested that some former Gadhafi officials who are now in the opposition’s governing council still ‘keep in touch with us.’ She pleaded for dialogue and talked about democratic reforms. But she dismissed the rebels as unfit for such talks because of their use of violence, hurled personal barbs at president Obama and secretary of state Hillary Clinton and, at one point, appeared to disparage the basic idea of electoral democracy.

After arranging the interview last week, Aisha spoke for more than an hour on Sunday afternoon, just hours before Nato escalated its airstrikes with an attack that disrupted state television and another on the Libyan leader’s compound in Tripoli. Aisha, one of the many unofficial and sometimes rivalrous Gadhafi family power brokers who dominate Libya’s economic and political life, said the crisis had pulled the family together ‘like one hand.’

Aisha said that she and her seven brothers “have a dialogue between us and exchange points of view” before anyone takes a major step in their common defence. She acknowledged that she had seen news reports that her siblings had proposed easing their father from power in a transition under the direction of her brother Seif al-Islam, but she declined to comment on the details.


She also pointedly declined to answer when asked if Abdel Fattah Younes, a top rebel military official who was a longtime interior minister, was among the leaders who had kept in touch with the Gadhafi family. “They say to us that they have their own families, daughters, sons, spouses, and they fear for them, and that is why they have taken those positions,” she said of those rebel leaders. “There are many members of the council who have worked with my father for 42 years and been loyal to him. Do you think they would just go like that?”

Instead of the angry defiance and vows of retribution issued by her father and her brother Seif, Aisha focused on how the west would rue the chaos she predicted would engulf a post-Gadhafi Libya. When pressed repeatedly on how her family could stay in power, she said more than once, “We have a great hope in God.”

Aisha has appeared in public twice since the bombings began, before cheering crowds at the colonel’s compound, but she seldom speaks in public. During the interview, she wore close-fitting jeans, Gucci shoes and a pale scarf that did not cover her long blond hair. At times, she laughed at her fate, recalling how the United Nations, after ‘begging’ her to be an envoy for peace in the past, has now referred her to the International Criminal Court. Her staff presented an illustrated biography entitled ‘Princess of Peace.’

She said her experience as a volunteer on Saddam Hussein’s defence team offered relevant parallels. “The opposition in Iraq told the West that when you come to Iraq they will greet you with roses,” she said. “Almost 10 years later they are receiving the Americans with bullets, and, believe me, the situation in Libya will be much worse.”
She taunted both president Obama and Clinton, saying that Obama had “achieved nothing so far” and laughing as she posed a question to Hillary: “Why didn’t you leave the White House when you found out about the cheating of your husband?”

Even as she deprecated the American leaders, she repeatedly called for talks. “The world should come together at a round table,” she said, “under the auspices of international organisations.”

At the same time, she ruled out any dialogue with the Libyan rebels who now control the eastern half of the country; its commercial centre, Misurata; and the western mountain towns of Zintan and Nalut, dismissing them as ‘terrorists’ who “are just fighting for the sake of fighting.”

Under her brother Seif’s unofficial leadership, she said, the Libyan government had been on the verge of unveiling a constitution as a step toward democratic reform when “this tragedy happened and spoiled things.”

Public accountability

At the same time, she also derided, and possibly misunderstood, the basic ideas of checks and balances and public accountability in an electoral democracy. “Let me say something about the western elections that they say are a democratic system of ruling,” she volunteered, referring to handwritten notes she had prepared for the interview. In an election where one candidate won with 50 per cent of the vote and another lost with 48 per cent, she asked, “Do you call this democracy? Just this one vote? What happened to the 48 per cent who said ‘no’?”

She complained of the ‘betrayal’ of Arabs whose causes her father had supported and the western allies to whom he had turned over his weapons of mass destruction. “Is this the reward that we get?” she asked. “This would lead every country that has weapons of mass destruction to keep them or make more so they will not meet the same fate as Libya.”

Without Colonel Gadhafi, she predicted, illegal immigrants from Africa would pour into Europe, Islamic radicals would establish a base on the Mediterranean’s shores, and Libyan tribes would turn their guns on one another.

Citing unconfirmed Libyan intelligence reports, she asserted that the weapons-starved rebels had actually sold arms to the Islamist groups Hamas and Hezbollah. “When my father was there, see how safe Europe was and how safe Libya was?” she asked.

Aisha initially dismissed reports of the handful of nights two months ago when protesters took over the streets of Tripoli and almost every other big city, pulling down Gadhafi posters and burning police stations. Then, told that journalists had seen the evidence, she argued the destruction proved they were not civilian protesters but ‘saboteurs.’
She also appeared to dismiss witnesses’ accounts of Colonel Gadhafi’s forces shooting unarmed demonstrators. “I am not sure that happened,” she said. “But let’s say it did: it was limited in scope.”

As for her father’s state of mind, she said with a laugh that he was not worried at all. “He is as strong as the world knows him,” she said. “He is quite sure that the Libyan people are loyal to him.”

Her family still hoped, she said, to go back to its previous position, what she called “a return to normal.” But, she added, “of course we can expedite that if Nato will stop bombing us.”