Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 23 November 2014

Good riddance to brutal, tragic, comical despot Gaddafi

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi addresses the nation in a TV broadcast in Tripoli (AP)
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi addresses the nation in a TV broadcast in Tripoli (AP)

So even the old, paranoid, crazed fox of Libya - the pallid, infantile, droop-cheeked dictator from Sirte, owner of his own female praetorian guard, author of the preposterous Green Book, who once announced he would ride to a Non-Aligned Movement summit in Belgrade on his white charger - is going to ground. Or gone.

Last night, the man I first saw more than three decades ago, solemnly saluting a phalanx of frogmen as they flappered their way across the tarmac of Green Square on a torrid night in Tripoli, appeared to be on the run at last, pursued - like the dictators of Tunis and Cairo - by his own furious people.

The YouTube and Facebook pictures told the story with a grainy, fuzzed reality, fantasy turned to fire and burning police stations in Benghazi and Tripoli, to corpses and angry, armed men, of a woman with a pistol leaning from a car door, of a crowd of students breaking down a concrete replica of his ghastly book. Gunfire and flames and cellphone screams; quite an epitaph for a regime we all, from time to time, supported.

And here, just to lock our minds onto the brain of truly eccentric desire, is a true story. Only a few days ago, as Colonel Muammar Gaddafi faced the wrath of his own people, he met with an old Arab acquaintance and spent 20 minutes out of four hours asking him if he knew of a good surgeon to lift his face. This is - need I say it about this man? - a true story. The old boy looked bad, sagging face, bloated, simply "magnoon" (mad), a comedy actor who had turned to serious tragedy in his last days, desperate for the last make-up lady, the final knock on the theatre door.

In the event, Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, faithful understudy for his father, had to stand in for him on stage as Benghazi and Tripoli burned, threatening "chaos and civil war" if Libyans did not come to heel. "Forget oil, forget gas," this wealthy nincompoop announced. "There will be civil war."

Above the beloved son's head on state television, a green Mediterranean appeared to ooze from his brain. Quite an obituary, when you come to think of it, of nearly 42 years of Gaddafi rule.

Not exactly King Lear, who would "do such things - what they are, yet I know not, but they shall be the terrors of the earth"; more like another dictator in a different bunker, summoning up non-existent armies to save him in his capital, ultimately blaming his own people for his calamity. But forget Hitler. Gaddafi was in a class of his own, Mickey Mouse and Prophet, Batman and Clark Gable and Anthony Quinn playing Omar Mukhtar in 'Lion of the Desert', Nero and Mussolini (the 1920s version) and, inevitably - the greatest actor of them all - Muammar Gaddafi.

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