Protected by 40 female virgins trained to kill—and perhaps even hosting dignitaries at his Bedouin tent on a Trump estate—Libya’s “Brotherly Leader” will address the United Nations on Wednesday, offending some and amusing others.
The man Ronald Reagan called “the mad dog of the Middle East”—before bombing his home and killing his adopted daughter in 1986—is in New York City to address the United Nations. He was granted a visa, but he’s been having problems finding a hotel that would host him in Manhattan. So the Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi proposed to sleep in a tent encampment in a posh New Jersey neighborhood, until that plan was thwarted by New Jersey’s governor. He finally found lodging at the residence of his country’s U.N. ambassador.
He has predicted that Europe will be a predominantly Muslim nation in 50 years, declared that President Barack Obama is a Muslim and said that Muslims will eventually rule the world.
Now the Libyan government has pitched a Bedouin-style tent on one of Donald Trump’s lavish estates in Bedford, a ritzy Westchester town one over from Martha Stewart’s. The property, known as Seven Springs, was leased on a short-term basis by the government of Libya, a State Department official tells the Associated Press. The Trump Organization, meanwhile, says it is “looking into the matter,” and authorities in Bedford have issued a stop-work order at the building site.
Either way, Qaddafi is highly unlikely to sleep in the tent. Libyan sources tell The Daily Beast he will stay at the residence of the Libyan ambassador to the United Nations but may be planning to meet with dignitaries at the tent. The Daily News has published a photo of the structure.
To describe the “Brotherly Leader and Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya” as controversial or eccentric is to be kind to the dictator, who three weeks ago celebrated 40 years of bloody rule. Apart from his support for regional and international terrorism for three and a half decades, he has managed to keep most of his 5 million population in abject misery despite Libya being one of the richest countries in oil resources.
Qaddafi now struts the world stage, a living embodiment of impunity. Fearing a similar fate to that of his former Pan-Arab rival, Saddam Hussein, he came in from the cold in 2003, following the U.S. overthrow of the Iraqi regime. He surrendered his nuclear-weapons program and paid $2.7 billion to compensate families of the Lockerbie bombing victims, after allowing his agents to stand trial in a Scottish court.
Libyan intelligence operative Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, who was imprisoned five years ago for his role in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, was recently released on humanitarian grounds, after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. He returned to Libya to a celebratory welcome at Tripoli’s airport. Many countries, including Britain, Italy, and Switzerland, have been falling over themselves to make nice with the colonel, hoping to cash in on his oil wealth.
The mercurial Libyan leader has made numerous outlandish statements over the years, including calling on America’s immigrants and their descendants to go back to their country of origin, leaving the country to its indigenous natives—the American Indians. African Americans, he declared, should return to Africa. He has also predicted that Europe will be a predominantly Muslim nation in 50 years, declared that President Obama is a Muslim, and said Muslims will eventually rule the world. On several occasions, he announced his country’s withdrawal from the Arab League, describing Arabs as “useless” and deciding instead that he is African—the King of Kings and the Imam of the Muslims!
Whatever Qaddafi says in his U.N. speech on Wednesday, it is bound to be offensive to some and entertaining to others. But does anybody take him seriously? The answer may be “no,” but the man is still a powerful ruler who now can travel the world without fear of being arrested, even if he occasionally has trouble getting a room in some cities.
To dismiss Qaddafi as a lunatic is naïve. The man seized power in a bloodless coup against the monarchy that ruled Libya 40 years ago and has managed to thwart every attempt to overthrow him since. When he feared that the Bush administration might go after his regime after the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, his survival instinct prompted him to make a 180-degree turn. The fact that he is now trying to improve his image in the West may have a lot to do with his plans to have one of his sons succeed him.
In the meantime, many will be tuning in to see Qaddafi delivering his speech at the U.N. General Assembly. He is certain at least to make a fashion statement with his unique hairstyle and sartorial taste, courtesy of designers from Italy, his country’s former colonizer. Also watch out for his lipsticked virgin female bodyguards—a 40-strong unit of personal protectors who are trained to foil attacks. All of them swear an oath that they will give their lives for him, and never leave his side, night or day.
Salameh Nematt is an international writer for The Daily Beast. He is the former Washington bureau chief for the international Arab daily Al Hayat, where he reported on U.S. foreign policy, the war in Iraq, and the US drive for democratization in the broader Middle East. He has also written extensively on regional and global energy issues and their political implications.