Muammar Gaddafi’s Exile Options After Fall of Tripoli

Tripoli has fallen and the dictator’s jets are fueled—but where’s he going? Eliza Griswold on his options.

Ben Curtis / AP Photo

Whither Gaddafi?

Two planes are reportedly waiting on the runway at Tripoli’s airport to carry off Muammar Gaddafi to places unknown, according to Al Jazeera.

Saif Gaddafi, Libya’s heir apparent, who has been arrested and is likely to be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court at The Hague, seems to be headed for an extended European vacation in Geneva. (He has always wanted to call Europe home.)

But whither père Gaddafi, The Leader?

According to Mahmud Jibriel, Libya's rebel prime minister, he may be in the one place he really never wanted to be. "Muammar Gaddafi's greatest fear is to end up in a hole like his friend Saddam Hussein," Jibriel told me in an interview in Tripoli 18 months ago.

In a bizarre twist of history, he foresaw this moment two years ago, when he was still a reluctant Gaddafi loyalist, serving as Chairman of the Economic Development Board, an institution meant to let more people than the Gaddafi family into the country's riches. The whole point of that effort was for Gaddafi to pass the reins of leadership onto his kids without the West interfering. He was paranoid of Libya becoming the next Iraq, so much so that his daughter, Aisha, now in Tunis, served as a lawyer on Saddam's defense team.

But Gaddafi's veneer of softening, painted mostly through his son, Saif, friend to the Rothschilds and Benjamin Barber, failed. Now he and his son have become the very thing he feared: wanted men. Jibriel saw this coming. Here's what he said: “Libya is not only a drop of oil. We need education, medical care. Democracy is a culture before it’s a structure. Either you develop in a way to open up, or you’re going to have to fade away.”

Or you wage a revolution that ends up yes, with Gaddafi in the very hole that terrified him.

But if he isn’t in that haunting hole, where in the world could he be?

Venezuela? Possible. His friend Hugo Chávez is busy mouthing off about American bombs destroying Tripoli, and Gaddafi was spotted on a shopping spree some 18 months ago on a Venezuelan island.

Saudi Arabia? It was good enough for Uganda’s Idi Amin to end his days, but the kingdom has its own worries right now.

But if history offers any lessons, it’s likely that the man who calls himself “King of Kings” in Africa will be headed farther south on his favorite continent.

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Here’s a short list:

Tunisia seems out for The Leader, although Gaddafi’s wife and daughter escaped there in May. But Gaddafi has slagged off the revolution, of course. And for Libya’s rebels who will be forging their own shaky government, Tunis is a little too close for comfort.

Another horrifying possibility is Zimbabwe, where Ethiopia’s Mengistu Haile Mariam is now in exile. Three maniacal killers—including the country’s own Robert Mugabe—may be too many.

Uganda is an option, but the cozy relationship between President Yoweri Museveni and the U.S. makes this unlikely. Gaddafi has to find a fetid corner where America holds less sway.

South Africa is emerging as a contender. President Jacob Zuma failed in at least two attempts to get Gaddafi to agree to a ceasefire, but at least he has visited. And believe it or not, Nelson Mandela is an old friend of Gaddafi’s.

That leaves, in alphabetical order, Angola, Burkina Faso, Chad, or Equatorial Guinea (President Teodoro Obiang Nguema is a Gaddafi fan, a petro-thug, and a long-running dictator). The Washington Post has more.

And then, of course, there’s this chant, from the Libyan street.

“Where will Gaddafi go?”

“To hell.”