A few times a year, Muammar Gaddafi ventured out to the campus of Fateh University in Tripoli to deliver lectures to students in Green Hall, a 450-seat auditorium with a large stage. None of the students or faculty could have guessed what the Saharan madman kept hidden on the first floor of the same building: a love den. “What we found is shocking,” says Faisal Krekshi, 55, the new dean of the university which has now been renamed Tripoli University. “This was Gaddafi’s place. Only he and his people had access to it.”
Behind a set of locked doors there’s a room with a cozy double bed, flowery carpets, and small lamps that casts off a warm orange glow. In an adjoining bathroom there’s a Jacuzzi with water jets. Some faculty members say the dictator brought his mistresses to the room, others ask whether he raped female students there. It gets weirder. A couple of doors down there’s a full gynecological examination room. “There’s a gyne bed—what the hell is it doing in here?” asks Krekshi, an OB/GYN doctor who has worked at the university for 14 years but had no knowledge of the facility. “I think it’s here for illegal abortions.”
As the security situation in Tripoli has improved in the past week, Libyans are slowly coming to terms with Gaddafi’s bizarre legacy and trying to figure out how to move ahead. They must decide how to remove the former regime’s influence without completely destroying the remaining institutions, and how to deal with the loyalists who propped up the dictator for more than four decades. The changes taking place at Tripoli University provide a glimpse of how difficult the task will be. Aside from the love den, rebel fighters who secured the campus also found a makeshift prison and an office used by intelligence chief Abdullah Senussi.
During Gaddafi’s time, the campus was monitored by Revolutionary Committees who determined which instructors and students would get preferential treatment based on their loyalty to the Brother-Leader. Spying and informing on peers was encouraged, and dissent was brutally squashed: students involved in an uprising in 1976 were hanged on the campus. The monitoring of staff and students ramped up when the uprising kicked off in February. “There were intelligence documents found at the university which talk about staff members who need to be eliminated,” says Krekshi.
So far, Krekshi has decided to proceed with a soft touch, and members of the Tripoli city council have supported him. When some students and faculty members asked him to tear down the Green Hall, he told them to remove the regime propaganda and turn it into a student union instead. Bringing former regime supporters into the fold is more complicated. Krekshi, a thin, soft-spoken man, doesn’t want to kick off a broad purge and says any staff members who weren’t involved in crimes are welcome to come back. That’s a controversial decision on a campus that’s still gripped with fear and paranoia.
On Wednesday morning, a handful of professors confronted Kreskshi. “We are scared! We are scared of the Revolutionary Committees!” Mohammed Marqani, a psychology professor shouted, waving his arms theatrically. “Please kick out the loyalists! What are you waiting for?” Krekshi assured Marqani that the issue would be dealt with in an open manner and there was no reason to worry. “They want revenge,” Krekshi said after talking to the professors. “My revenge is simple: transparency, legality, law.”
Still, Krekshi can’t completely ignore his own impulses, either. While walking through a campus library dedicated to Gaddafi, he grabs a silver disk praising the dictator, throws it on the ground and steps on it. A few moments later he pulls out a leather-bound book of Gaddafi’s speeches, throws it on the ground and tells the staff to leave it there. “If you were pro-Gaddafi until two weeks ago,” he says. “’You can’t change colors immediately.”
The regime loyalists may not be the only group that Krekshi will have to keep an eye on. When the rebels attacked Tripoli nearly two weeks ago, the large, leafy campus was turned into a battle zone: pro-government snipers positioned themselves on tall buildings and patrols roamed the perimeter. Krekshi was part of a team of rebel sympathizers who were tasked with liberating the university. At the designated “zero hour” on the night of Aug. 27, he coordinated an assault on the campus along with a rebel military commander and a fighting force that included some students. Now, some of those students who fought to liberate the campus are digging in, keeping an eye out for any counterrevolutionary elements and, in some ways, monitoring Krekshi himself.
For the moment, the staff and students are simply enjoying the freedom to speak and debate openly at the university for the first time in more than 40 years. “It’s very beautiful. It’s a new feeling,” says Halima Egrari, 20, a third-year IT student at the university. “We can say whatever we want.”