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Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi

Who is this grandstanding, brooch-wearing king of kings? Let's review.

Gadhafi the leader

Muammar Gadhafi at the 12th AU summit, Feb. 2, 2009, in Addis Ababa. Photo: Jesse B. Awalt

Born in a Bedouin tent in 1942, Moammar Gadhafi became the leader of Libya after a bloodless military coup in 1969. (What with assassination squads and state-sponsored terrorist bombings, the whole bloodless thing wouldn’t last for long.) Just 27 years old when he overthrew the Libyan king and promoted himself to colonel, Gadhafi was inspired by the pan-Arab nationalism of Egyptian president, Gamal Nasser. In the ensuing 41 years of ruling an oil-rich nation, he’s managed to amass a significant personal fortune that may amount to well over $30 billion dollars.

On February 22, 2011, Gadhafi claimed that he could not step down in the face of protests because he “has no power to resign from.” (Curiously, that hasn’t stopped him from attending summits as Libya’s head of state and a brief stint as “king of kings” in Africa.) Gadhafi claims that a system called “Jamahiriya” holds sway in Libya. Under “Jamahiriya,” the people rule directly so you don’t need pesky institutions like parliaments.

“Jamahiriya” aside, Gadhafi currently holds the No. 4 spot on the list of longest serving non-royal rulers — behind Fidel Castro, Chiang Kai-shek and Kim Il-sung.

Gadhafi the author

Between 1975 and 1979, Gadhafi outlined his political philosophy in the three volumes called the “Green Book.” During a famous interview in 1979, Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci told Gadafi that it didn’t take long to read: “15 minutes at the most. It’s so small. My powder compact is bigger than your little ‘Green Book’.”

The “Green Book” includes sections on class, income, education and even “sport, horsemanship and the stage.” In light of recent events, some parts read a wee bit like irony. Parts like: “True democracy exists only through the direct participation of the people, and not through the activity of their representatives …” and “… it is unthinkable that democracy should mean the electing of only a few representatives to act on behalf of great masses. This is an obsolete structure. Authority must be in the hands of all of the people.”

Lest you think he was content with political theory, Gadhafi also penned a book of essays called “Escape From Hell and Other Stories.” Apparently, you can secure a used copy on Amazon for less than $12.

Gadhafi the feminist?

Since he came to power, Gadhafi claims to have encouraged women’s rights in Libya. One section in the “Green Book” covers “Woman” and her inherent equality with man. Says Muammar:  “… woman eats and drinks as man eats and drinks; woman loves and hates as man loves and hates; woman thinks, learns and comprehends as man thinks, learns and comprehends …” If you prick woman, does she not bleed? But just when you think he’s getting all suffragette on us, Gadhafi takes a turn for the strange, sharing his ruminations on menstruation, breastfeeding and the “natural role” of woman. The reader learns that, “Man’s work obscures woman’s beautiful features which are created for female roles.” And in a rousing, bra-burning cry, Gadhafi calls for a world revolution to put an end to the “materialistic conditions hindering women” from realizing their blossom-like tenderness.

Perhaps Gadhafi’s greatest celebration of women, however, is his Amazonian Guard — a squad of all-female personal bodyguards and alleged virgins who sometimes wear high heels with their fatigues and always, always look like badass extras from a Missy Elliot video.

Gadhafi the fashion plate

Gadhafi isn’t just defiant in the face of Western capitalism, he’s also unrepentant about his love for brooches. And with his endless variety of shades, we’re pretty sure he’s gone ahead and nationalized Sunglass Hut. The Libyan leader has long been the butt of jokes for his fashion-forward choices:

But Dartmouth professor Dirk Vandewalle says Gadhafi’s sartorial style actually mirrors his political path. During his early years as Libya’s leader, he was deeply influenced by Gamal Nasser’s military persona and generally stuck with uniforms of one form or another. Then when he realized that he didn’t have the respect he craved from other Arab leaders, he began to wear more “traditional dress.” And in recent years, as he’s sought entry into African continental politics, he’s trended toward sub-Saharan dress or shirts with the faces of influential African leaders.

Gadhafi the loose cannon

Gadhafi is all about keeping the world on its toes. Just when you see him hanging out with Nelson Mandela, you remember that he’s also palled around with international bad guys Idi Amin, Charles Taylor, Jean-Bédel Bokassa, Slobodan Milošević and Omar al-Bashir. Right about the time he’s repairing historic colonial tensions with Italy, he organizes a lecture for 200 Italian models about the superiority of Islam. (Guessing he had help from Berlusconi on that one.) And when it seems like tensions are easing with the West and Gadhafi issues a condemnation of al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attack, he goes and defends the Taliban as part of a rant at the U.N. General Assembly. What’s the next surprise in store for the international community?