Independent, who has done lots of research on the late dictator, Gaddafi’s Harem is an astonishing portrait of this side of Gaddafi’s dictatorship, of how he used his absolute power to indulge his sexual fantasies in a manner that was completely unchecked, wreaking havoc on dozens of teenagers and young women in his own country. His talent for tyranny was matched by his appetite for perversity. Writes Mustafa Ali Noor
Libya’s former dictator Muammar Al Gaddafi was addicted of having lots of young girls surrounding him as his bodyguards, while he was meeting his sexual fantasy with them and sometimes, he even had the same with boys. According to victims – late dictator’s subordinate’s statement, prior to the appointment of any young girl as his bodyguards or “tent” insiders, they were told, ‘I’m going to make some things clear to you: Muammar is going to sleep with you. He’s going to open you. From here on in, you will be his possession.”
Gaddafi liked to project the image of someone with traditional Arab habits, a simple man happiest in his tent among his desert people. We have since learned that he had an extremely bizarre and very opulent lifestyle.
According to Lorraine Courtney, a senior journalist with Irish newspaper The Independent, who has done lots of research on the late dictator, Gaddafi’s Harem is an astonishing portrait of this side of Gaddafi’s dictatorship, of how he used his absolute power to indulge his sexual fantasies in a manner that was completely unchecked, wreaking havoc on dozens of teenagers and young women in his own country. His talent for tyranny was matched by his appetite for perversity.
Famously, he had a troop of female personal bodyguards, made up of Ukrainian, African and Asian women. It now turns out that what was speculated at the time was true: many of them were also his sexual partners. No one said no to Gadaffi if they valued their lives.
In a book, French journalist Annick Cojean, a senior reporter at Le Monde, revealed with first-hand accounts from some of his former teenage sex slaves.
In 2011, she wrote an article called “Gaddafi’s sexual slave”, which told the story of Soraya, a 22-year-old Libyan woman who had been kidnapped and held captive since the age of 15. In 2012, Cojean went back to Libya to continue her investigations and in this book, she reveals a depraved world of kidnappings, rape, and humiliation.
The book begins with Soraya’s story and continues with other cases, a grotesque catalog of the multiple sex crimes of Papa Muammar, as his victims were forced to call him. A few days after Soraya’s 15th birthday, she was chosen to present a welcoming bouquet of flowers to Gaddafi at her school. It was a huge honor and the young girl was excited as she dressed up in a Bedouin costume.
During the visit, when she presented the flowers, Gadaffi patted her on the head. Putting his hand on her head, she later learned, was a signal to Gadaffi’s attendants: “I want that one.”
“I was a sacrificial lamb,” she recalls, as she explains how she was brought to the basement of his vast residence near Tripoli where she was locked up with other sex slaves. Soraya was raped, beaten and brutalized. It continued for more than five years. Her suffering even continued as she lived in fear of her own brothers. She is considered to have brought dishonor on her family because she lost her virginity outside of marriage and her brothers may want to kill her to “wipe away the shame”.
The day after the school visit, uniformed women appeared at Soraya’s mother’s hair salon. They explained that Gaddafi needed her for another bouquet ceremony. She was driven through the desert, shaking after she heard someone ask: “Is she the new one?”
She was stripped and shaved. A blood sample was taken from her arm. She was dressed in a g-string and white satin dress. She remembers thinking “Mama wouldn’t approve of that” as they painted her lips with gloss. Soraya was then taken to Gaddafi’s bedroom. He was lying naked on the bed. “I hid my eyes and thought, ‘It’s a horrible mistake.’ He grabbed my hand and forced me to sit next to him on the bed. I didn’t dare to look at him. He said, ‘Don’t be afraid. I’m your papa. That’s what you call me, isn’t it? But I’m also your brother and your lover. I’m going to be all that for you. Because you are going to stay and live with me forever’.”
She managed to fend him off so he summoned Mabrouka, the woman in charge of the harem, telling her: “Teach her. Educate her. And bring her back.”
On their third meeting, Gadaffi beat her into submission and raped her. He asked for her again the next morning. He ordered her to dance and then watched as he ate his breakfast of garlic cloves and camel milk. Then he battered her, raped her and urinated on her. And so a hideous routine began. Mabrouka would appear in the doorway of Soraya’s windowless basement, saying: “The master is waiting.”
Sometimes Gaddafi forced her to drink whiskey and take cocaine. He would rape her and then pause to check his emails before resuming the brutality. Mabrouka would give her porn to watch, saying: “It’s your homework.”
Other young girls were raped and boys sodomized in front of her. She was allowed to telephone her family occasionally but couldn’t tell them what was really going on.
Rape is a taboo in Libyan society and Cojean struggled to find women willing to talk. Another schoolgirl, 17-year-old Houda, said Gaddafi abused her for years after she reluctantly agreed to have sex with him to free her brother from prison. She was then rejected by her own family.
The women’s stories are confirmed by a driver who used to ferry women to the compound and by Gaddafi’s former chief of security who has estimated that over the years Gaddafi forced hundreds of women to have sex with him.
On a number of occasions, Soraya tried to commit suicide and had failed though a number of victims of Gaddafi – both boys and girls had committed suicide being extremely traumatized at the extreme sexual perversion of this evil man.
Yet Soraya’s story is typical. She was just one of the thousands of young Libyan girls and women who were kidnapped from their schools, homes or places of work and forced to be Gaddafi’s sex slaves.
Fuelled by cocaine, alcohol, cigarettes, and Viagra, Gaddafi used sex not only as a physical weapon but as a political tool through which he could exert his power.
Rape subjugates women – and at the same time subjugates the men who are close to them, such as their husbands and fathers.
Gaddafi was all too aware of this. The wives and daughters of senior figures were blackmailed, bribed, cajoled and forced into having sex.
Some women were even abducted during their wedding ceremonies, as the ultimate show of omnipotence.
As one of Gaddafi’s close collaborators admitted after the tyrant’s death, sex was “all he seriously thought about” and “he governed, humiliated, subjugated and sanctioned through sex”.
In public, Gaddafi claimed to have women’s rights at his heart. In 1981, he said that he had decided “to wholly liberate the women of Libya in order to rescue them from a world of oppression and subjugation”.
As “evidence” of this most hollow of promises, Gaddafi surrounded himself with female bodyguards.
The message was clear: if the great Guide trusted women with his safety, then Libyan men should follow his example and treat women as equals.
However, the guards were little more than window dressing. Many of them had been kidnapped and raped by Gaddafi, and most had little military experience.
On occasion, when she wasn’t being raped or forced to snort cocaine, drink whiskey or watch pornography – the list of abuses is endless – Soraya sometimes acted as one of Gaddafi’s supposedly elite guards.
In 2007, she accompanied the Guide on a tour of African states and put on the sternest expression, showing the world just how enfranchised Libyan women had become.
However, in private, on that very tour, Soraya had to pretend that she was indisposed in order to avoid being raped by the man she was supposedly protecting.
Gaddafi soon found out about her lie – Soraya had been seen having a swim – and he viciously beat her and spat on her before raping her.
“I came out with a swollen face and they locked me up in a room,” says Soraya.
From the other side of the door, she was taunted by a woman called Mabrouka Sherif, Gaddafi’s leading procurer of girls and young women.
“You wanted to escape, did you?” Mabrouka asked her. “No matter where you may go one day, Muammar will find you again. And he will kill you.”
What makes the story of Gaddafi’s harem even more shocking is the complicity of women such as Mabrouka in procuring members of their own sex to satisfy their master’s twisted desires.
Thanks to her ability to get Gaddafi what he wanted – a seemingly endless supply of young virgins – Mabrouka rose to a position of immense power in Libya.
It also seems likely that she practiced some form of black magic with Gaddafi, which further raised her status. For Soraya, Mabrouka was a jailer and a tormentor. Soraya was forced to live in a squalid, damp basement in the heart of Gaddafi’s compound in Tripoli.