A nearly incredible, fantastical tale of the rise and fall of the “mad dog” of Libya.
By turns friend and foe of the West, champion and tormentor of his own people, over four decades, Muammar Gaddafi had plenty of help inside and out propagating one of the most arbitrarily brutal, oppressive regimes in the world. British journalist Hilsum followed the events of the Arab Spring closely for Britain’s Channel 4 News and others, and her work combines an on-the-ground eyewitness account and a nuanced history of how he managed to stay in power for so long. The locus of incendiary resentment that sparked the Libyan uprising centered on the notorious prison Abu Salim, where, on June 28, 1996, 1,270 prisoners were gunned down. Their bodies were never delivered to relatives, and their deaths were only acknowledged a decade later. With the spread of Arab discontent in February 2011, the Abu Salim families had had enough and took to the streets. Having seized power in a coup in 1969, Gaddafi gleaned the finer points of authoritarianism from his hero Gamal Nasser, the East German Stasi and the Chinese. Gaddafi embarked on a cultural revolution and so-called Green Terror to purge rivals, banned the Muslim Brotherhood as a threat to his authority, organized public hangings and essentially abolished the private sector. Hilsum diligently works through Gaddafi's grandiose schemes and jumbled reign, during which he was the target of numerous assassination attempts. With great clarity, the author demonstrates not only the criminal megalomania of Gaddafi and his pernicious network of nepotism, but also the venality and hypocrisy of the West that kept him in power until the bitter end.
A fitting, clear-eyed send-off to an infamous dictator.