It was a turbulent flight into Libya – hovering at thousands of feet for hours as UN fighter jets argued over my complete disregard for the no-fly zone imposed on the war-stricken country. Unfortunately I didn’t get the memo. Alas I seized a rare opportunity to land when the fighter jets had to return to base for refuelling. I passed the desert where Gaddafi was believed to have been born. The air was filled with dust and smoke. Pro and Anti-Gaddafi protesters were in various streets giving bloody exchanges in broad daylight while police officials looked on. Army tankers were operated by civilians and teenagers were wielding sophisticated assault rifles. I caught a glimpse of vandalized barricades and then I saw the abandoned corpses…I suddenly wanted to turn back and go home but my mission had to be completed. As the only person crazy enough to accept this mission, I needed to find out if there was anyway to convince Gaddafi to stop the killings and reach an agreement that would please the Libyan people – their lives depended on it.
I made my way to Gaddafi’s palace and I was escorted by armed bodyguards – not your everyday hefty Club-bouncer types but beautiful women whom I pray you would never have the misfortune of underestimating. They were rumoured to be deadly and quick to take care of any dirty business for their beloved dictator (So I did a good job of keeping my eyes off their assets). To my surprise we didn’t sit in the grandeur of hs lavish living rooms or terraces but in a large tent covered in lace pillows and mats made from raffia palms. There he was – Gaddafi in his elegant attire and that dazed look he wears so well like he was trying to recover from a never-ending hangover. We exchanged our Salaam Walekum-Walekum Salaams with a millisecond embrace. He motioned for me to sit and the bodyguards forced me down by my shoulders. It was going to be an interview like no other.
As I was trying to figure out the most comfortable way to fold my legs on the mat Gaddafi was brandishing a torch (don’t panic)…a Blackberry Torch. When I asked if we could start the interview he asked me to give him a few minutes while he finished chatting with al-Megrahi, also known to the world as The Lockerbie bomber (and there I was thinking he was chatting with his son). I sipped on the aromatic tea that was laid on a tray in front of me and almost felt right at home. Once he was through I told him what the media was saying about him – he didn’t care. I told him that the Libyan people were not happy that he usurped power for over 40 years – he didn’t see the big deal. I asked him if he ever thought of handing over to anyone, even his son – he looked confused. He didn’t say much and when he did I barely understood him (I can’t think why he didn’t allow me to come with someone who could translate gibberish).
One thing that he made clear was that it would be a cold day in hell before he would be overthrown in his own country, and that if the people could not show their gratitude towards him then he would have to show them discipline. He then asked me, out of his curiosity, whether I was Pro-Gaddafi or Anti-Gaddafi. I looked around at the hostile faces of the bodyguards. I remembered that I was on unfamiliar terrain with no guarantee of a safe return home. I knew what I wanted to say but I also knew what I had to say if I wanted to make it out of his tent alive…
How would YOU respond in that situation?
*New post on The Other Side: The Tourist – A true story*