Mr Muammar and his ladies.

Dear Folks,

Oh what a glorious day it is!! I am just relaxing and enjoying a delightful Roman view. I thought I would tell you all that I had the most surreal experience on the weekend. My fiancé and I were walking along Via del Corso when all of a sudden Mr Silvio Berlusconi himself, along with five of his body guards appeared from a row of cars. It was just bizarre to see the man in the flesh. His brown hair looked as though it had been painted on, and his skin made him look as if he were a Madame Tussauds’ wax work come to life. He was all smiles as he wandered into a Hello Kitty store with his crowd of heavies making sure the public stayed well back. Surprisingly enough, many tourists in the vicinity seemed to have no clue who he was. He certainly looks like a well-preserved septuagenarian, but one that should be sipping Horlicks in the evening, and not cavorting with show girls. All in all, seeing him in person did make Saturday rather memorable.

Another man who could easily compete with Mr Berlusconi in the eccentricity ring is Libya’s own Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi. At age 68, he is one of the world’s longest-serving leaders, and by far one the most eccentric. Gaddafi, unlike many leaders in the region, has been a strong supporter of women’s rights for decades. However, he has often exuded his passion for egalitarianism in the oddest of ways. In 2002, Gaddafi hosted à la Donald Trump, a beauty contest called Miss Net World. Twenty three women from around the globe came to participate and were given a personal tour of Gaddafi's home, and a chance to sit and enjoy some of his wit and wisdom. During the final stage of the contest, all the finalists wore dresses emblazoned with his face, and despite the diplomatic frostiness between the UK and Libya, an English lady won the competition.

When Gaddafi came to Rome on a visit to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization, he took it upon himself to select a group of local beauties to come and listen to him discuss the subject of Islam. Each girl as a present received a copy of the Quraan in Arabic and Italian. The man himself was escorted around the premises with his elite group of amazons or female bodyguards. He has forty in total and they are all highly trained killers. They have to swear an oath that they will sacrifice their lives for Gaddafi. One of his top bodyguards once threw herself on him as his motorcade was being riddled with bullets. She lost her life, and seven others were severely wounded. Also, another Gaddafi requirement is that the women must be virgins, and needless to say he usually selects attractive young women, who are allowed to wear makeup and perfume. It is no wonder that Gaddafi is persona non grata in the eyes of Islamic extremists who follow austere interpretations of Islamic law.

The role of women in society is something that has been of interest to Gaddafi for many years. In the third volume of his famous “Green Book”–which is a book that should only be read if you are marooned on an island faraway, and happen to stumble upon it–there is a chapter devoted to the subject of women, in which he writes, after careful thought: ” It is an undisputed fact that both man and woman are human beings. It follows, as a self-evident fact, that woman and man are equal as human beings. Discrimination against woman by man is a flagrant act of oppression without justification for 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. Woman, like man, needs shelter, clothing, and transportation; woman feels hunger and thirst as man feels hunger and thirst; woman lives and dies as man lives and dies”–not exactly revelatory stuff, but something worth acknowledging.

Women in Libya since 1969 have been encouraged to take part in elections and work in areas traditionally reserved for men; however Gaddafi’s desire to militarize society at all levels is what separates Libya from its neighbours.  In 1979 a female military academy was established and in 1984, a law mandating female conscription was passed that required all students in secondary schools and above to participate in military training. Many of Gaddafi’s concepts such as female training in martial arts have been met with stiff resistance. Libya, for the most part  remains a traditional society where men dominate in most areas, and a woman’s role is seen to be primarily in the home. It goes without saying that female emancipation needs a bottom-up approach if it is to be truly lasting and meaningful. Gaddafi in the meantime manages to be the envy of male politicians everywhere who would not mind being accompanied by a group of combat-clad honnies.

 

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