x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Qaddafi's voice haunts Libya in broadcast from hideaway

Fugitive leader Muammar Qaddafi calls liberation of the country a 'charade' in new broadcast via Arrai television in Syria.

A man cycles past graffiti depicting Muammar Qaddafi with Arabic writing reading,
A man cycles past graffiti depicting Muammar Qaddafi with Arabic writing reading, "Keep your city clean, Libya is free, Historical garbage" in Tripoli on Wednesday. Abdel Magid al Fergany / AP Photo

TRIPOLI // More than a month since fighters for the new Libyan government stormed into the capital, the voice of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi still rings out in broadcasts from his hideaway.

Speaking in a message sent to Arrai television in Syria last month, Colonel Qaddafi called the liberation of the country by the National Transitional Council "a charade".

"What is happening in Libya is a charade which can only take place thanks to air raids, which will not last forever," he said in what was the first broadcast in more than two weeks from the deposed leader.

"Do not rejoice, and do not believe that one regime has been overthrown and another imposed with the help of air and maritime strikes."

To many Libyans, Col Qaddafi's threats are the quixotic rantings of a defeated dictator in denial. But officials in the NTC said his capture was essential to rebuilding Libya. And in his absence, many Libyans have expressed fears that he may have something drastic planned to hurt his enemies by holding out in the centre of the country.

"Maybe they don't say it, but people are still afraid of him," said Bahaa Bujazia, a 26-year-old student in Benghazi who created a Facebook page that helped organise the early protests in February. "We wonder if he can still cause problems for us, even in another country, even a few years away from now."

Malek Fouad Bouassi, 18, a law student said in an interview at his family's key shop in Tripoli: "He still makes people afraid, and yes, I'm afraid. He can cause a lot of discord, and remember that many people still have weapons. Even if they catch him and put him in jail, he has his money and weapons. He still thinks that he can return."

If one thing about Col Qaddafi has been confirmed in the last six months, it is his inscrutability. At once, he is the terrifying Col Qaddafi, threatening to go from alleyway to alleyway, house to house to hunt down the "rats" from Al Qaeda who were disrupting the country. And then, there is Col Qaddafi in hiding, adapting the same guerrilla-warrior stance as the former rebels.

He is also elusive. He and two of his sons and other top officials remain at large. This is despite a nearly $2 million (Dh7.3m) bounty on his head, satellite surveillance, US drones flying over Libya and NTC troops across much of the country.

The words of Abdessalam Jalloud, one of Col Qaddafi's top officials who defected in March, seem portentous now. "Gaddafi is delusional because he thinks he can disappear in Libya and, when Nato leaves, he believes he can gather his supporters," he said in an interview with Al Jazeera.

Jerrold Post, a professor at George Washington University and the founding director of the CIA's Centre for the Analysis of Personality and Political Behaviour, sees Col Qaddafi's posture as resembling Saddam Hussein after the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

"Not unlike Saddam Hussein, he may well remain underground, not so much as an act of cowardice, as awaiting a propitious moment when he can rise again and claim his still-loyal followership," he said.

Mr Post said that in the early days of the revolution and as UN sanctions were being voted on, Col Qaddafi struck a Churchillian tone with a speech on March 23 that included such lines as "Great Libyan people, you are now living through glorious hours" and "we will defeat them by any means … we are ready for the fight, whether it will be a short or a long one … We will be victorious in the end".

But Col Qaddafi's weakness, according to an analysis that Mr Post wrote in Foreign Policy, is that he becomes increasingly delusional when under stress and will not take a practical exit because he genuinely believes his own narratives.

"Throughout his life and career, Qaddafi has lived out his core psychological value, that of the outsider standing up against superior authority, the Muslim warrior courageously confronting insurmountable odds," Mr Post wrote. "A man does not mellow with age, especially a highly narcissistic leader consumed by dreams of glory. Indeed, as a man grows older, he becomes more like himself. But as the stress has mounted, Qaddafi seems increasingly to have lost touch with reality."

Other analysts imagine Col Qaddafi having an understanding of what has happened tactically in the country while still believing that he is going to reconquer the lost territory.

"There may be points where he is lucid enough to realise that he has become a dictator who has perverted and corrupted his country, but I believe that the majority of the time he sees himself as a real intellectual revolutionary charged with recreating ideas of the state and governance" in Libya, said Geoff Porter, the head of North Africa Risk Consulting in the US state of Connecticut.

With most of Col Qaddafi's former allies, especially in Africa, now distancing themselves from his regime and reversing previous offers of safe haven, there is only one option left: stay and fight. As to where, Mr Porter said Col Qaddafi could easily be in a secret bunker somewhere in the centre of the country. Or "he may have tried to go the route of the common man, the real revolutionary, blending with the people".

Ronald Bruce St John, the author of seven books about Libya, believes that Qaddafi is hiding out under one of his favourite forms of shelter: a tent.

"I don't see him hiding in a spider hole like Saddam Hussein or manning a barricade with an AK-47 in Bani Walid, Sirte, or Sabha like Salvador Allende in Chile," he said. "I would think the best guess is that he is holed up in a tent in some remote part of the Libyan desert around Sebha or most likely between Sebha and Niger."

bhope@thenational.ae