The Gaddafi family photo album

Gaddafi did a lot of strange and idiosyncratic things to Libya but one of the strangest, surely, is the improbable celebrity he built up for himself.  When I spent a month in Libya on assignment for Travel + Leisure in 2004 — that article can be read here — the handful of other foreign visitors could often be spotted around Tripoli backing up against portraits of the Leader to have their picture taken with him.  The country had few indigenous crafts and no tourist trinkets whatsoever (at least at that time, since the embargo against Libya had been lifted only a couple weeks earlier) so even I resorted to giving my editor a one-dinar note as a souvenir chiefly because it had a portrait of Gaddafi on it — and, no doubt because of that portrait, my editor still has it on his wall, years later.  The truth is that for most foreigners, Gaddafi is Libya: without his outsize personality, flamboyant style of dress, and provocative policies Libya would be a vast but practically unpopulated country with some oil and not much visibility in the world.

Now, with Tripoli having fallen to the rebels and Gaddafi on the run, we have the latest installment of this celebrity: the stolen family album, released to the world.  The New York Times photographer Tyler Hicks found it in the Bab al-Aziziya compound in southern Tripoli while it was being raided by rebels and has posted some of the photographs, most of which are fairly banal compared to the few I am posting here.  The accompanying story makes no mention of a debate within the Times about the propriety of publishing such private images, which are clearly humiliating in their intimacy — akin to the video of an unkempt Saddam Hussein having his teeth examined that was released after his capture in Iraq — and their publication is an indication Gaddafi has lost control of his country.  Still, his celebrity makes them undeniably intriguing and the odd combination of fatherly tenderness and thug life posturing at home is, somehow, exactly what one would imagine Gaddafi was like off stage.

Click here to go to the New York Times website for more photos from the Gaddafi family album.

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Click here to read the Libya article I wrote and photographed for Travel + Leisure to gain a sense of what Libya felt like to experience on the ground.  Or here for an excerpt from my Libya journals about the surreal experience of running through the Tripoli medina with a human rights activist.  Or here for a look inside my copy of Gaddafi’s infamous Green Book.  Or here for videos that show the Libya my family knew in the 1960s, before Gaddafi came to power.

 

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