On Wednesday, June 10, 2009, Libyan leader Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi landed at Rome’s airport to conduct business with the Italian government headed by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. It was his first trip to Italy. The Libyan dictator received a “rock star welcome,” protested the Left-Wing Italian opposition party. (1)
Qaddafi arrived in Rome with a 300-strong retinue on 3 airbuses. He pitched his giant Bedouin tent in a park in the centre of Rome. Gone was the camel he’d taken with him to Paris.
With his peaked cap, red flashes, gold braid epaulettes, and an array of military decorations, a rather large black-and-white photograph was pinned to his chest. It featured the image of a Libyan resistance leader who was hanged by the Italians in 1931.
“This hanging is like the crucifixion of Christ for Christians,” said Qaddafi at the news conference.
Although Qaddafi was as showy as a peacock, it was his trademark posse of female bodyguards who stole the show. Referred to as “Amazons” by the Italian news media, the 40 or so women are said to swear an oath to remain virgins and to never leave Qaddafi’s side. They wear matching camouflage fatigues and Kalashnikovs slung over their arms as well as make-up and fingernail polish.
Qaddafi fancies himself a feminist. During his visit to Italy, he met with 700 Italian women from the business and cultural sectors. Flanked by his female bodyguards and wearing traditional robes, he criticized the Islamic world’s ill treatment of women where, he said, women are like pieces of furniture. In some Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia, he pointed out, women are not even allowed to drive. Qaddafi had an opinion on that:
“If anything, it’s up to her husband, her brothers, or the father to give her permission,” Qaddafi said.
The remark drew loud boos from the audience. At the conclusion of his speech, Qaddafi reached out and grabbed a veil on one of the women in his entourage and wiped the sweat off his brow.
(1) “Qaddafi Pays a Business Call on Berlusconi,” New York Times, June 11, 2009.