Saturday 25 November 2017

'North Africa's Claudia Schiffer' keeps eye on rest of Gaddafi clan

Cassandra Jardine in Tripoli

You would think that Aisha Gaddafi had nothing else to think about these days apart from shaping her eyebrows.

While her elder brother Saif looks dishevelled and sounds almost as crazed as his father, she stands amid the crowd in her father's compound, Bab al-Azizia, looking immaculate.

Apart from the fact that she has stopped dyeing her hair blonde and now wears a veil, Ms Gaddafi, who is in her 40s, lives up to her reputation in the Arab press of being the "Claudia Schiffer of north Africa".

Given her glamour and Gaddafi's need to present an attractive face to the world, his only daughter should be as familiar an inhabitant of the pages of 'Hello!' as Queen Rania of Jordan.

In January, there was a tantalising rumour that she had had an affair with Silvio Berlusconi. It turned out to be no more than flippant speculation by an Italian newspaper.

Pout

But apart from one widely reproduced photo in which she sports tumbling blonde locks and a trout pout, she rarely ventures into the public eye.

The glamour shot was taken before 2006 when she married Ahmed al-Gaddafi al-Qahsi, a cousin and army colonel, and became a mother of three.

Since then she has maintained a low profile, despite heading up Wa'tassimu, Libya's largest charity group, and her role (terminated last month) as a UN Goodwill Ambassador. 'Princess of Peace', a 92-page biography of Ms Gaddafi by a Tunisian, is sadly not available in translation.

She gave an interview last October, when the Western world was still sucking up to her father, not shooting at him. It took place on a mermaid-shaped sofa in her vast villa in the suburbs of Tripoli.

When asked how people react when they find out who she is, she said that they "generally gasp, and then they become very friendly, and take the chance to send greetings to my father. No one has ever reacted badly".

Some inkling that the old man may not be as universally popular these days might explain why she attempted to fly to Malta last month. Like Saddam Hussein's daughters, who took refuge in Jordan, she might have preferred not to join her much-admired father in his last stand. But, having found herself turned back, she has been making the most of her situation. "I am steadfastly here," she told the Libyan public.

Now she is the Benazir Bhutto of north Africa, a woman attempting to uphold the family honour at a time which must bring back memories of childhood trauma. Aged nine, she was sleeping next to her adopted sister Hana when the child was killed by the US air raid on Tripoli. "I woke to the thunder of the bombs and the screams of my sister with blood spattered over me." Soon after, she was seen waving her fist to the camera.

Since then, she maintained that defiance in a number of ways. In 2000, two years after the Northern Ireland peace agreement, she proved herself an undiplomatic guest to Britain by giving a speech in support of the IRA at Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park.

In 2004, she volunteered to be one of the team of lawyers who defended Saddam Hussein. "I studied law and felt duty-bound to defend anyone who feels he is wrongly accused."

Compared with her seven brothers' kleptocratic and violent ways, Aisha seems relatively mild-mannered. According to WikiLeaks, she has been given the task of "monitoring the ne'er do wells". (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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