Donald Macintyre: This compound was the ultimate symbol of the tyrant's power

Bab al-Aziziyahh was a mixture of barracks, regime headquarters and holiday village

Share
Related Topics

To understand the symbolism of Libyan rebels running triumphantly through Muammar Gaddafi's Bab al-Aziziyahh compound yesterday, it's worth recalling what a totem of anti-Nato, anti-insurrection defiance it had been over the past six months, let alone over the previous decades.

Back in March, taken by regime minders to see the hundreds of Libyans who had gathered as "human shields" in the heavily fortified six square kilometre complex, we watched them sing, swaying, to a catchy African rhythm, words borrowed from the dictator's chilling 22 February speech. The one in which he promised to hunt down his enemies "Zenga zenga" – alleyway by alleyway; inch by inch; street by street, house by house. Then, of course, the banners – some helpfully written in English for the benefit of the TV networks – proclaimed: "Libya is united and out of your reach", and: "We are waiting for you and so are the fishes". The men, women and children had streamed past the armed soldiers, a tank and militiamen in civilian clothes armed with AK-47s to proclaim their loyalty, and shout: "Allah, Muammar, Libya wa bas" – God, Gaddafi, Libya, it's all you need.

Now, instead of being hunted down, the "rats" as Gaddafi called them, were at the compound last night; instead of the fanatical young supporters who had chanted and sang about their loyalty to the Brother Leader, it was now his opponents who clambered on top of the Libyan regime's most iconic pieces of agitprop sculpture, the huge golden fist crushing an enemy war plane, commemorating Gaddafi's survival in the face of the 1986 air strikes of Tripoli ordered by Ronald Reagan after the deadly bombing of a Berlin night club used by US servicemen. It is far from certain that all those who swore to "protect" the Libyan dictator were there voluntarily. Exiled dissidents would later say they recognised from the television pictures some of their own comrades among the crowds, men brought out of jail and forced to swell the pro-Gaddafi ranks. It will be some time before we know whether any of these were able to exact a sweet revenge by running through the compound yesterday with a now wholly unfeigned enthusiasm.

To get into the building back in March, you had to queue up to have your bags examined by scanners, to pass through metal detectors, and submit to body searches. Nato bombers struck highly specific targets in the compound some six times after its campaign started in March, saying that they were attacking "command and control" centres operated by the regime. Libyan officials persistently denied such installations existed, while being careful to allow visiting journalists to see only selected buildings that had been struck.

In appearance, Bab al-Aziziyah is from the inside a strange mixture of forbidding military barracks, regime headquarters and-almost-holiday village. Reputedly, Gaddafi at one time lived in a Bedouin tent in the compound's park, dotted with palm and olive trees, from which at night you can see the lights of the Carinthia and (long empty) Marriot hotels. The persistent rumour now is that he is hiding somewhere in a warren of underground bunkers at the site.

There were banqueting and state reception rooms, and a large library where, Gaddafi officials claim, the dictator once entertained Tony Blair. But of course, the dominant monument the minders most wanted you to see was the House of Resistance, the carefully preserved ruins of the multi-storey building semi-destroyed by Reagan's jets in 1986, the emblem of Gaddafi's seemingly permanent capacity to resist onslaught by foreign powers.

In some ways the overrunning of Bab al-Aziziyah is as potent and telegenic a symbol of the end of a dictatorship as the famous toppling of a statue of Saddam Hussein in a Baghdad square on 9 April 2003. But just as many Iraqis continued for weeks afterwards to worry that the real Saddam might somehow still return to re-impose his power over his people, so too the citizens of Tripoli, justly celebrating as they were last night, are unlikely to feel truly secure and liberated until they know for certain the fate of the man who has dominated every aspect their lives for more than four decades.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile Developer (.NET / C# / Jason / Jquery / SOA)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: M...

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Critics of Fiona Woolf say she should step down amid accusations of an establishment cover-up  

Fiona Woolf resignation: As soon as she became the story, she had to leave

James Ashton
 

Letters: Electorate should be given choice on drugs policy

Independent Voices
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes