Joan Smith: For bad taste you can't beat a dictator

 

Share
Related Topics

The closest I've come to a Kalashnikov was when someone presented me with a glass replica of an AK-47 filled with vodka. It's the kind of thing a dictator might like to display on his sideboard but I couldn't help thinking there were far too many genuine AK-47s in Tripoli last week, even as jubilant rebels wandered awe-struck through the opulent villas of Colonel Gaddafi's eight children. One young man from Misrata stripped to a pair of shorts and launched a yellow kayak into a swimming pool belonging to Hannibal Gaddafi, who beat up his pregnant girlfriend in Paris in 2005, but he didn't let go of his rifle as he grinned for the camera.

Other members of the rebel forces sprawled on a gold mermaid sofa in the atrium of a house belonging to Aisha, the dictator's only biological daughter, or gaped at the circular white bed in the beach-front retreat of his fifth son, Mutassim. The latter is one of the regime's most detested figures, having commanded his father's forces in Brega with characteristic savagery, but his house, built on stilts in a resort on the outskirts of Tripoli, would not look out of place in a European celebrity magazine.

Hot-tubs, infinity pools, stables, a show-jumping course and even a scuba-diving school have been revealed as opposition forces stormed into the family's mansions, where exercise videos and smashed champagne bottles attested to a hedonistic but health-conscious lifestyle.

While Dad was an inveterate camper – remember the fuss he made about erecting a Bedouin tent when he visited European capitals? – Mutassim went for that tricky (unless you have an army of cleaners, or maybe just an army) monochrome look in his dining room. Aisha's pool complex reminded me of my local gym.

The monumental mania of dictators' families in the 20th century seems to have given way to a bland, deracinated, rich-kid cupidity: not so much bad taste as no taste at all.

If you ignore the broken glass, smashed furniture and ever-present young men with weapons, these villas could belong to a hotel chain or a random collection of celebrities from international sport and the film industry. They're luxurious but not exactly on the scale of Ceausescu's vast unfinished palace in Bucharest or Saddam Hussein's project to rebuild the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II in Babylon on the ruins of the original, thus wrecking one of the world's most significant archaeological sites.

Saddam had more than 80 palaces, throwing them up at a spanking pace after the 1991 Gulf war and wasting more than £1bn in the process. One of his Baghdad residences boasted four giant cast-iron heads of the dictator in a style that might be characterised as Soviet-Assyrian, prompting as much mockery as Colonel Gaddafi's monumental fist crushing an American fighter in his Bab al-Azizia compound. The Assad palace in Damascus is built on a hill and looms over the city, an ever-present reminder of the power of the dictator's family, but the late Foreign Office minister Derek Fatchett noticed a huge crack in the Presidential loo when he asked to use it during an official visit.

Twelve or so years later, it's hard to think of a better metaphor for the sordid Assad regime than a cracked toilet bowl. And I suspect that one of the most striking images of the downfall of the Gaddafi clan will be those excited young rebels from Misrata, swimming with Kalashnikovs.





www.politicalblonde.com

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Digital Marketing,London

To £58k Contract 12 months: Charter Selection: Major household name charity se...

Key Account Manager, Medical

£35000 per annum, Benefits: Excellent commission structure + Car: Charter Sele...

Key Account Manager, Medical

£35000 per annum, Benefits: Excellent commission structure + Car: Charter Sele...

Account Management Strategy Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum + competitive: Real Staffing: Required skills:Previo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The daily catch-up: fathers looking after children, World Cup questions and Nostradamus

John Rentoul
 

Letter from the Political Editor: Phone and data laws to be passed in haste

Andrew Grice
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice