It was to be a human shield, a massive gathering of Moammar Kadafi’s supporters at his Bab Azizia compound, and the Libyan leader was to give a late-night speech of defiance against the international forces arrayed against him.
They would stand by their beloved Brother Leader at the same compound destroyed by President Reagan’s airstrikes in 1986. Even if the bombs came sailing down. Even if the entire place went up in flames.
“I’m here to support Moammar Kadafi and to oppose the threats of the West,” said Ghazal Muftah, a 52-year-old grandmother in a camouflage army jacket and hijab, or head scarf, among about 400 or so gathered around the ruler’s vast and well-protected residence. “If they want to hit Moammar Kadafi, they have to hit us. We are all Moammar Kadafi.”
Rap music slamming Al Jazeera’s and BBC’s coverage of Libyan events blared from loudspeakers. Men and women danced and swayed to African and Arabian rhythms. A line of security officials formed to hold back the crowd as it pressed forward. Young men waved green flags denoting support for Kadafi’s Libya. A banner showed a crowd of men wearing green bandannas spraying pesticide on rats, the term Kadafi uses to describe rebels in the east.
“Colonialism will never be back again in Libya,” said one poster in English.
It was a bizarre and somewhat macabre celebration, given that Western forces had already dropped a couple of bombs to halt Kadafi’s attacks on Libyan rebel strongholds.
But to those in this crowd, only terrorists had been killed in the weeks of civil strife across the country, and the threats of the Westerners were just empty rhetoric.
“I’m here because I love Moammar Kadafi,” said Fatih Mohammad, a 17-year-old high school student with a toothy smile. “I’m ready for war. Anyway, they won’t dare to challenge us.”
None of those gathered acknowledged taking part in the panicked preparations that people the world over take before war. There was no talk of stocking up on rice or water. No plans to leave the city for a relative’s home in the countryside.
These people, explained shopkeeper Mohammad Hadi, were brave people. He had even brought his 10-year-old daughter, Hadeel, for the human chain.
“So what if they bomb?” he said. “We never get scared. If there was any fear, these people would never come here.”
“We are here,” said medical student Salah Mohammad, 24, “to be with the leader of our revolution, even if we die.”
Cellphones began to ring. A hush fell over the crowd. People began to whisper to one another: Cruise missiles were being fired at Tripoli. Those sitting in a grassy area quickly got up and began heading for the exit.
More followed, until the human chain thinned to a few dozen people standing in the chill before the balcony where Kadafi was supposed to address them.
But the Brother Leader was nowhere to be seen. He would address Libyans later by telephone, from an undisclosed location.