Gadaffi's 'cultural' tours to Libya for Italian models
The travel diary of a Roman model has provided a compelling insight into bizarre “cultural visits” arranged by the Libyan leader, Colonel Moammar Gadaffi, for scores of attractive young women from Italy.
Maria M, aged 28, declined to give her full name, but allowed the Observer to examine her account of a lavish trip to the Libyan desert in October after she was recruited by the Rome-based agency Hostessweb. In her diary Maria tells of an eccentric week-long tour for which she and 19 other young women were reportedly each paid €3 000.
Six such “cultural” visits to Libya by agency recruits have been organised since Gadaffi visited Rome in 2009. The next is scheduled for next month. On one visit Gadaffi tried to marry off one of his guests to his nephew.
But there also appears to have been a religious motive. “He asked if any of us were interested in converting [to Islam]. We all looked at each other and then, incredibly, two girls rose up, something I never thought they would do,” wrote Maria, adding that she believed bonuses had been offered to the “converts”.
Gaddafi developed a taste for preaching to Italian women during his 2009 visits, and again in August this year, when Hostessweb, which recruits models and hostesses, laid on busloads of women to hear him talk about Islamic culture and faith. “This is all about social and cultural integration,” said Alessandro Londero, one of the organisers of the trips. “Here in Rome we have sent dozens of girls to attend Arabic courses at the Libyan cultural institute.”
On Maria’s arrival in Tripoli in October, the 20 hostesses were given their €3 000 and then taken on a week-long tour by Gadaffi aides of Libya’s Roman ruins and its modern hospitals, souks and the women’s police academy. The tour then moved to the leader’s tent in the desert.
‘We must embrace Muhammad’s faith’
“They put us in government cars headed for Gadaffi’s tent,” wrote Maria. “About 30km from Sirte there is movement and lights in the middle of nowhere and we are stopped by men armed to the teeth at three successive checkpoints before we see two enormous tents, a couple of camper vans serving as toilets, a massive and noisy generator and hundreds of camels.”
After they had waited for hours, Gadaffi appeared, “straight from hunting, dressed extremely casually in a wrinkled shell suit and old trainers with messed-up hair. He gives us a huge smile, we clap and he swaps the ‘papal’ throne laid on for him for a plastic chair.”
After looking at photos of their trip, Gadaffi turns to proselytism. “He tells us most of Europe will turn Muslim thanks to the entry of Turkey into the EU ... that we must embrace Muhammad’s faith because Christ predicted that a prophet would come after him to take his place.”
Then, with Libyan TV filming, Gadaffi converted the two girls who stepped forward. “That brings the converts to seven or eight,” said Londero. “Sometimes they kneel before him while it is broadcast on TV.”
Maria said some girls were not convinced by their colleagues’ religious zeal. “There was talk of cash prizes, jobs, houses,” she wrote. One woman who converted on a trip in March confirmed she had been rewarded. “It is a present for those who choose Islam, a form of help, although Gadaffi’s willingness to guide us is the biggest present,” said Rea Beko (27) an Albanian from an Orthodox Christian family who lives in Rome.
Londero said the list to sign up to meet Gadaffi “now seems to be longer than the waiting list to visit the pope,” but warned he would be screening out Israelis, anyone who says they want to convert, or appears interested only in a large cheque. Future trips, he said, could involve women from other countries. “I would not rule out an event in the UK like those Gadaffi has held in Rome.” - guardian.co.uk