In Tripoli, Gadhafi’s Bad Hair Day

Posted September 6th, 2011 at 3:15 pm (UTC+0)

Wigged out Moammar: Tripoli street artists seem to imply that Libya's former leader might be, uh, a little unbalanced. VOA Photo:James Brooke

For decades, it has been considered improper in polite society to say
that Moammar Gadhafi was crazy.

In one Wikileaks memo, an American diplomat described Libya’s leader as…

There were, of course, hundreds of newspaper cartoons the world over. But generally, the public fiction among grownups in the West was to assert the leader of the nation that controlled the largest oil reserves in Africa was, well, a little eccentric.

But now Libyans are saying that the emperor has no clothes.
(Kind of harsh verdict on a guy who loved to play dress up.)

Sitting in the back of a taxi in Tripoli, I pass kilometer upon
kilometer of anti-Gadhafi graffiti. Since I don’t read Arabic and Khaled Ben
Yala, the VOA translator, can’t keep up with volume, it ends up
rolling by as a red, black, green and blue blur.

A rebel sends a cartoon Gadhafi and his Green Book packing. VOA Photo: James Brooke

But caricatures jump across language barriers.
There is only one man caricatured.
It the man who called himself “Brother Leader.”

Crazy eyes are hard to render in spray paint. Tripoli’s graffiti
artists have a hard time with wild eyes, often settling for crossed

To portray Libya’s wigged out leader, the key is the frizz under the fez — the hairdo.

Painted on garbage cans, or flying across a wall after getting a kick
in the seat of the pants is the man with the black curls. Gadhafi
appears peering sadly out of toilet bowel, or scampering like a
hirsute rat down to a ‘safe’ tunnel.

Wall cartoons fill the gap until a free press starts up in Libya. VOA Photo: James Brooke

From “King of Kings,” Gadhafi is now a North African version of Larry,
the curly haired member of The Three Stooges, a long running, low-brow
American comedy act.

On family night, a girl-led sound truck rolled through the streets Tripoli.
Drawing grins from battled-hardened rebels, they took turns screaming
into a microphone: “Where’s the guy with the boshafshofa?”

Or “Where’s the guy with the crazy hairdo?”

Moammar and his Green Book get the boot. VOA Photo: James Brooke

Moammar as Porky Pig, one of several barnyard animals chosen by Tripoli graffiti artists to depict their former leader. VOA Photo: James Brooke

James Brooke
James Brooke is the Russia/CIS bureau chief for Voice of America. A lifelong journalist, he covered West Africa, Brazil, the American Rocky Mountain States, Canada, and Japan/Korea for The New York Times. A resident of Moscow since 2006, he was first Bloomberg bureau chief for the region. In 2010, he joined VOA. In addition to writing Russia Watch, his weekly blog, he also does video, radio and web reports from Russia and the former USSR.

2 responses to “In Tripoli, Gadhafi’s Bad Hair Day”

  1. Eric G Richter says:

    It’s critical, at this juncture in Libyas transition, to quickly begin to stabalize this recent eco-political wound by allowing economic “boots on the ground”.

  2. Vadim Massalskiy says:

    All dictators are demoniac and crazy!



James Brooke is VOA Moscow bureau chief, covering Russia and the former USSR. With The New York Times, he worked as a foreign correspondent in Africa, Latin America, Canada and Japan/Koreas. He studied Russian in college during the Brezhnev years, first visited Moscow as a reporter during the final months of Gorbachev, and then came back for reporting forays during the Yeltsin and early Putin years. In 2006, he moved to Moscow to report for Bloomberg. He joined VOA in Moscow in 2010. Follow Jim on Twitter @VOA_Moscow.



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