Region | Libya

Aisha Gaddafi is as much her father's daughter

In her youth, the outspoken 33 year old was a keen supporter of the IRA and is currently involved in women's charities.

  • By Colin Freeman, The Telegraph Group Limited, London 2010
  • Published: 00:00 October 12, 2010
  • Gulf News

Aisha Gaddafi
  • Image Credit: Rex Features
  • A lawyer by training, her father’s regime is not the only contentious cause Aisha has spoken up for over the years.

Tripoli: To anyone in Britain who still thinks of her dad as a tyrant, IRA quartermaster extraordinaire, and all-round Mad Dog of the Middle East, Aisha Gaddafi would like to extend a cordial invitation.

"Come to Libya, you are all most welcome," she says, when asked about her father's unique talent for planting thorns in the side of successive British governments. "I know what is said in Britain about my father, and most of it is just following a political agenda. So I would give the British people this invite: find out the real facts by coming and meeting us Libyans in person."

First though, meet Aisha herself, the only girl among the eight children that Gaddafi has fathered in between his other duties as Brotherly Leader, self-appointed Saviour of Africa and Guide of the Revolution.

Dubbed "The Claudia Schiffer of North Africa" in the Arab press for her striking good looks, the 33-year-old is arguably the most photogenic of Libya's first family, yet she is still very much a chip off the old block.

Cause

A lawyer by training, her father's regime is not the only contentious cause she has spoken up for over the years. In her youth, just like her father, she was a keen supporter of the IRA, and three years ago, she was on the legal team that defended that other controversial Arab leader, Saddam Hussain.

Her other passion, though, is promoting women's rights in Libya, which is why she agreed last week to an interview at her home, a huge, high-walled villa in a Tripoli suburb.

Aisha holds court in a vast drawing room decked out with family pictures, and later poses for photos on a huge, mermaid-shaped settee worthy of her father's extravagant tastes. Meanwhile, her three young children wander in — one of whom, three-year-old Muammar, is named after Grandpa.

This being the Gaddafi clan, though, our conversation soon strays beyond the cosy joys of domestic life and Aisha's charity work. For while she may not be as well-known as her brother Saif, whose work in brokering his father's detente with the West has made him the most recognised of the junior Gaddafis, she still has her own special place in the turbulent recent history of Anglo-Libyan relations.

Bombing raids

Back in 1986, during the British bombing raids on Tripoli, she was in the Gaddafi family compound when a missile landed, killing her adopted sister, Hannah. TV footage reportedly caught Aisha, then aged just nine, shaking a small but furious fist at the world. "It was a terrible night," she said.

So has she forgiven Reagan and Thatcher? Just as Britons have been asked to forgive the Lockerbie bombing and the shooting of WPc Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan embassy? "What do you expect me to say? Thatcher really spoiled my childhood, and I will never forgive her, no. As for Reagan, that is the route of Allah, he went crazy and got Alzheimer's. That is his punishment, I think."

It is remarks such as these that have given Aisha a reputation as slightly feistier than her brother Saif.

She is involved with a variety of Libyan charities promoting women's rights, particularly in domestic violence and honour crimes. Western human rights groups say her personal intervention has helped in some cases, although they add that in a land that does not permit independent pressure groups, it is perhaps more akin to a medieval ruler granting pardons to lucky supplicants.

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