This international bestseller is a “horrifying inside look at the lives of Libyan women under the Gaddafi regime . . . Powerful and compelling” (Booklist, starred review).
Soraya was just fifteen, a schoolgirl in the coastal town of Sirte, when she was given the honor of presenting a bouquet of flowers to Colonel Gaddafi, “the Guide,” on a visit he was making to her school the following week. This one meeting—a presentation of flowers, a pat on the head from Gaddafi—changed Soraya’s life forever. Soon afterwards, she was summoned to Bab al-Azizia, Gaddafi’s palatial compound near Tripoli, where she joined a number of young women who were violently abused, raped, and degraded by Gaddafi. Heart-wrenchingly tragic but ultimately redemptive, Soraya’s story is the first one of many that are just now beginning to be heard. But sex and rape remain the highest taboo in Libya, and women like Soraya (whose identity is protected by a pseudonym here) risk being disowned or even killed by their dishonored family members.
In Gaddafi’s Harem, an instant bestseller on publication in France, Le Monde special correspondent Annick Cojean gives a voice to Soraya’s story, and supplements her investigation into Gaddafi’s abuses of power through interviews with people who knew Soraya, as well as with other women who were abused by Gaddafi.
“A moving and disturbing wake-up call to the personal costs of totalitarianism.” —Publishers Weekly
A renowned French journalist for Le Monde uncovers another level of monstrousness in the recently overthrown dictatorship of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi. Cojean's riveting two-part story opens with the blunt firsthand account of the kidnap and rape of a young girl. In 2004, just after turning 15, Soraya was thrilled to present a bouquet of flowers to Gaddafi when he visited her school. The next day, three women from his Committee of the Revolution took her to visit his nearby encampment. She wasn't allowed to leave. Soraya was bathed, made-up, and delivered to Gaddafi's bedroom. Over the next five years, Gaddafi repeatedly raped and abused Soraya, forcing her to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, snort cocaine, and watch pornography. In the second half of the book, Cojean investigates Soraya's story. Navigating traditional Libyan cultural silences on rape, Cojean locates anonymous sources who corroborate chilling descriptions of Gaddafi's use of rape as a political weapon, and the resultant pall of disgrace cast on the victims and their families. Even after Gaddafi's death and the collapse of his regime, it is the Libyan women who continue to suffer reviled by their families, ignored by their government and the international community, living in silent shame. A moving and disturbing wake-up call to the personal costs of totalitarianism.