View Full Version : among the most surprising sights in the Arab world: an all-female squad of bodyguards

12/13/2004 2:10pm,
Behind the veil of Gadhafi's security service

From Monday's Globe and Mail

Tripoli It is among the most surprising sights in the Arab world: an all-female squad of bodyguards, dressed in blue uniforms and armed with AK-47 and Beretta rifles, surrounding Libyan leader Colonel Moammar Gadhafi.
The Protectors of the VIP, as the team of 40 elite guards is known, is both a reflection of Col. Gadhafi's inimitable mind and a revolutionary enigma in a Muslim country where women are still far from equal in daily life.

Libya's extremely secretive government allowed The Globe and Mail to visit the women's police academy in Tripoli where most of these guards are trained.

It was the first glimpse by a North American newspaper of the Spartan, cinder-block complex where 100 women sleep, eat and receive lessons in killing techniques, weapons handling and revolutionary theory.

The hand-selected cadre, some members as young as 16, often come from distant cities for the chance to serve Col. Gadhafi and earn a policewoman's salary, the equivalent of $245 a month.

They enter a world where the 1969 Libyan revolution seems fresh and all-encompassing, far removed from the liberalizing changes that are beginning to open this closed society to the rest of the world.

Portraits of Col. Gadhafi cover the walls and the parade grounds. The Leader, as he is universally known, personally selects candidates from their ranks and from a neighbouring women's military academy. In turn, the women worship him; some wept as they described their desire to become Protectors.

They sleep four to a room in aging barracks, taking lessons in Microsoft Office and martial arts in classrooms with blacked-out windows.

When they graduate, they stand in a circle around Col. Gadhafi and chant revolutionary slogans.

"I've wanted to be a policewoman since I was young," said Asmahan Salemi, 18, who was pulled from the ranks of drilling officers to talk to a reporter. "It's a great honour to become one of the Protectors of the Leader."

Other Arab countries have resisted Western-style sexual revolutions, but Libya has developed a strange form of gender equality engineered personally by Col. Gadhafi.

"Our Leader has decided for the future that the woman should have her rights exactly the same as the man," Colonel Mohammed Jamal, manager of the police academy, said during an interview in his office. "Our Leader sees into the future; maybe what happens here in Libya will happen in other Arab countries after 25 years or so."

The Green Book, Col. Gadhafi's 1970s manifesto written to help transform the country after his military coup into a utopian society built on a distinctly Arab form of totalitarian socialism, devotes an entire chapter to the role of women.

"It follows as a self-evident fact that woman and man are equal as human beings," the book says. "Discrimination between man and woman is a flagrant act of oppression without any justification."

However, it goes on to declare, "As the man does not get pregnant, he is not subject to the feebleness which woman, being a female, suffers. . . . To demand equality between them in any dirty work, which stains her beauty and detracts from her femininity, is unjust and cruel."

It is feminism, Libyan style: hand-delivered by a charismatic male leader who demands total loyalty, offering a form of isolated equality that cannot be questioned.

Government officials openly acknowledge that emancipation is intended to make women supportive of the government.

"The students here, because they are supplied with the freedom to be what they want to be by our Leader Moammar Gadhafi, they feel they need to be faithful to our Leader," Col. Jamal said as he played a video of the uniformed female graduates making a formation that resembled a cheerleading squad more than a police march. The officer at the top of the pyramid held aloft a large picture of Col. Gadhafi.

Libyans are generally more tolerant of female independence than citizens of other Muslim countries. Most women wear loose and casual headscarves, and those who go uncovered receive occasional whistles from men but otherwise are not criticized. Some women shake hands with men, a rare practice in the Arab world. And there are some female professionals in prominent positions.

But in day-to-day Libyan life, women's behaviour is strictly limited. At a Friday lunch at the house of a middle-class Libyan, men were served lavish dishes while the wife and daughters, who did the cooking, were kept out of sight, never introduced. Young men and women are mostly kept isolated from one another until marriage.

"It's really rare for guys and girls to get any chance to hang out with each other. There's lots of talk about women being equal, but in reality this is a pretty strict Muslim country," said high-school student Wahida, 17. She was wearing a North American-style tank top, normally forbidden, at an annual school bazaar that provides one of the few opportunities for young men and women to meet openly.

At the police academy, the women were obviously proud of their independence. Their training tells them they are rare examples of emancipated Muslim women.

"Our Islam will not prevent the woman from playing her role in society. It calls for respect of men for women," Col. Jamal said. Edit: Your own....personal....Islam...

Still, the military setting sometimes seems at odds with the feminist message. Asked what percentage of the trainees want to join the VIP squad, Col. Jamal stepped onto the parade ground and barked an order: "Those who wish to protect the Leader, raise your hand!"

Of the 50 women standing at attention, 49 raised their hands. The lone dissenter, 22-year-old Sahel Gafarla, explained that she would rather serve the revolution by working as a border guard near her home along the Tunisian border.

The border-guard job, which will be performed by most of the trainees chosen by Col. Gadhafi, points to a more prosaic reason for all this female emancipation: In Muslim custom, it is unacceptable for a man to touch a woman other than his wife. So female officers must be employed to perform searches on women.


Secret Libyan assassin protector ninja techniques!!!

I'm calling it now: Someone in the next 5 years will step forward to claim teaching this bodyguard squad and has invented a new martial arts that really works.

12/13/2004 10:28pm,
it makes very good sense for a simple reason ...

women ... in the arab world ... are much less likely to be part of a coup or carry one out ...

The Wastrel
12/13/2004 11:24pm,
Your thread sucks because you have no pictures of this all-female bodyguard squad. I did some research and found some.

The Wastrel
12/13/2004 11:26pm,
Die, infidel.

12/13/2004 11:32pm,
gotta go with the camo chick.. the other has head band and sights but camo girl has the thighs to bring me home....

12/14/2004 9:11am,
Will bet any money that good ole Col. Gadhafi is "double-dipping" into the benefits of an all-female personal escort.

12/14/2004 9:21am,
Too bad they pay them so little, but they pay foreign "protectors" seriosu coin.
Still, an all'muff, oops, sorry, all-woman bodyguard team is nothing new.

12/14/2004 7:58pm,
However, it goes on to declare, "As the man does not get pregnant, he is not subject to the feebleness which woman, being a female, suffers. . . . To demand equality between them in any dirty work, which stains her beauty and detracts from her femininity, is unjust and cruel."

Interesting that they don't think that killing fits that description. Other than that, it's great to see that there is at least some effort being made on the part of a middle eastern government to advance women's rights.

12/14/2004 8:39pm,
just because you're sexist doesn't mean that you don't like sex

12/15/2004 12:46am,
I hate when people say " X are sex objects".. they mean subjects.

12/15/2004 6:46am,

12/16/2004 6:14pm,
Pshah!! Gadhafi is just a pretender to the throne. Evil-island-ruling-martial-arts-tournament-sponsoring-drug-kingpin-one-handed-ex-monk Han had an all female bodyguard unit, and they didn't even need weapons. They could beat your ass dead with just their hands and feet. Plus, he sired them all. For the ultimate in loyalty.