[Marxism] Collusion between Mubarak and Qaddafi

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Aug 29 09:35:57 MDT 2011

Two Revolutions
by Hisham Matar September 5, 2011

One night in the early nineteen-eighties, Colonel Muammar Qaddafi 
had a terrible nightmare: he walks into a barbershop, sits down in 
the padded chair, and closes his eyes. Suddenly, he feels the 
razor blade prick one side of his cleanly shaven neck. It is 
driven in deeper, then dragged all the way across. He woke up in a 
fright, convinced that the man who would someday assassinate him 
will be a barber. Or, at least, that was the story that went 
around to explain why, the following day, “the Leader” is said to 
have issued one of his more idiosyncratic decrees: that 
barbershops in Libya close. For days, no one could get a haircut.

Years later, in late 2009, the Egyptian novelist Idris Ali 
published a novella called “The Leader Gets a Haircut,” which 
mined the four years he spent working in Libya in the late 
nineteen-seventies. He includes testimony from ordinary Libyans 
about life under Qaddafi, and documents the inhumane conditions 
under which many Egyptians in Libya toiled. With savage humor, he 
depicts the dark absurdity of the Libyan dictatorship.

Ali had won the Best Egyptian Novel Prize for an earlier book, and 
his novella was hotly anticipated at the 2010 Cairo International 
Book Fair. But, as Ali waited for his publisher to turn up, he got 
a call informing him that earlier that morning Egyptian State 
Security Investigations, presumably under pressure from the Libyan 
government, had detained Ali’s Egyptian publisher and confiscated 
his copies of “The Leader Gets a Haircut.” Sales of the book were 
outlawed in Egypt. A few months later, Ali died of a heart attack.

My life, too, has been deeply affected by the collusion between 
the Hosni Mubarak government and the Libyan regime. My parents 
left Libya in 1979, escaping political repression, and settled in 
Cairo. I was nine. Eleven years later, when I was at university in 
London, my father, one of the most outspoken Libyan dissidents 
abroad, was kidnapped from our family’s Cairo home. Agents from 
Egyptian State Security Investigations visited one afternoon. They 
asked if Father would be so kind as to accompany them on a little 
errand. He never returned. Later, we learned that he was put on a 
private jet and sent to Libya. He is counted among Libya’s 

In 2006, I published my first novel, “In the Country of Men.” The 
publication of the book gave me a bigger platform to speak about 
my father’s abduction and Libya’s human-rights record. Even though 
I was in London, every time I wrote an article or gave an 
interview about these things I would walk around for days feeling 
the weight of the Libyan regime’s gaze at my back. It was as if a 
great gust were blowing through my rooms. In the same way that 
Egypt and Libya conspired to “disappear” my father and silence 
writers such as Idris Ali, they made me, too, to a far lesser 
extent, feel punished for speaking out. I could no longer visit my 
family in Egypt, as it was deemed too dangerous.

Five years later, with Mubarak gone and Qaddafi about to fall, I 
got on an airplane bound for Cairo. As we were descending, I 
looked out over the city, all lit up and glittering. I felt that a 
terrible fate had been reversed. At the airport, the old pain I 
had carried for so many years about Egypt, which I blamed for the 
betrayal of my father, began to fade. When the immigration officer 
paged through my British passport and asked, “What’s your 
origin?,” his tone was not suspicious. When I said that I was 
Libyan, he smiled and replied, “What an honor. Come on, hurry up. 
Get rid of that tyrant.” We laughed, something I had never done 
before with an Egyptian police officer.

Walking into the family home, finding my family and my childhood 
friends waiting for me, and seeing old familiar objects—my 
father’s books, family photographs—I felt the tight fist in my 
heart release. Egyptian friends, who, since Father’s 
disappearance, had felt awkward and silently guilty around me, 
suddenly became closer than ever. It became clear to me that one 
of the things these dictators had tried to do was to humiliate us 
and distance us from one another. Everyone I met in Egypt seemed 
to be as obsessed as my family was with events in Libya. There was 
a palpable conviction that the two revolutions were reliant on one 
another for their success.

Whenever I found myself sitting in a café with Libyan and Egyptian 
writers, I wished that Idris Ali, a man I had never met, could be 
there. And now that Tripoli has fallen to the rebels, the man I 
most wish were here to witness this new dawn, in which we are 
holding in our hands the very sincere possibility of a better 
future, is my father. ♦

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