His often bizarre pronouncements were by now beyond questioning at home, his enormous pictures and security services everywhere. The iconography of the revolution became the dictator as he wanted to be seen: always triumphant, his clenched fist in the air as a sign of determination, the wraparound sunglasses and, eventually, the hennaed hair half-hidden by a succession of colorful headgear. By this time, Qaddafi's world had become so reverential and closed that even his son, Saif al-Islam, in his art gallery debut in London, included a painting showing his father in what had by then become an unavoidable and stereotypical image of Qaddafi: the ruler, with crossed arms, mysteriously staring off into space as if detecting some wisdom in the sky undiscernible to ordinary Libyans. Brother Leader, by that time, had turned away from his Arab nationalist cause and, literally, wrapped himself into the robes of his newfound cause of African unity.
The combination of U.S. and international economic sanctions bit fiercely, however, and the ambitions of the regime were severely hemmed in as the millennium came to an end. The agreement to declare and shutter its weapons of mass destruction programs in 2003 promised a way back out of the deadlock for the regime. It also allowed Qaddafi to dramatically recast his international image. Gone now were the meetings with the equivalent of Eastern Bloc party apparatchiks; gone were the public welcomes for terrorists in Tripoli. Instead, there were now meetings with Tony Blair and, eventually, with Condoleezza Rice, and state visits to Brussels and New York. Qaddafi eagerly looked for an image that would match his by now limitless ego and self-deception. The Brother Leader and those around him started to portray him in earnest to the world as he had, at any rate, always envisioned himself: a global political figure of major proportion, a visionary thinker whose ideas about democracy were worthy of serious intellectual contemplation, a man who could hold his weight among the rulers of the world.
As usual in oil dictatorships, in this campaign for respectability and recognition, money was no obstacle. In his son, Saif al-Islam -- the self-proclaimed would-be reformer of his father's dictatorship -- Qaddafi found an eager ally. The campaign to brighten Qaddafi's international standing was orchestrated by Saif al-Islam and implemented by Monitor Group, the international consulting firm that had initially provided Libya with a blueprint for its economic strategy but had strayed, perilously, into burnishing the image of the dictator.
Missing from the Foreign Policy Qaddafi Files collection -- and their absence indicative perhaps of what little importance they ultimately presented to the regime -- are the pictures of Qaddafi with those Western intellectuals and public figures brought to Libya by Monitor to engage with him in philosophical discussions about his Green Book: no images of Qaddafi with Fareed Zakaria, with Anne Marie Slaughter, with Joseph Nye, with Francis Fukuyama, or Benjamin Barber. Perhaps they exist somewhere. Only Condoleezza Rice, who came as Secretary of State in 2008, merited her own picture album, separately, found at Bab al-Azizya.
The February uprising earlier this year abruptly put a halt to the regime's charm offensive. The speeches from both father and son in mid-February indicated how unreconstructed the regime had remained. Behind the images of a newfound pragmatism, there was no substance, no possibility of compromise or of adaptation. The language used by both men was the same violent and intemperate language of two decades earlier, unrepentant, its labeling of any opposition as "cockroaches" and "rats" unchanged.
What the uprising finally also provided, somewhat unexpectedly, were glimpses of the dictator that, for once, had not been officially approved. Throughout the 42 years of iron-fisted rule, there had never been any hints of domesticity. The public persona of the dictator had been carefully crafted, sculpted, and cultivated for decades in extravagantly large pictures and slogans from the Green Book that had once been strung and printed across almost any available public space: from bridgeheads and the walls of the Saraya al-Hamra in Tripoli to blankets in Tubruk to waterbottles from Kufra.
These pictures in Foreign Policy are very different: they punctuate the public myth by showing us Qaddafi en famille, playing with his grandchildren, relaxing in his tent, savoring a moment with his wife, attending weddings -- all of it somewhat alarmingly in the same poor sartorial style as that revealed in his public appearances. Once cringes involuntarily at the thought of Qaddafi, who brooked no opposition and who once summarily held the power of life and death for his subjects in his hands, enduring the teasing of one of his young grandsons. And while there was a never-ending and deliberate extravagance to all his public appearances, the settings at home in contrast look decidedly dowdy if not shabby: the ramshackle collection of couches and coffee tables, flung seemingly at random within the tents Qaddafi preferred to live in. One cannot just call it bad taste -- what is interesting is that it expresses no taste at all. It reveals a personal life pared down to its essentials, a life that has seemingly not moved beyond the asceticism of 1969 -- the traditional lifestyle of a bedouin eschewing anything beyond what is immediately needed.