Grove Press | September 2013
oraya was just fifteen, a schoolgirl in the Libyan coastal town of Sirte, when she was given the honor of presenting a bouquet of flowers to Colonel Gaddafi on a visit he made to her school. This one meeting—a presentation of flowers, a pat on the head from Gaddafi—changed Soraya’s life forever. Soon, she was summoned to Bab al-Azizia, Gaddafi’s palatial compound near Tripoli, where she joined a group of young women who were raped and humiliated by Gaddafi, forced to watch pornography, drink alcohol, and entertain Libya’s debauched elite, along with the foreign dignitaries who turned a blind eye to the most monstrous aspects of Gaddafi’s regime. Heartwrenchingly tragic but ultimately redemptive, Soraya’s story is one that the world needs to hear.
In Gaddafi’s Harem, an instant bestseller when it was published in France, Le Monde special correspondent Annick Cojean gives Soraya a voice, and adds to her story through interviews with other women who were abused by Gaddafi, as well as with people in his administration, including a driver who ferried women to and from the Bab al-Azizia compound, and Gaddafi’s former chief of security. Gaddafi’s Harem is an astonishing portrait of the tragedies of dictatorship: how power gone unchecked can wreak havoc on the most intensely personal level. It is also a document of great significance to the new Libya, where there is a conspiracy of silence regarding Gaddafi’s sexual crimes and where the new regime desperately needs to confront the tragedies of its recent past.
Annick Cojean, special correspondent for Le Monde, is one of France's most widely admired journalists. She chairs the committee for the Prix Albert Londres, the French equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize, and is the author of several books.