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Day 82: Benghazi

Benghazi, Libya 
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The skyline in Benghazi, Libya's second city, shows plenty of new and unmemorable modern buildings, very few mosques, and azure but choppy Mediterranean and a great mushrooming of satellite dishes.
Michael Palin - SaharaIt's not quite the old communist-style cult of personality, but there is a lot of him about. The standard image is full face, aviator shades, pillbox-style chechia perched on thick black curly hair, skin creased by deep, but reassuring, Jagger-style grooves. None of the Soviet-style hard man here. He looks every inch the entertainer (and is almost the same age as Mick). On one rapidly fading billboard I saw, above the words 'American aggression', Gaddafi, fist raised, defying the bolts and arrows of missile attack (fifteen years ago his adopted daughter was killed in the American air attacks on Benghazi and Tripoli). Around this centrepiece were depictions of the caring Colonel, visiting children in schools and hospitals. On more recent posters he's likely to be seen emerging from a map of Africa, shedding a halo of golden rays across the continent. The parallel that comes irresistibly to mind is with Cecil Rhodes and his dream of spreading the red of the British Empire from Cape to Cairo.

The redirection of Gaddafi's foreign policy towards Saharan Africa should not perhaps be a surprise. He has always identified with the nomads and still prefers to live in a tent rather than a palace. There are few leaders these days who care much about the Sahara and I would very much have liked to have met and talked to him about his policy.

So far our advances have met with no success. The Libyan authorities remain deeply mistrustful of Western media and today we have to content ourselves with another closely guided tour.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 82
  • Country/sea: Libya
  • Place: Benghazi
  • Book page no: 219

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