Gaddafi’s tent gets a blow by high wind of change

Fate of "flying tent" remains undetermined


Throughout the four decades in which he has ruled Libya, Muammar Gaddafi has made sure to bring his bedouin tent with him anywhere in the world. Now with his regime under fire, the fate of his 'famed' and much needed tent remains vaguely undetermined.

The "flying tent," as it has been called, attracted media attention any time Gaddafi went on an official visit, sometimes even more than the reason or the outcome of the visit. The tent has triggered a variety of reactions ranging from astonishment and jokes to embarrassment and resentment.

The mobile tent is a replica of the original one set next to the ruins of Bab al-Azizia, Gaddafi’s headquarters in the south of the capital Tripoli which was bombed by the U.S. in 1986.

Several press reports talked about the hefty costs allocated to set and prepare the Bedouin tent every time Gaddafi travelled abroad. The cost to set up the tent can reach up to $300,000 per each visit.

The tent, which takes days to prepare, is made of fabric walls and contains fancy wooden furniture, expensive rugs, and crystal chandeliers.

Tent embarrasses countries

The tent, which Gaddafi has set up in front of the Champs-Élysées in Paris, the Kremlin gardens in Moscow, and the streets of New York and Rome, has often been a source of embarrassment for both the people and the governments of the countries that received the Libyan leader.

The French expressed their resentment at Gaddafi’s insistence on pitching his tent in the garden of Hôtel Marigny, the residence that hosts VIP foreign officials, when he visited France in 2007.

The debates about allowing the tent to be put up in Paris lasted for a long time and officials from both Libya and France were engaged in negotiations about it until finally France gave in and the tent was set only to become a tourist curiosity.

Gaddafi also insisted in 2009 on erecting his tent in Villa Pamphili, the most famous park in the Italian capital Rome, and several opposition and environmental parties objected and threatened to take the matter to court.

A similar diplomatic crisis took place between Russia and Libya when Gaddafi insisted that the tent to be pitched a few hours before he landed in the capital Moscow in 2008.

However, Gaddafi’s tent did not trigger similar problems in Arab countries. For example, the Libyan leader set up his tent in Egypt several times whether on the border town Sallum in the west, the Red Sea resort Sharm al-Sheikh in the east, or al-Quba presidential palace in the capital Cairo.

Nuclear scare

The problems caused by Gaddafi’s tent went beyond diplomatic debates to reach a nuclear crisis.

According to WikiLeaks, Gaddafi stirred nuclear fright in 2009 during his visit to New York to attend United Nations meetings when he postponed the handing over of radioactive material to Russia for disposal to retaliate against the U.S. for refusing to allow him to set up his tent.

According to Wiki Leaks, Gaddafi felt insulted when he was not granted permission to set iy up in front of the U.N. headquarters in New York and to visit Ground Zero, so he threatened to leave highly-enriched uranium unguarded at the Tajoura nuclear facility in Libya.

Gaddafi managed to pitch his tent in the town of Bedford in New York State, thereby provoking the resentment of residents for violation of land use laws and several threatened to pull it down.

(Translated from the Arabic by Sonia Farid)