The Revolutionary Nuns: Gaddafi’s Guard
April 16, 2020
April 16, 2020
The “Revolutionary Nuns”, perhaps better known in Europe as the Amazonian Guard, was the all-female presidential guard unit that protected Gaddafi from the 1980s until his toppling in 2011. They always accompanied him, including on international trips, and were well dressed in different well-fitting military attire, with immaculate make-up and even high heels at times.
Their purpose went beyond simple guarding duties: they were intended to present a slick, modern image of Libya to the world. They were also supposedly a symbol of Gaddafi’s rhetoric about the inclusion of women, the overcoming of backward traditions associated with Islam, and a flashy display of power. Adding to their mystique, and somewhat controversially, they were required to be abstinent during their time as guards.
The Amazonian Guard were picked from trainees in an all-female military academy, and trained in military skills and martial arts. They were also indoctrinated with Gaddafi’s political philosophy and taught that their role was not only to protect the body of the Gaddafi, but also the revolution itself.
Available footage of the military academy showed female recruits assembling and disassembling AK variants, LMGs, as well as shooting RPG-7s and conducting drills with ZPU-4 Anti-Aircraft guns. Though many women graduating from this academy simply returned to civilian life, others were personally selected by Gaddafi for service in the Presidential Guard.
Figure 1: Still Image from Documentary
Despite the highly politicised nature of their education, the guard was effective on at least one occasion. In 1998, when (according to the official story) an Amazonian Guard, Aisha, threw herself in front of Gaddafi during an Islamist gun attack, sacrificing her life for Gaddafi. Many other guards were also injured during this attack, from which Gaddafi escaped unscathed.
The “father” of the nation, Gaddafi, was apparently greatly upset by the loss of his most favoured Amazonian. Gaddafi later claimed that the assassination attempt was supported by the British Government and MI6 to BBC News: BBC News Story from 1998
Allegations of Abuse
There was however, allegedly, a far darker side to the guard. After the revolution in 2011, a psychologist, Seham Sergewa documented that several of the former bodyguards were raped and abused by Gaddafi, Gaddafi’s sons, and other officers and soldiers. She alleges that the guard was a means of control over male relatives.
It was an “honour” too good to be refused to be picked for the guard, and once picked, male relatives of the Amazonians would need to be loyal to ensure good treatment of the Amazonians. Seham alleged a pattern of abuse – Amazonians would be kept, abused for several years, and eventually discarded.
Like many things related to Gaddafi, there are greatly conflicting versions of the truth. On the one hand, the Amazonian Guard was a progressive display to the world of Libya’s modernity and sophistication (at least in the eyes of Gaddafi). On the other hand, the Amazonians were allegedly a convoluted repressive method of control over young women and their families and a blatant show of hypocrisy. The substantial gap between the progressive rhetoric espoused by the Libyan regime in public and the allegations made highlights the controversial legacy Gaddafi left in Libya.
Image1: Viola (link)
Image2: Screen capture of Youtube video (link)
Image3: Tribu Dragon (link)
Louis Tayler is a graduate from the University of Exeter, where he studied Arabic, and is currently studying History & Politics