The Revolutionary Nuns were Muammar Gaddafi’s female bodyguards. They were also known in Europe as Amazons and in North Africa as Haris al-Has.
Their task was to protect at all costs the then Libyan leader.
History of the Revolutionary Nuns
Muammar Gaddafi, the then leader of Libya, formed an all-female group of bodyguards in the early 1980s.
In the previous years, the East German Secret Services used to protect Gaddafi. Most of his bodyguards were from Bulgaria, Germany, and Poland.
When Gaddafi was travelling, he always had with him at least 15 Revolutionary Nuns. Their tasks consisted of either security or housekeeping.
On the one hand, Joseph Stanik, former US naval officer, wrote that Gaddafi chose women for his protection because for a man it would have been difficult to harm them. According to Gaddafi, women are led likely to rebel and go against their leader.
On the other hand, many people close to him said that the Colonel just loved having young women around him.
Women in Libya Under Muammar Gaddafi’s leadership
In 1975, Gaddafi wrote the Green Book, which was a short book containing his political philosophy. During his leadership, teachers used his books in schools and his quotes were all over Libya.
One of the chapters was about women and their role in society. Gaddafi wrote that men and women were born equal, but there are natural differences between them. Consequently, they have different and precise functions in the everyday life. The Libyan leader also added that women have the right to work, but the work cannot affect their beauty and has to be suitable for women, not men.
Despite what he wrote in the Green Book, the Libyan leader was firmly convinced that “women should be trained for combat, so that they do not become easy prey for their enemies”. He stated that having female bodyguards was a step towards female emancipation.
During Gaddafi’s ruling, women had access to schools and universities. They were also able to join the police or become doctors, nurses, or engineers.
Under King Idris, his predecessor, around 15% of the female population attended primary school. When Gaddafi took power in 1969, education became compulsory until nine years old and the level of female literacy became the highest in the region. In 1990, 48% of the female population attended primary school and, in 1996, 43% attended secondary school.
By the time he died in 2011, more than half of university students were female.
Responsibilities and Training of the Revolutionary Nuns
The main task of the Revolutionary Guard was to protect Gaddafi 24 hours a day. They also had other duties, such as entertaining him, reading him chapters from the Green Book, and keeping the house tidy.
Muammar Gaddafi personally chose all the women of the Revolutionary Nuns. They had to be around 20 years old, not married, beautiful, virgin. They also had to take a vow of chastity, before starting the official training.
The Revolutionary Nun’s training consisted of martial arts and extensive firearms courses.
Most of their training took place in the Women’s Police Academy in Tripoli.
After the selection, they swore an oath of protecting him at all costs, also with their lives.
The Revolutionary Nuns used to wear army apparel. They wore black heels, a red belt, and a red beret. They could also wear jewellery and red lipstick and they could paint their nails.
Revolutionary Nuns in Action
The first international appearance of the Revolutionary Nuns was in 1981, in Syria. During that trip, Gaddafi was meeting Hafiz al-Asad, the then Syrian president.
In 1998, a group of fundamentalists ambushed Gaddafi’s motorcade in Derna, Libya. In order to save the Libyan leader life, one of the bodyguards stood in front of him and was fatally wounded and seven others were harmed.
In November 2006, Gaddafi arrived at the Abuja Airport, in Nigeria, with around 200 heavily armed bodyguards. At their arrival, the security guards of the airport did not want to let them in if armed, causing Gaddafi’s outrage. After a brief confrontation between the bodyguards and the security guards, the furious Libyan leader was willing to go to the capital on foot. The situation only improved thanks to the intervention of the then Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo.
During his trip to Italy, in June 2009, Gaddafi travelled with around 300 bodyguards. During his visit, he stayed in a giant Bedouin tent located in a park in the centre of Rome.
Most of the women that were part of the Revolutionary Guards were abandoned by their husbands and were disclaimed by their families.
In 2001, Dr Seham Sergewa, a Libyan psychologist, started investigating the process of selection of the Revolutionary Guards. Only eight women stepped forward due to the fear of testifying. They are afraid of getting killed by fundamentalists and sometimes family members.
Even though many women defined Gaddafi as the women emancipator, after his death, women came forward and accused the Libyan leader of rape and abuse.
Many women stated that they were either blackmailed to join the unit or they were asked sexual favours in order to be selected. They testified that Gaddafi and some other members in the leader’s power circle raped them.