Book Review: ‘Gaddafi’s Harem’ by Annick Cojean


Rating: 4.5 / 5

Soraya was a 15-year old school girl when she was kidnapped, abused, and raped repeatedly by Gaddafi.  While Gaddafi’s Harem focuses on Soraya for most of the book, her plight is reflective of treatment that thousands of women received during Gaddafi’s 42 year regime.

It was incredibly difficult to read about Soraya, and all the other women who suffered and are continuing to suffer from Gaddafi’s rule, and the Libyan culture.   What resonated the most with me was the fact that women who were raped were not seen as victims.  Since premarital sex is illegal in Libya, women were afraid to come forward.  Also, as it is the responsibility of fathers and brothers to protect their wives, sister, and children, a woman who spoke about being raped would bring shame to her family, and even worse, could be killed by her own brothers.

Soraya’s struggles mirrored many women abused by Gaddafi.  Though she was released, she spent crucial years as a sex slave.  Although she was not imprisoned, she lost many years of schooling, and in the eyes of others, she was seen as a whore.  Since she could not return to her parents for fear of bringing shame and a fear for her safety, she fled to France, hoping to get away from Gaddafi’s reach.  An education was not the only thing denied while she was Gaddafi’s captive; Soraya had no idea how to live, how to be an adult, and how to take care of herself.  Having no skills, no support system, and coupled with the physical and mental damage done by Gaddafi, it is not surprising that Soraya’s future is bleak.

I can’t even describe how heart wrenching and emotionally disturbing Gaddafi’s Harem is, and the shocking dual personalities of Gaddafi.  While publicly he championed women’s rights and developed a military institute to train women, it was known that he was a sexual predator, and thousands of girls and women that he raped and tortured were left with no respectable future and no recourse.

The first half of the book is Soraya’s story.  Her experiences are not an isolated event, but using one voice brings a raw, real, and personal account of the damage Gaddafi inflicted.  The second half of the book is about the struggles Libya faces is establishing a free and democratic country.  While it seems like Libyan women are progressive, the country as a whole has been slow to reform due to religious and traditional strongholds.

In the End:  Gaddafi’s Harem is a must-read.  What was done to these women was horrible, and the stories of Soraya and many others in her position is eye-opening, but ones that need to be told so others can be aware of what has gone on for over four decades.



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