Qaddafi’s Summer Reading List

Flickr/<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/garyjd/111349404/">StartAgain</a>


When Libyan Leader Muammar al-Qaddafi is not palling around with a “voluptuous blonde” Ukrainian nurse, he likes to read. Not breezy novels but policy volumes—written by Americans. Well, at least summaries of such books.

A classified 2008 cable sent by the US embassy in Tripoli to the State Department (and released by WikiLeaks) reveals how the embassy came to uncover what it dubbed “Colonel al-Qaddafi’s Summer Reading List.”

In October 2008, an embassy officer met at the foreign affairs ministry with a senior official named Ahmed Fituri, and Fituri pointed out a stack of English-language books on his desk. He explained that he had been ordered by Qaddafi to read “significant” English-language book on American politics, policy, history, and current affairs, and then produce four- to seven-page summaries in Arabic for the Libyan leader. Fituri, who had received a PhD from the University of Michigan, said that he had been handling this task for several years—translating and summarizing six to eight books a year—though Qaddafi’s demand for these reports had diminished in the previous year.

Fituri told the US embassy officer that he was currently summarizing Fareed Zakaria’s The Post-American World. And next up was Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat 3.0. He noted he had recently translated for Qaddafi an article Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had written for Foreign Affairs. And in the past year, he had summarized for Qaddafi Zakaria’s The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad, Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope, and George Soros’ The Age of Fallibility: Consequences of the War on Terror.

Fituri noted that Qaddafi truly enjoyed Zakaria’s The Future of Freedom—that is, the summary of it. But more so than Obama’s book?

Fituri also said that Qadaffi had asked him six months earlier to undertake a similar program for his son, Muatassim Qaddafi, who was the national security adviser. So far, Fituri had merely sent the son copies of the summaries he had prepared for the Libyan leader. But Fituri told the US embassy officer that the head of the External Security Organization, Musa Kusa, had complained to him that Muatassim was “not an avid reader” and had to be prodded to peruse even summaries. Fituri added that many senior government officials did not consider Muatassim to be as intellectually curious as his father or his old brother, who was then pursuing a PhD at the London School of Economics.

So was this useful intelligence for the United States? The cable notes that the downturn in Qaddafi’s reading coincided with a period in which he had reportedly suffered a series of minor strokes. Perhaps here was confirmation of Qaddafi’s diminished health. Moreover, Fituri’s description of Muatassim reinforced the embassy’s view of him: “Fituri’s characterization of Muatassim’s less than enthusiastic embrace of the reading program is no surprise, given what we’ve heard from other contacts, who describe him as a traditional strongman who has focused on consolidating his power-base and pursuing his business interests and social life.”

There was no word on what the Ukrainian nurse liked to read.

THE BIG QUESTION...

as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot. That's what Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein tackles in her annual December column—"Billionaires Are Not the Answer"—about the state of journalism and our plans for the year ahead.

We can't afford to let independent reporting depend on the goodwill of the superrich: Please help Mother Jones build an alternative to oligarchy that is funded by and answerable to its readers. Please join us with a tax-deductible, year-end donation so we can keep going after the big stories without fear, favor, or false equivalency.

THE BIG QUESTION...

as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot.

Please read our annual column about the state of journalism and Mother Jones' plans for the year ahead, and help us build an alternative to oligarchy by supporting our people-powered journalism with a year-end gift today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.