Waiting for Gaddafi

February 24, 2011

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (L) meets Libyan Leader Muammar Gaddafi at the Egyptian border city of Mersa Matrouh October 16, 1989.  REUTERS/Frederic Neema

It was 22 years ago and I was covering a meeting of the Libyan Leader Muammar Gaddafi and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt at the border town of Marsa Matrouh.

Gaddafi was late. Really late. We were all waiting for him, including Mubarak. As a Reuters photographer based in Cairo at the time, I had covered a lot of official visits but this was the first time that I saw Mubarak waiting for someone. As usual, nobody bothered to tell us the reason for the delay, but it was so long that Mubarak started talking to us. The atmosphere was jovial. So jovial in fact, that my Egyptian colleague, Aladin Abdel Nabi, dared to ask Mubarak if he would have his picture taken with me. “Why?” was the cold answer and we left it at that. The mood returned to “official mode.”

A few moments later, we heard a convoy of cars arriving amidst a lot of dust, noise and the usual chaos. Gaddafi had finally crossed the border. Mubarak greeted him stiffly, visibly annoyed by the delay. They both walked towards the spot where both national anthems were to be played. It was at that moment that I took this picture. Gaddafi adjusted his robe in his usual royal fashion while starting to walk. I remember thinking how both men looked so powerful and untouchable at that time.

As usual, we, the photographers, were not placed where we should have been to get the best pictures. We had to scramble to get close and I think I was quite close. I must have used a 35 or 24mm lens. At that time, we were not using zooms, just fixed lenses and manual focus.

Gaddafi’s bodyguards caught my attention. Two or three were female with AK-47 rifles and one was pregnant. I found this interesting and definitely out of the ordinary, so I photographed her. This picture was widely used. A few years later, I was told a story in Cairo about a French photographer who disappeared after taking pictures of a female bodyguard who got pregnant by Gaddafi. Was it supposed to be me?

Libyan Leader Muammar Gaddafi's pregnant bodyguard chats with a colleague October 16, 1989 outside a Presidential residence in this Egyptian border town.  REUTERS/Frederic Neema

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