I knew that Qaddafi was a dictator, but had no idea that Libyan society was this repressive. Michael Totten writes:
I’m one of the very few Americans who has visited Libya since Qaddafi seized power. (Setting foot there was illegal until recently.) And I can attest that it is, indeed, one of the most thoroughly totalitarian countries on the face of the earth.
The place stinks of oppression. You can’t escape the state without leaving the country or going off-road and into the desert. Informers and secret police are omnipresent and all but omniscient. Hotel rooms are bugged. No one can travel from one city to another without a thick stack of permits and papers. I saw propaganda posters and billboards literally everywhere, even alongside roads in the wilderness where nobody lived. State propaganda is even carved into the sides of the mountains. Pictures of Qaddafi hang inside every building, and an entire floor of the museum in the capital is dedicated to glorifying him personally. Libya even looks like a communist country, with its Stalinist tower blocks outside Tripoli’s old city center and its socialist-realist paintings depicting happy proletarians in their Workers’ Paradise.
No one I met would talk about politics if there was the slightest chance anyone might overhear us. Those who did open up when we were safely in private were unanimous in their hatred, fear, and loathing of the regime. And they made sure to tell me that their entire families would be thrown in prison if I repeated what they said to anyone.
I visited several bookstores and found only four types of books in two genres: the Koran, commentaries on the Koran, Qaddafi’s Green Book and other works supposedly authored by him, and state-approved commentaries on his manifestos. If other genres were in circulation—fiction, poetry, economics, history—I couldn’t find them. And I quickly gave up trying to locate an international newspaper or any other source of information that didn’t belong to Qaddafi.
I’m not even convinced that the large number of Libyans who welcomed the Lockerbie bomber at the airport last week weren’t ordered by government agents to go down there, or else. It’s possible that they showed up voluntarily, but Libya is the kind of place where public demonstrations are routinely state-managed, just as they are in North Korea and just as they were in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was in charge.
If the people in the crowd did greet Megrahi because they wanted to hail him as a hero, I’m not convinced they even knew what they were doing. They don’t have access to international media, and it’s highly unlikely that Qaddafi TV told them he murdered 270 innocent people.