All the while, the Libyan dictator's only living daughter, Aisha, has retained a slightly racier title as "North Africa's Claudia Schiffer," for her glamorous blond looks.
Rumored to be notoriously shy, 34-year-old Aisha was thrust into the spotlight early today as she stepped out on the balcony of her father's crumbling Tripoli compound and tried to convince the world of his legitimacy.
"We are a people that cannot be defeated," she said, pumping her fists in her family's trademark gesture of defiance. Her father did the same thing Thursday while being driven through Tripoli's streets in a bizarre parade procession, with the dictator popping up out of the sunroof of an SUV and waving to supporters.
Aisha Gadhafi spoke to supporters before dawn this morning from a crumbling terrace at her family's Bab al-Aziziyah compound. She recounted how the current NATO airstrikes in Libya remind her of a previous American bombing campaign there, when she was 9.
In 1986, U.S. warplanes bombed Gadhafi's Tripoli compound in retaliation for the bombing of a Berlin disco that killed two American military personnel. Dozens were killed then, including a child he later described as his adopted daughter. Gadhafi never repaired the bomb damage, leaving it as a sort of eerie museum and symbol of national defiance.
"Let me go back to the past when I was a child, when I was 9 years old, in this house," Aisha Gadhafi told the crowd today. "A rain of missiles and bombs. They tried to kill me. They killed dozens of children in Libya.
"Now, after 25 years, the same missiles, the same bombs, rain on our children's heads," she said.
Aisha's appearance today comes amid rumors of fierce sibling rivalry among her seven brothers, all vying for control of Libya if their father's regime falls. Two weeks ago, two of Gadhafi's sons floated a secret plan to push their father aside and put Seif al-Islam, the second-eldest son, in charge of a transition to democracy. The plan gained little support in European capitals and hasn't been talked about since.
Amid internal family battles, Aisha has emerged as a "minder for the most troublesome" of her brothers. For years, she's been tasked with "monitoring the activities of ne'er-do-wells" in her family, a U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks last year noted. It's unclear whether her public defense of her father today is linked to behind-the-scenes squabbles among her brothers. When fighting began in Libya two months ago, Seif al-Islam was immediately a vocal defender of his father's regime, appearing frequently on TV, but he hasn't been seen as much since then.
One of the tasks that befell Aisha Gadhafi in 2008 was mediating a diplomatic row that exploded between Switzerland and Libya after her brother Hannibal was arrested at a Geneva hotel for allegedly beating his servants. But according to WikiLeaks, the Swiss ambassador privately told U.S. officials that Aisha gave her father a "less than accurate rendering" of events -- suggesting she may have had more loyalty to her brother than to her father. The whole incident brought Aisha closer to come of her siblings, but alienated others.
Aisha Gadhafi holds a law degree from the Sorbonne in Paris and volunteered to join Saddam Hussein's failed defense team. She also heads a legal aid charity, Wa Attassimou, which defended the Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi, who became world famous for throwing his shoe at then President George W. Bush during a Baghdad news conference.
"It was all designed to make him look inhumane," she told The Telegraph newspaper last October. In the same interview, she also described her relationship with her father.
"People forget that before he is a great man and leader, he is also my father, my friend and my brother. He is very close to me, and I feel so safe when I am with him," Aisha said. "The man is the man. He never changes. He is a man of principles, he believes in causes, defending the poor and underdog, he never changes the main ideas that he believes in."