Muammar Gaddafi


Muammar Gaddafi [guh-dah-fee] (1942 – 2011) was the leader of Libya since a coup in 1969 until he was killed in a popular uprising in 2011. His regime was associated with numerous acts of state-sponsored terrorism in the 1970s, 80s and early 90s.

With the death of Omar Bongo of Gabon in 2009, he became the longest serving of all current non-royal national leaders and he was one of the longest serving rulers in history. Gaddafi is alleged to have amassed a multi-billion fortune for himself and his family.

He was born in a bedouin tent to a small tribe stockherders. As a boy, Qadhafi attended a Muslim elementary school, during which time the major events occurring in the Arab world—the Arab defeat in Palestine in 1948 to Israeli forces and Nasser’s rise to power in Egypt in 1952—profoundly influenced him.

In Libya, as in a number of other Arab countries, admission to the military academy and a career as an army officer became available to members of the lower economic strata only after independence. A military career offered a new opportunity for higher education, for upward economic and social mobility, and was for many the only available means of political action and rapid change. For Qadhafi and many of his fellow officers, who were animated by Nasser’s brand of Arab nationalism as well as by an intense hatred of Israel, a military career was a revolutionary vocation.

An early conspirator, he began his first plan to overthrow the monarchy while in military college. The frustration and shame felt by Libyan officers who stood by helplessly at the time of Israel’s swift and humiliating defeat of Arab armies on three fronts in 1967 fueled their determination to contribute to Arab unity by overthrowing the Libyan monarchy.

On 1 September 1969, a small group of junior military officers led by Gaddafi staged a bloodless coup d’état against King Idris while he was in Turkey for medical treatment. His nephew, the Crown Prince Sayyid Hasan ar-Rida al-Mahdi as-Sanussi, had been formally deposed by the revolutionary army officers and put under house arrest; they abolished the monarchy and proclaimed the new Libyan Arab Republic.

The 27-year-old Gaddafi, with a taste for safari suits and sunglasses, then sought to become the new ‘Che Guevara of the age.’ To accomplish this Gaddafi turned Libya into a haven for anti-Western radicals, where any group, supposedly, could receive weapons and financial assistance, provided they claimed to be fighting imperialism. The Italian population in Libya almost disappeared after Gaddafi ordered the expulsion of Italians in 1970.

Gaddafi based his new regime on a blend of Arab nationalism, aspects of the welfare state, into what Gaddafi called ‘Islamic socialism,’ and, while he permitted private control over small companies, the government controlled the larger ones. He imposed a system of Islamic morals, outlawing alcohol and gambling. Like previous revolutionary figures of the 20th century such as Mao and his Little Red Book, Gaddafi outlined his political philosophy in his Green Book.

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