Qaddafi, Mu'ammar al- (c. 1942–)

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Qaddafi, Mu'ammar al-
(c. 1942–)

Libyan leader Mu'ammar al-Qaddafi (also Moammar Gadhafi) was a junior army officer when he orchestrated a coup d'état in September 1969, ousting the Libyan monarchy and replacing it with a revolutionary government. He soon emerged as the head of the revolutionary government as well as de facto head of state. He is the second longest serving head of state in the world.


Qaddafi was born in central Libya, in the desert south of Sirte near Abou-Hadi, probably in the spring of 1942, although some accounts place his birth in 1943. He was the only surviving son, after three daughters, of a poor Bedouin family and did not attend school until he was nearly ten, when he enrolled in a local mosque school. Qaddafi later attended secondary school in Sebha in southern Libya, where his involvement in political activities eventually resulted in his expulsion. Accounts vary as to exactly why he was expelled; there is considerable evidence he was long active in organizing public protests and distributing subversive literature. Whatever the exact cause, his activities in Sebha demonstrated Qaddafi's early political inclinations and his willingness to challenge established authority.

Qaddafi finished his secondary schooling in the coastal town of Misurata where he renewed contacts with childhood friends and recruited new supporters among like-minded students. Qaddafi enrolled in the Royal Military Academy in 1963, graduating in August 1965. Commissioned as a communications officer, he completed an advanced signals course in the United Kingdom in 1966.

At the time, a career in the Libyan armed forces offered exciting opportunities for higher education and upward socioeconomic mobility, especially for talented and ambitious young men like Qaddafi from the lower levels of Libyan society. The armed forces also represented a potential avenue for political action and rapid change. From the beginning, military service for Qaddafi, with political parties and other political activities banned in Libya, was an instrument, not a goal.

Once he completed the signals course in the United Kingdom, Qaddafi was assigned to a post near Benghazi where he began to organize the network of conspirators that successfully toppled the monarchy on 1 September 1969. The central committee of the Free Unionist Officers, as the young revolutionaries named their movement, formed a ruling Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), appointing more experienced officers and civilians to senior government positions. In theory, the RCC operated as a collegial body, discussing issues and policies until consensus was reached. In practice, Qaddafi, who had been appointed commander-in-chief of the armed forces, was able to impose his will through a combination of personality and argument, to the extent that all major domestic and foreign policies reflected his thinking. It soon became evident that he was directing the RCC and was de facto head of state.

The initial policies of the revolutionary government reflected Qaddafi's Islamist roots, together with his support for Arab nationalism. Consumption of alcohol was prohibited, churches and nightclubs were closed, foreign-owned banks were seized, and Arabic was decreed the only acceptable language for use in official and public communications. Later, the American and British military bases in Libya were evacuated, the few remaining Italian residents expelled, and the oil companies subjected to increasingly stringent operating conditions.

The Revolution

In 1975 Qaddafi began to summarize the ideological tenets of the revolution, what he termed his Third International (or Universal) Theory, in a series of three short volumes, known collectively as The Green Book. The first part, titled "The Solution of the Problem of Democracy: The Authority of the People," developed the theoretical foundations for direct democracy, the unique system of congresses and committees he later implemented throughout Libya. The second part, "The Solution of the Economic Problem: Socialism," examined the economic dimensions of the Third International Theory, espousing socialism as an alternative to capitalism and communism. The third part, "The Social Basis of the Third International Theory," explored selected social aspects of the Third International Theory, focusing on the family, tribe, and nation.

Over the next decade, Qaddafi progressively implemented a socialist command economy in which the state took over all import, export, and distribution functions. Trumpeting socialism as the solution to mankind's economic problems, his variant of Arab socialism was doctrinal as opposed to pragmatic. It was also highly nationalistic in a region where nationalism and socialism have often been found together. Early statements stressed the indigenous nature of Libyan socialism, portraying it as both an integral part of Libyan political culture and a necessary corrective action. In arguing that socialism stemmed from the heritage of the Libyan people and the heart of the Libyan nation, his approach mirrored what has happened elsewhere in the Arab world where the character of socialism has often been discussed in the context of local history and custom.

In September 1976 Qaddafi announced a plan to create a new national-level representative body, called the General People's Congress (GPC) with an executive body, the General People's Committee, to replace the RCC as the supreme instrument of government. In March 1977 he issued the "Declaration of the Establishment of the People's Authority," stating that direct popular authority would henceforth be the basis for the political system in Libya. At the same time, he changed the official name of the country to the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. Jamahiriya was a newly coined Arabic word with no official meaning, but is generally translated as "people's power" or "state of the masses."

Qaddafi served as secretary general of the General People's Committee, in effect prime minister, until 1979 when he resigned to concentrate on what he described as "revolutionary activities with the masses." It was at this point that he adopted the title Leader of the Revolution. Since that time, Qaddafi has held no official governmental position; nevertheless, he has remained at the center of power and policy making.


Name: Mu'ammar al-Qaddafi

Birth: c. 1942, near Abou-Hadi, south of Sirte, Libya

Family: Wife, Safiya Farkash; five sons, Muhammed, Saif al-Islam, Al-Saadi, Al-Muatassim Billah, Khamis; one daughter, Aisha

Nationality: Libyan

Education: Royal Military Academy (graduated 1965); advanced (military) signals courses in United Kingdom


  • 1969: Leads Free Unionist Officers in successful coup d'état, ousting King Idris I; promoted to commander-in-chief of Libyan armed forces
  • 1969–present: De facto head of state
  • 1973: Issues Third International Theory, marking commencement of Popular Revolution
  • 1975: Begins publication of The Green Book
  • 1977: Declares establishment of People's Authority; named secretary general of newly formed General People's Congress
  • 1979: Adopts title Leader of the Revolution

Foreign Relations

At the outset, Qaddafi pursued a very aggressive foreign policy, based on his interpretation of Arab nationalism, neutrality, and Arab unity. A strong and vocal advocate of Arab unity, his many attempts to unite Libya with one or more Arab states all ended in failure. Adamantly opposed to colonialism and capitalism, Qaddafi advocated jihad, broadly defined to include economic, political, and military action, as the solution to the Arab-Israeli dispute. Libya's stance on the Palestinian issue influenced its foreign policy in other areas, especially its posture toward terrorism. In so doing, Qaddafi's foreign policy increasingly brought Libya into conflict with its African and Arab neighbors as well as the United States and other Western governments.

By the late 1970s, the United States, which initially had viewed the 1 September Revolution with tolerance, had branded Libya one of the world's principal sponsors of terrorism. Qaddafi's vitriolic condemnation of the Camp David Accords, large arms purchases, support for national liberation movements, and campaign to assassinate opponents abroad combined to justify a U.S. campaign that culminated in the bombing of Libya in April 1986. In the wake of the attack, Qaddafi appeared to moderate elements of Libyan foreign policy; nevertheless, his regime was later implicated in the bombings of Pan Am 103 in December 1988 and UTA 772 in September 1989.

Severe economic problems in the second half of the 1980s, together with the implosion of the Soviet Union at the end of the decade, contributed to a change in Libyan policy at home as well as abroad. In March 1987 Qaddafi announced the first in a series of reforms, rescinding in part earlier socialist directives. In what was dubbed "green perestroika," he envisioned an expanded role for the private sector in conjunction with limited political reforms. This early attempt to promote economic liberalization, a harbinger of things to come, failed to generate widespread popular support.

Moreover, when Qaddafi refused to cooperate with the investigations of the Pan Am 103 and UTA 772 terrorist attacks, the United Nations (UN) in 1992 imposed multilateral sanctions that contributed to mounting discontent and increased privation in Libya. The deteriorating economic situation, reflected in decreased subsidies, unpaid salaries, and a shortage of basic goods, aggravated a political condition in which Qaddafi faced growing opposition from tribal groups, Islamist forces, and the armed forces.

The UN eventually suspended its sanctions in April 1999 after Libya had remanded the two Libyan suspects in the Pan Am 103 bombing. Qaddafi responded by initiating significant changes in the tone and direction of Libyan foreign policy. He championed several new initiatives in Africa, signaling a major shift in emphasis from the Arab world to the African continent, at the same time that he strengthened long-standing diplomatic and commercial ties with key European states. In the wake of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, he was an enthusiastic, early recruit to the War on Terror, condemning the attacks and expressing sympathy for the victims. Libya had long been a target of Islamist radicals, and Qaddafi's cooperation in the War on Terror was motivated in large part by his recognition of a common threat from Islamist fundamentalists.

After agreeing to pay $2.7 billion in compensation to the families of the victims of the Pan Am 103 bombing, Libya in late December 2003 renounced its unconventional weapons programs, together with related delivery systems, agreeing to international inspections to verify compliance. Welcoming this change in policy, the United States in 2004 restored diplomatic relations and lifted most of the bilateral economic sanctions in place. Remaining trade restrictions were lifted in May 2006 after the United States removed Libya from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.


Qaddafi also initiated a major shift in economic policy in June 2003 when he told the GPC that the public sector had failed and should be abolished. In response, Libyan officials began to promote economic liberalization, focused on diversification, privatization, and structural modernization. Unfortunately, real performance seldom approached official rhetoric with economic reforms in the oil and gas industry proceeding much faster than reforms in other sectors of the economy. In regard to the speed and direction of reform policy, Qaddafi contributed to the prevailing confusion when he stated in July 2006 that Libya should curb the role of foreigners to ensure its wealth remained at home, a statement hardly reassuring to potential investors. One month later, he scolded the nation for its overreliance on oil and gas revenues, foreigners, and imports, telling Libyans they should manufacture the things they needed.

Whatever the speed and scope of economic reform, it is not expected to be followed by significant political liberalization. A wide range of outside organizations and individuals, from the International Monetary Fund to Freedom House to the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, have suggested that broader governance issues must be addressed before economic reforms can prosper. The issues requiring attention include, but are not limited to, a weak rule of law, an immature legal and court system, and recurrent conflict between municipalities and the central government. In the face of these recommendations, Qaddafi has championed his direct democracy system of congresses and committees, adamantly rejecting any meaningful change in the current political system. Instead, he has made vague references to what he terms "popular capitalism," envisioning a hybrid economic system that would be compatible with unchanged direct democracy.


During his formative years, decisive political events in the Middle East, including the 1948 Arab defeat by Israel in Palestine, the 1952 Egyptian revolution, the 1956 Suez crisis, and the 1958 Egypt-Syria union, strongly influenced Qaddafi's world outlook. His studies in Sebha gave him for the first time regular access to Arab newspapers and radio broadcasts, especially the Voice of the Arabs news program from Cairo. From that time forward, he was a fervent admirer of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. The anti-imperialist, Arab nationalist foreign policies, and egalitarian, socialist domestic reforms of the Egyptian revolution were wildly popular throughout the region; Qaddafi separated himself from most other Arab youth in his determination to bring the revolution to his own country.

Borrowed from the organization of the Egyptian revolution, the Free Unionist Officers movement and the RCC were outward signs of Egyptian influence. In addition, the three goals of the 1969 Libyan revolution, freedom, socialism, and (pan-Arab) unity, were the same three goals proclaimed by Nasser at the outset of the Egyptian revolution. The ideological similarities between the two revolutions were doubly significant because Qaddafi in late 1969 was speaking almost two decades after Nasser came to power in 1952 and long after selected policies associated with the revolutionary trinity had been discredited elsewhere in the Arab world. As a result, Qaddafi's early attempts to promote them, especially Arab unity, were widely considered anachronistic and generally rejected.

Disenchanted with Nasser's successor, Anwar Sadat, Qaddafi by the mid-1970s had become his own political visionary and theorist, promoting the Third International Theory. The first part, "The Solution of the Problem of Democracy: The Authority of the People," proved the most enduring. The congress-committee political system in place since the mid-1970s has experienced little change, and Qaddafi has continued to reject any suggestion of political reform, arguing that the Libyan form of direct democracy is superior to the representative democracy found in the United States and elsewhere. In contrast, Qaddafi in the late 1980s began to move Libya away from the socialist command economy outlined in "The Solution of the Economic Problem: Socialism," and the breadth and depth of economic reform broadened after 2003. The third part of The Green Book, "The Social Basis of the Third International Theory," proved the most controversial with Qaddafi's often insular, sometimes contradictory, and occasionally reactionary views on a variety of subjects, like women, education, minorities, and the arts, an endless source of debate.


Few world leaders in modern times have stirred as much controversy as the charismatic Qaddafi. In the early years of the 1 September Revolution, he was celebrated as a hero by the revolutionaries and liberation movements of the world. At the same time, he was roundly condemned as a meddling, destabilizing, and dangerous influence, if not a terrorist, by many governments in and out of the region. After a prolonged period of international isolation, Qaddafi, following Libya's renunciation of weapons of mass destruction, took a more positive approach to many of the world's problems. He also remained highly unpredictable and often irascible, enhancing and not diminishing the controversial reputation that has marked his career.


In June 1988, the General People's Congress adopted the Great Green Charter on Human Rights in the Era of the Masses. Intended to open the way for increased economic and political liberalization, the twenty-seven articles comprising the document addressed a variety of personal rights and guarantees. Largely drawn from earlier statements by Qaddafi, the charter had been foreshadowed in the three parts of The Green Book. It guaranteed Libyans some freedom of movement and respect for personal liberty; however, it failed to grant them all the civil and political rights traditionally assumed under domestic and international law. For example, there remained no room for a free press on the false assumption that the Libyan people were free to express themselves in the Congress and committee system. There was no right to strike because Libyans were in theory the owners of the factories where they worked. There was no place for organized opposition because Libyans theoretically were free to express their opposition within the existing political system. Consequently, elementary civil rights continued to be denied to Libyans citizens after 1988.


Facing no obvious rival and not old for a head of state, Qaddafi has demonstrated the political skills necessary to remain in power. On the one hand, he is a master of the political system he created, containing potential rivals and managing issues that might unite large numbers of Libyans in opposition. On the other hand, no clear rules exist to name his successor; and with no formal mechanism in place to ensure a smooth transition of power, the post-Qaddafi era could well be a time of tension and uncertainty with a wide variety of groups vying for power. As for the political institutions created by Qaddafi, they offer elements of participation and representation, as well as fulfilling important distributive and security functions. Consequently, they could prove valuable to his successor and might well be maintained for some time without major overhaul.


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                                    Ronald Bruce St John


The first part concerns America as an aggressed over [state], whatever are justifications of those who committed it. America, as any other states and individuals, has the right to defend itself, either in accordance with article 51 of the UN Charter, that is actually inoperative or with else. [The] right of self defense is a legitimate matter. And America possesses the power enabling it to [do so]. In this regard, America does not need anybody to defend itself, strike its enemy or even get assistance to justify that. It is a kind of flattering to show readiness to assist America in a matter concerning her and capable of [her]. The second part, terrorism, this matter does not concern America alone. It concerns all the world. This needs an international cooperation and international procedure. America could not fight it alone. And it is illogic and useless to charge America with this mission. What a pity! mingling has appeared, as well as indistinctment, and confusion in perception. Proceeding and cooperation in this matter (terrorism) is not a service to America like flatterers have shown. It is a self defense for each of us. Either America was hit on 9/11 or not, America should not reward who fight terrorism inasmuch as fighting terrorism is not a service to America as those show. It is rather a service to yourself, who among us likes terrorism … who among us likes to live with his children, people and state in a world where terrorism prevails. Terrorism is an awful thing.