Qadhdhafi, Mumar al- (1943– )

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Mu˓mar al-Qadhdhafi was the most dominant Libyan leader in the second half of the twentieth century. His childhood and political ideology were influenced by his family's tribal values, anticolonial Islam, and Arab nationalism during the upheavals of the Egyptian revolution (1952) and the Algerian anticolonial revolution (1954–1965). As the sole leader of Libya since 1969, he has changed the socioeconomic and political structures of that nation. He created and led a self-declared revolutionary state governed by an organization of popular committees and congresses with a rich oil-based rentier economy.

Qadhdhafi was born in 1943 (other sources say he was born earlier) in a tent to a poor itinerant Bedouin family that belonged to the Qadhafa tribe. In 1965, Qadhdhafi and some of his friends entered the military academy and began to recruit other officers in his revolutionary organization, the Free Unionist Officers Movement.

Qadhdhafi's ideology stresses Arab nationalism, Islam, self-determination, social justice, and denounced the corruption of the old regime. He theorizes that historical change is caused by religion and nationalism. Qadhdhafi advocates opening the gates of ijtihad (free reason of Islamic law ) and hence accepts only the Qur˒an as the main basis of Islamic law. Such views place him on the side of reformist Islamic traditions. He was also anticommunist, which brought him international recognition from the Nixon administration in the United States. After consolidating his power and crushed the opposition in 1975, Qadhdhafi began to apply his ideas, which were presented in his Green Book (1976, 1980). He advocated what he called the Third Universal Theory, a third way between capitalism and Marxism based on the direct democracy of popular organization of congresses and committees.

Qadhdhafi's leadership of Libya during the first decade after 1969 brought many changes to ordinary Libyans such as providing free medical care, building the infrastructure of the country, and expanding education especially for Libyan women. However, secular and Islamic opposition were repressed. Since the early 1980s, the Libyan economy has grown more dependent on oil for its revenues than it was under the old regime, and agriculture continues to decline despite large and expensive projects. Despite these mixed legacies, the Libyan revolution under Qadhdhafi's leadership is a turning point in the making of modern Libya in the twentieth century.

See alsoModernization, Political: Authoritarianism and Democratization .


Ahmida, Ali Abdullatif. The Making of Modern Libya: StateFormation, Colonialization, and Resistance, 1830–1932. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994.

Ayoub, Mahmoud M. Islam and the Third Universal Theory:The Religious Thought of Mu˓ammar al-Qadhdhafi. London: KPI Limited, 1987.

Ali Abdullatif Ahmida