Muammar al-Gaddafi visits Brussels in 2004 (photo courtesy of the EC).
Colonel Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi1 (Arabic: معمر القذافي translit: Mu‘ammar al-Qadhāfī) (born c.1942) has been the de facto leader of Libya since 1969. Although Gaddafi holds no public office or title, he is accorded the honorifics "Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya" or "Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution" in government statements and the official press.
Gaddafi was the youngest child born into a peasant family. He grew up in the desert region of Sirte. He was given a traditional religious primary education and attended the Sebha preparatory school in Fezzan from 1956 to 1961. Gaddafi and a small group of friends that he met in this school went on to form the core leadership of a militant revolutionary group that would eventually seize control of the country. Gaddafi's inspiration was Gamal Abdel Nasser, president of neighboring Egypt, who rose to the presidency by appealing to Arab unity. In 1961, Gaddafi was expelled from Sebha for his political activism.
Gaddafi went on to study Law at the University of Libya, where he graduated with high grades. He then entered the Military Academy in Benghazi in 1963, where he and a few of his fellow militants organized a secretive group dedicated to overthrowing the pro-Western Libyan monarchy. After graduating in 1965, he was sent to Britain for further training at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, returning in 1966 as a commissioned officer in the Signal Corps.
On September 1, 1969, a small group of military officers led by Gaddafi staged a coup d'état against King Idris I, while he was in Turkey for medical treatment. His nephew the Crown Prince Sayyid Hasan ar-Rida al-Mahdi as-Sanussi became King. It became clear that the revolutionary officers who had announced the deposing of Idris did not want to appoint him over the instruments of state as King, because he complained that his power was far less than that which he had been exercising as Crown Prince on Idris's behalf. Before the end of September 1, King 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. Gaddafi is referred to in government statements and the official press as the "Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution."
Unlike other military dictators, Gaddafi did not promote himself to the rank of general upon seizing power, but rather accepted a ceremonial promotion from captain to colonel and has remained at this rank. While at odds with western military ranking for a colonel to rule a country and serve as Commander-in-Chief of its military, in Gaddafi's own words Libya's utopian society is "ruled by the people", so he needs no more grandiose title or supreme military rank. Also, Gaddafi's remaining a colonel, while assuming control over a country, is not a new concept among dictatorships. Gamal Abdel Nasser remained a colonel after seizing power in Egypt while Jerry Rawlings, dictator of Ghana, held no military rank higher than flight lieutenant. In the same fashion, the Republic of El Salvador was ruled by Lieutenant Colonel Oscar Osorio (1950-1956); Lieutenant Colonel José María Lemus (1956-1960) and Lieutenant Colonel Julio Adalberto Rivera (1962-1967).
Islamic Socialism and Pan-Arabism
Gaddafi based his new regime on a blend of Arab nationalism, aspects of the welfare state and what Gaddafi termed "direct, popular democracy." He called this system "Islamic socialism" and while he permitted private control over small companies, the government controlled the larger ones. Welfare, "liberation" and education were emphasized. He also imposed a system of Islamic morals, outlawing alcohol and gambling. To reinforce the ideals of this socialist-Islamic state, Gaddafi outlined his political philosophy in his Green Book, published in 1976. In practice, however, Libya's political system is thought to be somewhat less idealistic and from time to time Gaddafi has responded to domestic and external opposition with violence. His revolutionary committees called for the assassination of Libyan dissidents living abroad in February 1980, with Libyan hit squads sent abroad to murder them.
Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito (blue uniform) and Gaddafi (brown uniform) c. 1975.
With respect to Libya's neighbors, Gaddafi followed Abdul Nasser's ideas of pan-Arabism and became a fervent advocate of the unity of all Arab states into one Arab nation. He also supported pan-Islamism, the notion of a loose union of all Islamic countries and peoples. After Nasser's death on September 28, 1970, Gaddafi attempted to take up the mantle of ideological leader of Arab nationalism. He proclaimed the "Federation of Arab Republics" (Libya, Egypt and Syria) in 1972, hoping to create a pan-Arab state, but the three countries disagreed on the specific terms of the merger. In 1974, he signed an agreement with Tunisia's Habib Bourguiba on a merger between the two countries, but this also failed to work in practice and ultimately differences between the two countries would deteriorate into strong animosity.
Gaddafi also became a strong supporter of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which ultimately harmed Libya's relations with Egypt when in 1979 Egypt pursued a peace agreement with Israel. As Libya's relations with Egypt worsened, Gaddafi sought closer relations with the Soviet Union. Libya became the first country outside the Soviet bloc to receive the supersonic MiG-25 combat fighters, but Soviet-Libyan relations remained relatively distant. Gaddafi also sought to increase Libyan influence, especially in states with an Islamic population, by calling for the creation of a Saharan Islamic state and supporting anti-government forces in sub-Saharan Africa.
Notable in his politics has been the support for liberation movements, in most cases Muslim groups. In the 1970s and the 1980s, this support was sometimes so freely given that even the most unsympathetic groups could get Libyan support. Often the groups represented ideologies far away from Gaddafi's own. International opinion was confused by these policies. Throughout the 1970s, his regime was implicated in subversion and terrorist activities in both Arab and non-Arab countries. By the mid-1980s, he was widely regarded in the West as the principal financier of international terrorism. Reportedly, Gaddafi was a major financier of the "Black September Movement" which perpetrated the Munich massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics, and was accused by the United States of being responsible for direct control of the 1986 Berlin discotheque bombing that killed three people and wounded more than 200, of which a substantial number were U.S. servicemen. He is also said to have paid "Carlos the Jackal" to kidnap and then release a number of the Saudi Arabian and Iranian oil ministers.
Tensions between Libya and the West reached a peak during the Ronald Reagan administration, which tried to overthrow Gaddafi. The Reagan administration saw Libya as an unacceptable player on the international stage because of its uncompromising stance on Palestinian independence, its support for revolutionary Iran in its 1980-1988 war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq (see Iran-Iraq War), and its backing for "liberation movements" in the developing world. In March 1982 the U.S. declared a ban on the import of Libyan oil and the export to Libya of US oil industry technology; Europe did not follow suit.
In 1984 British police constable Yvonne Fletcher was shot outside the Libyan Embassy in London while policing an anti-Gaddafi demonstration. A burst of machine-gun fire from within the building was suspected of killing her, but Libyan diplomats asserted their diplomatic immunity and were repatriated. The incident led to the breaking-off of diplomatic relations between the United Kingdom and Libya for over a decade.
The U.S. attacked Libyan patrol boats from January to March 1986 during clashes over access to the Gulf of Sidra, which Libya claimed as territorial waters. Later, on April 15, 1986, Reagan ordered major bombing raids, dubbed Operation El Dorado Canyon, against Tripoli and Benghazi killing 60 people, following U.S. accusations of Libyan involvement in a bomb explosion in West Berlin's La Belle discotheque, a nightclub frequented by U.S. servicemen on April 5. Among the fatalities of the April 15 retaliatory attack by the U.S. was the adopted daughter of the Libyan leader.
Libya's involvement with and support for terrorism were confirmed in late 1987 when a merchant vessel, the MV Eksund, was intercepted. Destined for the IRA, a large consignment of arms and explosives supplied by Libya was recovered from the Eksund. British intelligence believed this was not the first and that previous Libyan arms shipments had got through to the IRA. (See Provisional IRA arms importation)
Nelson Mandela negotiated with Gaddafi the hand-over of two accused Libyans for the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing trial in the Netherlands.
For most of the 1990s, Libya endured economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation as a result of Gaddafi's refusal to allow the extradition to the United States or Britain of two Libyans accused of planting a bomb on Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Through the intercession of South African President Nelson Mandela - who made a high-profile visit to Gaddafi in 1997 - and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Gaddafi agreed in 1999 to a compromise that involved handing over the defendants to the Netherlands for trial under Scottish law. U.N. sanctions were thereupon suspended, but U.S. sanctions against Libya remained in force.
In August 2003, two years after Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi's conviction, Libya formally accepted responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing. Gaddafi agreed to pay compensation of up to $2.7 billion – or up to $10 million each – to the families of the 270 victims. The same month, Britain and Bulgaria co-sponsored a U.N. resolution which removed the suspended sanctions. (Bulgaria's involvement in tabling this motion led to suggestions that there was a link with the HIV trial in Libya in which 5 Bulgarian nurses, working at a Benghazi hospital, were accused of infecting 426 Libyan children with HIV.)Forty per cent of the compensation was then paid to each family, and a further 40% followed once U.S. sanctions were removed. Because the U.S. refused to take Libya off its list of state sponsors of terrorism, Libya retained the last 20% ($540 million) of the $2.7 billion compensation package.
From the mid-1990s, Gaddafi managed to improve his connections among Middle Eastern nations and is today considered by some a more moderate and responsible leader in the Arab world than previously. Regarding the Palestinians, he has begun pushing the concept of a binational single-state solution – "Isratine" – a combination of the words Israel and Palestine.
Simultaneously, Gaddafi has also emerged as a popular African leader. As one of the continent's longest-serving, post-colonial heads of state, the Libyan dictator enjoys a reputation among many Africans as an experienced and wise statesman who has been at the forefront of many struggles over the years. Gaddafi has earned the praise of Nelson Mandela and others, and is always a prominent figure in various pan-African organizations, such as the Organization of African Unity (now replaced by the African Union). He is also seen by many Africans as a humanitarian, pouring large amounts of money into sub-Saharan states. Large numbers of Africans have come to Libya to take advantage of the availability of jobs there. In addition, many economic migrants, primarily from Somalia and Ghana, use Libya as a staging-post to reach Italy and other European countries.
Gaddafi with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez
Gaddafi also appeared to be attempting to improve his image in the West. Two years prior to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Libya pledged its commitment to fighting Al-Qaeda and offered to open up its weapons program to international inspection. The Clinton administration failed to pursue the offer at the time since Libya's weapons program was not then regarded as a threat. In any case, the matter of handing over the Lockerbie bombing suspects needed to be resolved first. Following the attacks of September 11, Gaddafi made one of the first, and firmest, denunciations of the Al-Qaeda bombers by any Muslim leader. Gaddafi also appeared on ABC for an open interview with George Stephanopoulos, a move that would have seemed unthinkable less than a decade ago.
There are many explanations for the change of Gaddafi's politics. The most obvious is that the once very rich Libya became much less wealthy as oil prices dropped significantly during the 1990's. Since then, Gaddafi has tended to need other countries more than before and hasn't been able to dole out foreign aid as he once did. In this environment, the increasingly stringent sanctions placed by the UN and US on Libya made it more and more isolated politically and economically. Another possibility is that strong Western reactions have forced Gaddafi into changing his politics. It is also possible that realpolitik changed Gaddafi. His ideals and aims did not materialize: there never was any Arab unity, the various armed revolutionary organizations he supported did not achieve their goals, and the demise of the Soviet Union left Gaddafi's main symbolic target, the United States, stronger than ever.
Following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein by US forces in 2003, Gaddafi announced that his nation had an active weapons of mass destruction program, but was willing to allow international inspectors into his country to observe and dismantle them. US President George W. Bush and other supporters of the Iraq War attempted to portray Gaddafi's announcement as a direct consequence of the Iraq War by claiming that Gaddafi acted out of fear for the future of his own regime if he continued to keep and conceal his weapons. Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, a supporter of the Iraq War, was quoted as saying that Gaddafi had privately phoned him, admitting as much. Many foreign policy experts, however, contend that Gaddafi's announcement was merely a continuation of his prior attempts at normalizing relations with the West and getting the sanctions removed. To support this, they point to the fact that Libya had already made similar offers starting four years prior to it finally being accepted.International inspectors turned up several tons of chemical weaponry in Libya, as well as an active nuclear weapons program. As the process of destroying these weapons continued, Libya improved its cooperation with international monitoring regimes to the extent that, by March 2006, France was able to conclude an agreement with Libya to develop a significant nuclear power program.
In March 2004, British prime minister Tony Blair became one of the first western leaders in decades to visit Libya and publicly meet Gaddafi. Blair praised Gaddafi's recent acts, and stated that he hoped Libya could now be a strong ally in the international War on Terrorism. In the run-up to Blair's visit, the British ambassador in Tripoli, Anthony Layden, explained Libya's and Gaddafi's political change thus:
- "35 years of total state control of the economy has left them in a situation where they're simply not generating enough economic activity to give employment to the young people who are streaming through their successful education system. I think this dilemma goes to the heart of Colonel Gaddafi's decision that he needed a radical change of direction."
On May 15, 2006, the US State Department announced that it would restore full diplomatic relations with Libya, even after Gaddafi declared Libya's weapons of mass destruction programs. The State Department also stated that Libya would be removed from the list of nations that support terrorism.
In October 1993, there was an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Gaddafi by elements of the Libyan army. Eight months later, Libyan troops were withdrawn from Chad thus ending a territorial dispute which dated back to 1973. In July 1996, bloody riots followed a football match as a protest against Gaddafi.
There are a number of political groups opposed to Gaddafi:
- National Conference of the Libyan Opposition
- National Front for the Salvation of Libya
- Committee for Libyan National Action in Europe
A website, actively seeking his overthrow, was set up in 2006 and lists 343 victims of murder and political assassination. The Libyan League for Human Rights (LLHR) – based in Geneva – petitioned Gaddafi to set up an independent inquiry into the February 2006 unrest in Benghazi in which some 30 Libyans and foreigners were killed.
Gaddafi has eight children, seven of them sons. His oldest son, Muhammad Gaddafi, is by a wife now in disfavor, but runs the Libyan Olympic Committee. The next eldest Al-Saadi Gaddafi, runs the Libyan Football Federation, plays for Italian Serie A team Udinese Calcio, and produces films. The third eldest, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, a painter, runs a charity which has been involved in negotiating freedom for hostages taken by Islamic militants, especially in the Philippines. His only daughter is Ayesha Gaddafi, a lawyer who has joined the defense team of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. All are seen as possible successors. Three more sons, Al Moatassim, Hannbil, and Khamees, are less prominent. (In September 2004, Hannbil was involved in a police chase in Paris.)
Gaddafi's reportedly adopted daughter, Hanna, was killed in the 1986 USAF bombing raid. At a "concert for peace", held on April 15, 2006 in Tripoli to mark the 20th anniversary of the bombing raid, U.S. singer Lionel Richie told the audience:
- "Hanna will be honored tonight because of the fact that you've attached peace to her name."
Hanna's status as Gaddafi's adopted daughter remains unresolved. USA Today Foreign Affairs correspondent Barbara Slavin said that "his adopted daughter was not killed. An infant girl was killed. I actually saw her body. She was adopted posthumously by Gaddafi."
In January 2002, Gaddafi purchased a 7.5% share of Italian football club Juventus for USD 21 million, through Lafico ("Libyan Arab Foreign Investment Company"). Though Gaddafi is an avid football fan, this more importantly continued a longstanding association with the late Gianni Agnelli, the primary investor in Fiat. Gaddafi has also become involved in chess: in March 2004, FIDE, the game's world governing body, announced that he would be providing prize money for the World Championship, held in June-July 2004 in Tripoli.
Lahore, Pakistan's primary cricket stadium, Gaddafi Stadium, is named after him.
In November 2002, he hosted the Miss Net World beauty pageant, a first for Libya and as far as is known, the world's first to be held on the internet.
Gaddafi's personal bodyguard, the Amazonian guard, is composed of beautiful African women who are martial arts experts and highly-trained in the use of weapons. The Amazonian guard accompanied him on his 2004 visit to Brussels.
Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:
- "Ronald Reagan plays with fire! He sees the world like the theater".
- "I've got two idols in my life — President Lincoln and Dr. Sun Yat-sen."
- "Irrespective of the conflict with America, it is a human duty to show sympathy with the American people and be with them at these horrifying and awesome events which are bound to awaken human conscience." — September 11, 2001
- "Man’s freedom is lacking if somebody else controls what he needs, for need may result in man’s enslavement of man."
- "We have fifty million Muslims in Europe. There are signs that Allah will grant Islam victory in Europe - without swords, without guns, without conquests. The fifty million Muslims of Europe will turn it into a Muslim continent within a few decades. Europe is in a predicament, and so is America. They should agree to become Islamic in the course of time, or else declare war on the Muslims."
The spelling Muammar al-Gaddafi in this article is also Time Magazine's preferred spelling. Gaddafi's name has, however, been transliterated in a wide variety of ways. For example, an article published in the London Evening Standard on March 29, 2004 lists a total of 37 spellings; a 1986 column by The Straight Dope counted 32.The Associated Press and affiliates (such as CNN and FOX News) use the spelling Moammar Gadhafi. Al Jazeera uses Muammar al-Qadhafi whilst the U.S. State Department uses Mu'ammar Al-Qadhafi. In 1986, Gaddafi reportedly responded to a Minnesota school's letter in English using the spelling Moammar El-Gadhafi. Though, according to Gaddafi's personal website, he prefers the spelling Muammar Gadafi, the domain name gives yet another version: al-Gathafi.
In the 1999 pilot episode of the TV series The West Wing, White House Chief of Staff Leo McGarry (played by John Spencer) fills out the New York Times crossword puzzle, for which "17 Across" is "Gaddafi." McGarry claims the answer is spelled incorrectly, and "isn't a seven-letter word for anything."
In September 2006, at the ENO in London, the UK-based electronic band Asian Dub Foundation created and did 6 performances of a show commissioned by channel 4 and based on Gaddafi's story, called Gaddafi: A Living Myth. The title role was played by Ramon Tikaram. The book was by Shan Khan and the direction by David Freeman. The critics were generally not very flattering in the English-speaking press, but press coverage in Muslim countries was positive: see Charles T. Downey, Gaddafi: Failure or Triumph? (Ionarts, 18 September 2006).
| ||Heads of State of Libya |
Idris I | Sayyid Hasan ar-Rida al-Mahdi as-Sanussi | Muammar al-Gaddafi | Abdul Ati al-Obeidi | Muhammad az-Zaruq Rajab | Mifta al-Usta Umar | Abdul Razzaq as-Sawsa | Zentani Muhammad az-Zentani
| ||Prime Ministers of Libya |
Mahmud al-Muntasir | Muhammad Sakizli | Mustafa Ben Halim | Abdul Majid Kubar | Muhammad Osman Said | Mohieddin Fikini | Mahmud al-Muntasir | Hussein Maziq | Abdul Qadir al-Badri | Abdul Hamid al-Bakkoush | Wanis al-Qaddafi | Mahmud Sulayman al-Maghribi | Muammar al-Gaddafi | Abdessalam Jalloud | Abdul Ati al-Obeidi | Jadallah Azzuz at-Talhi | Muhammad az-Zaruq Rajab | Jadallah Azzuz at-Talhi | Umar Mustafa al-Muntasir | Abuzed Omar Dorda | Abdul Majid al-Qa′ud | Muhammad Ahmad al-Mangoush | Imbarek Shamekh | Shukri Ghanem | Baghdadi Mahmudi
- ^ US Department of State's Background Notes, (Nov 2005) "Libya - History", U.S. Dept. of State, Accessed July 14 2006
- ^ Libya completes Lockerbie payout. BBC News. Retrieved on 2005-03-05.
- ^ Indyk, Martin S. (2004). The Iraq War did not Force Gadaffi's Hand. The Financial Times. Retrieved on 2006-03-05.
- ^ Leverett, Flynt (2004). Why Libya Gave Up on the Bomb. New York Times. Retrieved on 2006-03-05.
- ^ Thomson, Mike. The Libyan Prime Minister. Today Programme. Retrieved on 2006-06-19.
- ^ http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/4773617.stm
- ^ Stop Gaddafi. Retrieved on 2006-06-19.
- ^ "Libya concert marks US bomb raids", BBC News, 15 April 2006. Retrieved on 2006-06-19.
- ^ Kincaid, Cliff. "NYTimes Bites on Gadhafi "Dead Daughter" Ploy", Accuracy In Media. Retrieved on 2006-