Who is Colonel Gaddafi?

Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi was born into a Bedouin family in the desert area of Sirte in Libya on 7 June 1942. He received a traditional religious primary education before attending a preparatory school in the town of Sebha where he became strongly influenced by the pan-Arab nationalism being espoused by the Egyptian leader, President Gemal Abdel-Nasser. During the Suez crisis of 1956, Gaddafi took part in anti-Israeli demonstrations staged in Sebha, which led to his expulsion from the city. He moved to the coastal city of Misurata where he completed his secondary education whilst beginning to organise an underground revolutionary movement. His increasing radicalism led him to enrolling in the Military Academy at Benghazi in October 1963; in an indication of his future charisma as a leader, he managed to persuade others from the underground movement to enroll in the Academy. In addition, he also encouraged cadets already at the Academy to join him and the members of the underground in forming the central committee of the Free Unionist Officers in 1964. Around this time, Gaddafi also enrolled in the University of Benghazi, to complete his education by achieving a degree in history. On graduatig from the Military Academy, he was appointed to the rank of lieutenant and assigned to the army’s Signal Corps based at Gariunis on the outskirts of Benghazi. Whilst stationed there, he continued to strengthen the power base of the movement, the full network, power and influence of which, only he was completely aware of.

On 1 September, 1969 he led a small group of officers in a bloody coup d’etat against the reigning King Idris I who was on medical retreat on a Greek resort at the time. Gaddafi’s rebels abolished the monarchy and established the new Libyan Arab Republic, in which a Revolutionary Command Council ruled the country with Gaddafi as chairman. Rather curiously, Gaddafi did not promote himself to general of the armed forces but rather accepted a ceremonial promotion from captain to colonel, a rank which he has kept down to the present day. Gaddafi began to develop the mew regime along the lines of the Arab nationalism espoused by Nasser in Egypt. He labelled it as Islamic socialism in which the government controlled larger industry whilst permitting private control over smaller companies, he also imposed a system of strict Islamic morals. Taking a leaf from Mao’s Little Red Book, he outlined his vision, his sagely view of the world and his universal wisdom in the originally titled Green Book which came in three mouth-watering volumes, published between 1975 and 1979. In addition to his literary offering, soon after coming to power, he launched what he termed a cultural revolution in which he strove to eliminate all indications of western culture, mainly focussing on the eradication of the two giant ideologies of capitalism and communism. He believed that once all vestiges of foreign culture were removed, Libyans could build a harmonious and successful society based upon the pillars of Islam and home grown socialism.

Gaddafi stated to the Libyan population and to the wider world that he was creating a direct democracy governed by the people through local popular councils and communes but in reality, the power lay solely with Gaddafi, aided by a small band of trusted advisors. However, Gaddafi insisted that he was implementing democracy in what he coined as Jamahiriya, which could be loosely derived as power for the people by the people. But Libya is no exemplar of democracy, civil liberties are basically non-existent and opposition is simply not tolerated. Gaddafi took on the baton of pan-Arabism from Nasser of Egypt, espousing pan-Arabism, advocating a unity of all Arab states into one Arab nation. In addition, Gaddafi was a supporter of pan-Islamism and advocated a loose union of all Islamic countries and people. In 1972, he proclaimed the Federation of Arab Republics which was to unite Libya, Egypt and Syria but the three countries failed to settle on a specific agreement of how the union would work. A similar proposed merger between Libya and Tunisia failed and would gradually deteriorate into mutual animosity. With the concept of pan-Arabism floundering, Gaddafi compounded relations with his neighbouring states by invading Chad in 1973 resulting from a territorial dispute over the Aouzou Strip. Libya were to retain a presence n Chad until 1994. Gaddafi’s global relations were similarly not the most congenial, his continued support of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and calls for the destruction of Israel, made him public enemy number one with many Western states, most particularly the United States of America.

When Egypt signed peace agreements with Israel in 1979, Libya sought to ally itself closer with the Soviet Union but rather bizarrely even relations between these two remained fairly cool. Desperate for friends, Gaddafi sought to spread Libyan influence in states with sizeable Islamic populations, called for the creation of a Saharan Islamic state and supported anti-government forces in sub-Saharan Africa. This latter policy rather bizarrely exploded to include almost anybody who requested Libya’s support, there appeared to be no rhyme or reason to Gaddafi’s foreign policy, as groups with ideologies at polar opposites to Libya received help. It was almost like Libya were hell-bent on complete anarchy, willing to prop up anyone that was willing to cause disruption, of course the result was that Libya became more and more isolated in world politics. In response to Libya’s support of international terrorism, the US State Department banned American citizens form travelling to Libya and placed an embargo on the importation of Libyan oil. Following suspicion of Libyan involvement in the bombing of a Berlin nightclub in 1986 which resulted in the deaths of US servicemen, President Reagan ordered bombing raids on Libya. The raids included the bombing of Gaddafi’s residence which resulted in the death of his one year old daughter. Gaddafi, however was far from bowed, he was implicated in the bombing of a Pan-Am Flight over Scotland which resulted in the deaths of all onboard and eleven people on the ground. His refusal to allow the extradition of two Libyans who were accused of planting the bomb resulted in economic sanctions being placed on Libya for the entirety of the 1990s by the United Nations.

It took the intercession of South African President Nelson Mandela and UN Secretary Kofi Annan, for Gaddafi to agree to a compromise, he handed over the two suspects to the Netherlands to face trial under Scottish law. One of the men was acquitted but the other Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi’s was convicted which subsequently led to Libya writing to the families of the victims and officially accepting responsibility and agreed to pay compensation of $2.7 billion to the families. As a result of this offer, the United Nations lifted it’s economic sanctions on Libya. The apology marked the beginning of Gaddafi’s attempts to improve his standing in world politics, following the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, he firmly denounced al-Qaeda. Many theories have being proffered as to the reasons behind Gaddafi’s sudden turnaround, but probably the one that is most generally accepted is that it was born out of economic necessity. Sanctions had been crippling Libya and coupled with the drop in oil prices, they forced Gaddafi to start building bridges with the West. However, other realities most likely influenced his change in policy, such as the complete failure of his earlier policies - pan-Arabism had failed, pan-Islamism had failed, the international armed groups Libya had supported had not benefited Libya in anyway and the Soviet Union had fallen apart. Simultaneously to his rapprochement with the West, Gaddafi emerged as a prominent figure in African politics, he is an influential figure in the African Union and is viewed by many on the continent as a humanitarian as he donates huge amounts of aid to sub-Saharan states. However, his desire for control has reared it’s controversial head once again as rather than be magnanimous about his new role, he has assigned the title of King of Kings of Africa upon himself which has rankled a few brows.



By: Russell Shortt

About the Author:

Russell Shortt is a travel consultant with Exploring Ireland, the leading specialists in customised, private escorted tours, escorted coach tours and independent self drive tours of Ireland. Article source Russell Shortt, http://www.exploringireland.net http://www.visitscotlandtours.com