Childhood & Early Life
Muammar Gaddafi was born Muammar Muhammad Abu Minyar Gaddafi in 1942, in Qasr Abu Hadi, Italian Libya, to Abu Meniar and Aisha. He was born into an inconsequential tribal family of al-Qadhadhfa. Much of his early years were spent in Sirte, a region in Western Libya. He had three elder sisters.
Born in an Italy occupied Libya, he witnessed his country’s independence in 1951. From an early age he was influenced by the Arab nationalist movements. He took a fancy to Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, which later proved instrumental in his revolutionary tactics.
He received his preliminary education from a local elementary school after which his family moved to Sabha for better educational opportunities. However, his involvement in the protest against Syria’s secession from United Arab Republic forced his family to relocate to Misrata.
In 1963, he enrolled at the ‘University of Libya’ in Benghazi to study history. However, he dropped out of the university to join the military. He trained himself at the ‘Royal Military Academy.’
Recognizing the British as imperialists, he publically announced his insurrection against everything English. He commissioned a ‘Central Committee of the Free Officers Movement’ in 1964.
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Graduating from the ‘Royal Military Academy’ in 1965, he took up the post of a communications officer in the army's signal corps. He moved to the United Kingdom for further military training. After completing his training, he returned to Libya.
Meanwhile, King Idris’ popularity declined in the country during the latter half of the 1960s. Not only did the level of corruption increase with the exploitation of the oil wealth, but the Idris-led government was seen as a pro-Israeli government.
In 1969, when Idris traveled to Turkey and Greece to spend the summer, Gaddafi’s Free Officers seized the opportunity to launch ‘Operation Jerusalem’ in order to overthrow the monarchy.
Meeting little resistance, he abolished the monarchy to form Libyan Arab Republic. He promised to bring an end to the corrupt practices and establish massive change in the social, economic, and political arena of the country.
He formed a 12-member Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), which served as Libya’s new ruling body, and declared himself as its chairman. Subsequently, he also became the de-facto head of the states. He appointed himself as the Colonel and assumed the post of Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.
During his early days as Libya’s ruler, he brought about numerous changes in the social and economic front; he started by increasing the price of Libyan oil. This was done after he realized that the existing terms and conditions were benefitting foreign countries rather than Libyan states.
An increase in the price of oil acted favorably for the country as it gave rise to greater revenue with better state control. He even announced the nationalization of active foreign oil producers in Libya. This move proved to be an economic success, with elevated per-capita income and GDP.
Additionally, he ordered the closure of American and British military bases in Libya and the replacement of Gregorian calendar with Islamic calendar. He even forbade the sale of alcohol in the country.
In 1970, he expelled the last few Italians from the country in an attempt to launch Arab nationalism against British or more precisely Western imperialism. He even removed the Jewish community from Libya.
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Meanwhile, he strengthened Libya’s relationship with France and Soviet Union, purchasing weapons from the latter, which directly affected the country’s relations with the US. The gap between Libya and the US further widened when he supported the Palestinians in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
To wage war against the Israelis, who were supported by the US, he administered the founding of ‘Jihad Fund’ and ‘First Nasserite Volunteers Centre.’ He supported various militant groups across the world, encouraging their revolutionary activities. He even condemned those who proclaimed these militant groups as ‘terrorists.’
He received help from Arab nationalist regimes in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Sudan which recognized the influence of Egyptian President Nasser’s Arab nationalism in Libya. After Nasser’s sudden death in 1970, Anwar Sadat succeeded him. Sadat and Gaddafi agreed on creating a political federation of the Arab states, but the idea was never implemented as relations between Libya and Egypt deteriorated in 1973.
In 1973, Gaddafi came up with the ‘Third Universal Theory,’ which rejected the imperialism practiced by the Western states and advocated nationalism, leading to the creation of Islamic and Third Worlds against imperialism. He based his ideology on Islam and the teachings of the Quran.
From 1975 to 1978, he came up with three short volumes of ‘Third Universal Theory’ which was collectively published as ‘The Green Book.’ The book provided a detailed explanation of his political philosophies. It threw light on the problems faced by liberal democracy and capitalism, and projected his policies as a solution to these problems.
The continuous expenditure of oil revenues on foreign causes led to a widespread public criticism against him. The public also launched several attacks on him and RCC leaders. This caused unrest in the country and the situation worsened when the political prisoners were put to death.
Towards the end of the 1970s, he involved the Libyan military in several foreign conflicts, including the bloody civil war in Chad. In 1977, he dissolved the Libyan Arab Republic to form the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.
In 1979, he stepped down as the Secretary General of GPC but continued his service as the Commander in Chief. The government then moved towards socialism and paid much emphasis on equality. Many criticized his moves and this raised an alarm within the government.
The beginning of the 1980s spelled economic disaster for Libya as oil revenues dropped considerably. Libya’s spoiled relations with foreign countries worsened its economic damage.
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In 1981, the then US President Ronald Reagan called Gaddafi an international pariah and “mad dog of the Middle East.” Reagan further reduced the involvement of US embassy workers and companies to bring down their operation in Libya to zero.
By 1984, the UK had broken off its diplomatic ties with Libya. The 1986 US bombing of Libya increased Gaddafi’s reputation as an anti-imperialist, both domestically and across the Arab world.
The period between 1987 and 1998 witnessed various economic and military reforms, including the establishment of small businesses and reformation in industry and agriculture sector. Meanwhile, popular militia replaced army and the police forces. Several coup attempts were made, but he managed to evade all such attempts.
The dawn of the 20th century witnessed his rejection of Pan-Arab nationalism and adoption of Pan Africanism. He made attempts to develop ties with the UK and US. Relations with China, North Korea, and European Union also improved.
His improved relations with the US did not bring an end to his anti-western rhetoric as he called for anti-imperialism across Africa along with Hugo Chavez. On the economic front, he increased privatization, going against his own policies as mentioned in his ‘Green Book.’
With the commencement of the ‘Arab Springs,’ which resulted in the forceful exit of dictators and rulers from the Arab states, demonstrations, riots, and protests broke out in Libya.
He used aggressive force to curtail the riots which only infuriated the public. The Libyan public became even more determined to oust Gaddafi from the ruling position. They formed ‘National Transitional Council’ (NTC) which received support from NATO.
The military intervention of NATO helped the rebels secure the region of Tripoli, which was Gaddafi’s stronghold. This brought a symbolic end to his rule. Warrants against him were issued while NTC became the legitimate governing body of Libya.