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Moammar al-Qadhafi

Moammar Abu Minyar al-Qadhafi (born June 1942) has been the ruler of Libya since January 15, 1970.

Moammar Abu Minyar Al Qadhafi photograph

Early history

Qadhafi is the youngest child from a nomadic Bedouin peasant family 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. Qadhafi 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 of Libya. Qadhafi's inspiration was Gamal Abdul Nasser, a popular statesman in neighboring Egypt who rose to the presidency by appealing to Arab unity and condemning the West. In 1961 Qadhafi was expelled from Sebha for his political activism.

He went on to attend 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, returning in 1966 as a commissioned officer in the Signal Corps.

Rise to power

On September 1 1969, Colonel Qadhafi and his secret corps of Unionist Officers staged a bloodless, unopposed coup d'état in Tripoli, the capital. They overthrew King Idris I, exiling him and taking complete control of the country. Immediately afterward there was a short power struggle between Qadhafi and his young officers on one side and older senior officers and civillians on the other, and Qahafi assumed power in January 1970. He named the country the Libyan Arab Republic and ruled as president of the Revolutionary Command Council from 1969 to 1977, then switched to the title of president of People's General Congress from 1977 to 1979. In 1979 he renounced all official titles but remained as the ruler of Libya.

Islamic Socialism and Pan Arabism

Qadhafi based his new regime on a blend of Arab nationalism, aspects of the welfare state and what Qadhafi 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 conservative morals, outlawing alcohol and gambling. To reinforce the ideals of this socialist state, Qadhafi 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 Qadhafi 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.

With respect to Libya's neighbors, Qadhafi 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-Arabism, the notion of a loose union of all Islamic countries and peoples. After Nasser's death on September 28 1970, Qadhafi 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 Bourgiba 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.

Qadhafi 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, Qadhafi 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 their relations remained relatively distant. Qadhafi 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 Qadhafi's own. Through these politics (or rather lack of politics), Qadhafi confused the world. 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, Qadhafi is to have been the financier of the "Black September Movement" which perpetrated the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre, he was responsible for the direct control of the 1986 Berlin discotheque bombing that killed 3 and wounded more than 200 people, of which a substancial number were U.S. Servicemen, and is said to have paid "Carlos the Jackal" to kidnap and release several of the Saudi Arabian and Iranian oil ministers when it fit his purposes to do so.

External relations

Tensions between Libya and the United States reached a peak during the Ronald Reagan administration, which tried to overthrow Qadhafi. In 1986, the U.S. bombing of Libyan sites in response to terrorism allegedly traced to Libya killed Qadhafi's adopted infant daughter. From the late 1980s Qadhafi's politics have changed into a more pragmatic and selective support of a limited number of groups.

For most of the 1990s, Libya endured economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation as a result of Qadhafi's refusal to allow the extradition to the United States or Britain of two Libyans accused of planting a bomb on a Pan American jet over Lockerbie, Scotland. With the intercession of South African President Nelson Mandela, who made a high-profile visit to Qadhafi in 1997, and U.N Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Qadhafi agreed in 1999 to a compromise that involved handing over the defendants to the Netherlands for trial under Scottish law. U.N.-sponsored sanctions were suspended, but U.S. sanctions against Libya remained in force.

In October 1993 there was an unsuccessful attempt on Qadhafi's life by 2,000 members of the army, in May 1994 Libyan troops withdrew from Chad after a territorial dispute that began in 1973, returning to the original borders, and in July 1996 bloody riots followed a football match as a protest against Qadhafi.

A new Qadhafi?

In the last ten years Qadhafi has managed to improve his connections among Middle Eastern nations and is today considered a moderate and responsible leader throughout much of the Arab world. Through his strict line towards the U.S., he has become one of the most popular leaders among ordinary Arabs. So far there have been few indications of his softening the view upon Israel, and this will probably not change until a peaceful settlement is reached with the Palestinians.

Simultaneously, Qadhafi has also emerged as a popular African leader. As the continent's longest-serving, post-colonial head of state, the Libyan leader enjoys a reputation among many Africans as an experienced and wise statesman who has been at the forefront of many struggles over the years. Qadhafi 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.

Qadhafi also appears to be struggling to improve his image in the west. Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, Qadhafi offered one of the first, and firmest denunciations of the Al-Qaida bombers by any Muslim leader. In 2002 he publicly apologized for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, and offered to pay compensation to the victims' families. Qadhafi 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 to the change of Qadhafi's politics. The most obvious is that the once very rich Libya was no longer strong through the 1990s, since oil prices have dropped significantly. Qadhafi needs other countries more than before, and can't hand out as much as he once could. Another possibility is that strong Western reactions have forced Qadhafi into changing his politics. But more important is that Qadhafi has changed because Realpolitik changed him. His ideals and aims did not materialize: there never was any Arab unity, the freedom fighters he supported didn't achieve their goals, and the demise of the Soviet Union left Qadhafi's main symbolic target, the U.S., stronger than ever.

In January 2002, Qadhafi bought a 7.5% share of Italian football club Juventus for USD 21 million. His oldest son, Al-Saadi Qadhafi is a player for Italian Serie A team Perugia, but he was suspended for being caught positive for norandrosterone (a steroid).


"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." -- 11 September 2001


Qadhafi's name has been transliterated in a wide variety of ways. These are the accepted alternatives: Muammar Qaddafi, Mo'ammar Gadhafi, Muammar Kaddafi, Muammar Qadhafi, Moammar El Kadhafi, Muammar Gadafi, Mu'ammar al-Qadafi, Moamer El Kazzafi, Moamar al-Gaddafi, Mu'ammar Al Qathafi, Muammar Al Qathafi, Mo'ammar el-Gadhafi, Moamar El Kadhafi, Muammar al-Qadhafi, Mu'ammar al-Qadhdhafi, Mu'ammar Qadafi, Moamar Gaddafi, Mu'ammar Qadhdhafi, Muammar Khaddafi, Muammar al-Khaddafi, Mu'amar al-Kadafi, Muammar Ghaddafy, Muammar Ghadafi, Muammar Ghaddafi, Muamar Kaddafi, Muammar Quathafi, Muammar Gheddafi, Muamar Al-Kaddafi, Moammar Khadafy, Moammar Qudhafi, Mu'ammar al-Qaddafi and Mulazim Awwal Mu'ammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Qadhafi.

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