Born near Sirte to an impoverished Bedouin family, he became an Arab nationalist while at school in Sabha, later enrolling in the Royal Military Academy, Benghazi. Within the military he founded a revolutionary cell which deposed the Western-backed Senussi monarchy of Idris in a 1969 coup. Having taken power, Gaddafi converted Libya into a republic governed by his Revolutionary Command Council. Ruling by decree, he ejected both Italian colonists and Western military bases from Libya while strengthening ties to Arab nationalist governments—particularly Gamal Abdel Nasser's Egypt—and unsuccessfully advocating Pan-Arab political union. An Islamic modernist, he introduced sharia as the basis for the legal system and promoted "Islamic socialism". He nationalized the oil industry and used the increasing state revenues to bolster the military, fund foreign revolutionaries, and implement social programs emphasizing house-building, healthcare, and education projects. In 1973, he initiated a "Popular Revolution" with the formation of General People's Committees, purported to be a system of direct democracy, but retained personal control over major decisions. He outlined his Third International Theory that year, publishing these ideas in The Green Book.
A highly divisive figure, Gaddafi dominated Libya's politics for four decades and was the subject of a pervasive cult of personality. He was decorated with various awards and lauded for his anti-imperialist stance, support for Arab and then African unity, and for significant improvements that his government brought to the Libyan people's quality of life. Conversely, Islamic fundamentalists strongly opposed his social and economic reforms. He was internationally condemned as a dictator whose authoritarian administration violated the human rights of Libyan citizens and financed global terrorism.
Muammar Mohammed Abu Minyar Gaddafi was born near Qasr Abu Hadi, a rural area outside the town of Sirte in the deserts of Tripolitania, western Libya. His family came from a small, relatively uninfluential tribal group called the Qadhadhfa, who were Arabized Berber in heritage. His mother was named Aisha (died 1978), and his father, Mohammad Abdul Salam bin Hamed bin Mohammad, was known as Abu Meniar (died 1985); the latter earned a meagre subsistence as a goat and camel herder. Nomadic Bedouins were illiterate and kept no birth records. As such, Gaddafi's date of birth is not known with certainty, and sources have set it in 1942 or in the spring of 1943, although his biographers David Blundy and Andrew Lycett noted that it could have been pre-1940. His parents' only surviving son, he had three older sisters. Gaddafi's upbringing in Bedouin culture influenced his personal tastes for the rest of his life; he preferred the desert over the city and would retreat there to meditate.
From childhood, Gaddafi was aware of the involvement of European colonialists in Libya; his nation was occupied by Italy, and during the North African Campaign of World War II it witnessed conflict between Italian and British troops. According to later claims, Gaddafi's paternal grandfather, Abdessalam Bouminyar, was killed by the Italian Army during the Italian invasion of 1911. At World War II's end in 1945, Libya was occupied by British and French forces. Although Britain and France intended on dividing the nation between their empires, the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) declared that the country be granted political independence. In 1951, the UN created the United Kingdom of Libya, a federal state under the leadership of a pro-Western monarch, Idris, who banned political parties and centralized power in his monarchy.
Gaddafi's earliest education was of a religious nature, imparted by a local Islamic teacher. Subsequently moving to nearby Sirte to attend elementary school, he progressed through six grades in four years. Education in Libya was not free, but his father thought it would greatly benefit his son despite the financial strain. During the week Gaddafi slept in a mosque, and at weekends walked 20 miles to visit his parents. At school, Gaddafi was bullied for being a Bedouin, but was proud of his identity and encouraged pride in other Bedouin children. From Sirte, he and his family moved to the market town of Sabha in Fezzan, south-central Libya, where his father worked as a caretaker for a tribal leader while Muammar attended secondary school, something neither parent had done. Gaddafi was popular at this school; some friends made there received significant jobs in his later administration, most notably his best friend Abdul Salam Jalloud.
Many teachers at Sabha were Egyptian, and for the first time Gaddafi had access to pan-Arab newspapers and radio broadcasts, most notably the Cairo-based Voice of the Arabs. Growing up, Gaddafi witnessed significant events rock the Arab world, including the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, the Suez Crisis of 1956, and the short-lived existence of the United Arab Republic between 1958 and 1961. Gaddafi admired the political changes implemented in the Arab Republic of Egypt under his hero, President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Nasser argued for Arab nationalism; the rejection of Western colonialism, neo-colonialism, and Zionism; and a transition from capitalism to socialism. Gaddafi was influenced by Nasser's book, Philosophy of the Revolution, which outlined how to initiate a coup.
Gaddafi organized demonstrations and distributed posters criticizing the monarchy. In October 1961, he led a demonstration protesting against Syria's secession from the United Arab Republic. During this they broke windows in a local hotel that was accused of serving alcohol. To punish Gaddafi, the authorities expelled him and his family from Sabha. Gaddafi moved to Misrata, there attending Misrata Secondary School. Maintaining his interest in Arab nationalist activism, he refused to join any of the banned political parties active in the city—including the Arab Nationalist Movement, the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party, and the Muslim Brotherhood—claiming that he rejected factionalism. He read voraciously on the subjects of Nasser and the French Revolution of 1789, as well as the works of Syrian political theorist Michel Aflaq and biographies of Abraham Lincoln, Sun Yat-sen, and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
Gaddafi briefly studied History at the University of Libya in Benghazi, before dropping out to join the military. Despite his police record, in 1963 he began training at the Royal Military Academy, Benghazi, alongside several like-minded friends from Misrata. The armed forces offered the only opportunity for upward social mobility for underprivileged Libyans, and Gaddafi recognized it as a potential instrument of political change. Under Idris, Libya's armed forces were trained by the British military; this angered Gaddafi, who viewed the British as imperialists, and accordingly he refused to learn English and was rude to the British officers, ultimately failing his exams. British trainers reported him for insubordination and abusive behaviour, stating their suspicion that he was involved in the assassination of the military academy's commander in 1963. Such reports were ignored and Gaddafi quickly progressed through the course.
With a group of loyal cadres, in 1964 Gaddafi founded the Central Committee of the Free Officers Movement, a revolutionary group named after Nasser's Egyptian predecessor. Led by Gaddafi, they met clandestinely and were organized into a clandestine cell system, offering their salaries into a single fund. Gaddafi travelled around Libya gathering intelligence and developing connexions with sympathizers, but the government's intelligence services ignored him, considering him little threat. Graduating in August 1965, Gaddafi became a communications officer in the army's signal corps.
In April 1966, he was assigned to the United Kingdom for further training; over 9 months he underwent an English-language course at Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, an Army Air Corps signal instructors course in Bovington Camp, Dorset, and an infantry signal instructors course at Hythe, Kent. Despite later rumours to the contrary, he did not attend the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. The Bovington signal course's director reported that Gaddafi successfully overcame problems learning English, displaying a firm command of voice procedure. Noting that Gaddafi's favourite hobbies were reading and playing football, he thought him an "amusing officer, always cheerful, hard-working, and conscientious." Gaddafi disliked England, claiming British Army officers racially insulted him and finding it difficult adjusting to the country's culture; asserting his Arab identity in London, he walked around Piccadilly wearing traditional Libyan robes. He later related that while he travelled to England believing it more advanced than Libya, he returned home "more confident and proud of our values, ideals and social character."
Idris' government was increasingly unpopular by the latter 1960s; it had exacerbated Libya's traditional regional and tribal divisions by centralising the country's federal system in order to take advantage of the country's oil wealth, while corruption and entrenched systems of patronage were widespread throughout the oil industry. Arab nationalism was increasingly popular, and protests flared up following Egypt's 1967 defeat in the Six-Day War with Israel; allied to the Western powers, Idris' administration was seen as pro-Israeli. Anti-Western riots broke out in Tripoli and Benghazi, while Libyan workers shut down oil terminals in solidarity with Egypt. By 1969, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency was expecting segments of Libya's armed forces to launch a coup. Although claims have been made that they knew of Gaddafi's Free Officers Movement, they have since claimed ignorance, stating that they were monitoring Abdul Aziz Shalhi's Black Boots revolutionary group.
In mid-1969, Idris travelled abroad to spend the summer in Turkey and Greece. Gaddafi's Free Officers recognized this as their chance to overthrow the monarchy, initiating "Operation Jerusalem". On 1 September, they occupied airports, police depots, radio stations and government offices in Tripoli and Benghazi. Gaddafi took control of the Berka barracks in Benghazi, while Omar Meheisha occupied Tripoli barracks and Jalloud seized the city's anti-aircraft batteries. Khweldi Hameidi was sent to arrest crown prince Sayyid Hasan ar-Rida al-Mahdi as-Sanussi, and force him to relinquish his claim to the throne. They met no serious resistance, and wielded little violence against the monarchists.
Once Gaddafi removed the monarchical government, he announced the foundation of the Libyan Arab Republic. Addressing the populace by radio, he proclaimed an end to the "reactionary and corrupt" regime, "the stench of which has sickened and horrified us all." Due to the coup's bloodless nature, it was initially labelled the "White Revolution", although was later renamed the "One September Revolution" after the date on which it occurred. Gaddafi insisted that the Free Officers' coup represented a revolution, marking the start of widespread change in the socio-economic and political nature of Libya. He proclaimed that the revolution meant "freedom, socialism, and unity", and over the coming years implemented measures to achieve this.
The 12 member central committee of the Free Officers proclaimed themselves the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), the government of the new republic. Lieutenant Gaddafi became RCC Chairman, and therefore the de facto head of state, also appointing himself to the rank of colonel and becoming commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Jalloud became Prime Minister, while a civilian Council of Ministers headed by Sulaiman Maghribi was founded to implement RCC policy. Libya's administrative capital was moved from al-Beida to Tripoli.
Although theoretically a collegial body operating through consensus building, Gaddafi dominated the RCC, although some of the others attempted to constrain what they saw as his excesses. Gaddafi remained the government's public face, with the identities of the other RCC members only being publicly revealed on 10 January 1970. All young men from (typically rural) working and middle-class backgrounds, none had university degrees; in this way they were distinct from the wealthy, highly educated conservatives who previously governed the country.
The coup completed, the RCC proceeded with their intentions of consolidating the revolutionary government and modernizing the country. They purged monarchists and members of Idris' Senussi clan from Libya's political world and armed forces; Gaddafi believed this elite were opposed to the will of the Libyan people and had to be expunged. "People's Courts" were founded to try various monarchist politicians and journalists, many of whom were imprisoned, although none executed. Idris was sentenced to execution in absentia.
In May 1970, the Revolutionary Intellectuals Seminar was held to bring intellectuals in line with the revolution, while that year's Legislative Review and Amendment united secular and religious law codes, introducing sharia into the legal system. Ruling by decree, the RCC maintained the monarchy's ban on political parties, in May 1970 banned trade unions, and in 1972 outlawed workers' strikes and suspended newspapers. In September 1971, Gaddafi resigned, claiming to be dissatisfied with the pace of reform, but returned to his position within a month. In February 1973, he resigned again, once more returning the following month.
Economic and social reform
The RCC's early economic policy has been characterized as being state capitalist in orientation. A number of schemes were established to aid entrepreneurs and develop a Libyan bourgeoisie. Seeking to expand the cultivatable acreage in Libya, in September 1969 the government launched a "Green Revolution" to raise agricultural productivity so that Libya could rely less on imported food. All land that had either been expropriated from Italian settlers or which was not in use was expropriated and redistributed. Irrigation systems were established along the northern coastline and around various inland oases. Production costs often outstripped the value of the produce and thus Libyan agricultural production remained in deficit, relying heavily on state subsidies.
With crude oil as the country's primary export, Gaddafi sought to improve Libya's oil sector. In October 1969, he proclaimed the current trade terms unfair, benefiting foreign corporations more than the Libyan state, and by threatening to reduce production, in December Jalloud successfully increased the price of Libyan oil. In 1970, other OPEC states followed suit, leading to a global increase in the price of crude oil. The RCC followed with the Tripoli Agreement, in which they secured income tax, back-payments and better pricing from the oil corporations; these measures brought Libya an estimated $1 billion in additional revenues in its first year.
Increasing state control over the oil sector, the RCC began a program of nationalization, starting with the expropriation of British Petroleum's share of the British Petroleum-N.B. Hunt Sahir Field in December 1971. In September 1973, it was announced that all foreign oil producers active in Libya were to see 51% of their operation nationalized. For Gaddafi, this was an important step towards socialism. It proved an economic success; while gross domestic product had been $3.8 billion in 1969, it had risen to $13.7 billion in 1974, and $24.5 billion in 1979. In turn, the Libyans' standard of life greatly improved over the first decade of Gaddafi's administration, and by 1979 the average per-capita income was at $8,170, up from $40 in 1951; this was above the average of many industrialized countries like Italy and the U.K.
The RCC implemented measures for social reform, adopting sharia as a basis. The consumption of alcohol was banned, night clubs and Christian churches were shut down, traditional Libyan dress was encouraged, and Arabic was decreed as the only language permitted in official communications and on road signs. The RCC doubled the minimum wage, introduced statutory price controls, and implemented compulsory rent reductions of between 30 and 40%. Gaddafi also wanted to combat the strict social restrictions that had been imposed on women by the previous regime, establishing the Revolutionary Women's Formation to encourage reform. In 1970, a law was introduced affirming equality of the sexes and insisting on wage parity. In 1971, Gaddafi sponsored the creation of a Libyan General Women's Federation. In 1972, a law was passed criminalizing the marriage of any females under the age of sixteen and ensuring that a woman's consent was a necessary prerequisite for a marriage. Gaddafi's regime opened up a wide range of educational and employment opportunities for women, although these primarily benefited a minority in the urban middle-classes.
From 1969 to 1973, it used oil money to fund social welfare programs, which led to house-building projects and improved healthcare and education. House building became a major social priority, designed to eliminate homelessness and to replace the shanty towns created by Libya's growing urbanization. The health sector was also expanded; by 1978, Libya had 50% more hospitals than it had in 1968, while the number of doctors had grown from 700 to over 3000 in that decade. Malaria was eradicated, and trachoma and tuberculosis greatly curtailed. Compulsory education was expanded from 6 to 9 years, while adult literacy programs and free university education were introduced. Beida University was founded, while Tripoli University and Benghazi University were expanded. In doing so the government helped to integrate the poorer strata of Libyan society into the education system. Through these measures, the RCC greatly expanded the public sector, providing employment for thousands. These early social programs proved popular within Libya. This popularity was partly due to Gaddafi's personal charisma, youth and underdog status as a Bedouin, as well as his rhetoric emphasizing his role as the successor to the anti-Italian fighter Omar Mukhtar.
To combat the country's strong regional and tribal divisions, the RCC promoted the idea of a unified pan-Libyan identity. In doing so, they tried discrediting tribal leaders as agents of the old regime, and in August 1971 a Sabha military court tried many of them for counter-revolutionary activity. Long-standing administrative boundaries were re-drawn, crossing tribal boundaries, while pro-revolutionary modernisers replaced traditional leaders, but the communities they served often rejected them. Realizing the failures of the modernizers, Gaddafi created the Arab Socialist Union (ASU) in June 1971, a mass mobilization vanguard party of which he was president. The ASU recognized the RCC as its "Supreme Leading Authority", and was designed to further revolutionary enthusiasm throughout the country. It remained heavily bureaucratic and failed to mobilize mass support in the way Gaddafi had envisioned.
The influence of Nasser's Arab nationalism over the RCC was immediately apparent. The administration was instantly recognized by the neighbouring Arab nationalist regimes in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Sudan, with Egypt sending experts to aid the inexperienced RCC. Gaddafi propounded Pan-Arab ideas, proclaiming the need for a single Arab state stretching across North Africa and the Middle East. In December 1969, Libya signed the Tripoli Charter alongside Egypt and Sudan. This established the Arab Revolutionary Front, a pan-national union designed as a first step towards the eventual political unification of the three nations. In 1970 Syria declared its intention to join.
Nasser died unexpectedly in November 1970, with Gaddafi playing a prominent role at his funeral. Nasser was succeeded by Anwar Sadat, who suggested that rather than creating a unified state, the Arab states should create a political federation, implemented in April 1971; in doing so, Egypt, Syria and Sudan received large grants of Libyan oil money. In February 1972, Gaddafi and Sadat signed an unofficial charter of merger, but it was never implemented because relations broke down the following year. Sadat became increasingly wary of Libya's radical direction, and the September 1973 deadline for implementing the Federation passed by with no action taken.
After the 1969 coup, representatives of the Four Powers—France, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Soviet Union—were called to meet RCC representatives. The U.K. and the U.S. quickly extended diplomatic recognition, hoping to secure the position of their military bases in Libya and fearing further instability. Hoping to ingratiate themselves with Gaddafi, in 1970 the U.S. informed him of at least one planned counter-coup. Such attempts to form a working relationship with the RCC failed; Gaddafi was determined to reassert national sovereignty and expunge what he described as foreign colonial and imperialist influences. His administration insisted that the U.S. and the U.K. remove their military bases from Libya, with Gaddafi proclaiming that "the armed forces which rose to express the people's revolution [will not] tolerate living in their shacks while the bases of imperialism exist in Libyan territory." The British left in March and the Americans in June 1970.
Moving to reduce Italian influence, in October 1970 all Italian-owned assets were expropriated and the 12,000-strong Italian community was expelled from Libya alongside the smaller community of Libyan Jews. The day became a national holiday known as "Vengeance Day". Italy complained that this was in contravention of the 1956 Italo-Libyan Treaty, although no U.N. sanctions were forthcoming. Aiming to reduce NATO power in the Mediterranean, in 1971 Libya requested that Malta cease allowing NATO to use its land for a military base, in turn offering Malta foreign aid. Compromising, Malta's government continued allowing NATO to use the island, but only on the condition that NATO would not use it for launching attacks on Arab territory. Over the coming decade, Gaddafi's government developed stronger political and economic links with Dom Mintoff's Maltese administration, and under Libya's urging Malta did not renew the UK's airbases on the island in 1980. Orchestrating a military build-up, the RCC began purchasing weapons from France and the Soviet Union. The commercial relationship with the latter led to an increasingly strained relationship with the U.S., which was then engaged in the Cold War with the Soviets.
Gaddafi was especially critical of the U.S. due to its support of Israel, and supported the Palestinians in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, viewing the 1948 creation of the State of Israel as a Western colonial occupation which was forced upon the Arab world. He believed that Palestinian violence against Israeli and Western targets was the justified response of an oppressed people who were fighting against the colonization of their homeland. Calling on the Arab states to wage "continuous war" against Israel, in 1970 he initiated a Jihad Fund to finance anti-Israeli militants. In June 1972 Gaddafi created the First Nasserite Volunteers Centre to train anti-Israeli guerrillas.
Like Nasser, Gaddafi favoured the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and his group, Fatah, over more militant and Marxist Palestinian groups. As the years progressed however, Gaddafi's relationship with Arafat became strained, with Gaddafi considering him too moderate and calling for more violent action. Instead he supported militias like the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, As-Sa'iqa, the Palestinian Popular Struggle Front, and the Abu Nidal Organization. He funded the Black September Organization whose members perpetrated the 1972 Munich massacre of Israeli athletes in West Germany, and had the killed militants' bodies flown to Libya for a hero's funeral.
Gaddafi financially supported other militant groups across the world, including the Black Panther Party, the Nation of Islam, the Tupamaros, the 19th of April Movement and the Sandinista National Liberation Front in Nicaragua, the ANC among other liberation movements in the fight against Apartheid in South Africa, the Provisional Irish Republican Army, ETA, Action directe, the Red Brigades, and the Red Army Faction in Europe, and the Armenian Secret Army, the Japanese Red Army, the Free Aceh Movement, and the Moro National Liberation Front in the Philippines. Gaddafi was indiscriminate in the causes which he funded, sometimes switching from supporting one side in a conflict to the other, as in the Eritrean War of Independence. Throughout the 1970s these groups received financial support from Libya, which came to be seen as a leader in the Third World's struggle against colonialism and neocolonialism. Though many of these groups were labelled "terrorists" by critics of their activities, Gaddafi rejected this characterization, instead he considered them to be revolutionaries who were engaged in liberation struggles.
On 16 April 1973, Gaddafi proclaimed the start of a "Popular Revolution" in a speech at Zuwarah. He initiated this with a 5-point plan, the first point of which dissolved all existing laws, to be replaced by revolutionary enactments. The second point proclaimed that all opponents of the revolution had to be removed, while the third initiated an administrative revolution that Gaddafi proclaimed would remove all traces of bureaucracy and the bourgeoisie. The fourth point announced that the population must form People's Committees and be armed to defend the revolution, while the fifth proclaimed the beginning of a cultural revolution to expunge Libya of "poisonous" foreign influences. He began to lecture on this new phase of the revolution in Libya, Egypt, and France. As a process, it had many similarities with the Cultural Revolution implemented in China.
As part of this Popular Revolution, Gaddafi invited Libya's people to found General People's Committees as conduits for raising political consciousness. Although offering little guidance for how to set up these councils, Gaddafi claimed that they would offer a form of direct political participation that was more democratic than a traditional party-based representative system. He hoped that the councils would mobilise the people behind the RCC, erode the power of the traditional leaders and the bureaucracy, and allow for a new legal system chosen by the people. Many such committees were established in schools and colleges, where they were responsible for vetting staff, courses, and textbooks to determine if they were compatible with the country's revolutionary ideology.
The People's Committees led to a high percentage of public involvement in decision making, within the limits permitted by the RCC, but exacerbated tribal divisions. They also served as a surveillance system, aiding the security services in locating individuals with views critical of the RCC, leading to the arrest of Ba'athists, Marxists, and Islamists. Operating in a pyramid structure, the base form of these Committees were local working groups, who sent elected representatives to the district level, and from there to the national level, divided between the General People's Congress and the General People's Committee. Above these remained Gaddafi and the RCC, who remained responsible for all major decisions. In crossing regional and tribal identities, the committee system aided national integration and centralization and tightened Gaddafi's control over the state and administrative apparatus.
In June 1973, Gaddafi created a political ideology as a basis for the Popular Revolution: Third International Theory. This approach regarded both the U.S. and the Soviet Union as imperialist and thus rejected Western capitalism as well as Eastern bloc communism's atheism. In this respect it was similar to the Three Worlds Theory developed by China's political leader Mao Zedong. As part of this theory, Gaddafi praised nationalism as a progressive force and advocated the creation of a pan-Arab state which would lead the Islamic and Third Worlds against imperialism. Gaddafi saw Islam as having a key role in this ideology, calling for an Islamic revival that returned to the origins of the Qur'an, rejecting scholarly interpretations and the Hadith; in doing so, he angered many Libyan clerics. During 1973 and 1974, his government deepened the legal reliance on sharia, for instance by introducing flogging as punishment for those convicted of adultery or homosexual activity.
Gaddafi summarised Third International Theory in three short volumes published between 1975 and 1979, collectively known as The Green Book. Volume one was devoted to the issue of democracy, outlining the flaws of representative systems in favour of direct, participatory GPCs. The second dealt with Gaddafi's beliefs regarding socialism, while the third explored social issues regarding the family and the tribe. While the first two volumes advocated radical reform, the third adopted a socially conservative stance, proclaiming that while men and women were equal, they were biologically designed for different roles in life. During the years that followed, Gaddafists adopted quotes from The Green Book, such as "Representation is Fraud", as slogans. Meanwhile, in September 1975, Gaddafi implemented further measures to increase popular mobilization, introducing objectives to improve the relationship between the Councils and the ASU.
In 1975, Gaddafi's government declared a state monopoly on foreign trade. Its increasingly radical reforms, coupled with the large amount of oil revenue being spent on foreign causes, generated discontent in Libya, particularly among the country's merchant class. In 1974, Libya saw its first civilian attack on Gaddafi's government when a Benghazi army building was bombed. Much of the opposition centred around the RCC member Omar Mehishi, and with fellow RCC member Bashir Saghir al-Hawaadi he began plotting a coup against Gaddafi. In 1975 their plot was exposed and the pair fled into exile, receiving asylum from Sadat's Egypt. In the aftermath only five RCC members remained, and power was further concentrated in Gaddafi's hands. This led to the RCC's official abolition in March 1977.
In September 1975, Gaddafi purged the army, arresting around 200 senior officers, and in October he founded the clandestine Office for the Security of the Revolution. In April 1976, he called upon his supporters in universities to establish "revolutionary student councils" and drive out "reactionary elements". During that year, anti-Gaddafist student demonstrations broke out at the universities of Tripoli and Benghazi, resulting in clashes with both Gaddafist students and police. The RCC responded with mass arrests, and introduced compulsory national service for young people. In January 1977, two dissenting students and a number of army officers were publicly hanged; Amnesty International condemned it as the first time in Gaddafist Libya that dissenters had been executed for purely political crimes. Dissent also arose from conservative clerics and the Muslim Brotherhood, who accused Gaddafi of moving towards Marxism and criticized his abolition of private property as being against the Islamic sunnah; these forces were then persecuted as anti-revolutionary, while all privately owned Islamic colleges and universities were shut down.
Following Anwar Sadat's ascension to the Egyptian presidency, Libya's relations with Egypt deteriorated. Over the coming years, the two slipped into a state of cold war. Sadat was perturbed by Gaddafi's unpredictability and insistence that Egypt required a cultural revolution akin to that being carried out in Libya. In February 1973, Israeli forces shot down Libyan Arab Airlines Flight 114, which had strayed from Egyptian airspace into Israeli-held territory during a sandstorm. Gaddafi was infuriated that Egypt had not done more to prevent the incident, and in retaliation planned to destroy the RMS Queen Elizabeth 2, a British ship chartered by American Jews to sail to Haifa for Israel's 25th anniversary. Gaddafi ordered an Egyptian submarine to target the ship, but Sadat cancelled the order, fearing a military escalation.
Gaddafi was later infuriated when Egypt and Syria planned the Yom Kippur War against Israel without consulting him, and was angered when Egypt conceded to peace talks rather than continuing the war. Gaddafi became openly hostile to Egypt's leader, calling for Sadat's overthrow. When Sudanese President Gaafar Nimeiry took Sadat's side, Gaddafi also spoke out against him, encouraging the Sudan People's Liberation Army's attempt to overthrow Nimeiry. Relations with Syria also soured over the events in the Lebanese Civil War. Initially, both Libya and Syria had contributed troops to the Arab League's peacekeeping force, although after the Syrian army attacked the Lebanese National Movement, Gaddafi openly accused Syrian President Hafez al-Assad of "national treason"; he was the only Arab leader to criticize Syria's actions. Focusing his attention elsewhere in Africa, in late 1972 and early 1973, Libya invaded Chad to annex the uranium-rich Aouzou Strip.
Intent on propagating Islam, in 1973 Gaddafi founded the Islamic Call Society, which had opened 132 centres across Africa within a decade. In 1973 he converted Gabonese President Omar Bongo, an action which he repeated three years later with Jean-Bédel Bokassa, president of the Central African Republic. Between 1973 and 1979, Libya provided $500 million in aid to African countries, namely to Zaire and Uganda, and founded joint-venture companies throughout the country to aid trade and development. Gaddafi was also keen on reducing Israeli influence within Africa, using financial incentives to successfully convince eight African states to break off diplomatic relations with Israel in 1973. A strong relationship was also established between Gaddafi's Libya and Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's Pakistani government, with the two countries exchanging nuclear research and military assistance; this relationship ended after Bhutto was deposed by Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in 1977.
Gaddafi sought to develop closer links in the Maghreb; in January 1974 Libya and Tunisia announced a political union, the Arab Islamic Republic. Although advocated by Gaddafi and Tunisian President Habib Bourguiba, the move was deeply unpopular in Tunisia and it was soon abandoned. Retaliating, Gaddafi sponsored anti-government militants in Tunisia into the 1980s. Turning his attention to Algeria, in 1975 Libya signed the Hassi Messaoud defence allegedly to counter alleged "Moroccan expansionism", also funding the Polisario Front of Western Sahara in its independence struggle against Morocco. Seeking to diversify Libya's economy, Gaddafi's government began purchasing shares in major European corporations like Fiat as well as buying real estate in Malta and Italy, which would become a valuable source of income during the 1980s oil slump.
On 2 March 1977 the General People's Congress adopted the "Declaration of the Establishment of the People's Authority" at Gaddafi's behest. Dissolving the Libyan Arab Republic, it was replaced by the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (Arabic: الجماهيرية العربية الليبية الشعبية الاشتراكية, al-Jamāhīrīyah al-‘Arabīyah al-Lībīyah ash-Sha‘bīyah al-Ishtirākīyah), a "state of the masses" conceptualized by Gaddafi. A new, all-green banner was adopted as the country's flag. Officially, the Jamahiriya was a direct democracy in which the people ruled themselves through the 187 Basic People's Congresses, where all adult Libyans participated and voted on national decisions. These then sent members to the annual General People's Congress, which was broadcast live on television. In principle, the People's Congresses were Libya's highest authority, with major decisions proposed by government officials or with Gaddafi himself requiring the consent of the People's Congresses. Gaddafi became General Secretary of the GPC, although stepped down from this position in early 1979 and appointed himself "Leader of the Revolution".
Although all political control was officially vested in the People's Congresses, in reality Libya's existing political leadership continued to exercise varying degrees of power and influence. Debate remained limited, and major decisions regarding the economy and defence were avoided or dealt with cursorily; the GPC largely remained "a rubber stamp" for Gaddafi's policies. On rare occasions, the GPC opposed Gaddafi's suggestions, sometimes successfully; notably, when Gaddafi called on primary schools to be abolished, believing that home schooling was healthier for children, the GPC rejected the idea. In other instances, Gaddafi pushed through laws without the GPC's support, such as when he desired to allow women into the armed forces. At other times, he ordered snap elections when it appeared that the GPC would enact laws he opposed. Gaddafi proclaimed that the People's Congresses provided for Libya's every political need, rendering other political organizations unnecessary; all non-authorized groups, including political parties, professional associations, independent trade unions and women's groups, were banned. Despite these restrictions, St. John noted that the Jamhariyah system still "introduced a level of representation and participation hitherto unknown in Libya".
With preceding legal institutions abolished, Gaddafi envisioned the Jamahiriya as following the Qur'an for legal guidance, adopting sharia law; he proclaimed "man-made" laws unnatural and dictatorial, only permitting Allah's law. Within a year he was backtracking, announcing that sharia was inappropriate for the Jamahiriya because it guaranteed the protection of private property, contravening The Green Book's socialism. His emphasis on placing his own work on a par with the Qur'an led conservative clerics to accuse him of shirk, furthering their opposition to his regime. In July 1977, a border war broke out with Egypt, in which the Egyptians defeated Libya despite their technological inferiority. The conflict lasted one week before both sides agreed to sign a peace treaty that was brokered by several Arab states. Both Egypt and Sudan had aligned themselves with the U.S., and this pushed Libya into a strategic—although not political—alignment with the Soviet Union. In recognition of the growing commercial relationship between Libya and the Soviets, Gaddafi was invited to visit Moscow in December 1976; there, he entered talks with Leonid Brezhnev. In August 1977 he then visited Yugoslavia, where he met its leader Josip Broz Tito, with whom he had a much warmer relationship.
Revolutionary Committees and furthering socialism: 1978–80
In December 1978, Gaddafi stepped down as Secretary-General of the GPC, announcing his new focus on revolutionary rather than governmental activities; this was part of his new emphasis on separating the apparatus of the revolution from the government. Although no longer in a formal governmental post, he adopted the title of "Leader of the Revolution" and continued as commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The historian Dirk Vandewalle stated that despite the Jamahariya's claims to being a direct democracy, Libya remained "an exclusionary political system whose decision-making process" was "restricted to a small cadre of advisers and confidantes" surrounding Gaddafi.
Libya began to turn towards socialism. In March 1978, the government issued guidelines for housing redistribution, attempting to ensure the population that every adult Libyan owned his own home and that nobody was enslaved to paying their rent. Most families were banned from owning more than one house, while former rental properties were expropriated by the state and sold to the tenants at a heavily subsidized price. In September, Gaddafi called for the People's Committees to eliminate the "bureaucracy of the public sector" and the "dictatorship of the private sector"; the People's Committees took control of several hundred companies, converting them into worker cooperatives run by elected representatives.
On 2 March 1979, the GPC announced the separation of government and revolution, the latter being represented by new Revolutionary Committees, who operated in tandem with the People's Committees in schools, universities, unions, the police force and the military. Dominated by revolutionary zealots, most of whom were youths, the Revolutionary Committees were led by Mohammad Maghgoub and a Central Coordinating Office based in Tripoli, and met with Gaddafi annually. Membership of the Revolutionary Committees was drawn from within the BPCs. According to Bearman, the revolutionary committee system became "a key—if not the main—mechanism through which [Gaddafi] exercises political control in Libya". Publishing a weekly magazine The Green March (al-Zahf al-Akhdar), in October 1980 they took control of the press. Responsible for perpetuating revolutionary fervour, they performed ideological surveillance, later adopting a significant security role, making arrests and putting people on trial according to the "law of the revolution" (qanun al-thawra). With no legal code or safeguards, the administration of revolutionary justice was largely arbitrary and resulted in widespread abuses and the suppression of civil liberties: the "Green Terror."
In 1979, the committees began the redistribution of land in the Jefara plain, continuing through 1981. In May 1980, measures to redistribute and equalize wealth were implemented; anyone with over 1000 dinar in their bank account saw that extra money expropriated. The following year, the GPC announced that the government would take control of all import, export and distribution functions, with state supermarkets replacing privately owned businesses; this led to a decline in the availability of consumer goods and the development of a thriving black market. Gaddafi was also frustrated by the slow pace of social reform on women's issues, and in 1979 launched a Revolutionary Women's Formation to replace the more gradualist Libyan General Women's Federation. In 1978 he had established a Women's Military Academy in Tripoli, encouraging all women to enlist for training. The measure was hugely controversial, and voted down by the GPC in February 1983. Gaddafi remained adamant, and when it was again voted down by the GPC in March 1984, he refused to abide by the decision, declaring that "he who opposes the training and emancipation of women is an agent of imperialism, whether he likes it or not."
The Jamahiriya's radical direction earned the government many enemies. Most internal opposition came from Islamic fundamentalists, who were inspired by the events of the 1979 Iranian Revolution. In February 1978, Gaddafi discovered that his head of military intelligence was plotting to kill him, and began to increasingly entrust security to his Qaddadfa tribe. Many who had seen their wealth and property confiscated turned against the administration, and a number of Western-funded opposition groups were founded by exiles. Most prominent was the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL), founded in 1981 by Mohammed Magariaf, which orchestrated militant attacks against Libya's government. Another, al-Borkan, began killing Libyan diplomats abroad. Following Gaddafi's command to kill these "stray dogs", under Colonel Younis Bilgasim's leadership, the Revolutionary Committees set up overseas branches to suppress counter-revolutionary activity, assassinating various dissidents. Although nearby nations like Syria and Israel also employed hit squads, Gaddafi was unusual in publicly bragging about his administration's use of them; in 1980, he ordered all dissidents to return home or be "liquidated wherever you are."
Libya had sought to improve relations with the US under the presidency of Jimmy Carter, for instance by courting his brother, the businessman Billy Carter, but in 1979 the US placed Libya on its list of "State Sponsors of Terrorism". Relations were further damaged at the end of the year when a demonstration torched the U.S. embassy in Tripoli in solidarity with the perpetrators of the Iran hostage crisis. The following year, Libyan fighters began intercepting U.S. fighter jets flying over the Mediterranean, signalling the collapse of relations between the two countries. Libyan relations with Lebanon and Shi'ite communities across the world also deteriorated due to the August 1978 disappearance of imam Musa al-Sadr when visiting Libya; the Lebanese accused Gaddafi of having him killed or imprisoned, a charge he denied. Relations with Syria improved, as Gaddafi and Syrian President Hafez al-Assad shared an enmity with Israel and Egypt's Sadat. In 1980, they proposed a political union, with Libya paying off Syria's £1 billion debt to the Soviet Union; although pressures led Assad to pull out, they remained allies. Another key ally was Uganda, and in 1979, Gaddafi sent 2,500 troops into Uganda to defend the regime of President Idi Amin from Tanzanian invaders. The mission failed; 400 Libyans were killed and they were forced to retreat. Gaddafi later came to regret his alliance with Amin, openly criticizing him as a "fascist" and a "show-off".
The early and mid-1980s saw economic trouble for Libya; from 1982 to 1986, the country's annual oil revenues dropped from $21 billion to $5.4 billion. Focusing on irrigation projects, 1983 saw construction start on Libya's largest and most expensive infrastructure project, the Great Man-Made River; although designed to be finished by the end of the decade, it remained incomplete at the start of the 21st century. Military spending increased, while other administrative budgets were cut back. Libya's foreign debt rose, and austerity measures were introduced to promote self-reliance; in August 1985 there was a mass deportation of foreign workers, most of them Egyptian and Tunisian. Domestic threats continued to plague Gaddafi; in May 1984, his Bab al-Azizia home was unsuccessfully attacked by a militia—linked either to the NFSL or the Muslim Brotherhood—and in the aftermath 5000 dissidents were arrested.
Libya had long supported the FROLINAT militia in neighbouring Chad, and in December 1980, re-invaded Chad at the request of the FROLINAT-controlled GUNT government to aid in the civil war; in January 1981, Gaddafi suggested a political merger. The Organisation of African Unity (OAU) rejected this, and called for a Libyan withdrawal, which came about in November 1981. The civil war resumed, and so Libya sent troops back in, clashing with French forces who supported the southern Chadian forces. Many African nations had tired of Libya's interference in their affairs; by 1980, nine African states had severed diplomatic relations with Libya, while in 1982 the OAU cancelled its scheduled conference in Tripoli to prevent Gaddafi gaining chairmanship. Proposing political unity with Morocco, in August 1984, Gaddafi and Moroccan monarch Hassan II signed the Oujda Treaty, forming the Arab-African Union; such a union was considered surprising due to the strong political differences and longstanding enmity that existed between the two governments. Relations remained strained, particularly due to Morocco's friendly relations with the US and Israel; in August 1986, Hassan abolished the union.
In 1981, the new US President Ronald Reagan pursued a hard line approach to Libya, erroneously claiming it to be puppet regime of the Soviet Union. In turn, Gaddafi played up his commercial relationship with the Soviets, visiting Moscow again in April 1981 and 1985, and in 1978 threatening to join the Warsaw Pact. The Soviets were nevertheless cautious of Gaddafi, seeing him as an unpredictable extremist. Beginning military exercises in the Gulf of Sirte – an area of sea that Libya claimed as a part of its territorial waters – in August 1981 the US shot down two Libyan Su-22 planes monitoring them. Closing down Libya's embassy in Washington, D.C., Reagan advized US companies operating in the country to reduce the number of American personnel stationed there. In March 1982, the US implemented an embargo of Libyan oil, and in January 1986 ordered all US companies to cease operating in the country, although several hundred workers remained when the Libyan government doubled their pay. Diplomatic relations also broke down with the UK, after Libyan diplomats were accused in the killing of Yvonne Fletcher, a British policewoman stationed outside their London embassy, in April 1984. In Spring 1986, the US Navy again began performing exercises in the Gulf of Sirte; the Libyan military retaliated, but failed as the US sank several Libyan ships.
After the US accused Libya of orchestrating the 1986 Berlin discotheque bombing, in which two American soldiers died, Reagan decided to retaliate militarily. The CIA were critical of the move, believing that Syria were a greater threat and that an attack would strengthen Gaddafi's reputation; however Libya was recognized as a "soft target." Reagan was supported by the UK but opposed by other European allies, who argued that it would contravene international law. In Operation El Dorado Canyon, orchestrated on 15 April 1986, US military planes launched a series of air-strikes on Libya, bombing military installations in various parts of the country, killing around 100 Libyans, including several civilians. One of the targets had been Gaddafi's home. Himself unharmed, two of Gaddafi's sons were injured, and he claimed that his four-year-old adopted daughter Hanna was killed, although her existence has since been questioned. In the immediate aftermath, Gaddafi retreated to the desert to meditate, while there were sporadic clashes between Gaddafists and army officers who wanted to overthrow the government. Although the US was condemned internationally, Reagan received a popularity boost at home. Publicly lambasting US imperialism, Gaddafi's reputation as an anti-imperialist was strengthened both domestically and across the Arab world, and in June 1986, he ordered the names of the month to be changed in Libya.
The late 1980s saw a series of liberalising economic reforms within Libya designed to cope with the decline in oil revenues. In May 1987, Gaddafi announced the start of the "Revolution within a Revolution", which began with reforms to industry and agriculture and saw the re-opening of small business. Restrictions were placed on the activities of the Revolutionary Committees; in March 1988, their role was narrowed by the newly created Ministry for Mass Mobilization and Revolutionary Leadership to restrict their violence and judicial role, while in August 1988 Gaddafi publicly criticized them.
In March, hundreds of political prisoners were freed, with Gaddafi falsely claiming that there were no further political prisoners in Libya. In June, Libya's government issued the Great Green Charter on Human Rights in the Era of the Masses, in which 27 articles laid out goals, rights and guarantees to improve the situation of human rights in Libya, restricting the use of the death penalty and calling for its eventual abolition. Many of the measures suggested in the charter would be implemented the following year, although others remained inactive. Also in 1989, the government founded the Al-Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights, to be awarded to figures from the Third World who had struggled against colonialism and imperialism; the first year's winner was South African anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela. From 1994 through to 1997, the government initiated cleansing committees to root out corruption, particularly in the economic sector.
In the aftermath of the 1986 U.S. attack, the army was purged of perceived disloyal elements, and in 1988, Gaddafi announced the creation of a popular militia to replace the army and police. In 1987, Libya began production of mustard gas at a facility in Rabta, although publicly denying it was stockpiling chemical weapons, and unsuccessfully attempted to develop nuclear weapons. The period also saw a growth in domestic Islamist opposition, formulated into groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. A number of assassination attempts against Gaddafi were foiled, and in turn, 1989 saw the security forces raid mosques believed to be centres of counter-revolutionary preaching. In October 1993, elements of the increasingly marginalized army initiated a failed coup in Misrata, while in September 1995, Islamists launched an insurgency in Benghazi, and in July 1996 an anti-Gaddafist football riot broke out in Tripoli. The Revolutionary Committees experienced a resurgence to combat these Islamists.
In 1989, Gaddafi was overjoyed by the foundation of the Arab Maghreb Union, uniting Libya in an economic pact with Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, viewing it as beginnings of a new Pan-Arab union. Meanwhile, Libya stepped up its support for anti-Western militants such as the Provisional IRA, and in 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie in Scotland, killing 243 passengers and 16 crew members, plus 11 people on the ground. British police investigations identified two Libyans – Abdelbaset al-Megrahi and Lamin Khalifah Fhimah – as the chief suspects, and in November 1991 issued a declaration demanding that Libya hand them over. When Gaddafi refused, citing the Montreal Convention, the United Nations (UN) imposed Resolution 748 in March 1992, initiating economic sanctions against Libya which had deep repercussions for the country's economy. The country suffered an estimated $900 million financial loss as a result. Further problems arose with the West when in January 1989, two Libyan warplanes were shot down by the U.S. off the Libyan coast. Many African states opposed the UN sanctions, with Mandela criticizing them on a visit to Gaddafi in October 1997, when he praised Libya for its work in fighting apartheid and awarded Gaddafi the Order of Good Hope. They would only be suspended in 1998 when Libya agreed to allow the extradition of the suspects to the Scottish Court in the Netherlands, in a process overseen by Mandela.
At the 20th century's end, Gaddafi—frustrated by the failure of his Pan-Arab ideals—increasingly rejected Arab nationalism in favour of Pan-Africanism, emphasising Libya's African identity. From 1997 to 2000, Libya initiated cooperative agreements or bilateral aid arrangements with 10 African states, and in 1999 joined the Community of Sahel-Saharan States. In June 1999, Gaddafi visited Mandela in South Africa, and the following month attended the OAU summit in Algiers, calling for greater political and economic integration across the continent and advocating the foundation of a United States of Africa. He became one of the founders of the African Union (AU), initiated in July 2002 to replace the OAU; at the opening ceremonies, he called for African states to reject conditional aid from the developed world, a direct contrast to the message of South African President Thabo Mbeki.
At the third AU summit, held in Libya in July 2005, he called for greater integration, advocating a single AU passport, a common defence system, and a single currency, utilizing the slogan: "The United States of Africa is the hope." His proposal for a Union of African States project, a project originally conceived by Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana in the 1960s, was rejected at the Assembly of Heads of States and Government (AHSG) summit in Lusaka (2001) by African leaders who thought it was "unrealistic" and "utopian." In June 2005, Libya joined the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), and in August 2008 Gaddafi was proclaimed "King of Kings" by a committee of traditional African leaders. They crowned him in February 2009, in a ceremony held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; this coincided with Gaddafi's election as AU chairman for a year.
The era saw Libya's return to the international arena. In 1999, Libya began secret talks with the British government to normalize relations. In 2001, Gaddafi condemned the September 11 attacks on the U.S. by al-Qaeda, expressing sympathy with the victims and calling for Libyan involvement in the War on Terror against militant Islamism. His government continued suppressing domestic Islamism, at the same time as Gaddafi called for the wider application of sharia law. Libya also cemented connexions with China and North Korea, being visited by Chinese President Jiang Zemin in April 2002. Influenced by the events of the Iraq War, in December 2003, Libya renounced its possession of weapons of mass destruction, decommissioning its chemical and nuclear weapons programs. Relations with the U.S. improved as a result, while British Prime Minister Tony Blair visited Gaddafi in March 2004; the pair developed close personal ties. The following month, Gaddafi travelled to the headquarters of the European Union (EU) in Brussels, signifying improved relations between Libya and the EU; the latter ended its sanctions in October.
Libya was a strategic player in Europe's attempts to stem illegal migration from Africa. In October 2010, the EU paid Libya €50 million to stop African migrants passing into Europe; Gaddafi encouraged the move, saying that it was necessary to prevent the loss of European cultural identity to a new "Black Europe". Gaddafi also completed agreements with the Italian government that they would invest in various infrastructure projects as reparations for past Italian colonial policies in Libya. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi gave Libya an official apology in 2006, after which Gaddafi called him the "iron man" for his courage in doing so. Removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism in 2006, Gaddafi nevertheless continued his anti-Western rhetoric, and at the Second Africa-South America Summit, held in Venezuela in September 2009, he called for a military alliance across Africa and Latin America to rival NATO. That month he also addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York for the first time, using it to condemn "Western aggression". In Spring 2010, Gaddafi proclaimed jihad against Switzerland after Swiss police accused two of his family members of criminal activity in the country, resulting in the breakdown of bilateral relations.
Libya's economy witnessed increasing privatization; although rejecting the socialist policies of nationalized industry advocated in The Green Book, government figures asserted that they were forging "people's socialism" rather than capitalism. Gaddafi welcomed these reforms, calling for wide-scale privatization in a March 2003 speech. In 2003, the oil industry was largely sold to private corporations, and by 2004, there was $40 billion of direct foreign investment in Libya, a sixfold rise over 2003. Sectors of Libya's population reacted against these reforms with public demonstrations, and in March 2006, revolutionary hard-liners took control of the GPC cabinet; although scaling back the pace of the changes, they did not halt them. In 2010, plans were announced that would have seen half the Libyan economy privatized over the following decade.
While there was no accompanying political liberalization, with Gaddafi retaining predominant control, in March 2010, the government devolved further powers to the municipal councils. Rising numbers of reformist technocrats attained positions in the country's governance; best known was Gaddafi's son and heir apparent Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, who was openly critical of Libya's human rights record. He led a group who proposed the drafting of the new constitution, although it was never adopted. Involved in encouraging tourism, Saif founded several privately run media channels in 2008, but after criticizing the government they were nationalized in 2009. In October 2010, Gaddafi apologized to African leaders for the historical enslavement of Africans by the Arab slave trade.
Following the start of the Arab Spring in 2011, Gaddafi spoke out in favour of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, then threatened by the Tunisian Revolution. He suggested that Tunisia's people would be satisfied if Ben Ali introduced a Jamahiriyah system there. Fearing domestic protest, Libya's government implemented preventative measures by reducing food prices, purging the army leadership of potential defectors and releasing several Islamist prisoners. They proved ineffective, and on 17 February 2011, major protests broke out against Gaddafi's government. Unlike Tunisia or Egypt, Libya was largely religiously homogeneous and had no strong Islamist movement, but there was widespread dissatisfaction with the corruption and entrenched systems of patronage, while unemployment had reached around 30%.
Accusing the rebels of being "drugged" and linked to al-Qaeda, Gaddafi proclaimed that he would die a martyr rather than leave Libya. As he announced that the rebels would be "hunted down street by street, house by house and wardrobe by wardrobe", the army opened fire on protests in Benghazi, killing hundreds. Shocked at the government's response, a number of senior politicians resigned or defected to the protesters' side. The uprising spread quickly through Libya's less economically developed eastern half. By February's end, eastern cities like Benghazi, Misrata, al-Bayda and Tobruk were controlled by rebels, and the Benghazi-based National Transitional Council (NTC) had been founded to represent them.
In the conflict's early months it appeared that Gaddafi's government—with its greater fire-power—would be victorious. Both sides disregarded the laws of war, committing human rights abuses, including arbitrary arrests, torture, extrajudicial executions and revenge attacks. On 26 February the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1970, suspending Libya from the UN Human Rights Council, implementing sanctions and calling for an International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation into the killing of unarmed civilians. In March, the Security Council declared a no fly zone to protect the civilian population from aerial bombardment, calling on foreign nations to enforce it; it also specifically prohibited foreign occupation. Ignoring this, Qatar sent hundreds of troops to support the dissidents, and along with France and the United Arab Emirates provided the NTC with weaponry and training. NATO announced that it would enforce the no-fly zone. On 30 April a NATO air strike killed Gaddafi's sixth son and three of his grandsons in Tripoli.
In June, the ICC issued arrest warrants for Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam, and his brother-in-law Abdullah Senussi, head of state security, for charges concerning crimes against humanity. That month, Amnesty International published their report, finding that while Gaddafi's forces were responsible for numerous war crimes, many other allegations of mass human rights abuses lacked credible evidence and were likely fabrications by rebel forces that had been promoted by Western media. In July, over 30 governments recognized the NTC as the legitimate government of Libya; Gaddafi called on his supporters to "Trample on those recognitions, trample on them under your feet... They are worthless". In August, the Arab League recognized the NTC to be "the legitimate representative of the Libyan state".
Aided by NATO air cover, the rebel militia pushed westward, defeating loyalist armies and securing control of the centre of the country. Gaining the support of Amazigh (Berber) communities of the Nafusa Mountains, who had long been persecuted as non-Arabic speakers under Gaddafi, the NTC armies surrounded Gaddafi loyalists in several key areas of western Libya. In August, the rebels seized Zliten and Tripoli, ending the last vestiges of Gaddafist power.
Only a few towns in western Libya—such as Bani Walid, Sebha and Sirte—remained Gaddafist strongholds. Retreating to Sirte after Tripoli's fall, Gaddafi announced his willingness to negotiate for a handover to a transitional government, a suggestion rejected by the NTC. Surrounding himself with bodyguards, he continually moved residences to escape NTC shelling, devoting his days to prayer and reading the Qur'an. On 20 October, Gaddafi broke out of Sirte's District 2 in a joint civilian-military convoy, hoping to take refuge in the Jarref Valley. At around 8.30am, NATO bombers attacked, destroying at least 14 vehicles and killing at least 53. The convoy scattered, and Gaddafi and those closest to him fled to a nearby villa, which was shelled by rebel militia from Misrata. Fleeing to a construction site, Gaddafi and his inner cohort hid inside drainage pipes while his bodyguards battled the rebels; in the conflict, Gaddafi suffered head injuries from a grenade blast while defence minister Abu-Bakr Yunis Jabr was killed.
The Misrata militia took Gaddafi prisoner, causing serious injuries as they tried to apprehend him; the events were filmed on a mobile phone. A video appears to picture Gaddafi being poked or stabbed in the anus "with some kind of stick or knife" or possibly a bayonet. Pulled onto the front of a pick-up truck, he fell off as it drove away. His semi-naked, lifeless body was then placed into an ambulance and taken to Misrata; upon arrival, he was found to be dead. Official NTC accounts claimed that Gaddafi was caught in a cross-fire and died from his bullet wounds. Other eye-witness accounts claimed that rebels had fatally shot Gaddafi in the stomach. Gaddafi's son Mutassim, who had also been among the convoy, was also captured, and found dead several hours later, most probably from an extrajudicial execution. Around 140 Gaddafi loyalists were rounded up from the convoy; tied up and abused, the corpses of 66 were found at the nearby Mahari Hotel, victims of extrajudicial execution. Libya's chief forensic pathologist, Othman al-Zintani, carried out the autopsies of Gaddafi, his son and Jabr in the days following their deaths; although the pathologist initially told the press that Gaddafi had died from a gunshot wound to the head, the autopsy report was not made public.
On the afternoon of Gaddafi's death, NTC Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril publicly revealed the news. Gaddafi's corpse was placed in the freezer of a local market alongside the corpses of Yunis Jabr and Mutassim; the bodies were publicly displayed for four days, with Libyans from all over the country coming to view them. In response to international calls, on 24 October Jibril announced that a commission would investigate Gaddafi's death. On 25 October, the NTC announced that Gaddafi had been buried at an unidentified location in the desert. Seeking vengeance for the killing, Gaddafist sympathizers fatally wounded one of those who had captured Gaddafi, Omran Shaaban, near Bani Walid in September 2012.
Gaddafi's ideological worldview was moulded by his environment, namely his Islamic faith, his Bedouin upbringing, and his disgust at the actions of European colonialists in Libya. As a schoolboy, Gaddafi adopted the ideologies of Arab nationalism and Arab socialism, influenced in particular by Nasserism, the thought of the Egyptian President Nasser, whom Gaddafi regarded as his hero. During the early 1970s, Gaddafi formulated his own particular approach to Arab nationalism and socialism, known as Third International Theory, which has been described as a combination of "utopian socialism, Arab nationalism, and the Third World revolutionary theory that was in vogue at the time". He regarded this system as a practical alternative to the then-dominant international models of Western capitalism and Marxism–Leninism. He laid out the principles of this Theory in the three volumes of The Green Book, in which he sought to "explain the structure of the ideal society."
Libyan studies specialist Ronald Bruce St. John regarded Arab nationalism as Gaddafi's "primordial value", stating that during the early years of his government, Gaddafi was "the Arab nationalist par excellence". Gaddafi called for the Arab world to regain its dignity and assert a major place on the world stage, blaming Arab backwardness on stagnation resulting from Ottoman rule, European colonialism and imperialism, and corrupt and repressive monarchies. Gaddafi's Arab nationalist views led him to the Pan-Arabist belief in the need for unity across the Arab world, combining the Arab nation under a single nation-state. To this end, he had proposed political union with five neighbouring Arab states by 1974, although without success. Gaddafi saw his socialist Jamahiriyah as a model for the Arab, Islamic, and non-aligned worlds to follow, and in his speeches declared that his Third International Theory would eventually guide the whole world. He nevertheless had minimal success in exporting the ideology outside of Libya.
Along with Arab nationalism, anti-imperialism was also a defining feature of Gaddafi's regime during its early years. He believed in opposing Western imperialism and colonialism in the Arab world, including any Western expansionism through the form of Israel. For many years, anti-Zionism was a fundamental component of Gaddafi's ideology. He believed that the state of Israel should not exist, and that any Arab compromise with the Israeli government was a betrayal of the Arab people. In large part due to their support of Israel, Gaddafi despised the United States, considering the country to be imperialist and lambasting it as "the embodiment of evil." He rallied against Jews in many of his speeches, with Blundy and Lycett claiming that his anti-Semitism was "almost Hitlerian". His views later shifted; in 2009, he stated that "the Jews have been held captive, massacred, disadvantaged in every possible fashion... [they] want and deserve their homeland." He called for both Jews and Palestinians to "move beyond old conflicts and look to a unified future based on shared culture and respect", forging a single-state that he termed "Isratin".
Islamic modernism and Islamic socialism
Gaddafi rejected the secularist approach to Arab nationalism that had been pervasive in Syria. Instead, he deemed Arabism and Islam to be inseparable, referring to them as "one and indivisible", and called on the Arab world's Christian minority to convert to Islam. He desired unity across the Islamic world, and encouraged the propagation of the faith elsewhere; on a 2010 visit to Italy, he paid a modelling agency to find 200 young Italian women for a lecture he gave urging them to convert. According to Gaddafi biographer Jonathan Bearman, in Islamic terms Gaddafi was a modernist rather than a fundamentalist, for he subordinated religion to the political system rather than seeking to Islamicize the state as Islamists sought to do. He was driven by a sense of "divine mission", believing himself a conduit of God's will, and thought that he must achieve his goals "no matter what the cost". His interpretation of Islam was nevertheless idiosyncratic, and he clashed with conservative Libyan clerics. Many criticized his attempts to encourage women to enter traditionally male-only sectors of society, such as the armed forces. Gaddafi was keen to improve women's status, although saw the sexes as "separate but equal" and therefore felt women should usually remain in traditional roles.
Gaddafi described his approach to economics as "Islamic socialism". For him, a socialist society could be defined as one in which men controlled their own needs, either through personal ownership or through a collective. The extent to which Libya became socialist under Gaddafi is disputed. Bearman suggested that while Libya did undergo "a profound social revolution", he did not think that "a socialist society" was established in Libya. Conversely, St. John expressed the view that "if socialism is defined as a redistribution of wealth and resources, a socialist revolution clearly occurred in Libya" under Gaddafi's regime.
Gaddafi was staunchly anti-Marxist, and in 1973 declared that "it is the duty of every Muslim to combat" Marxism because it promotes atheism. In his view, ideologies like Marxism and Zionism were alien to the Islamic world and were a threat to the ummah, or global Islamic community. Nevertheless, Blundy and Lycett noted that Gaddafi's socialism had a "curiously Marxist undertone", with political scientist Sami Hajjar arguing that Gaddafi's model of socialism offered a simplification of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels' theories. While acknowledging the Marxist influence on Gaddafi's thought, Bearman stated that the Libyan leader rejected Marxism's core tenet, that of class struggle as the main engine of social development. Instead of embracing the Marxist idea that a socialist society emerged from class struggle between the proletariat and bourgeoisie, Gaddafi believed that socialism would be achieved through overturning 'unnatural' capitalism and returning society to its "natural equilibrium". In this he sought to replace a capitalist economy with one based on his own romanticized ideas of a traditional, pre-capitalist past. This owed much to the Islamic belief in God's natural law providing order to the universe.
A very private individual, Gaddafi was given to rumination and solitude, and could be reclusive. The reporter Mirella Bianco interviewed Gaddafi's father, who stated that his son was "always serious, even taciturn", also being courageous, intelligent, pious, and family oriented. Gaddafi's friends described him to Bianco as a loyal and generous man. More widely, he was often regarded as being "bizarre, irrational or quixotic". Bearman noted that Gaddafi was emotionally volatile and had an impulsive temperament, with the CIA believing that the Libyan leader suffered from clinical depression. Gaddafi described himself as a "simple revolutionary" and "pious Muslim" called upon by God to continue Nasser's work. Gaddafi was an austere and devout Muslim, although according to Vandewalle, his interpretation of Islam was "deeply personal and idiosyncratic." He was also a football enthusiast, and enjoyed both playing the sport and horse riding as a means of recreation. He was a fan of Beethoven, and said his favourite novels were Uncle Tom's Cabin, Roots, and The Outsider.
Gaddafi regarded personal appearance as important, with Blundy and Lycett referring to him as "extraordinarily vain". Gaddafi had a large wardrobe, and sometimes changed his outfit multiple times a day. He favoured either a military uniform or traditional Libyan dress, tending to eschew Western-style suits. He saw himself as a fashion icon, stating "Whatever I wear becomes a fad. I wear a certain shirt and suddenly everyone is wearing it." Following his ascension to power, Gaddafi moved into the Bab al-Azizia barracks, a 6-square-kilometre (2.3 sq mi) fortified compound located two miles from the centre of Tripoli. His home and office at Azizia was a bunker designed by West German engineers, while the rest of his family lived in a large two-story building. Within the compound were also two tennis courts, a soccer field, several gardens, camels, and a Bedouin tent in which he entertained guests. In the 1980s, his lifestyle was considered modest in comparison to those of many other Arab leaders.
He was preoccupied with his own security, regularly changing where he slept and sometimes grounding all other planes in Libya when he was flying. He made particular requests when traveling to foreign nations. During his trips to Rome, Paris, Madrid, Moscow, and New York City, he resided in a bulletproof tent, following his Bedouin traditions. Gaddafi was notably confrontational in his approach to foreign powers, and generally shunned Western ambassadors and diplomats, believing them to be spies.
Gaddafi has been described as a womanizer. In the 1970s and 1980s there were reports of his making sexual advances toward female reporters and members of his entourage. Starting in the 1980s, he travelled with his all-female Amazonian Guard, who were allegedly sworn to a life of celibacy. After Gaddafi's death, the Libyan psychologist Seham Sergewa—part of a team investigating sexual offences during the civil war—stated that five of the guards told her they had been raped by Gaddafi and senior officials. After Gaddafi's death, the French journalist Annick Cojean published a book alleging that Gaddafi had had sexual relations with women, some in their early teenage years, who had been specially selected for him. One of those Cojean interviewed, a woman named Soraya, claimed that Gaddafi kept her imprisoned in a basement for six years, where he repeatedly raped her, urinated on her, and forced her to watch pornography, drink alcohol, and snort cocaine. Gaddafi also hired several Ukrainian nurses to care for him; one described him as kind and considerate, and was surprised that allegations of abuse had been made against him.
Gaddafi married his first wife, Fatiha al-Nuri, in 1969. She was the daughter of General Khalid, a senior figure in King Idris' administration, and was from a middle-class background. Although they had one son, Muhammad Gaddafi (b. 1970), their relationship was strained, and they divorced in 1970. Gaddafi's second wife was Safia Farkash, née el-Brasai, a former nurse from Obeidat tribe born in Bayda. They met in 1969, following his ascension to power, when he was hospitalized with appendicitis; he claimed that it was love at first sight. The couple remained married until his death. Together they had seven biological children: Saif al-Islam Gaddafi (b. 1972), Al-Saadi Gaddafi (b. 1973), Mutassim Gaddafi (1974–2011), Hannibal Muammar Gaddafi (b. 1975), Ayesha Gaddafi (b. 1976), Saif al-Arab Gaddafi (1982–2011), and Khamis Gaddafi (1983–2011). He also adopted two children, Hana Gaddafi and Milad Gaddafi.
According to Vandewalle, Gaddafi "dominated [Libya's] political life" during his period in power. A cult of personality devoted to Gaddafi existed in Libya. Depictions of his face could be found throughout the country, including on postage stamps, watches, and school satchels. Quotations from The Green Book appeared on a wide variety of places, from street walls to airports and pens, and were put to pop music for public release. Gaddafi claimed that he disliked this personality cult, but that he tolerated it because Libya's people adored him. The cult served a political purpose, with Gaddafi helping to provide a central identity for the Libyan state.
Biographers Blundy and Lycett believed that he was "a populist at heart." Throughout Libya, crowds of supporters would arrive at public events where he appeared. Described as "spontaneous demonstrations" by the government, there are recorded instances of groups being coerced or paid to attend. He was typically late to public events, and would sometimes fail to arrive. Although Bianco thought he had a "gift for oratory", he was considered a poor orator by biographers Blundy and Lycett. Biographer Daniel Kawczynski noted that Gaddafi was famed for his "lengthy, wandering" speeches, which typically involved criticizing Israel and the U.S.
According to Bearman, Gaddafi "evoked the extremes of passion: supreme adoration from his following, bitter contempt from his opponents". Bearman added that "in a country that formerly suffered foreign domination, [Gaddafi]'s anti-imperialism has proved enduringly popular". Gaddafi's domestic popularity stemmed from his overthrow of the monarchy, his removal of the Italian settlers and both American and British air bases from Libyan territory, and his redistribution of the country's land on a more equitable basis. Supporters praised Gaddafi's administration for the creation of an almost classless society through domestic reform. They stressed the regime's achievements in combating homelessness, ensuring access to food and safe drinking water, and to dramatic improvements in education; under Gaddafi, literacy rates rose significantly and all education to university level was free. Supporters have also applauded achievements in medical care, praising the universal free healthcare provided under the Gaddafist administration, with diseases like cholera and typhoid being contained and life expectancy raised.
Biographers Blundy and Lycett believed that under the first decade of Gaddafi's leadership, life for most Libyans "undoubtedly changed for the better" as material conditions and wealth drastically improved, while Libyan studies specialist Lillian Craig Harris remarked that in the early years of his administration, Libya's "national wealth and international influence soared, and its national standard of living has risen dramatically." Such high standards declined during the 1980s, as a result of economic stagnation; it was in this decade that the number of Libyan defectors increased. Gaddafi claimed that his Jamahiriya was a "concrete utopia", and that he had been appointed by "popular assent", with some Islamic supporters believing that he exhibited barakah. His opposition to Western governments earned him the respect of many in the Euro-American far right, with the UK-based National Front for instance embracing aspects of the Third International Theory during the 1980s. His anti-Western stance also attracted praise from the far left; in 1971, the Soviet Union awarded him the Order of Lenin, although his mistrust of atheist Marxism prevented him from attending the ceremony in Moscow.
The Libyan anti-Gaddafist movement brought together a diverse array of groups, which had varied motives and objectives. It comprised monarchists and members of the old, pre-Gaddafist elite, conservative nationalists who backed his Arab nationalist agenda but opposed his left-wing economic reforms, technocrats who had their future prospects stunted by the coup, and Islamic fundamentalists who opposed his radical reforms. Gaddafi's critics regarded him as "despotic, cruel, arrogant, vain and stupid". He became a bogeyman for Western governments, who presented him as the "vicious dictator of an oppressed people". Reagan famously dubbed him the "mad dog of the Middle East". According to critics, the Libyan people lived in a climate of fear under Gaddafi's administration, due to his government's pervasive surveillance of civilians. Gaddafi's Libya was typically described by Western commentators as a police state, and has also been characterized as authoritarian. His administration has also been criticized by political opponents and groups like Amnesty International for the human rights abuses carried out by the country's security services. These abuses included the repression of dissent, public executions, and the arbitrary detention of hundreds of opponents, some of whom reported being tortured. One of the most prominent examples of this was a massacre that took place in Abu Salim prison in June 1996; Human Rights Watch estimated that 1,270 prisoners were massacred. Dissidents abroad were labelled "stray dogs"; they were publicly threatened with death and sometimes killed by government hit squads.
The academic Yash Tandon stated that Gaddafi was "probably the most controversial, and outrageously daring (and adventurous) challenger of the Empire" (i.e. Western powers) but that he had nevertheless been unable to escape neo-colonial control exerted over Libya. His government's treatment of non-Arab Libyans has also came in for criticism from human rights activists, with native Berbers, Italians, Jews, refugees, and foreign workers all facing persecution in Gaddafist Libya. Human rights groups also criticized the treatment of migrants, including asylum seekers, who passed through Gaddafi's Libya on their way to Europe. According to journalist Annick Cojean and psychologist Seham Sergewa, Gaddafi and senior officials raped and imprisoned hundreds or thousands of young women and reportedly raped several of his female bodyguards. Gaddafi's actions in promoting foreign militant groups, although regarded by him as a justifiable support for national liberation movements, was seen by the United States as interference in the domestic affairs of other nations and active support for international terrorism.
International reactions to Gaddafi's death were divided. U.S. President Barack Obama stated that it meant that "the shadow of tyranny over Libya has been lifted," while UK Prime Minister David Cameron stated that he was "proud" of his country's role in overthrowing "this brutal dictator". Contrastingly, former Cuban President Fidel Castro commented that in defying the rebels, Gaddafi would "enter history as one of the great figures of the Arab nations", while Venezuela's Chávez described him as "a great fighter, a revolutionary and a martyr." Former South African President Nelson Mandela expressed sadness at the news, praising Gaddafi for his anti-apartheid stance, remarking that he backed the African National Congress during "the darkest moments of our struggle". Gaddafi was mourned as a hero by many across Sub-Saharan Africa; The Daily Times of Nigeria for instance stated that while undeniably a dictator, Gaddafi was the most benevolent in a region that only knew dictatorship, and that he was "a great man that looked out for his people and made them the envy of all of Africa." The Nigerian newspaper Leadership reported that while many Libyans and Africans would mourn Gaddafi, this would be ignored by Western media and that as such it would take 50 years before historians decided whether he was "martyr or villain."
Following his defeat in the civil war, Gaddafi's system of governance was dismantled and replaced by the interim government of the NTC, which legalised trade unions and freedom of the press. In July 2012, elections were held to form a new General National Congress (GNC), which officially took over governance from the NTC in August. The GNC elected Mohammed Magariaf as president of the chamber, and Mustafa A.G. Abushagur as Prime Minister; when Abushagar failed to gain congressional approval, the GNC elected Ali Zeidan to the position. In January 2013, the GNC officially renamed the Jamahiriyah as the "State of Libya". The pro-Gaddafists remaining in Libya came to be known as the Green Movement, and were formalized into the Libyan Popular National Movement party, established by Khuwaildi al-Hamidi. The Libyan government prevented this party from taking part in the 2012 parliamentary elections and banned the display of Gaddafist symbols. Gaddafists then founded a new political party, Al Fateh Al Jadeed; two of its members, Subah Mussa and Ahmed Ali, promoted the new venture by hijacking the Afriqiyah Airways Flight 209 in December 2016.