Arabic: mu’ammar ‘al-qadhdhāfī
(1942-) Leader of Libya since 1969, yet holding no official titles.
Few leaders of the Arab world experience such confusion regarding the writing of their names. These are the good alternatives: Gadhafi (best), Gadafi, Gaddafi; or the same but with “Q” or “K” instead of “G.” An alternative which is often used, but not acceptable is using “Kh” in front, like in Khadafi or Khaddafi. His name is written in Arabic with a “Q” but pronounced as a “G”, which is the styles with his native Arab-speaking Bedouins.
Instead of an official title, Gadhafi is in Libya named “Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya” or “Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution.”
Gadhafi’s position in Libya is strong, despite several attempts at his life, principally from certain groups within the military. Although the political system of Libya officially guarantees freedoms that even the democracy cannot guarantee, realities are quite different. Freedom of speech in Libya is definitely limited, and the power distribution to other political groups is often only symbolic, and Gadhafi is very much in control. In order to secure his power and position, Gadhafi has resorted to violence many times.
Still, it appears that Gadhafi is quite popular with his own population, and considered instrumental to why living conditions in Libya generally are good.
Gadhafi has 7 sons and 1 daughter. His sons Saif and Saadi, as well as his daughter, Ayesha, have all been suggested as possible successors to their father.
Politics and Personality
The ideology of Gadhafi is defined in the Green Book (first parts published in 1977), in which he propounds “the third way” — an alternative to socialism and capitalism. In his philosophy there should be private control over small companies with, yet government control over large companies. He places strong emphasis on welfare, liberation and education. Gadhafi’s politics embrace a conservative morality, in which alcohol and gambling are outlawed.
Arab unity has been among Gadhafi’s most important aims. In 1974 he signed an agreement with Tunisia‘s Bourguiba for a merger between the two countries. This never happened, and eventually differences between the two countries deteriorated into strong animosity.
Relationships with Egypt looked promising in the beginning, but gradually worsened.
Gadhafi’s personality is of major importance if one is to understand his position in the world. His approach to sharing strong feelings in writings and interviews has given credence to the view that he is unpredictable. On some occasions, relationships with neighbouring Arab countries have been destroyed largely through the exercise of his erratic style. Moreover, he has never addressed the West in a diplomatic way. At the same time, he has managed to close allies, especially among leaders of countries far away from Libya’s neighbouring zone.
Since the late 1980’s, though, Gadhafi has managed to improve his contacts throughout the Arab world and has since the 1990’s been regarded in that world as a moderate and responsible leader. He has also gained much popularity with ordinary people all over the Arab world. In the 2000′, Gadhafi’s stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict changed from absolute support of the Palestinians to suggesting a binational single state, which he dubbed “Isratine”, combining Israel and Palestine.
His popularity with Western leaders did not improve much even after he ended the hard line politics which had made him their enemy in the first place. This was largely a consequence of unresolved issues concerning terrorist actions in which Gadhafi was accused of having been instrumental. Since 2003, with these matters resolved and an open politics on weapons of mass destruction and their dismantling, a new era for Gadhafi seems to have begun. From his recent politics, he seems to aim at being a bridge between the West and the Muslim world and other non-Western powers.
Revolution and Terrorism
Notable in his politics has been the support for liberation movements throughout the world, but in most cases involving Muslim groups. In the 1970’s and the 1980’s, this support was self-understood for even the most unlikely organization. Often the groups represented ideologies quite distant from his own. During this period, his politics (or better: lack of politics), repeatedly confused the world.
In several instances, Libya was directly or indirectly involved in terror campaigns and crude acts towards Westerners. But, since the late 1980’s, such politics have been changed into a pragmatic and selective support of a limited number of groups. The true consequence of this was demonstrated in 1990, in connection with the Gulf War, when Gadhafi neither supported Iraq nor the USA. This was, however, interpreted into a silent support for Saddam Hussein, and Gadhafi would continue to be a Middle Eastern scapegoat.
There are many explanations for the change in Gadhafi’s politics. The most obvious one is that the once very rich Libya lost economic strength in the 1990’s, because oil prices remained low during that period. Gadhafi needed other countries more than before, and he can’t be as generous as he once was. Added to this is the view that strong Western reactions have forced Gadhafi to change his politics. These reactions reached a zenith in 1986 when the USA attacked Tripoli and Benghazi, killing 20 people, among them Gadhafi’s adopted infant daughter.
More importantly, Gadhafi 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 Gadhafi’s main symbolic target, the USA, stronger than ever.
1942: Born in a tent in the Libyan desert to a Bedouin family.
1956: Attends school in Sebha. During his years here, he formed the network which he would use to stage the coup 13 years later.
1963: Graduates from the University of Libya with high grades. He begins at the Military Academy in Benghazi.
1965: Graduates from the Libyan military academy, and begins a highly successful military career.
1969 September 1: Gadhafi, now a captain in the army, performs a bloodless coup, and overthrows king Idris 1.
1970: He removes the US and British military bases from Libya.
— Most members of the native Italian and Jewish communities are expelled from Libya.
1973: All foreign-owned petroleum assets are nationalized.
— Territorial dispute with Chad, which involves invasion of northern Chad.
1976: Gadhafi publishes his Green Book. Its second edition is published in 1980.
1977: Gadhafi introduces the term jamahiriyya, which is to be translated as ‘State of the Masses’, a system of people’s congresses, labour unions and other mass organizations.
1979: Gadhafi resigns from all official posts, but remain as the effective ruler of Libya.
1986 April 15: US air force attacks Tripoli and Benghazi, around 20 people are killed, one of them being Gadhafi’s own adopted infant daughter.
1990: Gadhafi remains neutral following Iraq’s invasion and annexation of Kuwait.
1993 October: Unsuccessful attempt by 2,000 members of the army on Gadhafi’s life.
1994 May: Libyan troops withdraw from Chad, and return to the original borders.
1995 August: A new attempt on his life, but this has never been confirmed by Libyan authorities.
— September: Expulsion of Palestinian refugees from Libya. This is an attempt by Gadhafi to address the political problems coming from the unresolved Palestinian claims on lands annexed with the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. It is also a protest against the peace process starting 2 years earlier.
1996 July: Bloody riots following a football match, which are actually a protest against Gadhafi.
1999 February 13: Gadhafi accepts extradition of the two men accused of being responsible for the Lockerbie bombing in 1988.
2002: Gadhafi publicly apologize for the Lockerbie bombing, and paid out $10 million compensation to each of the 270 victims’ families.
2003: Gadhafi declares that Libya has a program for weapons of mass destruction, but that the country is willing to allow international inspectors to control it and disband it.
— Programs for development of weapons of mass destruction as well as nuclear weapon are revealed, and destruction of the weapons are begun.
2004 February 10: Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi meets with Gadhafi in Sirt, becoming the first Western leader to visit Libya since the 2003 change in politics.
— March 25: British Prime Minister Tony Blair visits Gadhafi.