The Life and Times of Col Muammar Gaddafi


Muammar Mohammed Abu Minyar Gaddafi was a Libyan politician and revolutionary as well as a political theorist. He rose and became the De facto leader of Libya from 1969 to 2011. Gaddafi’s reign however came to an end when he was ousted and killed by a revolution that swept over the Middle East.

Gaddafi’s reign as Revolutionary Chairman brought major significant social and infrastructural development to Libya.

His time as president was not a smooth one with stiff opposition from America and European countries. This resulted in several sanctions placed on Libya during his time as leader.

However, he was admired and revered by Arab fundamentalists and the Islamic world for his role in promoting Arab nationalism.

Early Life and Childhood

Gaddafi was born into an insignificant tribe called the Qadhadfa in a rural desert area outside the town of Sirte in western Libya. His father Mohammed Abdul Salam and Mother Aisha were both illiterate as such kept no birth records. Thus his exact date of birth cannot be stated with certainty though biographers have set it at 1942/43.

He was the only surviving son of his parents and had three elder sisters. His formative years as a young boy in the desert influenced much of his taste and adult life. Gaddafi preferred the desert to city life and often withdrew there for meditation.

Gaddafi grew at a time his nation was occupied by the Italians and also witnessed the Italian and British conflict during the Second World War. This created a strong sense of political awareness in him.

Education (1950-63)

Gaddafi’s education was at the Elementary School in Sirte which he finished in four years. His family moved from Sirte to Sabha in south-central Libya where his father worked as a caretaker for a tribal leader.

He continued his education and attended a secondary school where he was recorded to be very popular. He gradually developed an admiration for Egyptian president Gamal Nasser, probably due to the influence of his teachers who were mostly Egyptians.

Gamal was a firm promoter of Arab Nationalism and rejection of Western colonialism and his book Philosophy of the Revolution had a tremendous impact on the life of Gaddafi.

As a student, Gaddafi organized demonstrations against the monarch of Libya and also led demonstrations against a secession plan by Syria from the United Arab Republic.

Due to the disorder and violence that occurred during the protests, Gaddafi and his family were expelled from Sabha. The family then moved to Misrata where he attended and finished his education at the Misrata Secondary school.

Gaddafi joins the Military

In 1963, Gaddafi dropped out from the University of Libya, Benghazi where he was studying history to join the military.

His decision had been influenced by the words of a teacher who had said a revolution will only be possible with military support. Secondly, the military served as one of few opportunities available for underprivileged Libyans to rise socially.

His training started at the Royal Military Academy where they were trained by the British Military to the dismay of Gaddafi. Intentionally he refused to learn the English Language and was often rude to his British instructors.

In 1964 Gaddafi with a group of loyal cadres formed in secret, a revolutionary group, The Central Committee of the Free Officers Movement.

With the funds they raised from their salaries Gaddafi embarked on trips across Libya, networking with sympathizers and collecting intelligence. Though his movements were known to government intelligence, they ignored him and took no action.

In 1965, he graduated from military school and became a Communications Officer in the army’s signal corps.

For further studies, he was assigned to the United Kingdom in April 1966 for a nine months course in the English Language.

The Coup d’état

The corruption prevalent in Idris’s government made him progressively unpopular in the late 1960s. His monarch government had been backed and installed in 1951 by the West after the end of WWII.

The involvement of Western powers in the affairs of Libya soon led to riots and violence in Tripoli and Benghazi resulting in the shut down of oil facilities.

The unfortunate mission of Idris to Turkey and Greece in mid-1969 allowed Gaddafi and his revolutionary group to strike.

On September 1, in an operation code-named “Operation Jerusalem” they occupied government offices, radio stations, and airports.

Minimal resistance was encountered; hence there was not much violence against proponents of the monarch regime. Due to this bloodless nature of the coup, it was termed the “White Revolution”.

After the successful coup, Gaddafi abolished the monarchical government and announced the foundation of the Libyan Arab Republic.

Gaddafi Becomes Head of State

A 12 member central committee of the Free Officers now known as the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) was instituted. Gaddafi was named the Chairman and also the de facto head of state and also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

It’s important to note that until January 10, 1970; only Gaddafi of the 12 was known to the public. None of the other members on the council had acquired a university degree and were all from a middle-class background.

Gaddafi wittingly between September 1971 and February 1973 resigned his positions twice and still came back to assume leadership. He claimed to be disgruntled with the pace at which his reforms were being carried out.

Policies and Reforms

During the early years of the RCC, several policies were introduced that positively impacted the lives of Libyans. The Agriculture and Oil sectors were improved upon and soon billions of dollars poured into the coffers of the Libyan treasury.

Foreign oil companies mainly owned by Western countries were nationalized starting from December 1971. These policies and many more taken by the government of Gaddafi tremendously increased the living standard of Libyans.

Alcohol consumption was banned; Churches and nightclubs were shut down while sharia was adopted. He prohibited the marriage of girls under 16 and ensured a woman’s consent as a necessary requisite for marriage. Equality of sexes and wages also was introduced in 1970

Gaddafi’s regime improved academic acquisition which was compulsory, health care, and massive housing projects across Libya.

Conflict with the West

After his ascension to power; France, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and the United States met with the RCC in 1969. They all recognized the RCC, hoping to protect their respective military and economic interest.

Nevertheless, this did not stop Gaddafi from demanding the removal of their military bases from Libyan soil. Thus in March and June 1970 the British and the Americans left respectively. Gaddafi’s administration was however favorably disposed to the Russians and allied with them with the bulk of its weapons from there.

Furthermore, Italian-owned properties and Italian communities were expelled from Libya by October 1970.

US support for Israel against the Arab nation was also an area of conflict with Gaddafi and at a point, he championed and funded anti-Israeli militants.

In the years that followed Gaddafi became a big supporter of militant organizations around the world. Terrorist groups like the Black Panther Party, Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine

and others received financial backing from him

He funded the Black September Organization that carried out the 1972 Munich massacre of Israeli athletes in West Germany.

Gaddafi was suspected of harboring masterminds of an airplane in Scotland in 1988 which killed 243 people. His refusal to hand them over led to a United Nations imposed sanction which crippled much of the Libyan economy.

The sanctions were suspended after he complied and extradited the suspects to the Scottish Court in the Netherlands for prosecution.

Though he initially denied any involvement, he accepted his role for this bombing and paid US$2.7 billion to families of the victims

Criticized for the sponsorship of terrorists, he rejected such classification but rather classified them as revolutionaries.

By the mid-1980s Libyan economy began to decline due to a huge drop in oil revenue and increased spending on military hardware. Within this period Libyan foreign debt rose which led to harsh measures being taken by the government to cushion the effect.

Foreigners mostly Egyptians and Tunisians were deported en mass from Libya. Soon discontent began to arise among the Libyan populace with his home unsuccessfully attacked by a local militia in May 1984.

Conflict with OAU

Libya had been a supporter of the FROLINAT, a militia group in Chad in the 1980s. In 1981 Libya invaded Chad and empowered them in a civil war going on in the country.

Demand by the Organization of African Union (OAU) for him to withdraw was rejected by Gaddafi. This led to several African countries severing ties with Libya.

His attempt to become chairman of the OAU was frustrated when an OAU conference scheduled for Tripoli was canceled in 1982.

Gaddafi with time became less concerned about Arab Nationalism and was more in favor of Pan-Africanism. He was vehemently against aid from western nations and advocated for internal collaboration among African countries. He favored a single currency, passport, and joint defense system for Africa. He coined the slogan “The United States of Africa is the hope”; his ideas were however rejected and considered to be unrealistic.

It’s interesting to note that he was one of the founding founders that initiated the replacement of the OAU with the African Union (AU) in July 2002.

The United States led by Ronald Reagan weary of Gaddafi’s actions closed down the Libyan embassy in Washington in 1981 and subsequently placed an embargo on Libyan oil.

In April 15, 1986, US military planes hit certain military targets in Libya killing more than 100 people including two of Gaddafi’s children.

Conflict at home (Arab Spring)

Gaddafi’s reputation in the 1980s began to decline with several clashes between his supporters and army officers who were against his regime.

Assassination attempts against Gaddafi increased though all unsuccessful. This resulted in security operatives raiding mosques believed to be sympathetic to revolutionary Islamic groups.

At the outbreak of the Arab Spring in 2011 across the Middle East, Gaddafi introduced and implemented certain measures to prevent a revolution. He reduced food prices and also released several Islamist leaders. These measures failed and on February 17, 2011, a protest broke out against his government.

His response was brutal but disastrous for him; he ordered his soldiers to open fire on protesters in Benghazi which killed hundreds of people. He accused the rebels of being drugged and affiliated with al-Qaeda.

Due to his response, senior members of his government resigned and sided with the protesters. Within weeks the uprising had spread to other parts of Libya and later formed a group the National Transitional Council (NTC) to represent their interest.

Serious violation of human rights was perpetrated on both sides of the conflict, leading to sanctions being placed on Libya.

Despite UN orders, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and France lent assistance to the NTC.

Airstrikes from NATO on April 30 2011 killed his sixth son and three of his grandchildren in Tripoli.

As the conflict raged on, Gaddafi’s influence waned and by July over 30 countries recognized the NTC as the legitimate government in Libya. In August the Arab league followed suit, effectively rendering Gaddafi’s government illegitimate.

With support from NATO air forces, the rebels soon took control of the center of Libya, pushing Gaddafi and his forces to the West of Libya. Without NATO, however, the rebels would not have been able to oust Gaddafi from power.

Capture and Death of Gaddafi

With only a few towns under his stronghold, the end was near for Gaddafi. He withdrew to Sirte after the fall of Tripoli and tried to negotiate a handover to the NTC. The offer was outrightly rejected.

He thus spent most of his time praying and reading the Quran with his bodyguards surrounding him at all times. He was also always on the move due to constant shelling from the NTC forces.

At 8.30 am on October 20 his convoy of about 14 vehicles was attacked by NATO bombers which killed 53 members of his convoy.

Gaddafi with a few of his men escaped and ran towards a nearby village and hid in underground drainage pipes.

He was forcefully pulled out when his underground hideout was discovered. Gaddafi sustained severe injuries sustained from the beatings he received from his captors.

The Misrata militias that apprehended him threw him into a pick-up truck and drove away.

By the time they got to Misrata he was found dead, probably from a gunshot, he received in the head. His son who was in the convoy during the attacks was also found dead with about 70 other lifeless bodies.

Gaddafi’s body was put on display in the freezer of a local market for 4 days alongside the corpse of his defense minister Yunis Jabr and Mutassim his son.

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