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Encyclopedia > Muammar Gaddafi
Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi
Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi

Muammar Abu Minyar al-Qaddafi 1 (Arabic: معمر القذافي Mu`ammar al-Qadhdhāfī) (born 1942), leader of Libya since 1970 and a controversial Arab statesman.


Early history

Qaddafi was the youngest child from a nomadic Bedouin peasant family in the desert region of Sirte. He was given a traditional religious primary education and attended the Sebha preparatory school in Fezzan from 1956 to 1961. Qaddafi and a small group of friends that he met in this school went on to form the core leadership of a militant revolutionary group that would eventually seize control of the country of Libya. Qaddafi's inspiration was Gamal Abdul Nasser, a popular statesman in neighboring Egypt who rose to the presidency by appealing to Arab unity and condemning the West. In 1961, Qaddafi was expelled from Sebha for his political activism.

He went on to attend the University of Libya, where he graduated with high grades. He then entered the Military Academy in Benghazi in 1963, where he and a few of his fellow militants organized a secretive group dedicated to overthrowing the pro-Western Libyan monarchy. After graduating in 1965, he was sent to Britain for further training, returning in 1966 as a commissioned officer in the Signal Corps.

Rise to power

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

Islamic Socialism and Pan Arabism

Qaddafi based his new regime on a blend of Arab nationalism, aspects of the welfare state and what Qaddafi termed "direct, popular democracy." He called this system "Islamic socialism" and while he permitted private control over small companies, the government controlled the larger ones. Welfare, liberation and education were emphasized. He also imposed a system of conservative morals, outlawing alcohol and gambling. To reinforce the ideals of this socialist state, Qaddafi outlined his political philosophy in his Green Book, published in 1976. In practice, however, Libya's political system is thought to be somewhat less idealistic and from time to time Qaddafi has responded to domestic and external opposition with violence. His revolutionary committees called for the assassination of Libyan dissidents living abroad in February 1980, with Libyan hit squads sent abroad to murder them.

Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito (blue uniform) and Qaddafi (brown uniform)

With respect to Libya's neighbors, Qaddafi followed Abdul Nasser's ideas of pan-Arabism and became a fervent advocate of the unity of all Arab states into one Arab nation. He also supported pan-Islamism, the notion of a loose union of all Islamic countries and peoples. After Nasser's death on September 28, 1970, Qaddafi attempted to take up the mantle of ideological leader of Arab nationalism. He proclaimed the "Federation of Arab Republics" (Libya, Egypt and Syria) in 1972, hoping to create a pan-Arab state, but the three countries disagreed on the specific terms of the merger. In 1974 he signed an agreement with Tunisia's Habib Bourguiba on a merger between the two countries, but this also failed to work in practice and ultimately differences between the two countries would deteriorate into strong animosity.

Qaddafi also became a strong supporter of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which ultimately harmed Libya's relations with Egypt when in 1979 Egypt pursued a peace agreement with Israel. As Libya's relations with Egypt worsened, Qaddafi sought closer relations with the Soviet Union. Libya became the first country outside the Soviet bloc to receive the supersonic MiG-25 combat fighters, but their relations remained relatively distant. Qaddafi also sought to increase Libyan influence, especially in states with an Islamic population, by calling for the creation of a Saharan Islamic state and supporting anti-government forces in sub-Saharan Africa.

Notable in his politics has been the support for liberation movements, in most cases Muslim groups. In the 1970s and the 1980s this support was sometimes so freely given that even the most unsympathetic groups could get Libyan support. Often the groups represented ideologies far away from Qaddafi's own. Through these politics (or rather lack of politics), Qaddafi confused the world. Throughout the 1970s, his regime was implicated in subversion and terrorist activities in both Arab and non-Arab countries. By the mid-1980s, he was widely regarded in the West as the principal financier of international terrorism. Reportedly, Qaddafi is to have been a major financier of the "Black September Movement" which perpetrated the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre, and is accused by the United States to be responsible for the direct control of the 1986 Berlin discotheque bombing that killed 3 people and wounded more than 200 others, of which a substantial number were U.S. servicemen. He is also said to have paid "Carlos the Jackal" to kidnap and release several of the Saudi Arabian and Iranian oil ministers when it fit his purposes to do so.

External relations

Tensions between Libya and the West reached a peak during the Ronald Reagan administration, which tried to overthrow Qaddafi. In 1984 a British policewoman, PC Yvonne Fletcher, was shot outside the Libyan Embassy in London, while policing a demonstration against Muammar al-Qaddafi. A burst of machine-gun fire from within the building was always suspected of killing her, but the Libyan diplomats asserted their diplomatic immunity and were repatriated. The incident led to the breaking-off of diplomatic relations between the UK and Libya.

The Reagan administration saw Libya as an unacceptable player on the international stage because of its uncompromising stance on Palestinian independence, its support for revolutionary Iran in its 1980-1988 war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq (see Iran-Iraq War), and its backing for "liberation movements" in the developing world. In March 1982 the U.S. declared a ban on the import of Libyan oil and the export to Libya of US oil industry technology; Europe did not follow suit.

The U.S. attacked Libyan patrol boats from January to March 1986 during clashes over access to the Gulf of Sidra, which Libya claimed as territorial waters. Later, on April 14, 1986, Reagan ordered major bombing raids, dubbed Operation El Dorado Canyon, against Tripoli and Benghazi that killed 60 people following U.S. accusations of Libyan involvement in a bomb explosion in a German nightclub frequented by U.S. servicemen on April 5, which had killed 3. Among the victims of the April 14 attack was the adopted daughter of the Libyan leader.

For most of the 1990s, Libya endured economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation as a result of Qaddafi's refusal to allow the extradition to the United States or Britain of two Libyans accused of planting a bomb on Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. With the intercession of South African President Nelson Mandela, who made a high-profile visit to Qaddafi in 1997, and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Qaddafi agreed in 1999 to a compromise that involved handing over the defendants to the Netherlands for trial under Scottish law. U.N.-sponsored sanctions were suspended, but U.S. sanctions against Libya remained in force.

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

A new Qaddafi?

From the mid-1990s, Qaddafi managed to improve his connections among Middle Eastern nations and is today considered a much more moderate and responsible leader in the Arab world than he had been. With regards to Palestine, he has begun pushing the concept of a binational single-state solution, called "Israteen", a combination of the Arabic words for Israel and Palestine.

Simultaneously, Qaddafi has also emerged as a popular African leader. As one of the continent's longest-serving, post-colonial head of state, the Libyan leader enjoys a reputation among many Africans as an experienced and wise statesman who has been at the forefront of many struggles over the years. Qaddafi has earned the praise of Nelson Mandela and others, and is always a prominent figure in various pan-African organizations, such as the Organization of African Unity. He is also seen by many Africans as a humanitarian, pouring large amounts of money into sub-Saharan states. Large numbers of Africans have come to Libya to take advantage of the avalablility of jobs there. In addition, many more, primarily from Somalia and Ghana move though Libya as a means to reach Italy and other European countries.

Qaddafi also appears to be struggling to improve his image in the West. Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Qaddafi offered one of the first, and firmest denunciations of the Al-Qaida bombers by any Muslim leader. In 2002, he publicly apologized for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, and offered to pay compensation to the victims' families. Qaddafi also appeared on ABC for an open interview with George Stephanopoulos, a move that would have seemed unthinkable less than a decade ago.

There are many explanations for the change of Qaddafi's politics. The most obvious is that the once very rich Libya was no longer strong through the 1990s, since oil prices have dropped significantly. Qaddafi needs other countries more than before, and cannot hand out as much as he once could. Another possibility is that strong Western reactions have forced Qaddafi into changing his politics. But more important is that realpolitik changed Qaddafi. His ideals and aims did not materialize: there never was any Arab unity, the freedom fighters he supported did not achieve their goals, and the demise of the Soviet Union left Qaddafi's main symbolic target, the United States, stronger than ever.

Following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein by US forces in 2003, Qaddafi announced that his nation had an active weapons of mass destruction program, but was willing to allow international inspectors into his country to observe and dismantle them. The threat posed by WMD programs violating non-proliferation treaty responsibilities had been cited by US President George W. Bush as one of his leading reasons for invading Iraq, and it is believed that after Saddam's downfall Qaddafi feared for the future of his own regime if he continued to keep and conceal the weapons. Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi was quoted as saying that Qaddafi had privately phoned him, admitting as much.

International inspectors turned up several thousand tonnes of chemical weaponry in Libya, as well as an active nuclear weapons program. The process of destroying the weapons continues, and Libya has improved its cooperation with international monitoring regimes.

In March 2004, British prime minister Tony Blair became one of the first western leaders in decades to visit Libya and publicly meet Qaddafi. Blair praised Qaddafi's recent acts, and stated that he hoped Libya could now be a strong ally in the international war on terrorism.


Qaddafi has eight children, seven of them sons. His oldest son, Muhammad Qaddafi, is by a wife now in disfavor, but runs the Libyan Olympic Committee. The next eldest Al-Saadi Qaddafi, runs the Libyan Football Federation, plays for Italian Serie A team Perugia, and produces films. The third eldest, Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, a painter, runs a charity which has been involved in negotiating freedom for hostages taken by Islamic militants. His only daughter is Ayesha Qaddafi, a lawyer who has joined the defense team of Saddam Hussein. All have been speculated to be possible successors. Three more sons, Al Moatassim, Hannibal, and Khamees, are less prominent. (In September 2004, Hannibal was involved in a police chase in Paris.) One adopted daughter was killed in the 1986 US air raid.

In January 2002, Qaddafi purchased a 7.5% share of Italian football club Juventus for USD 21 million, through Lafico ("Libyan Arab Foreign Investment Company"). Though an avid soccer fan, this more importantly continued a longstanding association with the late Gianni Agnelli, the primary investor in Fiat. Qaddafi has also become involved in chess: in March 2004, FIDE, the game's world governing body, announced that he would be providing prize money for their next World Championship, to be held in June-July 2004 in Tripoli.


"Ronald Reagan plays with fire! He sees the world like the theater".

"Irrespective of the conflict with America, it is a human duty to show sympathy with the American people and be with them at these horrifying and awesome events which are bound to awaken human conscience." — September 11, 2001


Qaddafi's name has been transliterated in a wide variety of ways. The list below includes the alternatives listed on the Library of Congress name authority record:

  • Qaddafi, Muammar (preferred)
  • Al-Gathafi, Muammar
  • al-Qadhafi, Muammar
  • Al Qathafi, Mu'ammar
  • Al Qathafi, Muammar
  • El Gaddafi, Moamar
  • El Kadhafi, Moammar
  • El Kazzafi, Moamer
  • El Qathafi, Mu'Ammar
  • Gadafi, Muammar
  • Gaddafi, Moamar
  • Gadhafi, Mo'ammar
  • Gathafi, Muammar
  • Ghadafi, Muammar
  • Ghaddafi, Muammar
  • Ghaddafy, Muammar
  • Gheddafi, Muammar
  • Gheddafi, Muhammar
  • Kadaffi, Momar
  • Kad'afi, Mu`amar al-
  • Kaddafi, Muamar
  • Kaddafi, Muammar
  • Kadhafi, Moammar
  • Kadhafi, Mouammar
  • Kazzafi, Moammar
  • Khadafy, Moammar
  • Khaddafi, Muammar
  • Moamar al-Gaddafi
  • Moamar el Gaddafi
  • Moamar El Kadhafi
  • Moamar Gaddafi
  • Moamer El Kazzafi
  • Mo'ammar el-Gadhafi
  • Moammar El Kadhafi
  • Mo'ammar Gadhafi
  • Moammar Kadhafi
  • Moammar Khadafy
  • Moammar Qudhafi
  • Mu`amar al-Kad'afi
  • Mu'amar al-Kadafi
  • Muamar Al-Kaddafi
  • Muamar Kaddafi
  • Muamer Gadafi
  • Muammar Al-Gathafi
  • Muammar al-Khaddafi
  • Mu'ammar al-Qadafi
  • Mu'ammar al-Qaddafi
  • Muammar al-Qadhafi
  • Mu'ammar al-Qadhdhafi
  • Mu`ammar al-Qadhdhāfī
  • Mu'ammar Al Qathafi
  • Muammar Al Qathafi
  • Muammar Gadafi
  • Muammar Gaddafi
  • Muammar Ghadafi
  • Muammar Ghaddafi
  • Muammar Ghaddafy
  • Muammar Gheddafi
  • Muammar Kaddafi
  • Muammar Khaddafi
  • Mu'ammar Qadafi
  • Muammar Qaddafi
  • Muammar Qadhafi
  • Mu'ammar Qadhdhafi
  • Muammar Quathafi
  • Mulazim Awwal Mu'ammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Qadhafi
  • Qadafi, Mu'ammar
  • Qadhafi, Muammar
  • Qadhdhāfī, Mu`ammar
  • Qathafi, Mu'Ammar el
  • Quathafi, Muammar
  • Qudhafi, Moammar

An article published in the London Evening Standard on March 29, 2004 lists a total of 37 spellings including the above.

In 1986, he used the spelling Moammar El-Gadhafi. According to his personal website, he prefers the spelling Muammar Gadafi, although the domain name gives yet another version, al-Gathafi.

CNN and FOX News use the spelling Moammar Gadhafi and Al Jazeera uses Muammar al-Qadhafi.

Qadhafi, or Khadafi, is also the inspiration for name of the rap artist, Yaki Kadafi.

See also

External links

  • Official web site (http://www.algathafi.org/index-en.htm)
  • Find Out More About Libya (http://www.geocities.com/Athens/8744/mylinks1.htm)
  • http://www.qadhafi.org/
  • "Meeting Muammar" (http://slate.msn.com/id/2111135/) by Vivienne Walt, Slate.com, Dec. 16, 2004

  Results from FactBites:
New Statesman - The colonel and his third way (2047 words)
Gaddafi's global prominence is altogether out of proportion to the size of the nation he leads.
Gaddafi is interested in the debates and policies involved in social democracy in Europe, which is the reason he has invited me. He likes the term "third way", because his own political philosophy, developed in the late 1960s, was a version of this idea.
Gaddafi's "conversion" may have been driven partly by the wish to escape sanctions, but I get the strong sense that it is authentic and that there is a lot of motive power behind it.
Muammar al-Gaddafi oder Mu'ammar al-Qaddhafi (* September 1942), arabisch : معمر القذافي, ist seit 1969 der Staatschef von Libyen.
Gaddafi setzt sich auch stark für die arabische Einheit ein, Verschiedene Unionspläne mit Ägypten oder den Maghrebstaaten konnten aber nicht verwirklicht werden (z.B. gescheiterte Union mit Tunesien 1974).
Gaddafi werden Verbindungen mit dem internationalen Terrorismus nachgesagt.
  More results at FactBites »



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