Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, 1969

On September 1, 1969, a group of military officers seized power and declared Libya a republic. According to reports from the capital Tripoli, troops and tanks converged on the city in the early hours of the morning. Within two hours they had taken key positions and the royal palace, military and security headquarters were surrounded by 05:00am. All communications with the outside world were cut and curfew was imposed. The coup passed off with only a handful of shots being fired. The military junta’s first action was to arrest the Army Chief of Staff and the head of security. King Idris, who had been suffering poor health, went to Greece. Thousands took to the streets to demonstrate their support for the revolution. On 8 September the new cabinet was announced. The Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces was named as Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, 27. He took the title of Prime Minister in January 1970.
Shortly before he died in 1970, the Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser said: “I rather like Gaddafi. He reminds me of myself when I was that age.” As a teenager growing up in the desert outside Sirte, Gaddafi had been an avid listener to Nasser’s inflammatory Arab nationalist broadcasts on Radio Cairo. His school had even expelled him for organizing a student strike in support of the Egyptian leader. Here was the “leader of the Arabs”, who had humiliated the old colonial powers during Suez and brought the promise of unity to the region, giving his blessing to the young Colonel, still not 30, there could have been no greater compliment. Gaddafi seemed worthy of the older man’s mantle when he came to power in Libya on 1 September 1969, deposing the weak, pro-western king Idris while the monarch was receiving medical treatment abroad. By the end of 1970, he had expelled between 15,000 and 25,000 of the despised Italians who had occupied Libya from 1911-41, removed the US and British military bases, and turned Tripoli’s Catholic cathedral into the Gamal Abdel Nasser Mosque.
(The NS Profile: Muammar al-Gaddafi by Sholto Byrnes at
Muammar Gaddafi first hatched plans to topple the monarchy at Military College, and received further army training in Britain before returning to the Libyan city of Benghazi and launching his coup there on 1 September 1969. He laid out his political philosophy in the 1970s in his Green Book, which charted a home-grown alternative to both socialism and capitalism, combined with aspects of Islam.
(Profile: Muammar Gaddafi By Aidan Lewis, BBC News at
Unlike some other military revolutionaries, Gaddafi did not promote himself to the rank of General upon seizing power, but rather accepted a ceremonial promotion from Captain to Colonel and has remained at this rank. While at odds with western military ranking for a Colonel to rule a country and serve as Commander-in-Chief of its military, in Gaddafi’s own words Libya’s utopian society is “ruled by the people,” so he needs no more grandiose title or supreme military rank. Gaddafi’s decision to remain a Colonel is not a new concept among military coup leaders; Gamal Abdel Nasser remained a Colonel after seizing power in Egypt, and Jerry Rawlings, President of Ghana, held no military rank higher than Flight Lieutenant. In the same fashion, the Republic of El Salvador was ruled by Lieutenant Colonel Oscar Osorio (1950-1956), Lieutenant Colonel José María Lemus (1956-1960), and Lieutenant Colonel Julio Adalberto Rivera (1962-1967).
By the late 1960s, oil revenues were rapidly increasing – Libya overtook Kuwait as the world’s fifth-largest exporter in 1969 – and Gaddafi played an important role in the 1973-74 oil crises in which Opec cut production and raised prices, by leading the embargo on shipments to the US. At the same time as making good on his promises to provide free education and health care (as well as subsidised housing) for Libya’s small population, he could back his ambition for regional hegemony with money, providing subsidies to Egypt and to others he saw as allies in the fight against Israel.
(The NS Profile: Muammar al-Gaddafi by Sholto Byrnes at
But Gaddafi did not limit his aid to Israel’s enemies. Over time, it seemed any group that styled itself as a freedom movement could call on the Libyan state purse, from the IRA to the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in the Philippines. Although his dreams of a pan-Arab merger with Tunisia, Egypt and Syria failed, Gaddafi’s influence was felt far and wide. This frequently alarmed his neighbors, as did his erratic behavior. In 1973, for instance, the QEII set sail from Southampton to Haifa full of Jewish passengers celebrating the 25th anniversary of the State of Israel. According to Nasser’s successor Anwar al-Sadat, Gaddafi ordered an Egyptian submarine temporarily under his command to torpedo the liner: a directive countermanded only when Sadat ordered the sub to return to base in Alexandria.
(The NS Profile: Muammar al-Gaddafi by Sholto Byrnes at

Gadaffi and Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito, c. 1975
Picture from Tito’s personal collection

Those who have met the “Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution” over the decades describe him as “dramatic”, “charismatic”, “camp” (a television reporter who interviewed him in the 1970s said he was convinced Gaddafi was wearing eyeliner) and always “unpredictable”. He surrounds himself with female bodyguards, and broke wind noisily throughout an interview with the BBC’s John Simpson. He stormed out of an Arab summit in Qatar, declaring himself “the dean of the Arab rulers, the king of kings of Africa and the imam of all Muslims”. By 1975, Sadat was already describing him as “100 per cent sick and possessed by the devil”.
But for all Gaddafi’s rashness during this decade (he also launched abortive invasions of Chad in 1972 and 1980), initially at least the west gave the young colonel’s new regime the green light. “We thought he was a bit left-wing,” says a British source, “but not too bad, and that we could deal with him.” The US even supplied him with intelligence support. Very soon after the coup that brought him to power, the CIA warned him of a plot within the Revolutionary Command Council, Libya’s supreme authority, allowing him to arrest and imprison the ring¬leaders. News travelled, and Gaddafi gained a reputation in the region for enjoying America’s favor. Although this had mostly evaporated by the end of the decade, Billy Carter, brother of the US president Jimmy Carter, still attended celebrations marking the tenth anniversary of Gaddafi’s accession on 1 September 1979. In one of the many embarrassments he caused his brother, it was later revealed that Billy had received a $220,000 loan from the Libyan government.
(The NS Profile: Muammar al-Gaddafi by Sholto Byrnes at
Gaddafi’s adventurist foreign policy was firstly exemplified by his extreme Arab nationalism in the early decades of his leadership. Gaddafi was an ardent promoter of Arab unity and went so far as to suggest a federation between Libya, Sudan, Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Chad, Morocco and Algeria, all of which failed. Gaddafi’s initial ambitious intention was the creating of a Saharan Islamic state encompassing 100 million Muslims and extending to the southern borders of Sudan. A related concern of his was the opposition of Israel and his insistence on a violent solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem. Gaddafi’s interest in the affairs of other states also extended further afield. In this regard, his “radical revolutionary activism” has not been limited to the promotion of Arab and Islamic unity only.
Gaddafi’s adventurism has led him farther afield than Africa and the Arab world and much of his infamy is based on his relationship with the West. In this regard, Gaddafi’s association with terrorism has earned him the enmity of the West. He is reported to have supported approximately 50 terror organizations and subversion groups, as well as some 40 radical Governments in Africa, Asia, Europe and America. His broad spectrum sponsorship of such groups has not revealed any real ideological cause as such, but rather suggests that he considers terrorism a tool to be used against his perceived foes – Israel and the West.
(Article by: Consultancy Africa Intelligence CAI, Written by: Catherine Pringle at
Gaddafi 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, Gaddafi 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 Soviet-Libyan relations remained relatively distant. Gaddafi 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.
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, Gaddafi was a major financier of the “Black September Movement” which perpetrated the Munich massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics. He is also said to have paid “Carlos the Jackal” to kidnap and then release a number of the Saudi Arabian and Iranian oil ministers.
In August, 1981, US air force shot down two Libyan fighter planes in disputed waters in the Mediterranean. Reagan ordered US citizens to leave the country and refused US passport holders permission to travel there. By the end of the year, his administration was claiming that Libya had plans to assassinate the president and, if that failed, would target other senior officials such as the vice-president George H W Bush, the secretary of state Al Haig and the defense secretary Caspar Weinberger.
(The NS Profile: Muammar al-Gaddafi by Sholto Byrnes at
The Reagan administration viewed Libya as a belligerent rogue state because of its uncompromising stance on Palestinian independence, its support for revolutionary Iran in its 1980-1988 war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and its backing for “liberation movements” in the developing world. Reagan himself dubbed Gaddafi the “mad dog of the Middle East.” 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; European nations did not follow suit.
In 1984, British police constable Yvonne Fletcher was shot outside the Libyan Embassy in London while policing an anti-Gaddafi demonstration. A burst of machine-gun fire from within the building was suspected of killing her, but Libyan diplomats asserted their diplomatic immunity and were repatriated. The incident led to the breaking-off of diplomatic relations between the United Kingdom and Libya for over a decade.
After four more years of skirmishes and ineffective sanctions, Reagan seized on a specific incident that he felt could justify a forceful strike on the Libyan regime: the bombing in April 1986 of a West Berlin disco packed with off-duty US servicemen. The US reprisal, in which Gaddafi’s adopted daughter Hanna died, was controversial. There were suggestions – since given more credence – which Syria or Iran was behind the disco bombings. No European ally apart from Britain would give permission to the US to use its bases to launch the attack. The Tory MP Daniel Kawczynski, chairman of the parliamentary all-party Libya group and author of a biography of Gaddafi, says: “More questions should have been asked in parliament. We were rather gung-ho in supporting the attack.”
(The NS Profile: Muammar al-Gaddafi by Sholto Byrnes at
An Interview with Gaddafi, Monday, Jun. 08, 1981 by TIME:
Q. Would you respond to the Reagan Administration’s charge that Libya backs international terrorism in general and, more specifically, that it backs terrorist Palestinian groups, the Irish Republican Army, the Red Brigades, the Red Army Faction, the ETA (Basque separatists) and others?
A. First, the American Government is not entitled to talk about terrorism, since it practices the highest degree of terrorism in the world. Furthermore, the American Government is not a policeman. It ought to correct its own behavior before it talks about the behavior of others. Secondly, there is a big difference between supporting liberation movements, the just cause of people fighting for freedom, and supporting terrorism. We have emphasized many times that we are opposed to real terrorism. But there is no justification for putting the P.L.O. on the list of terrorist organizations. The cause of the Irish people is also not terrorist. We give (the I.R.A.) moral, but not material, support. The other organizations you mentioned are terrorist, and we have no connection whatsoever with them.
Q. How do you understand terrorism?
A. We put the production of nuclear weapons at the top of the list of terrorist activities. As long as the big powers continue to manufacture atomic weapons, it means they are continuing to terrorize the world; also the deployment of military bases on other countries’ territories; also deploying naval fleets around the world. This is one reason why the U.S. is a top terrorist force in the world.
Gaddafi’s involvement in the 1988 bombing of the Pan Am flight over Lockerbie in Scotland is possibly the most well known and controversial international incident in which he has been involved. After many years of denying his involvement, resulting in Libya’s status as a pariah state and the presence of UN sanctions, Gaddafi finally took responsibility for the bombing in 2003. This paved the way for his gradual transition from international outcast to an accepted, though unconventional and unpredictable member of the international community. However, Gaddafi and the Pan Am incident have recently come back into the spotlight with the release of the Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, by the Scottish Government. His release has caused international furor due to the hero’s welcome Megrahi received from Gaddafi on his return to Libya, and due to the allegations that Megrahi’s release was only ascertained due to lucrative oil deals between Libya and Britain.
(Article by: Consultancy Africa Intelligence CAI, Written by: Catherine Pringle at

Muammar Gaddafi
Foto: AFP

Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, has said much of Africa’s violence is due to foreign meddling, pointing the accusing finger at Israel. Gaddafi, who is also chairman of the African Union (AU), was speaking at a special summit of the group, which is coinciding with the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the coup that brought him to power.
Israel is “behind all of Africa’s conflicts”. Gaddafi told about 30 African leaders gathered under a huge tent at Tripoli airport. “As African brothers, we must find solutions to stop the superpowers who are pillaging our continent,” he said. He demanded the closure of all Israeli embassies across Africa, describing Israel as a “gang” and saying it uses “the protection of minorities as an excuse to launch conflicts”. Israel has acknowledged operating what it called a forward policy in Africa between the 1960s and 1980s, intervening in wars in Ethiopia, Uganda and Sudan. Gaddafi claimed that a Darfur rebel group had opened an office in Tel Aviv while its leader lives under French protection, a reference to Abdel Wahid Mohammed Nur, the head of the Sudan Liberation Army who lives in exile in Paris, France.
Al Jazeera’s Amr El-Kahky, reporting from the Libyan capital, Tripoli, said: “Libya is portraying itself as opening up, but it is still holding to the same principle: which is anti-Israel feeling, and that is what we have heard from Colonel Gaddafi today, saying that people – the African nations – should shy away from the Israelis because they are the ones behind all the African problems.”
The celebrations come amid angry reaction from the US following a hero’s welcome Libya granted Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi, the 1988 Lockerbie bomber, who was freed from a Scottish prison on compassionate grounds. Most of the 270 people killed in the bombing were American nationals.
(Source: Al Jazeera and agencies at
Once Gaddafi took the step to open up and dismantle his WMD programme, and then agree compensation for victims of Lockerbie, the way was open for the international community to welcome Libya back. Gaddafi’s son and possible heir, Saif, is clear about the path Libya is now taking. “The future is with more liberalism, more freedom, with democracy,” he said in an interview with Time magazine. “This is the evolution of the entire world, and you either go with it or are left behind.”
Mike O’Brien, who as a Foreign Office minister, was the first member of a British government to meet Gaddafi in 2002. O’Brien, for one, is convinced. “Gaddafi is an intelligent guy who has been in control for 40 years,” he says. “He realized that the only way to extradite himself from his difficulties was to use Libya’s oil and gas wealth. This was real politic. He recognizes that the world has changed and that he has to change with it.”
For those who believe the west made a disastrous mistake in opposing the wave of nationalist politicians who came to power in the Middle East from the 1950s onwards, there is an irony. Gaddafi was the last of that generation, and while others who cloaked themselves in the rhetoric of Nasser have fallen, failed or died, it was the young man once praised by the Egyptian president who then appeared to be becoming the kind of Arab leader with whom we could, and with whom we wished, to do business.
(The NS Profile: Muammar al-Gaddafi by Sholto Byrnes at
In February 2011, following revolutions in neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia, protests against Gaddafi’s rule began. These escalated into an uprising that spread across the country, with the forces opposing Gaddafi establishing a government, based in Benghazi, named the National Transitional Council (NTC). This act led to a civil war, which precipitated military intervention by a NATO-led coalition to enforce a UN Security Council Resolution 1973 calling for a no-fly zone and protection of civilians in Libya. The assets of Gaddafi and his family were frozen, and both Interpol and the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants on 27 June for Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam, and his brother-in-law Abdullah Senussi, concerning crimes against humanity. Gaddafi and his forces lost the Battle of Tripoli in August and on 16 September 2011 the NTC took Libya’s seat at the UN, replacing Gaddafi. He retained control over parts of Libya, most notably the city of Sirte, to which it was presumed that he had fled. Although Gaddafi’s forces initially held out in the battle for Sirte against NATO’s bombing attacks and the NTC’s advances, Gaddafi was captured alive in Sirte by members of the Libyan National Liberation Army after his convoy was attacked by NATO warplanes as Sirte fell on 20 October 2011. Gaddafi was then killed by NLA fighters. His 41-year leadership prior to the civil war made him the fourth-longest-serving non-royal leader since 1900, as well as the longest-serving Arab leader.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s