Saturday, August 27, 2011


His rule saw him go from
revolutionary hero to
international pariah, to valued
strategic partner and back to
pariah again.
He has developed his own
political philosophy, writing a
book that is - in the eyes of its
author, at least - so influential
that it eclipses anything dreamt
up by Plato, Locke or Marx.
He has made countless show-
stopping appearances at Arab
and international gatherings,
standing out not just with his
outlandish clothing, but also his
blunt speeches and
unconventional behaviour.
One Arab commentator recently
called him the "Picasso of Middle
East politics", although instead of
Blue, Rose or Cubist periods, he
has had his pan-Arab period, his
Islamist period, his pan-African
period, and so on.
Early promise
In the heady days of 1969 -
when he seized power in a
bloodless military coup - and the
early 1970s, Muammar Gaddafi
was a handsome and charismatic
young army officer.
An eager disciple of President
Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt (he
even adopted the same military
rank, promoting himself from
captain to colonel after the coup),
Gaddafi first set about tackling
the unfair economic legacy of
foreign domination.
For Nasser, it was the Suez Canal.
For Gaddafi, it was oil.
Significant reserves had been
discovered in Libya in the late
1950s, but the extraction was
controlled by foreign petroleum
companies, which set prices to
the advantage of their own
domestic consumers and
benefited from a half share in the
Col Gaddafi demanded
renegotiation of the contracts,
threatening to shut off
production if the oil companies
He memorably challenged foreign
oil executives by telling them
"people who have lived without
oil for 5,000 years can live
without it again for a few years
in order to attain their legitimate
The gambit succeeded and Libya
became the first developing
country to secure a majority
share of the revenues from its
own oil production. Other
nations soon followed this
precedent and the 1970s Arab
petro-boom began.
Libya was in a prime position to
reap the benefits. With
production levels matching the
Gulf states, and one of the
smallest populations in Africa
(less than 3m at the time), the
black gold made it rich quickly.
Political theorist
Rather than persevering with the
doctrines of Arab Nationalism, or
following the glittering excesses
of Gulf consumerism, Col
Gaddafi's innately mercurial
character led him and Libya on a
new path.
Born to nomadic Bedouin
parents in 1942, Muammar
Gaddafi was certainly an
intelligent, resourceful man, but
he did not receive a thorough
education, apart from learning to
read the Koran and his military
Nevertheless, in the early 1970s
he set out to prove himself a
leading political philosopher,
developing something called the
third universal theory, outlined in
his famous Green Book.
The theory claims to solve the
contradictions inherent in
capitalism and communism (the
first and second theories), in
order to put the world on a path
of political, economic and social
revolution and set oppressed
peoples free everywhere.
In fact, it is little more than a
series of fatuous diatribes, and it
is bitterly ironic that a text whose
professed objective is to break
the shackles imposed by the
vested interests dominating
political systems has been used
instead to subjugate an entire
The result of Col Gaddafi's theory,
underlined with absolute
intolerance of dissent or
alternative voices, was the
hollowing out of Libyan society,
with all vestiges of
constitutionality, civil society and
authentic political participation
The solution to society's woes,
the book maintains, is not
electoral representation -
described by Gaddafi as
"dictatorship" by the biggest
party - or any other existing
political system, but the
establishment of people's
committees to run all aspects of
This new system is presented
diagrammatically in the Green
Book as an elegant wagon
wheel, with basic popular
congresses around the rim
electing people's committees that
send influence along the spokes
to a responsive and truly
democratic people's general
secretariat at the centre.
The model that was created in
reality was an ultra-hierarchical
pyramid - with the Gaddafi family
and close allies at the top
wielding power unchecked,
protected by a brutal security
In the parallel world of the Green
Book, the system is called a
Jamahiriyya - a neologism that
plays on the Arabic word for a
republic, Jumhuriyya, implying
"rule by the masses".
So the long-suffering Libyan
masses were dragooned into
attending popular congresses
vested with no power, authority
or budgets, with the knowledge
that anyone who spoke out of
turn and criticised the regime
could be carted off to prison.
A set of draconian laws was
enacted in the name of
upholding security, further
undermining the colonel's claim
to a champion of freedom from
oppression and dictatorship.
Legal penalties included collective
punishment, death for anyone
who spread theories aiming to
change the constitution and life
imprisonment for disseminating
information that tarnished the
country's reputation.
Tales abounded of torture,
lengthy jail terms without a fair
trial, executions and
Many of Libya's most educated
and qualified citizens chose exile,
rather than pay lip service to the
Adventures abroad
Unchecked by any of the normal
restraints of governance, Col
Gaddafi was able to take his anti-
imperialist campaign around the
world, funding and supporting
militant groups and resistance
movements wherever he found
He also targeted Libyan exiles,
dozens of whom were killed by
assassins believed to belong to a
global Libyan intelligence
If governments were prepared to
shrug off Gaddafi's human rights
violations in Libya, and
persecution of dissidents abroad,
it was a different matter when it
came to him supporting groups
that used terrorism on their own
A bombing of a nightclub used
by US soldiers in Berlin in 1986,
blamed on Libyan agents, proved
a decisive moment.
US President Ronald Reagan
ordered air strikes against Tripoli
and Benghazi in retaliation for
the two soldiers and one civilian
killed and the dozens of
wounded, although there was no
conclusive proof beyond
intelligence "chatter" that Libya
had ordered the attack.
The US retaliation was intended
to kill the "mad dog of the Middle
East", as Mr Reagan branded him,
but although there was extensive
damage and an unknown
number of Libyan fatalities -
including, it was claimed,
Gaddafi's adopted daughter - the
colonel emerged unscathed.
His reputation may even have
been enhanced among
opponents of Washington's
heavy-handed foreign policy.
The bombing of Pan-Am flight
103 over the Scottish town of
Lockerbie in 1988 was the next
significant escalation, causing
the deaths of 270 people in the
air and on the ground, the worst
single act of terrorism ever
witnessed in the UK.
Gaddafi's initial refusal to hand
over the two Libyan suspects to
Scottish jurisdiction resulted in a
protracted period of
negotiations and UN sanctions,
finally ending in 1999 with their
surrender and trial. One of the
men, Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi,
was jailed for life, but the other
was found not guilty.
A new detente
The resolution of the Lockerbie
case, along with Col Gaddafi's
subsequent admission and
renunciation of a covert nuclear
and chemical weapons
programme, paved the way for a
significant warming of relations
between Tripoli and western
powers in the 21st century.
The domestication of the
erstwhile "mad dog" was held up
as one of the few positive results
of US President George W Bush's
military invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The argument went that Col
Gaddafi had watched the fate of
fellow miscreant Saddam
Hussein, hanged by Iraqis after a
US-instigated legal process, and
had learnt a sobering lesson.
It is perhaps more plausible to
argue that the Libyan leader
played his WMD card when he
saw the benefits of forging
strategic partnerships with the
US and European powers.
He certainly paid little heed to Mr
Bush's so-called "freedom
agenda", which held that the US
no longer held common cause
with dictators and despots and
that democracy and human
rights were just around the
It was after all more or less
business as usual between
Washington and the other
authoritarian Arab rulers whom
the US called friends and allies.
With international sanctions
lifted, Tripoli was back on the
international political itinerary,
allowingBritish Prime Minister
Tony Blair, among other
luminaries, to drop in at Col
Gaddafi's famously luxurious
Bedouin tent erected in his
palace grounds.
In true nomadic style, the tent
also went with the colonel on
trips to Europe and the US,
although in New York state it fell
foul of stringent zoning
regulations on the estate of
tycoon Donald Trump and had to
be hastily dismantled.
Distaste about the alleged
architect of Lockerbie's
readmission into the world
leaders' club lingered in many
circles, not least among the US
victims' families and their
But that did not stop business
deals being struck with a
succession of western defence
manufacturers and oil firms.
Ironically, it was on the Arab
front that Col Gaddafi kept his
black sheep status alive.
Throughout the 2000s, the
normally staid proceedings of
annual summits of the Arab
League were almost guaranteed
to be disrupted by the Libyan
leader's antics, whether it was
lighting up a cigarette and
blowing smoke into the face of
his neighbour, or tossing insults
at Gulf rulers and the
Palestinians, or declaring himself
"king of kings of Africa".
The UN has also witnessed the
colonel's eccentricity. At the 2009
General Assembly, he gave a
rambling speech more than an
hour-and-a-quarter longer than
his allocated 10-minute time slot,
tearing out and screwing up
pages from the UN Charter as he
When the winds of revolt started
to blow through the Arab world
from Tunisia in December 2010,
Libya was not at the top of most
people's list of "who's next".
Colonel Gaddafi fitted the bill as
an authoritarian ruler who had
endured for more years than the
vast majority of his citizens could
remember. But he was not so
widely perceived as a western
lackey as other Arab leaders,
accused of putting outside
interests before the interests of
their own people.
He had redistributed wealth -
although the enrichment of his
own family from oil revenues and
other deals was hard to ignore
and redistribution was
undertaken more in the spirit of
buying loyalty than promoting
He sponsored grand public
works, such as the improbable
Great Man-Made River project, a
massive endeavour inspired,
perhaps, by ancient Bedouin
water procurement techniques,
that brought sweet, fresh water
from aquifers in the south to the
arid north of his country.
There was even something of a
Tripoli Spring, with long-term
exiles given to understand that
they could return without facing
persecution or jail.
When the first calls for a Libyan
"day of rage" were circulated, Col
Gaddafi pledged - apparently in
all seriousness - to protest with
the people, in keeping with his
myth of being the "brother
leader of the revolution" who
had long ago relinquished power
to the people.
As it turned out, the scent of
freedom and the draw of
possibly toppling the colonel, just
as Egypt's Mubarak and Tunisia's
Ben Ali had been toppled, was
too strong to resist among parts
of the Libyan population,
especially in the east.
Some of the first footage of
rebellion to come out of
Benghazi showed incensed
young Libyans outside an official
building smashing up a green
monolith representing the
spurious liberation doctrine that
had kept them enslaved since the
1970s - the Green Book.
As the uprising spread, and the
seriousness of the threat to his
rule became apparent, Gaddafi
showed he had lost none of the
ruthlessness that had been
directed against dissidents and
exiles in the 1970s and 1980s.
But this time it was turned on
whole towns and cities where
people had dared to tear down
his posters and call for his
downfall. His regular forces
backed by mercenaries nearly
overwhelmed the rag-tag rebel
groups, consisting of military
deserters and ill-trained
militiamen, whom he dismissed
as wayward 17-year-olds, "given
pills at night, hallucinatory pills in
their drinks, their milk, their
coffee, their Nescafe".
It was only the intervention of
Nato in March, authorised by a
UN resolution calling for the
protection of Libyan civilians, that
prevented their annihilation - but
it was months before the rebels
could turn the situation to their
At the time of writing, with rebel
flags flying in the heart of the
capital and Gaddafi's regime
appearing to disintegrate, it
seems the game is up. But we
await the last chapter of this
most erratic political career - and
given what we've seen in the last
40 years, it could be every bit as
The Muammar
Gaddafi story
By Martin Asser
BBC News
Gaddafi on women - and
"Freedom of expression is the
right of every natural person,
even if a person chooses to
behave irrationally, to express his
or her insanity"
"Women, like men, are human
beings. This is an incontestable
truth... Women are different from
men in form because they are
females, just as all females in the
kingdom of plants and animals
differ from the male of their
species... According to
gynaecologists women, unlike
men, menstruate each month...
Since men cannot be
impregnated they do not
experience the ailments that
women do"
Both excerpts from the Green
Gaddafi was a huge admirer of
Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser, who
led the Egyptian Revolution of
On the Arab world and Africa
"Libya is an African country. May
Allah help the Arabs and keep
them away from us. We don't
want anything to do with them"
Libyan TV, March 2007
"I am an international leader, the
dean of the Arab rulers, the king
of kings of Africa and the imam
of Muslims, and my international
status does not allow me to
descend to a lower level"Arab
League summit, March 2009
Gaddafi's 'system' as envisaged
in the Green Book
On democracy and opposition
"There is no state with a
democracy except Libya on the
whole planet"
"In the Middle East, the
opposition is quite different than
the opposition in advanced
countries. In our countries, the
opposition takes the form of
explosions, assassinations,
killings "
Address to US Academics, March
Tony Blair visited Gaddafi at his
luxurious Bedouin tent after
sanctions were lifted
Col Muammar Gaddafi
Born in Sirte, Libya 7 June 1942
Attended military academy in
Libya, Greece and the UK
Seized power on 1 September
The Green Book published in
Married twice, with seven sons
and one daughter
The combination of water and oil
gave Libya a sound economic

No comments:

Post a Comment