The Man Who Funded the Revolution
There was an Amazonian Guard, an American airstrike, Pan-Arabism, Pan-Africanism, a terrorist bombing in a disco, a terrorist bombing of a Pan-Am airplane, the founding of the African Union, and a final violent gasp that resulted in his overthrow.
Various dates have been given for Qadaffi’s birth (and various spellings for his last name), but all that can really be ascertained is that he was born sometime around 1942 into a poor Bedouin family. There are some claims that his grandmother was a Jewish convert to Islam, and Qaddafi himself stated that his grandfather had been killed by the Italian Army during the 1911 invasion; but neither of these assertions has been emphatically proven.
Throughout the sixties he trained as a military officer, including spending time in Great Britain – time he would not look back on with any fondness.
In retrospect, Qaddafi’s future path was obvious – he was accused (although it was never proven) of involvement in the assassination of his school’s military commander. He was also completely enamored of Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, who overthrew the Egyptian King in 1952. Qaddafi even named his own underground military movement after Nasser’s Free Officer’s Movement.
King Idris I of Libya missed all the clues and he paid for it. On 1 September 1969 Lieutenant Qaddafi and his military officers launched Operation Jerusalem and took control of Libya with remarkably little resistance. They established the Libyan Arab Republic, led by the Revolutionary Command Council. The Council promoted Qaddafi to Colonel and made him Commander-in-Chief of the Libyan Armed Forces.
Qaddafi’s hatred of colonialism and imperialism were immediately obvious. Among his first acts was to expel the American and British military in the country, followed quickly by the expulsion of all Jews and Italians in an event known as the “Days of Revenge“. The expulsions didn’t stand alone – Qaddafi spent his entire rule agitating against what he termed imperialism; supporting revolutionaries and independence movements and being seen as one of the Third World’s foremost leaders against colonialism and neo-colonialism.
Throughout Qaddafi’s rule, he was constantly referred to as a supporter of terrorism; with incidents such as his funding of Black September, the Munich Olympics massacre and the Lockerbie bombing being the most well known of many. Qaddafi himself viewed this support not as terroristm, but as anti-imperialism. It is rather hard, however, to square mere anti-imperialism with the violent anti-Jewish rhetoric that Qaddafi espoused. It was rhetoric that some scholars referred to as “Hitlerian”. It was Qaddafi whose deep pockets of oil money convinced eight African countries to break off diplomatic relations with Israel in 1973.
Qaddafi didn’t merely focus on an anti-imperialist foreign policy, he implemented reforms within Libya as well. He nationalized the oil industry, which allowed him to fund modernization efforts. He banned alcohol, night clubs, and Christian churches (exhorting Christians in Islamic areas that they must convert to Islam). He encouraged traditional clothing, and made Arabic the only language used on all government documents. He increased education funding and instituted public healthcare.
He also addressed the status of women, although what Qaddafi said and what he did were not necessarily in sync. Women were granted wage parity, given the right to refuse marriage, and banned from marriage until the age of 16. Implementation of these rules proved far more problematic than issuing them, however.
The changes made in the immediate aftermath of Qaddafi’s coup proved to be too little to satisfy either the dictator himself, or the public. More was needed, and on 16 April 1973 he introduced the Popular Revolution with a five-point plan:
- to dissolve all existing laws, replacing them with revolutionary enactments
- to remove all opponents of the revolution
- administrative reform to remove bureaucracy and the bourgeoisie
- a population that is armed to defend the revolution
- a cultural revolution to eradicate all foreign influence
Along with the new Popular Revolution, Qaddafi began to introduce political theory that showed large similarities with Tito’s Third Way – even titling the plan “The Third International Theory.” This theory was described in the Green Book, and schools were required to teach its contents for two hours each week, and excerpts were broadcasted daily to the entire Libyan population.
The Islamic Socialism perspective that Qaddafi put forth continued with laws prohibiting rental properties so that tenants became owners of their homes and enterprises being transferred to their workers as a collective for management. Infrastructure, education, and healthcare initiatives were paid for with the oil wealth being generated by the nationalized oil industry.
Although the slogan “Partners – Not Employees” sounded fantastic, the truth of that program was that the new worker-management teams were not prepared and were not effective. This led to discontent as industries were not producing as necessary as well as among those whose properties had been seized and redistributed. Although oil made Libya the most prosperous state in Africa, signs of displeasure began to surface.
The first civilian attack on the Qaddafi government took place in 1974, and from that point on numerous threats would emerge from amongst Qaddafi’s enemies at home. In 1975 members of the Free Officer’s Movement who had orchestrated King Idris I’s overthrow along with Qaddafi were caught planning a coup, resulting in a large purge of the Libyan armed forces. In 1976 anti-Qaddafi students violently fought pro-Qaddafi students on college campuses. These two events resulted in the January 1977 hanging of two student leaders and several army officers.
In 1978 the head of Libya’s military intelligence was caught planning to assassinate Qaddafi. The opposition group National Front For the Liberation of Libya began to agitate against him, and another opposition group, al-Borkan began killing Libyan diplomats abroad.
Nor were Qaddafi’s problems limited to home-grown opposition. Due to his brash stances on various political issues, he had volatile relationships with many countries and on-again, off-again alliances within the Arab and African spheres.
Initially a devoted follower of Nasser, Qaddafi’s relationship with Egypt deteriorated under Anwar Sadat. After Qaddafi was not consulted or included in the Yom Kippur War, he began openly calling for Sadat’s overthrow. When, in 1977, a short border war between Libya and Egypt resulted in Egyptian victory, he used it as an excuse to shift an alliance toward the Soviet Union in response to Egypt’s backing by the United States.
Qaddafi had political arguments with Sudanese President Gaafar Nimeiry and Syrian President Hafez al-Assad. He sponsored anti-government militants in Tunisia when his proposed Libya-Tunisia merger in 1974 did not succeed. He sent 2500 Libyan troops to Uganda in support of Idi Amin, and only 2100 returned. He also incurred the wrath of Lebanon when the Shia Musa al-Sadr disappeared while in Libyan territory, likely kidnapped and murdered.
Under Qaddafi, Libya twice invaded Chad, behavior that caused nine African nations to sever relations with Libya in 1980 despite the massive amounts of aid being funneled throughout the continent.
All of these foreign spats paled in comparison to Qaddafi’s long-running feud with the United States. In 1979, the United States placed Libya on the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. Qaddafi seemed determined to earn his continued place on that list. Demonstrations that same year resulted in the US Embassy in Tripoli being burned and the remaining American diplomats being evacuated. Libyan pilots began intercepting American jets over the Mediterranean, resulting in at least one dogfight that shot down two Libyan SU-22s over the Gulf of Sirte during US exercises in 1981. In March 1981 the US responded with an embargo on Libyan oil.
The point of no return occurred in April 1984 when a shot fired from inside the Libyan Embassy in London killed British police officer Yvonne Fletcher, who was guarding the embassy from anti-Qaddafi demonstrators. Diplomatic relations between the UK and Libya were broke off after the British Embassy in Tripoli came under siege and British nationals in Libya were arrested. The incident would provide the basis for Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s later decisions in regards to Libya.
Events played out in 1986, beginning with American citizens being ordered out of Libya in January by the US government. The Berlin Discotheque Bombing on 5 April set the final events in motion. Ten days later, Operation El Dorado Canyon unleashed a series of airstrikes on military targets in Libya and Muammar Qaddafi’s home. Approximately 100 Libyans were killed, including the claim at the time of Hanaa Qadaffi, the dictator’s adopted daughter. Later photographs would surface casting doubt on whether Hanaa had actually been among the victims.
American planes involved in the bombing were allowed to take off from British soil, a bookend to the attacks on Libyan dissidents and the murder of the British police officer that had been carried out indiscriminately by the Libyans on British soil during the early 1980s.
Qaddafi’s biggest plot would culminate in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Qaddafi’s refusal to hand over the Libyan perpetrators of the attack resulted in the United Nations Resolution 748 in March 1992, which imposed sanctions on Libya.
The sanctions would last until 1998, when the two bombers were delivered to the Hague by Nelson Mandela, a critic of the sanctions from the beginning. Mandela had praised Qaddafi for his fight against apartheid, and during the height of sanctions awarded the Order of Good Hope to the leader of Libya.
In a nearly abrupt about-face, Qaddafi strongly condemned the 9/11 Attacks on the United States. This was followed by a renunciation of the Libyan chemical weapons program and an admission of responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing in 2003.
As the twentieth century raced toward its end, Qaddafi shifted his focus from Pan Arabism to Pan Africanism. Libya was one of the founders of the African Union in 2002, and Qaddafi called on Africans to reject conditional aid from the West during its inception. He was not above accepting EU funding in 2004 to deal with African migrants, however, stating that it was necessary for Europe to prevent the loss of its cultural identity to a “new, black Europe.”
The political movement caused Libya to be removed from the State Sponsor of Terror list in 2006.
Qadaffi still had one more jihad to declare against the West, however. In 2010 two members of the Qaddafi family were arrested in Switzerland for criminal activity. More specifically, Qadaffi’s son Hannibal and his wife were arrested for beating their servants. The situation escalated; Swiss businesses were shut down in Libya and two Swiss businessmen were arrested. Eventually the entire Schengen area was involved in one way or another.
Muammar Qaddafi’s end is familiar to anyone who watched the Arab Spring play out. As protests increased in 2011, the Qaddafi government cracked down, with Qaddafi himself stating that protestors would be, “…hunted down street by street, wardrobe by wardrobe.” Arbitrary arrests, torture, and extrajudicial killings led to Libya’s suspension from the Human Rights Council of the United Nations. On 20 October 2011 the long-ruling dictator of Libya, Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, was captured by dissidents.
The capture was filmed on grainy cell phone footage, showing extreme abuse being inflicted on the elderly ruler, whose body was then exhibited for four days before being buried in an unmarked desert grave.
Violent dictatorships rarely end well for anyone, most certainly not the rulers who can only retain power by ruthlessly suppressing any challenger. Muammar Qaddafi, for all his idiosyncracies such as the bulletproof tent he pitched on one of Donald Trump’s New York estates and his Amazonian Guard, would end at his beginning. But this time he was the one overthrown.
- January 1, 2021