Qaddafi, Muammar al-

Qaddafi, Muammar al-
or Muʽammar al-Qadhdhāfī

born 1942, Surt, Libya

Ruler of Libya from 1969.

Son of a Bedouin farmer, he was born in a tent in the desert. He graduated from the University of Libya and Libya's military academy and was a devout Muslim and ardent nationalist. As a captain in the army, he led the 1969 coup that deposed King Idrīs I. He espoused his own form of Islamic socialism, and his foreign policy was anti-Western and anti-Israel. In 1970 he closed U.S. and British military bases and expelled Italians and Jews. He banned alcoholic beverages and gambling and in 1973 nationalized the oil industry. He made unsuccessful attempts to unify Libya with other countries. His government was repeatedly linked with terrorist incidents in Europe and elsewhere, and he supported groups trying to overthrow neighbouring governments. He narrowly escaped death in 1986 when U.S. planes bombed sites in Libya, including his own residence.

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▪ 2005

      In 2004 Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi continued to oversee dramatic change in his country. A decade's worth of efforts to improve relations with the West culminated with the U.S.'s lifting most of its sanctions against Libya and restoring diplomatic relations. This came one year after the UN had ended its own sanctions and after Qaddafi had announced that Libya was abandoning its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program. He also seemed prepared to reverse his radical socialist approach to his country's economy, as he allowed Prime Minister Shokri Ghanem to explore reforms that included privatization and economic regulations.

      Qaddafi was born near Surt in 1942. After graduating from the University of Libya (1963) and the Libyan military academy (1965), he rose to the rank of captain and in 1969 led a coup that deposed King Idris I. A governing body, the Revolutionary Command Council, was established with Qaddafi as its chairman. His shrewd handling of Libya's immense oil reserves—he played a major role in the fourfold increase in the price of oil in the early 1970s—brought him international attention. He later nationalized petroleum operations and most sectors of the economy as part of a brand of Islamic socialism that he promoted from 1974. Qaddafi's system, which he outlined in The Green Book (2 vol; 1976, 1980), was a “third way” between Western capitalism and Soviet communism, calling for a centralized and planned economy. He also introduced a unique form of popular participation in public affairs while retaining all the levers of power.

      Starting in the 1970s, Qaddafi made additional headlines with his foreign policy. A strong proponent of Arab nationalism, he tried unsuccessfully to merge Libya with other Arab countries. He was vocal in his opposition to Israel, rejecting all negotiations with that country, and he supported the Palestine Liberation Organization. His government also became well known for assisting and funding terrorist groups worldwide and was implicated in several coup attempts in Africa. Libya's links with terrorism in the 1980s brought severe trade sanctions and diplomatic isolation as well as military strikes. Following the 1986 bombing of a Berlin disco, in which a U.S. serviceman was killed, the U.S. attacked Tripoli and Banghazi in Libya, nearly killing Qaddafi. His government's involvement in the downing of passenger jets over Lockerbie, Scot. (1988), and Niger (1989) led to further sanctions by the U.S. and the UN.

      By the early 1990s Qaddafi was signaling that he was prepared for some rapprochement. In 1999 he handed over two Libyan intelligence agents who were implicated in the Lockerbie crash, a move that resulted in the suspension of UN sanctions. The UN officially lifted sanctions in 2003, when Libya agreed to financial settlements in the Lockerbie and Niger plane crashes. That year the U.S. entered into negotiations with the U.K. and Libya that resulted in Qaddafi's agreement in December 2003 to halt WMD production.


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▪ Libyan statesman
also spelled  Muammar Khadafy,  Moammar Gadhafi , or  Muʿammar al-Qadhdhāfī  
born 1942, near Surt, Libya

      de facto leader of Libya from 1969 and a controversial Arab statesman.

      The son of an itinerant Bedouin farmer, Qaddafi was born in a tent in the Libyan desert. He proved a talented student and graduated from the University of Libya in 1963. A devout Muslim and ardent Arab nationalist, Qaddafi early began plotting to overthrow the Libyan monarchy of King Idrīs I. He graduated from the Libyan military academy in 1965 and thereafter rose steadily through the ranks, all the while continuing to plan a coup with the help of his fellow army officers. Captain Qaddafi seized control of the government in a military coup that deposed King Idrīs in September 1969. Qaddafi was named commander in chief of the armed forces and chairman of Libya's new governing body, the Revolutionary Command Council.

      Qaddafi removed the U.S. and British military bases from Libya in 1970. He expelled most members of the native Italian and Jewish communities from Libya that same year, and in 1973 he nationalized all foreign-owned petroleum assets in the country. He also outlawed alcoholic beverages and gambling, in accordance with his own strict Islamic principles. Qaddafi also began a series of persistent but unsuccessful attempts to unify Libya with other Arab countries. He was adamantly opposed to negotiations with Israel and became a leader of the so-called rejectionist front of Arab nations in this regard. He also earned a reputation for military adventurism; his government was implicated in several abortive coup attempts in Egypt and The Sudan, and Libyan forces persistently intervened in the long-running civil war in neighbouring Chad.

      From 1974 onward Qaddafi espoused a form of Islamic socialism as expressed in The Green Book. This combined the nationalization of many economic sectors with a brand of populist government ostensibly operating through people's congresses, labour unions, and other mass organizations. Meanwhile, Qaddafi was becoming known for his erratic and unpredictable behaviour on the international scene. His government financed a broad spectrum of revolutionary or terrorist groups worldwide, including the Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam in the United States and the Irish Republican Army in Northern Ireland. Squads of Libyan agents assassinated émigré opponents abroad, and his government was allegedly involved in several bloody terrorist incidents in Europe perpetrated by Palestinian or other Arab extremists. These activities brought him into growing conflict with the U.S. government, and in April 1986 a force of British-based U.S. warplanes bombed several sites in Libya, killing or wounding several of his children and narrowly missing Qaddafi himself.

      Libya's purported involvement in the destruction of a civilian airliner over Lockerbie, Scot., in 1988, led to United Nations (UN) and U.S. sanctions that further isolated Qaddafi from the international community. In the late 1990s, however, Qaddafi turned over the alleged perpetrators of the bombing to international authorities; UN sanctions against Libya were subsequently lifted in 2003, and following Qaddafi's announcement that Libya would cease its unconventional-weapons program, the United States dropped most of its sanctions as well. Although some observers remained critical, these measures provided an opportunity for the rehabilitation of Qaddafi's image abroad and facilitated his country's gradual return to the global community. In 2009 Qaddafi was elected chairman of the African Union.

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Universalium. 2010.

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