History of Libya under Muammar Gaddafi
Gaddafi at the 12th African Union conference in 2009
After coming to power, the RCC government initiated a process of directing funds toward providing education, health care and housing for all. Public education in the country became free and primary education compulsory for both sexes. Medical care became available to the public at no cost, but providing housing for all was a task the RCC government was not able to complete.
Under Gaddafi, per capita income in the country rose to more than US$11,000, the fifth highest in Africa.
The increase in prosperity was accompanied by a controversial foreign policy, and there was increased domestic political repression.
During the 1980s and 1990s, Gaddafi, in alliance with the Eastern Bloc
and Fidel Castro's Cuba
, openly supported rebel movements like Nelson Mandela's African National Congress
, the Palestine Liberation Organization
, the Provisional Irish Republican Army
and the Polisario Front
). Gaddafi's government was either known to be or suspected of participating in or aiding attacks by these and other proxy forces. Additionally, Gaddafi undertook several invasions of neighboring states in Africa, notably Chad in the 1970s and 1980s
. All of his actions led to a deterioration of Libya's foreign relations
with several countries, mostly Western states
and culminated in the 1986 United States bombing of Libya
. Gaddafi defended his government's actions by citing the need to support anti-imperialist
and anti-colonial movements around the world. Notably, Gaddafi supported anti-Zionist
and black civil rights
movements. Gaddafi's behavior, often erratic, led some outsiders to conclude that he was not mentally sound, a claim disputed by the Libyan authorities and other observers close to Gaddafi. Despite receiving extensive aid and technical assistance from the Soviet Union
and its allies, Gaddafi retained close ties to pro-American governments in Western Europe
, largely by courting
Western oil companies with promises of access to lucrative Libyan energy sectors. After the 9/11 attacks
, strained relations between Libya and the West were mostly normalised, and sanctions against the country relaxed, in exchange for nuclear disarmament
In early 2011, a civil war
broke out in the context of the wider "Arab Spring
". The rebel anti-Gaddafi forces
formed a committee named the National Transitional Council
on 27 February 2011. It was meant to act as an interim authority
in the rebel-controlled areas. After killings by government forces
in addition to those by the rebel forces,
a multinational coalition
led by NATO
forces intervened on 21 March 2011 in support of the rebels.
The International Criminal Court
issued an arrest warrant against Gaddafi and his entourage on 27 June 2011. Gaddafi's government was overthrown in the wake of the fall of Tripoli
to the rebel forces on 20 August 2011, although pockets of resistance held by forces in support of Gaddafi's government held out for another two months, especially in Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte
, which he declared the new capital of Libya on 1 September 2011.
The fall of the last remaining cities under pro-Gaddafi control and Sirte's capture on 20 October 2011, followed by the subsequent murder of Gaddafi
, marked the end of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.
The name of Libya was changed several times during Gaddafi's tenure as leader. From 1969 to 1977, the name was the Libyan Arab Republic
. In 1977, the name was changed to Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
was a term coined by Gaddafi,
usually translated as "state of the masses". The country was renamed again in 1986 as the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
, after the 1986 United States bombing of Libya
The discovery of significant oil reserves
in 1959 and the subsequent income from petroleum sales
enabled the Kingdom of Libya
to transition from one of the world's poorest nations to a wealthy state. Although oil drastically improved the Libyan government's finances, resentment began to build over the increased concentration of the nation's wealth in the hands of King Idris
. This discontent mounted with the rise of Nasserism
and Arab nationalism
throughout North Africa and the Middle East.
On 1 September 1969, a group of about 70 young army officers known as the Free Officers Movement and enlisted men mostly assigned to the Signal Corps
, seized control of the government and in a stroke abolished the Libyan monarchy. The coup was launched at Benghazi
, and within two hours the takeover was completed. Army units quickly rallied in support of the coup, and within a few days firmly established military control in Tripoli and elsewhere throughout the country. Popular reception of the coup, especially by younger people in the urban areas, was enthusiastic. Fears of resistance in Cyrenaica
proved unfounded. No deaths or violent incidents related to the coup were reported.
The Free Officers Movement, which claimed credit for carrying out the coup, was headed by a twelve-member directorate that designated itself the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC). This body constituted the Libyan government after the coup. In its initial proclamation on 1 September,
the RCC declared the country to be a free and sovereign state called the Libyan Arab Republic
, which would proceed "in the path of freedom, unity, and social justice, guaranteeing the right of equality to its citizens, and opening before them the doors of honorable work." The rule of the Turks and Italians and the "reactionary" government just overthrown were characterized as belonging to "dark ages", from which the Libyan people were called to move forward as "free brothers" to a new age of prosperity, equality, and honor.
The RCC advised diplomatic representatives in Libya that the revolutionary changes had not been directed from outside the country, that existing treaties and agreements would remain in effect, and that foreign lives and property would be protected. Diplomatic recognition of the new government came quickly from countries throughout the world. United States recognition was officially extended on 6 September.
In view of the lack of internal resistance, it appeared that the chief danger to the new government lay in the possibility of a reaction inspired by the absent King Idris or his designated heir, Hasan Al-Rida
, who had been taken into custody at the time of the coup along with other senior civil and military officials of the royal government. Within days of the coup, however, Hasan publicly renounced all rights to the throne, stated his support for the new government, and called on the people to accept it without violence.
Idris, in an exchange of messages with the RCC through Egypt's President Nasser
, dissociated himself from reported attempts to secure British intervention and disclaimed any intention of coming back to Libya. In return, he was assured by the RCC of the safety of his family still in the country. At his own request and with Nasser's approval, Idris took up residence once again in Egypt, where he had spent his first exile and where he remained until his death in 1983.
On 7 September 1969, the RCC announced that it had appointed a cabinet to conduct the government of the new republic. An American-educated technician, Mahmud Sulayman al-Maghribi
, who had been imprisoned since 1967 for his political activities, was designated prime minister. He presided over the eight-member Council of Ministers, of whom six, like Maghrabi, were civilians and two – Adam Said Hawwaz
and Musa Ahmad
– were military officers. Neither of the officers was a member of the RCC.
The Council of Ministers was instructed to "implement the state's general policy as drawn up by the RCC", leaving no doubt where ultimate authority rested. The next day the RCC decided to promote Captain Gaddafi to colonel and to appoint him commander in chief of the Libyan Armed Forces. Although RCC spokesmen declined until January 1970 to reveal any other names of RCC members, it was apparent from that date onward that the head of the RCC and new de facto head of state was Gaddafi.
Analysts were quick to point out the striking similarities between the Libyan military coup of 1969 and that in Egypt under Nasser in 1952, and it became clear that the Egyptian experience and the charismatic figure of Nasser had formed the model for the Free Officers Movement. As the RCC in the last months of 1969 moved vigorously to institute domestic reforms, it proclaimed neutrality in the confrontation between the superpowers and opposition to all forms of colonialism and imperialism. It also made clear Libya's dedication to Arab unity and to the support of the Palestinian cause against Israel.
The RCC reaffirmed the country's identity as part of the "Arab nation" and its state religion as Islam
. It abolished parliamentary institutions, all legislative functions being assumed by the RCC, and continued the prohibition against political parties, in effect since 1952. The new government categorically rejected communism – in large part because it was atheist
– and officially espoused an Arab interpretation of socialism that integrated Islamic principles with social, economic, and political reform. Libya had shifted, virtually overnight, from the camp of conservative Arab traditionalist states to that of the radical nationalist states.
Libyan Arab Republic (1969–1977)
Following the formation of the Libyan Arab Republic, Gaddafi and his associates insisted that their government would not rest on individual leadership, but rather on collegial decision making.
The first major cabinet change occurred soon after the first challenge to the government. In December 1969, Adam Said Hawwaz, the minister of defense, and Musa Ahmad, the minister of interior, were arrested and accused of planning a coup
. In the new cabinet formed after the crisis, Gaddafi, retaining his post as chairman of the RCC, also became prime minister and defense minister.
Major Abdel Salam Jallud
, generally regarded as second only to Gaddafi in the RCC, became deputy prime minister and minister of interior.
This cabinet totaled thirteen members, of whom five were RCC officers.
The government was challenged a second time in July 1970 when Abdullah Abid Sanusi and Ahmed al-Senussi
, distant cousins of former King Idris, and members of the Sayf an Nasr clan of Fezzan were accused of plotting to seize power for themselves.
After the plot was foiled, a substantial cabinet change occurred, RCC officers for the first time forming a majority among new ministers.
Assertion of Gaddafi's control
From the start, RCC spokesmen had indicated a serious intent to bring the "defunct regime" to account. In 1971 and 1972 more than 200 former government officials—including seven prime ministers and numerous cabinet ministers—as well as former King Idris and members of the royal family, were brought to trial on charges of treason and corruption in the Libyan People's Court
Many, who like Idris lived in exile, were tried in absentia
. Although a large percentage of those charged were acquitted, sentences of up to fifteen years in prison and heavy fines were imposed on others. Five death sentences, all but one of them in absentia
, were pronounced, among them, one against Idris. Fatima
, the former queen, and Hasan ar Rida were sentenced to five and three years in prison, respectively.
Meanwhile, Gaddafi and the RCC had disbanded the Sanusi order
and officially downgraded its historical role in achieving Libya's independence. He also attacked regional and tribal differences as obstructions in the path of social advancement and Arab unity, dismissing traditional leaders and drawing administrative boundaries across tribal groupings
The Free Officers Movement was renamed "Arab Socialist Union
" (ASU) in 1971, modeled after Egypt's Arab Socialist Union
, and made the sole legal party
in Gaddafi's Libya. It acted as a "vehicle of national expression", purporting to "raise the political consciousness of Libyans" and to "aid the RCC in formulating public policy through debate in open forums".
Trade unions were incorporated into the ASU and strikes outlawed. The press, already subject to censorship, was officially conscripted in 1972 as an agent of the revolution. Italians and what remained of the Jewish community were expelled from the country and their property confiscated in October 1970.
In 1972, Libya joined the Federation of Arab Republics
but the intended union of pan-Arabic states never had the intended success, and was effectively dormant after 1973.
As months passed, Gaddafi, caught up in his apocalyptic
visions of revolutionary Pan-Arabism
and Islam locked in mortal struggle with what he termed the encircling, demonic forces of reaction, imperialism, and Zionism, increasingly devoted attention to international rather than internal affairs. As a result, routine administrative tasks fell to Major Jallud, who in 1972 became prime minister in place of Gaddafi. Two years later Jallud assumed Gaddafi's remaining administrative and protocol duties to allow Gaddafi to devote his time to revolutionary theorizing. Gaddafi remained commander in chief of the armed forces and effective head of state. The foreign press speculated about an eclipse of his authority and personality within the RCC, but Gaddafi soon dispelled such theories by his measures to restructure Libyan society.
Alignment with the Soviet bloc
After the September coup, U.S. forces proceeded deliberately with the planned withdrawal from Wheelus Air Base
under the agreement made with the previous government. The foreign minister, Salah Busir
, played an important role in negotiating the British and American military withdrawal from the new republic. The last of the American contingent turned the facility over to the Libyans on 11 June 1970, a date thereafter celebrated in Libya as a national holiday. On March 27, 1970, the British air base in El Adem and the naval base in Tobruk were abandoned.
As relations with the U.S. steadily deteriorated, Gaddafi forged close links with the Soviet Union
and other Eastern Bloc
countries, all the while maintaining Libya's stance as a nonaligned country and opposing the spread of communism in the Arab world. Libya's army—sharply increased from the 6,000-man pre-revolutionary force that had been trained and equipped by the British—was armed with Soviet-built armor and missiles.
The economic base for Libya's revolution has been its oil revenues. However, Libya's petroleum reserves were small compared with those of other major Arab petroleum-producing states. As a consequence, Libya was more ready to ration output in order to conserve its natural wealth and less responsive to moderating its price-rise demands than the other countries. Petroleum was seen both as a means of financing the economic and social development of a woefully underdeveloped country and as a political weapon to brandish in the Arab struggle against Israel.
The increase in production that followed the 1969 revolution was accompanied by Libyan demands for higher petroleum prices, a greater share of revenues, and more control over the development of the country's petroleum industry. Foreign petroleum companies agreed to a price hike of more than three times the going rate (from US$0.90 to US$3.45 per barrel) early in 1971. In December, the Libyan government suddenly nationalized the holdings of British Petroleum
in Libya and withdrew funds amounting to approximately US$550 million invested in British banks as a result of a foreign policy dispute. British Petroleum rejected as inadequate a Libyan offer of compensation, and the British treasury banned Libya from participation in the sterling area.
In 1973, the Libyan government announced the nationalization of a controlling interest in all other petroleum companies operating in the country. This step gave Libya control of about 60 percent of its domestic oil production by early 1974, a figure that subsequently rose to 70 percent. Total nationalization was out of the question, given the need for foreign expertise and funds in oil exploration, production, and distribution.
1973 oil crisis
Insisting on the continued use of petroleum as leverage against Israel and its supporters in the West, Libya strongly urged the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC
) to take action in 1973
, and Libyan militancy was partially responsible for OPEC measures to raise oil prices, impose embargoes, and gain control of production. On 19 October 1973, Libya was the first Arab nation to issue an oil embargo against the United States after US President Richard Nixon announced the US would provide Israel with a $2.2 billion military aid program during the Yom Kippur War
Saudi Arabia and other Arab oil producing nations in OPEC would follow suit the next day.
While the other Arab nations lifted their oil embargoes on 18 March 1974,
the Gaddafi regime refused to do so.
As a consequence of such policies, Libya's oil production declined by half between 1970 and 1974, while revenues from oil exports more than quadrupled. Production continued to fall, bottoming out at an eleven-year low in 1975 at a time when the government was preparing to invest large amounts of petroleum revenues in other sectors of the economy. Thereafter, output stabilized at about two million barrels per day. Production and hence income declined yet again in the early 1980s because of the high price of Libyan crude and because recession in the industrialized world reduced demand for oil from all sources.
Libya's Five-Year Economic and Social Transformation Plan (1976–80), announced in 1975, was programmed to pump US$20 billion into the development of a broad range of economic activities that would continue to provide income after Libya's petroleum reserves had been exhausted. Agriculture was slated to receive the largest share of aid in an effort to make Libya self-sufficient in food and to help keep the rural population on the land. Industry, of which there was little before the revolution, also received a significant amount of funding in the first development plan as well as in the second, launched in 1981.
Transition to the Jamahiriya (1973–1977)
(Alfateh, 1 September 1969) Festivity Alfateh in Bayda
, Libya, on 1 September 2010.
The "remaking of Libyan society" contained in Gaddafi's ideological visions began to be put into practice formally in 1973, with a cultural revolution. This revolution was designed to create bureaucratic efficiency, public interest and participation in the subnational governmental system, and national political coordination. In an attempt to instill revolutionary fervor into his compatriots and to involve large numbers of them in political affairs, Gaddafi urged them to challenge traditional authority and to take over and run government organs themselves. The instrument for doing this was the people's committee. Within a few months, such committees were found all across Libya. They were functionally and geographically based, and eventually became responsible for local and regional administration.
People's committees were established in such widely divergent organizations as universities, private business firms, government bureaucracies, and the broadcast media. Geographically based committees were formed at the governorate, municipal, and zone (lowest) levels. Seats on the people's committees at the zone level were filled by direct popular election; members so elected could then be selected for service at higher levels. By mid-1973 estimates of the number of people's committees ranged above 2,000. In the scope of their administrative and regulatory tasks and the method of their members' selection, the people's committees purportedly embodied the concept of direct democracy
that Gaddafi propounded in the first volume of The Green Book
, which appeared in 1976. The same concept lay behind proposals to create a new political structure composed of "people's congresses." The centerpiece of the new system was the General People's Congress
(GPC), a national representative body intended to replace the RCC.
7 April 1976 protests
During this transition, on 7 April 1976, students in universities in Tripoli and Benghazi protested against human rights violations and military control "over all aspects of life in Libya" and called for free and fair elections and for power to be transferred to a civilian government. Violent counter demonstrations took place and many students were imprisoned. On the 7 April 1977 anniversary of the event, students including Omar Dabob and Muhammed Ben Saoud were publicly executed in Benghazi and anti-Gaddafi military officers were executed later in the week. Friends of the executees were forced to participate or observe the executions. Regular executions continued annually on 7 April until the late 1980s.
On 21 July 1977, there were first gun battles between troops on the border, followed by land and air strikes. Relations between the Libyan and the Egyptian government had been deteriorating ever since the end of Yom Kippur War
from October 1973, due to Libyan opposition to President Anwar Sadat
's peace policy as well as the breakdown of unification talks between the two governments. There is some proof that the Egyptian government was considering a war against Libya as early as 1974. On 28 February 1974, during Henry Kissinger
's visit to Egypt, President Sadat told him about such intentions and requested that pressure be put on the Israeli government not to launch an attack on Egypt in the event of its forces being occupied in war with Libya.
In addition, the Egyptian government had broken its military ties with Moscow, while the Libyan government kept that cooperation going. The Egyptian government also gave assistance to former RCC
members Major Abd al Munim al Huni and Omar Muhayshi, who unsuccessfully tried to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi
in 1975, and allowed them to reside in Egypt. During 1976 relations were ebbing, as the Egyptian government claimed to have discovered a Libyan plot to overthrow the government in Cairo. On 26 January 1976, Egyptian Vice President Hosni Mubarak
indicated in a talk with the US Ambassador Hermann Eilts
that the Egyptian government intended to exploit internal problems in Libya to promote actions against Libya, but did not elaborate.
On 22 July 1976, the Libyan government made a public threat to break diplomatic relations with Cairo if Egyptian subversive actions continued.
On 8 August 1976, an explosion occurred in the bathroom of a government office in Tahrir Square
in Cairo, injuring 14, and the Egyptian government and media claimed this was done by Libyan agents.
The Egyptian government also claimed to have arrested two Egyptian citizens trained by Libyan intelligence to perform sabotage within Egypt.
On 23 August, an Egyptian passenger plane was hijacked
by persons who reportedly worked with Libyan intelligence. They were captured by Egyptian authorities in an operation that ended without any casualties. In retaliation for accusations by the Egyptian government of Libyan complicity in the hijacking, the Libyan government ordered the closure of the Egyptian Consulate in Benghazi.
On 24 July, the combatants agreed to a ceasefire
under the mediation of the President of AlgeriaHouari Boumediène
and the Palestine Liberation Organization
leader Yasser Arafat
Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (1977–2011)
On 2 March 1977, the General People's Congress (GPC), at Gaddafi's behest, adopted the "Declaration of the Establishment of the People's Authority"
and proclaimed the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
: الجماهيرية العربية الليبية الشعبية الاشتراكية
 al-Jamāhīrīyah al-'Arabīyah al-Lībīyah ash-Sha'bīyah al-Ishtirākīyah
). In the official political philosophy of Gaddafi's state, the "Jamahiriya" system was unique to the country, although it was presented as the materialization of the Third International Theory
, proposed by Gaddafi to be applied to the entire Third World
. The GPC also created the General Secretariat of the GPC, comprising the remaining members of the defunct Revolutionary Command Council, with Gaddafi as general secretary, and also appointed the General People's Committee, which replaced the Council of Ministers, its members now called secretaries rather than ministers.
) is an Arabic
term generally translated as "state of the masses"; Lisa Anderson
has suggested "peopledom" or "state of the masses" as a reasonable approximations of the meaning of the term as intended by Gaddafi. The term does not occur in this sense in Muammar Gaddafi
's Green Book
of 1975. The nisba
("mass-, "of the masses") occurs only in the third part, published in 1981, in the phrase إن الحركات التاريخية هي الحركات الجماهيرية
(Inna al-ḥarakāt at-tārīkhīyah hiya al-ḥarakāt al-jamāhīrīyah
), translated in the English edition as "Historic movements are mass movements".
The word jamāhīrīyah
was derived from jumhūrīyah,
which is the usual Arabic translation of "republic". It was coined by changing the component jumhūr
—"public"—to its plural form, jamāhīr
—"the masses". Thus, it is similar to the term People's Republic
. It is often left untranslated in English, with the long-form name thus rendered as Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
. However, in Hebrew
, for instance, jamāhīrīyah
is translated as "קהילייה" (qehiliyáh
), a word also used to translate the term "Commonwealth" when referring to the designation of a country.
After weathering the 1986 U.S. bombing
by the Reagan administration, Gaddafi added the specifier "Great" (العظمى
) to the official name of the country.
0.900 and over
Gaddafi as permanent "Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution"
The changes in Libyan leadership since 1976 culminated in March 1979, when the General People's Congress declared that the "vesting of power in the masses" and the "separation of the state from the revolution" were complete. The government was divided into two parts, the "Jamahiriya sector" and the "revolutionary sector". The "Jamahiriya sector" was composed of the General People's Congress, the General People's Committee, and the local Basic People's Congresses
. Gaddafi relinquished his position as general secretary of the General People's Congress, as which he was succeeded by Abdul Ati al-Obeidi
, who had been prime minister since 1977.
The "Jamahiriya sector" was overseen by the "revolutionary sector", headed by Gaddafi as "Leader of the Revolution" (Qā'id
and the surviving members of the Revolutionary Command Council. The leaders of the revolutionary sector were not subject to election, as they owed office to their role in the 1969 coup. They oversaw the "revolutionary committees", which were nominally grass-roots organizations that helped keep the people engaged. As a result, although Gaddafi held no formal government office after 1979, he retained control of the government and the country.
Gaddafi also remained supreme commander of the armed forces.
All legislative and executive authority was vested in the GPC. This body, however, delegated most of its important authority to its general secretary and General Secretariat and to the General People's Committee. Gaddafi, as general secretary of the GPC, remained the primary decision maker, just as he had been when chairman of the RCC. In turn, all adults had the right and duty to participate in the deliberation of their local Basic People's Congress (BPC), whose decisions were passed up to the GPC for consideration and implementation as national policy. The BPCs were in theory the repository of ultimate political authority and decision making, embodying what Gaddafi termed direct "people's power". The 1977 declaration and its accompanying resolutions amounted to a fundamental revision of the 1969 constitutional proclamation, especially with respect to the structure and organization of the government at both national and subnational levels.
Continuing to revamp Libya's political and administrative structure, Gaddafi introduced yet another element into the body politic. Beginning in 1977, "revolutionary committees" were organized and assigned the task of "absolute revolutionary supervision of people's power"; that is, they were to guide the people's committees, "raise the general level of political consciousness and devotion to revolutionary ideals". In reality, the revolutionary committees were used to survey the population and repress any political opposition to Gaddafi's autocratic rule. Reportedly 10% to 20% of Libyans worked in surveillance for these committees, a proportion of informants on par with Ba'athist Iraq
and Juche Korea
Filled with politically astute zealots, the ubiquitous revolutionary committees in 1979 assumed control of BPC elections. Although they were not official government organs, the revolutionary committees became another mainstay of the domestic political scene. As with the people's committees and other administrative innovations since the revolution, the revolutionary committees fit the pattern of imposing a new element on the existing subnational system of government rather than eliminating or consolidating already existing structures. By the late 1970s, the result was an unnecessarily complex system of overlapping jurisdictions in which cooperation and coordination among different elements were compromised by ill-defined authority and responsibility. The ambiguity may have helped serve Gaddafi's aim to remain the prime mover behind Libyan governance, while minimizing his visibility at a time when internal opposition to political repression was rising.
The RCC was formally dissolved and the government was again reorganized into people's committees. A new General People's Committee (cabinet) was selected, each of its "secretaries" becoming head of a specialized people's committee; the exceptions were the "secretariats" of petroleum, foreign affairs, and heavy industry, where there were no people's committees. A proposal was also made to establish a "people's army" by substituting a national militia, being formed in the late 1970s, for the national army. Although the idea surfaced again in early 1982, it did not appear to be close to implementation.
Gaddafi also wanted to combat the strict social restrictions that had been imposed on women by the previous regime, establishing the Revolutionary Women's Formation to encourage reform. In 1970, a law was introduced affirming equality of the sexes and insisting on wage parity. In 1971, Gaddafi sponsored the creation of a Libyan General Women's Federation. In 1972, a law was passed criminalizing the marriage of any females under the age of sixteen and ensuring that a woman's consent was a necessary prerequisite for a marriage.
Remaking of the economy was parallel with the attempt to remold political and social institutions. Until the late 1970s, Libya's economy was mixed
, with a large role for private enterprise except in the fields of oil production and distribution, banking, and insurance. But according to volume two of Gaddafi's Green Book, which appeared in 1978, private retail trade, rent, and wages were forms of exploitation that should be abolished. Instead, workers' self-management
committees and profit participation partnerships were to function in public and private enterprises.
A property law was passed that forbade ownership of more than one private dwelling, and Libyan workers took control of a large number of companies, turning them into state-run enterprises. Retail and wholesale trading operations were replaced by state-owned "people's supermarkets", where Libyans in theory could purchase whatever they needed at low prices. By 1981 the state had also restricted access to individual bank accounts to draw upon privately held funds for government projects. The measures created resentment and opposition among the newly dispossessed. The latter joined those already alienated, some of whom had begun to leave the country. By 1982, perhaps 50,000 to 100,000 Libyans had gone abroad; because many of the emigrants were among the enterprising and better educated Libyans, they represented a significant loss of managerial and technical expertise.
The government also built a trans-Sahara water pipeline from major aquifers to both a network of reservoirs and the towns of Tripoli, Sirte and Benghazi in 2006–2007.
It is part of the Great Manmade River
project, started in 1984. It is pumping large resources of water from the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System
to both urban populations and new irrigation projects around the country.
Libya continued to be plagued with a shortage of skilled labor, which had to be imported along with a broad range of consumer goods, both paid for with petroleum income. The country consistently ranked as the African nation with the highest HDI, standing at 0.755 in 2010, which was 0.041 higher than the next highest African HDI that same year.
Gender equality was a major achievement under Gaddafi's rule. According to Lisa Anderson, president of the American University in Cairo and an expert on Libya, said that under Gaddafi more women attended university and had "dramatically" more employment opportunities.
Wars against Chad and Egypt
As early as 1969, Gaddafi waged a campaign against Chad
. Scholar Gerard Prunier claims part of his hostility was apparently because Chadian President François Tombalbaye
Libya was also involved in a sometimes violent territorial dispute with neighbouring Chad over the Aouzou Strip
, which Libya occupied in 1973. This dispute eventually led to the Libyan invasion
of Chad. The prolonged foray of Libyan troops into the Aozou Strip in northern Chad, was finally repulsed in 1987, when extensive US and French help to Chadian rebel forces and the government headed by former Defence Minister Hissein Habré
finally led to a Chadian victory in the so-called Toyota War
. The conflict ended in a ceasefire in 1987. After a judgement of the International Court of Justice
on 13 February 1994, Libya withdrew troops from Chad the same year and the dispute was settled.
In 1972, Gaddafi created the Islamic Legion
as a tool to unify and Arabize the region. The priority of the Legion was first Chad, and then Sudan. In Darfur
, a western province of Sudan, Gaddafi supported the creation of the Arab Gathering
(Tajammu al-Arabi), which according to Gérard Prunier was "a militantly racist and pan-Arabist organization which stressed the 'Arab' character of the province."
The two organizations shared members and a source of support, and the distinction between them is often ambiguous.
This Islamic Legion was mostly composed of immigrants from poorer Sahelian
but also, according to a source, thousands of Pakistanis who had been recruited in 1981 with the false promise of civilian jobs once in Libya.
Generally speaking, the Legion's members were immigrants who had gone to Libya with no thought of fighting wars, and had been provided with inadequate military training and had sparse commitment. A French journalist, speaking of the Legion's forces in Chad, observed that they were "foreigners, Arabs or Africans, mercenaries
in spite of themselves, wretches who had come to Libya hoping for a civilian job, but found themselves signed up more or less by force to go and fight in an unknown desert."
At the beginning of the 1987 Libyan offensive in Chad, it maintained a force of 2,000 in Darfur. The nearly continuous cross-border raids that resulted greatly contributed to a separate ethnic conflict within Darfur that killed about 9,000 people between 1985 and 1988.
Attempts at nuclear and chemical weapons
In 1972, Gaddafi tried to buy a nuclear bomb from the People's Republic of China
. He then tried to get a bomb from Pakistan
, but Pakistan severed its ties before it succeeded in building a bomb.
In 1978, Gaddafi turned to Pakistan's rival, India, for help building its own nuclear bomb.
In July 1978, Libya and India signed a memorandum of understanding
to cooperate in peaceful applications of nuclear energy as part of India's Atom of Peace policy.
In 1991, then Prime Minister Navaz Sharif
paid a state visit
to Libya to hold talks on the promotion of a Free Trade Agreement
between Pakistan and Libya.
However, Gaddafi focused on demanding Pakistan's Prime Minister sell him a nuclear weapon, which surprised many of the Prime Minister's delegation members and journalists.
When Prime minister Sharif refused Gaddafi's demand, Gaddafi disrespected him, calling him a "Corrupt politician", a term which insulted and surprised Sharif.
The Prime minister cancelled the talks, returned to Pakistan and expelled the Libyan Ambassador from Pakistan.
Thailand reported its citizens had helped build storage facilities for nerve gas. Germany sentenced a businessman, Jurgen Hippenstiel-Imhausen, to five years in prison for involvement in Libyan chemical weapons.
Inspectors from the Chemical Weapons Convention
(CWC) verified in 2004 that Libya owned a stockpile of 23 metric tons of mustard gas
and more than 1,300 metric tons of precursor chemicals.
Gulf of Sidra incidents and US air strikes
When Libya was under pressure from international disputes, on 19 August 1981, a naval dogfight
occurred over the Gulf of Sirte
in the Mediterranean Sea
. US F-14 Tomcat
jets fired anti-aircraft missiles against a formation of Libyan fighter jets in this dogfight and shot down two Libyan Su-22 Fitter
attack aircraft. This naval action was a result of claiming the territory and losses from the previous incident. A second dogfight occurred on 4 January 1989; US carrier-based jets also shot down two Libyan MiG-23 Flogger-Es
in the same place.
A similar action occurred on 23 March 1986; while patrolling the Gulf, US naval forces attacked a sizable naval force and various SAM sites defending Libyan territory. US fighter jets and fighter-bombers destroyed SAM launching facilities and sank various naval vessels, killing 35 seamen. This was a reprisal for terrorist hijackings between June and December 1985.
On 5 April 1986, Libyan agents bombed "La Belle" nightclub in West Berlin
, killing three and injuring 229. Gaddafi's plan was intercepted by several national intelligence agencies and more detailed information was retrieved four years later from Stasi
archives. The Libyan agents who had carried out the operation, from the Libyan embassy in East Germany
, were prosecuted by the reunited Germany in the 1990s.
In response to the discotheque bombing, joint US Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps air-strikes took place against Libya on 15 April 1986 and code-named Operation El Dorado Canyon and known as the 1986 bombing of Libya
. Air defenses, three army bases, and two airfields in Tripoli
were bombed. The surgical strikes failed to kill Gaddafi but he lost a few dozen military officers. Gaddafi spread propaganda how it had killed his "adopted daughter" and how victims had been all "civilians". Despite the variations of the stories, the campaign was successful, and a large proportion of the Western press reported the government's stories as facts.
Following the 1986 bombing of Libya, Gaddafi intensified his support for anti-American government organizations. He financed Jeff Fort
faction of the Chicago Black P. Stones
gang, in their emergence as an indigenous anti-American armed revolutionary movement.
Al-Rukn members were arrested in 1986 for preparing strikes on behalf of Libya, including blowing up US government buildings and bringing down an airplane; the Al-Rukn defendants were convicted in 1987 of "offering to commit bombings and assassinations on US soil for Libyan payment."
In 1986, Libyan state television announced that Libya was training suicide squads to attack American and European interests. He began financing the IRA again in 1986, to retaliate against the British for harboring American fighter planes.
Gaddafi announced that he had won a spectacular military victory over the US and the country was officially renamed the "Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriyah".
However, his speech appeared devoid of passion and even the "victory" celebrations appeared unusual. Criticism of Gaddafi by ordinary Libyan citizens became more bold, such as defacing of Gaddafi posters.
The raids against Libyan military had brought the government to its weakest point in 17 years.
Gaddafi was a close supporter of Ugandan President Idi Amin
Gaddafi sent thousands of troops to fight against Tanzania on behalf of Idi Amin. About 600 Libyan soldiers lost their lives attempting to defend the collapsing presidency of Amin. Amin was eventually exiled from Uganda to Libya before settling in Saudi Arabia.
Gaddafi also aided Jean-Bédel Bokassa
, the Emperor of the Central African Empire
He also intervened militarily in the renewed Central African Republic in 2001 to protect his ally Ange-Félix Patassé
. Patassé signed a deal giving Libya a 99-year lease to exploit all of that country's natural resources, including uranium, copper, diamonds, and oil.
Gaddafi was a strong opponent of apartheid
in South Africa
and forged a friendship with Nelson Mandela
One of Mandela's grandsons is named Gaddafi, an indication of the latter's support in South Africa.
Gaddafi funded Mandela's 1994 election campaign
, and after taking office as the country's first democratically elected president in 1994, Mandela rejected entreaties from U.S. President Bill Clinton
and others to cut ties with Gaddafi.
Mandela later played a key role in helping Gaddafi gain mainstream acceptance in the Western world later in the 1990s.
Over the years, Gaddafi came to be seen as a hero in much of Africa due to his revolutionary image.
Gaddafi's World Revolutionary Center (WRC) near Benghazi became a training center for groups backed by Gaddafi.
Graduates in power as of 2011 include Blaise Compaoré
of Burkina Faso and Idriss Déby
Gaddafi's strong military support and finances gained him allies across the continent. He had himself crowned with the title "King of Kings of Africa" in 2008, in the presence of over 200 African traditional rulers and kings, although his views on African political and military unification received a lukewarm response from their governments.
His 2009 forum for African kings was canceled by the Ugandan hosts, who believed that traditional rulers discussing politics would lead to instability.
On 1 February 2009, a 'coronation
ceremony' in Addis Ababa
, Ethiopia, was held to coincide with the 53rd African Union Summit, at which he was elected head of the African Union for the year.
Gaddafi told the assembled African leaders: "I shall continue to insist that our sovereign countries work to achieve the United States of Africa
Gaddafi and international militant resistance movements
including interview with Gaddafi about his support for radical groups
In 1971 Gaddafi warned that if France opposes Libyan military occupation of Chad, he will use all weapons in the war against France including the "revolutionary weapon".
On 11 June 1972, Gaddafi announced that any Arab wishing to volunteer for Palestinian militant groups "can register his name at any Libyan embassy will be given adequate training for combat". He also promised financial support for attacks.
On 7 October 1972, Gaddafi praised the Lod Airport massacre
, executed by the communist Japanese Red Army
, and demanded Palestinian terrorist groups to carry out similar attacks.
Reportedly, Gaddafi was a major financier of the "Black September
Movement" which perpetrated the Munich massacre
at the 1972 Summer Olympics
In 1973 the Irish Naval Service
intercepted the vessel Claudia
in Irish territorial waters, which carried Soviet arms from Libya to the Provisional IRA.
In 1976 after a series of terror activities by the Provisional IRA
, Gaddafi announced that "the bombs which are convulsing Britain and breaking its spirit are the bombs of Libyan people. We have sent them to the Irish revolutionaries so that the British will pay the price for their past deeds".
Gaddafi also became a strong supporter of the Palestine Liberation Organization
, which support 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
In the 1970s and the 1980s, this support was sometimes so freely given that even the most unsympathetic groups could obtain Libyan support; often the groups represented ideologies far removed from Gaddafi's own. Gaddafi's approach often tended to confuse international opinion.
In October 1981 Egypt's President Anwar Sadat
was assassinated. Gaddafi applauded the murder and remarked that it was a "punishment".
In December 1981, the US State Department
invalidated US passports for travel to Libya, and in March 1982, the U.S. declared a ban on the import of Libyan oil
Gaddafi reportedly spent hundreds of millions of the government's money on training and arming Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Daniel Ortega
, the President of Nicaragua, was his ally.
In April 1984, Libyan refugees in London protested against execution of two dissidents. Communications intercepted by MI5 show that Tripoli ordered its diplomats to direct violence against the demonstrators. Libyan diplomats shot at 11 people and killed British policewoman Yvonne Fletcher
. The incident led to the breaking off of diplomatic relations
between the United Kingdom and Libya for over a decade.
After December 1985 Rome and Vienna airport attacks
, which killed 19 and wounded around 140, Gaddafi indicated that he would continue to support the Red Army Faction
, the Red Brigades
, and the Irish Republican Army as long as European countries support anti-Gaddafi Libyans.
The Foreign Minister of Libya also called the massacres "heroic acts".
In 1986, Libyan state television announced that Libya was training suicide squads to attack American and European interests.
On 5 April 1986, Libyan agents were alleged with bombing the "La Belle" nightclub in West Berlin
, killing three people and injuring 229 people who were spending evening there. Gaddafi's plan was intercepted by Western intelligence. More-detailed information was retrieved years later when Stasi
archives were investigated by the reunited Germany. Libyan agents who had carried out the operation from the Libyan embassy in East Germany were prosecuted by reunited Germany in the 1990s.
In May 1987, Australia broke off relations with Libya because of its role in fueling violence in Oceania.
Under Gaddafi, Libya had a long history of supporting the Irish Republican Army
. In late 1987 French authorities stopped a merchant vessel, the MV Eksund
, which was delivering a 150-ton Libyan arms shipment to the IRA.
In Britain, Gaddafi's best-known political subsidiary is the Workers Revolutionary Party
In New Zealand, Libya attempted to radicalize Māoris
In Australia, there were several cases of attempted radicalisation of Australian Aborigines, with individuals receiving paramilitary training in Libya. Libya put several left-wing unions on the Libyan payroll, such as the Food Preservers Union (FPU) and the Federated Confectioners Association of Australia (FCA)
. Labour Party politician Bill Hartley
, the secretary of Libya-Australia friendship society, was long-term supporter of Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein.
In the 1980s, the Libyan government purchased advertisements in Arabic-language newspapers in Australia asking for Australian Arabs to join the military units of his worldwide struggle against imperialism. In part, because of this, Australia banned recruitment of foreign mercenaries in Australia.
Some publications were financed by Gaddafi. The Socialist Labour League's Workers News
was one such publication: "in among the routine denunciations of uranium mining and calls for greater trade union militancy would be a couple of pages extolling Gaddafi's fatuous and incoherent green book and the Libyan revolution."
International sanctions after the Lockerbie bombing (1992–2003)
Libya was accused in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103
; UN sanctions were imposed in 1992. UN Security Council
resolutions (UNSCRs) passed in 1992 and 1993 obliged Libya to fulfill requirements related to the Pan Am 103 bombing before sanctions could be lifted, leading to Libya's political and economic isolation for most of the 1990s. The UN sanctions cut airline connections with the outer world, reduced diplomatic representation and prohibited the sale of military equipment. Oil-related sanctions were assessed by some as equally significant for their exceptions: thus sanctions froze Libya's foreign assets (but excluded revenue from oil and natural gas and agricultural commodities) and banned the sale to Libya of refinery or pipeline equipment (but excluded oil production
Under the sanctions Libya's refining capacity eroded. Libya's role on the international stage grew less provocative after UN sanctions were imposed. In 1999, Libya fulfilled one of the UNSCR requirements by surrendering two Libyans suspected in connection with the bombing for trial before a Scottish court in the Netherlands. One of these suspects, Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, was found guilty; the other was acquitted. UN sanctions against Libya were subsequently suspended. The full lifting of the sanctions, contingent on Libya's compliance with the remaining UNSCRs, including acceptance of responsibility for the actions of its officials and payment of appropriate compensation, was passed 12 September 2003, explicitly linked to the release of up to $2.7 billion in Libyan funds to the families of the 1988 attack's 270 victims.
In 2002, Gaddafi paid a ransom reportedly worth tens of millions of dollars to Abu Sayyaf
, a Filipino Islamist militancy, to release a number of kidnapped tourists. He presented it as an act of goodwill to Western countries; nevertheless the money helped the group to expand its operation.
Normalization of international relations (2003–2010)
In December 2003, Libya announced that it had agreed to reveal and end its programs to develop weapons of mass destruction and to renounce terrorism, and Gaddafi made significant strides in normalizing relations with western nations. He received various Western European leaders as well as many working-level and commercial delegations, and made his first trip to Western Europe in 15 years when he traveled to Brussels
in April 2004. Libya responded in good faith to legal cases brought against it in U.S. courts for terrorist acts that predate its renunciation of violence. Claims for compensation in the Lockerbie bombing, LaBelle disco bombing, and UTA 772 bombing cases are ongoing. The U.S. rescinded Libya's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism
in June 2006. In late 2007, Libya was elected by the General Assembly to a nonpermanent seat on the United Nations Security Council for the 2008–2009 term. Currently, Operation Enduring Freedom – Trans Sahara
is being fought in Libya's portion of the Sahara Desert
In 1994, the General People's Congress
approved the introduction of "purification laws" to be put into effect, punishing theft by the amputation of limbs, and fornication and adultery by flogging.
Under the Libyan constitution, homosexual relations are punishable by up to five years in jail.
Opposition, coups and revolts
Throughout his long rule, Gaddafi had to defend his position against opposition and coup attempts, emerging both from the military and from the general population. He reacted to these threats on one hand by maintaining a careful balance of power between the forces in the country, and by brutal repression on the other. Gaddafi successfully balanced the various tribes of Libya
one against the other by distributing his favours. To forestall a military coup, he deliberately weakened the Libyan Armed Forces
by regularly rotating officers, relying instead on loyal elite troops such as his Revolutionary Guard Corps
, the special-forces Khamis Brigade
and his personal Amazonian Guard
, even though emphasis on political loyalty tended, over the long run, to weaken the professionalism of his personal forces. This trend made the country vulnerable to dissension at a time of crisis, as happened during early 2011.
Political repression and "Green Terror"
The term "Green Terror" is used to describe campaigns of violence and intimidation against opponents of Gaddafi, particularly in reference to wave of oppression during Libya's cultural revolution
, or to the wave of highly publicized hangings of regime opponents that began with the Execution of Al-Sadek Hamed Al-Shuwehdy
. Dissent was illegal under Law 75 of 1973.
Reportedly 10 to 20 percent of Libyans worked in surveillance for Gaddafi's Revolutionary Committees,
a proportion of informants on par with Saddam Hussein
's Iraq or Kim Jong Il
's North Korea. The surveillance took place in government, in factories, and in the education sector.
Following an abortive attempt to replace English foreign language education with Russian,
in recent years English has been taught in Libyan schools from a primary level, and students have access to English-language media.
However, one protester in 2011 described the situation as: "None of us can speak English or French. He kept us ignorant and blindfolded".
According to the 2009 Freedom of the Press Index
, Libya is the most censored country in the Middle East and North Africa.
Prisons are run with little or no documentation of the inmate population or of such basic data as prisoner's crime and sentence.
Opposition to the Jamahiriya reforms
During the late 1970s, some exiled Libyans[who?]
formed active opposition groups. In early 1979, Gaddafi warned opposition leaders to return home immediately or face "liquidation." When caught, they could face being sentenced and hanged in public.
It is the Libyan people's responsibility to liquidate such scums who are distorting Libya's image abroad.
— Gaddafi talking about exiles in 1982.
Gaddafi employed his network of diplomats and recruits to assassinate dozens of his critics around the world. Amnesty International
listed at least twenty-five assassinations between 1980 and 1987.
Gaddafi's agents were active in the UK, where many Libyans had sought asylum. After Libyan diplomats shot at 15 anti-Gaddafi protesters from inside the Libyan embassy's first floor and killed a British policewoman
, the UK broke off relations with Gaddafi's government as a result of the incident.
Even the U.S. could not protect dissidents from Libya. In 1980, a Libyan agent attempted to assassinate dissident Faisal Zagallai
, a doctoral student at the University of Colorado at Boulder
. The bullets left Zagallai partially blinded.
A defector was kidnapped and executed in 1990 just before he was about to receive U.S. citizenship.
Gaddafi asserted in June 1984 that killings could be carried out even when the dissidents were on pilgrimage in the holy city of Mecca
. In August 1984, one Libyan plot was thwarted in Mecca.
As of 2004, Libya still provided bounties for heads of critics, including 1 million dollars for Ashur Shamis
, a Libyan-British journalist.
There is indication that between the years of 2002 and 2007, Libya's Gaddafi-era intelligence service
had a partnership with western spy organizations including MI6
and the CIA
, who voluntarily provided information on Libyan dissidents in the United States and Canada in exchange for using Libya as a base for extraordinary renditions
. This was done despite Libya's history of murdering dissidents abroad, and with full knowledge of Libya's brutal mistreatment of detainees.
Political unrest during the 1990s
In the 1990s, Gaddafi's rule was threatened by militant Islamism
. In October 1993, there was an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Gaddafi by elements of the Libyan army. In response, Gaddafi used repressive measures, using his personal Revolutionary Guard Corps
to crush riots and Islamist activism during the 1990s. Nevertheless, Cyrenaica
between 1995 and 1998 was politically unstable, due to the tribal allegiances of the local troops.
2011 civil war and collapse of Gaddafi's government
A global map of the world showing countries that recognised or had informal relations with the Libyan Republic
during the civil war of 2011.
Countries that recognised the National Transitional Council
(NTC) as the sole legitimate representative of Libya
Countries that had permanent informal relations with the NTC, or which voted in favor of recognition at the UN, but had not granted official recognition
Countries which opposed recognition of the NTC at the UN, but had not made a formal statement
Countries that said they would not recognise the NTC
A renewed serious threat to the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya came in February 2011, with the Libyan Civil War
. The novelist Idris Al-Mesmari was arrested hours after giving an interview with Al Jazeera
about the police reaction to protests in Benghazi on 15 February.
Some Libyan officials
had sided with the protesters and requested help from the international community to bring an end to the massacres of civilians. The government in Tripoli
had lost control of half of Libya by the end of February,
but as of mid-September Gaddafi remained in control of several parts of Fezzan
. On 21 September, the forces of NTC captured Sabha, the largest city of Fezzan, reducing the control of Gaddafi to limited and isolated areas.
The UN resolution authorised air-strikes against Libyan ground troops and warships that appeared to threaten civilians.
On 19 March, the no-fly zone enforcement began, with French aircraft undertaking sorties across Libya and a naval blockade
by the British Royal Navy
Eventually, the aircraft carriers USS Enterprise
and Charles de Gaulle
arrived off the coast and provided the enforcers with a rapid-response capability. U.S. forces named their part of the enforcement action Operation Odyssey Dawn
, meant to "deny the Libyan regime from using force against its own people" 
according to U.S. Vice Admiral William E. Gortney
. More than 110 "Tomahawk" cruise missiles
were fired in an initial assault by U.S. warships and a British submarine against Libyan air defences.
The last government holdouts in Sirte
finally fell to anti-Gaddafi fighters on 20 October 2011, and, following the controversial death of Muammar Gaddafi
, Libya was officially declared "liberated" on 23 October 2011, ending 42 years of Gaddafi's leadership in Libya.
Political scientist Riadh Sidaoui
suggested in October 2011 that Gaddafi "has created a great void for his exercise of power: there is no institution, no army, no electoral tradition in the country", and as a result, the period of transition would be difficult in Libya.
Contemporary flags, symbols and insignia
State flag (ratio: 2:3)
Coat of arms
Institutions of governance under Gaddafi
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