Muammar Gaddafi has been the military dictator of Libya for more than four decades. He is the longest-serving leader in both Africa and the Arab world.
He was born in a tent in the Libyan desert near Sirte in 1942. His parents were nomadic Bedouins who eked out a meager living through farming and animal herding. Muammar was their last child and only son.
During his early years, Gaddafi received instructions in the teachings of the Koran, the sacred book of Islam. From 1953 to 1955, he attended a Muslim elementary school at Sirte. He was a talented student and went on to receive higher education.
In 1963 he attended the University of Libya at Tripoli and studied geography. A devout Muslim and ardent Arab nationalist, he progressed to the Libyan military academy at Benghazi and graduated in 1965. Thereafter, he rose steadily through the ranks.
On 1 September 1969, Gaddafi, with a small group of fellow army officers, staged a bloodless coup against Libya’s ruler, King Idris. The militants abolished the monarchy and proclaimed the new Libyan Arab Republic. Gaddafi assumed the title of Colonel.
Gaddafi soon began implementing his long-dreamed plans for Libya by nationalizing all foreign banks and oil companies and insisting on closing down all European military bases. In 1970, he seized the private assets of Libya’s Italian and Jewish residents and drove them from the country.
He published his “Green Book” of political philosophy between 1976 and 1979, and following its guidelines, Gaddafi set Libya on a path to “Islamic socialism” while ruthlessly suppressing dissent wherever he found it.
Through the years, Gaddafi supported a wide variety of terrorist groups and regimes including: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Uganda, the Palestine Liberation Organization and its sub-groups, as well as the Irish Republican Army.
In 1981, after Gaddafi talked about assassinating American president Ronald Reagan, Reagan dubbed Gaddafi the “mad dog of the Middle East”. In 1984, Gaddafi started plotting terrorist acts against the United States. During a bombing in a Berlin nightclub, two American soldiers were killed.
In April 1986, the United States carried out “surgical strikes” against Libya, bombing air defenses, three army bases, and airfields in Tripoli and Benghazi. Gaddafi’s adopted daughter and a few dozen military officers were killed.
The 1988 bombing of a Pan Am passenger airplane over Lockerbie, Scotland, was blamed on Libyan terrorists. The event led to international sanctions on Libya throughout the 1990s. Libya took responsibility for the bombings in 2003, easing the sanctions and leading to better relations, temporarily, with the West.
In 2009, Colonel Gaddafi addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York. During his 90 minute speech, he tore up a copy of the UN charter, accused the Security Council of being a terrorist body similar to al-Qaeda, and demanded that $7.7 trillion in compensation be paid to Africa by its past colonial rulers.
Until recently, Muammar Gaddafi has remained firmly in power and has built a reputation as a shrewd, if eccentric, military dictator. He is famous for his all-female contingent of bodyguards, the Amazonians, for his colorful, outlandish outfits, and for his habit of receiving visitors in a Bedouin-style tent.
In the early months of 2011, Libyan citizens staged mass protests against Gaddafi’s leadership. Government troops responded to the demonstrations with brutal assaults and mass killings. When Gaddafi issued dire threats of worse retribution to follow, a group of Western countries and the Arab nation of Dubai attacked Libyan air defenses and established a “no-fly zone” over the country, in an effort to protect the poorly-armed citizens against Gaddafi’s air attacks.
At present, the future of Libya and Colonel Gaddafi hinges on the outcome of the civil rebellion. Even if the rebels succeed in conquering the country, will they be able to maintain their position once the support of their foreign allies is withdrawn?
Muammar Gaddafi is an experienced, ruthless military leader. He has surrounded himself with a core group of fierce, loyal warriors, whose number is supplemented by hired African mercenaries.
The outcome of the present conflict is uncertain, and may not be evident for some time.
Even though “the mad dog of the Middle East” continues to broadcast optimistic proclamations of ultimate victory, he must wonder, in private, if he is finally facing the end of his forty-year reign of terror.