In the late 1980s,
Qadhafi continued to perceive himself as a revolutionary leader.
Qadhafi has always claimed that the September 1969 overthrow of
the monarchy was a popular revolution, not merely a military coup
d'état. In fact, only a few military officers and enlisted men
took part in the September revolution. Qadhafi reconciled the
apparent inconsistency by stressing that the military--and more
specifically the Free Officers Movement, whose members took part
in the coup and subsequently formed the RCC--shared the humble
origins of the people and represented their demands. Qadhafi depicted
the military as the vanguard elite of the people, a concept adopted
from Marxist-Leninist ideology. But although Qadhafi wanted to
be recognized as a revolutionary leader and justified military
domination of Libya with the concept of the vanguard elite, he
excoriated communism as well as capitalism.
The wellsprings of Qadhafi's political thought are the Quran
and Nasserism. As an ardent admirer of Egypt's Gamal Abdul Nasser,
Qadhafi has never wavered in the conviction that he is Nasser's
legitimate heir. As such, he felt compelled to advance Nasser's
struggle for Arab unity and socialism. Qadhafi was influenced
by Nasser's theory of the concentric Islamic, Arab, and African
circles of influence. And Qadhafi, like Nasser, was also influenced
by the ideology of the Syrian Baath Party, which advocated Arab
unity and socialism.
Qadhafi expanded Nasser's political thought by emphasizing the
Islamic bases of socialism in that the Quran condemns class domination
and exploitation. Qadhafi stated that although Islam "cannot be
described as socialism in its modern sense, it strives to a certain
extent to dissolve the differences among classes." According to
Qadhafi, "almsgiving is the nucleus of the socialist spirit in
Islam." Socialism in Libya was to mean "social justice." Work,
production, and resources were all to be shared fairly, and extreme
disparities between rich and poor were to be eliminated. But social
hierarchy, as provided for in the Quran, would remain, and class
harmony, not class warfare, would be the result. Qadhafi stressed
that this socialism, inherent in Islam, was not merely a stage
toward communism, as the Marxist theorists would argue.
For Qadhafi as for Nasser, Arab nationalism took primacy over
pan-Islamism. Both leaders can be described as secularists, although
Qadhafi increasingly emphasized the Islamic roots of his ideology.
Yet, his main interest undoubtedly lay in the secular rather than
the sacred world. Revolution, the propagation of The Green
Book, mass mobilization, and liberation remained his obsessions.
"I love the people, all the people," he proclaimed in a 1986 interview
with a French television newscaster published in Jeune Afrique.
"I would like the people to vanquish the government, the armies,
the police, the parties, and the parliaments," he said in explanation
of his notion of direct democracy in which people rule themselves
without the mediation of traditional governmental institutions.
"I am the prophet of the revolution and not the prophet of Allah,"
Qadhafi declared in the same interview, "for what interests me
in this century is that The Green Book become the bible
of the modern world."
The secular basis of Qadhafi's philosophy was emphasized further
by the Libyan adoption of the Baath Party slogan of unity, freedom,
and socialism. These ideals were embodied in the first revolutionary
pronouncement of September 1, 1969, and reiterated in the Constitutional
Proclamation of December 11, 1969. They were afterward refined
and modified in response to practical Libyan considerations. The
ideal of freedom included the freedom of the nation and its citizens
from foreign oppression. Freedom was considered to have been achieved
by the revolution and the subsequent negotiations that quickly
ended the existence of foreign military bases in Libya. The ideal
of freedom also encompassed freedom from want of the basic necessities
of life and freedom from poverty, disease, and ignorance. In this
regard, the ideal of freedom called for the ideal of socialism.
Libyan socialism has succeeded to the extent that social welfare
programs have been subsidized by oil revenues. By all accounts,
the Qadhafi regime has succeeded to an impressive degree in fulfilling
basic human material needs (see Health and Welfare , ch. 2). Libya
has also been relatively successful in achieving economic egalitarianism.
To Qadhafi, such equality entails abolishing the conventional
employer-employee relationship. Wage labor is regarded as a form
of slavery. Similarly, to prevent landlord-tenant relationships,
no person may own more than one house. Furthermore, because domestic
servants are considered "a type of slave," the residents of a
house should perform their own household work. To achieve economic
justice, the slogans of "partners, not wage-earners" and "those
who produce, consume" have been proclaimed and, to a significant
The Libyan revolutionary ideal of unity was Arab unity, the cause
for which Qadhafi was the undisputed champion after the death
of Nasser. Qadhafi believed that, through unity, Arabs had achieved
greatness during the Middle Ages, when Arab accomplishments in
the arts and sciences had overshadowed European counterparts.
He further believed that foreign oppression and colonial domination
ended Arab unity; until it was restored, the Arab world would
suffer injustice and humiliation, as it had when Palestine was
lost. Qadhafi believed that the ideal of unity should be realized
through practical steps, initial combinations of Arab states providing
the nucleus for some form of ultimate unity. Toward this end he
initiated unity schemes between Libya and several other countries,
but, as of 1987, none of the schemes had been successful (see
Foreign Relations , this ch.). At the 1972 National Congress,
Qadhafi likened the role of Libya in unifying the Arab nation
to that of Prussia in unifying Germany and to that of Piedmont
in unifying Italy.
Although most Arab leaders share or sympathize with Qadhafi's
ideology of Arab unity, most consider as naive his ardent conviction
that unity can be accomplished. Despite his transnational orientation,
Qadhafi is parochial in his outlook. His beduin background, obviously
a critical factor shaping his personality, inculcated a set of
values and modes of behavior often at odds with prevailing international
norms. Therefore, he has been awkward at diplomatic give-and-take
in comparison to other Arab leaders. For Qadhafi, nomadic life
is preferable to urban ways because of its simplicity, pervasive
sense of egalitarianism, and puritanism unpolluted by modern,
largely alien, cultural influences.
Data as of 1987