Qadhafi and the Revolutionary Command Council
Muammar al Qadhafi was born in a beduin tent in the desert near
Surt in 1942. His family belongs to a small tribe of Arabized
Berbers, the Qadhafa, who are stockherders with holdings in the
Hun Oasis. As a boy, Qadhafi attended a Muslim elementary school,
during which time the major events occurring in the Arab world--the
Arab defeat in Palestine in 1948 and Nasser's rise to power in
Egypt in 1952--profoundly influenced him. He finished his secondary
school studies under a private tutor in Misratah, paying particular
attention to the study of history.
Qadhafi formed the essential elements of his political philosophy
and his world view as a schoolboy. His education was entirely
Arabic and strongly Islamic, much of it under Egyptian teachers.
From this education and his desert background, Qadhafi derived
his devoutness and his austere, even puritanical, code of personal
conduct and morals. Essentially an Arab populist, Qadhafi held
family ties to be important and upheld the beduin code of egalitarian
simplicity and personal honor, distrusting sophisticated, axiomatically
corrupt, urban politicians. Qadhafi's ideology, fed by Radio Cairo
during his formative years, was an ideology of renascent Arab
nationalism on the Egyptian model, with Nasser as hero and the
Egyptian revolution as a guide.
In Libya, as in a number of other Arab countries, admission to
the military academy and a career as an army officer became available
to members of the lower economic strata only after independence.
A military career offered a new opportunity for higher education,
for upward economic and social mobility, and was for many the
only available means of political action and rapid change. For
Qadhafi and many of his fellow officers, who were animated by
Nasser's brand of Arab nationalism as well as by an intense hatred
of Israel, a military career was a revolutionary vocation.
Qadhafi entered the Libyan military academy at Binghazi in 1961
and, along with most of his colleagues from the RCC, graduated
in the 1965-66 period. After receiving his commission, he was
selected for several months of further training at the Royal Military
Academy at Sandhurst, England. Qadhafi's association with the
Free Officers Movement began during his days as a cadet. The frustration
and shame felt by Libyan officers who stood by helplessly at the
time of Israel's swift and humiliating defeat of Arab armies on
three fronts in 1967 fueled their determination to contribute
to Arab unity by overthrowing the Libyan monarchy.
At the onset of RCC rule, Qadhafi and his associates insisted
that their government would not rest on individual leadership,
but rather on collegial decision making. However, Qadhafi's ascetic
but colorful personality, striking appearance, energy, and intense
ideological style soon created an impression of Qadhafi as dictator
and the balance of the RCC as little more than his rubber stamp.
This impression was inaccurate and although some members were
more pragmatic, less demonstrative, or less ascetic than Qadhafi,
the RCC showed a high degree of uniformity in political and economic
outlook and in dedication. Fellow RCC members were loyal to Qadhafi
as group leader, observers believed, not because of bureaucratic
subservience to his dictatorial power, but because they were in
basic agreement with him and with the revolutionary Arab nationalist
ideals that he articulated.
Although the RCC's principle of conducting executive operations
through a predominantly civilian cabinet of technicianadministrators
remained strong, circumstances and pressures brought about modifications.
The first major cabinet change occurred soon after the first challenge
to the regime. 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, Qadhafi, 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 Qadhafi in the RCC,
became deputy prime minister and minister of interior. This cabinet
totaled thirteen members, of whom five were RCC officers. The
regime was challenged a second time in July 1970 when Abdullah
Abid Sanusi, a distant cousin 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.
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 7 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. 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, Qadhafi and the RCC had disbanded the Sanusi order
and officially downgraded its historical role in achieving Libya's
independence. They 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. A broad-based political party, the Arab
Socialist Union (ASU), was created in 1971 and modeled after Egypt's
Arab Socialist Union. Its intent was to raise the political consciousness
of Libyans and to aid the RCC in formulating public policy through
debate in open forums. All other political parties were proscribed.
Trade unions were incorporated into the ASU and strikes forbidden.
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
After the September coup, United States forces proceeded deliberately
with the planned withdrawal from Wheelus Air Base under the agreement
made with the previous regime. The last of the American contingent
turned the facility over to the Libyans on June 11, 1970, a date
thereafter celebrated in Libya as a national holiday. As relations
with the United States steadily deteriorated, Qadhafi forged close
links with the Soviet Union and other East European 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 prerevolutionary force
that had been trained and equipped by the British--was armed with
Soviet-built armor and missiles (see Foreign Military Assistance
, ch. 5).
As months passed, Qadhafi, 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 Qadhafi. Two years later Jallud assumed Qadhafi's
remaining administrative and protocol duties to allow Qadhafi
to devote his time to revolutionary theorizing. Qadhafi 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 Qadhafi soon dispelled such
theories by his measures to restructure Libyan society.
Data as of 1987