The Life and Times of Muammar Qaddafi


After 42 years of dictatorial rule, Libya’s former leader Muammar Qaddafi was killed on Thursday after National Transitional Council fighters captured his hometown of Sirte, which was also his last crucial stronghold, two months after his regime was brought down.

Qaddafi, who was 69, is the first leader to have been killed from the nations of the Arab Spring, a regional uprising which has seen people from Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and Yemen rise up and demand an end to their decades long rule.

Born in 1942 to nomadic parents, Qaddafi dropped out of Benghazi University to join the army.

He made his first politically significant stance in September 1969 as the leader of junior army officers that saw the overthrowing of King Idriss in a military coup. Idriss was ruler of Libya since it gained independence from Italy in 1951.

Drawing upon Arab nationalism, Qaddafi decided to cut ties with Western powers in favor of unifying Arab nations. However, his attempts, like the initiation of the Arab Federation with Egypt and Syria in April 1972, proved unsuccessful. He also organized opposition against the 1978 Camp David peace agreement between Egypt and Israel.

His relationship with the West continued to dwindle into the early 1980s especially with the United States. He was accused of sending agents to bomb a club in Berlin popular amongst American marines, which consequentially resulted in U.S. air strikes aimed at Benghazi and Tripoli. His home in Aziziya was struck and his adopted daughter was allegedly killed.

In December 1988, Qaddafi and his regime were blamed for a Pan Am flight explosion over the Scottish village of Lockerbie. Qaddafi faced a great deal of international pressure to hand over two Libyans accused of their involvement in the incident and despite great resistance, he ultimately did so on the advice of South African President Nelson Mandela.

But this incident would prove to be instrumental in Qaddafi being seen as a pariah.

Qaddafi openly criticized Arab leaders and institutions and was erratic with his decisions regarding foreign policy. One example was in 2003, when he declared Tripoli had abandoned weapons of mass destruction programs and U.N. nuclear site checks. This event would signal the end of his country’s isolation and the resumption of diplomatic ties with the West.

In April 2009, Qaddafi’s fourth eldest son, Mo'tassim met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, acting as Libya’s National Security Adviser, which indicated the possibility that Qaddafi was planning to hand over power to him.

In the same month, Qaddafi visited the U.S. for the first time since he was in power, and addressed the U.N. general assembly, accusing global powers of betraying the U.N. charter and denouncing the veto powers. The infamous speech lasted over an hour-and-a-half.

When the Arab Spring commenced in Tunisia early 2011, Libyans saw the regional wave of uprisings as a pivotal moment to call for the end of Qaddafi’s 4 decade rule, which marked the beginning of violent crackdowns across the nation. The U.N. Security Council responded on March 17 by issuing a no-fly zone, and two days later, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization began its deployment of air raids in Libya to support civilian plight.

Qaddafi remained defiant in the months to come, with casualties rapidly increasing, prompting fears of a civil war. There has been repeated speculation that Qaddafi was a casualty of the air strikes, but his sporadic television appearances would prove otherwise. His last public appearance was on June 12, which showed him playing chess against Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, president of the world chess federation.

On August 21, rebels managed to seize Qaddafi’s Aziziyah compound which showed minimal resistance.

Libya’s interim government, the National Transitional Council offered a reward for his capture, as he was also wanted by Hague’s International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

For the past two months, Libya’s interim fighters were on the hunt for Qaddafi and his inner circle. Fighting was intense in his home town of Sirte but ultimately the fighters succeeded in capturing the most wanted man in Libya.

True to his word, Qaddafi vowed to die on Libyan soil which he ultimately did on October 20th.