Gadhafi was born in 1942 to poor parents outside of Sirte, Libya, a country then ruled by Italy. Raised in a tent, he eventually joined the military. And in 1969, while pro-Western Libyan King Idris was away, Gadhafi led a coalition of military officers in a bloodless coup that abolished the monarchy.
After seizing power, the budding despot promptly shut down Western military bases in Libya and set up “Revolutionary Committees” to quash opposition. While working to bring in his version of Arab socialism, Gadhafi also developed a massive system of informants to silence dissent. Critics were often publicly executed.
Using oil money instead of debt, Gadhafi’s regime did significantly raise Libyans’ standards of living — life expectancy and literacy rates surged. Blacks and women were also given equal “rights.” Many analysts cite the dictatorship’s socialist programs and robust welfare state as a reason he was able to cling to power for so long. Like most governments, Gadhafi ensured some level of popular support by using divide-and-conquer tactics and creating whole classes of citizens dependent on his regime’s largesse. Fear also played a key role.
A few years after the coup, Gadhafi began to dedicate more and more time to “revolutionary theorizing.” He eventually produced the “Green Book” outlining what he claimed was an Islamic form of “direct democracy” through local “People’s Congresses.” By the mid-1970s Gadhafi had relinquished all official titles to become simply “Brother Leader.” But in practice, his word was law — and he ruled with an iron fist.
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