End of Gaddafi: Devil or Martyr

End of Gaddafi: Devil or Martyr

On 1st September last, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi would have been a ruler for exactly 42 years, making him the longest ruler of a country. But that was not to be his fate because he fled Tripoli and his residence Bab-Al-Aziziya was captured in the last week of August.

He imagined himself as he was quoted in the Pittsburgh Press in 1986 : “Abraham Lincoln was a man who created himself from nothing without any help from outside or other people. I followed his struggles. I see certain similarities between him and me.” –

With no parliament, no civil society, no trade unions, no NGOs and no freedom of speech and media, he ruled the country of 6.5 million people. He was fearful of establishing any state institution in the country. Even he did not establish a central command of armed forces. However, according to him, “There is no state with a democracy except Libya on the whole planet.” (lecture to US academics at Columbia University, New York in 2006).

He officially had no position in the state machinery- he was not a President or Prime Minister and no Ambassador could present credentials to him. He was known as the “Leader” of the country, being the chairman of a revolutionary council. Very few close aides knew his exact whereabouts in the country.

I had the opportunity of leading a trade delegation to Libya in 1987 and I carried a message from Bangladesh ’s head of the state to him. At first I was advised that I could not meet him because he did not hold any position in the state or government machinery. However on my insistence to deliver the message and after a few days wait, I was able to meet him inside a tent at a desert town, far from Tripoli , He avoided direct eye contact with me. During discussion I found him well informed about global and regional politics.


Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was an admirer of Arab nationalist leader Gamal Abdel Nasser. He first hatched plans to topple Libya ‘s monarchy as a young soldier. A charismatic figure, he received army training in the UK before returning to Libya to overthrow King Idris in a bloodless coup on 1 September 1969.

He developed his political philosophy known as the Green Book and took on foreign oil interests in Libya . He also played a key role in the increase of oil price during 1973-74 and fostered links with fellow Muslim leaders.

When his idea of establishing a Pan-Islamic world failed, he turned his interests in creating Pan-African unity and helped to many countries in Sahel region of Africa including Zimbabwe and Niger with money and oil. He became at one stage spokesperson of African countries.

He said in 2009 during a meeting of the Arab League: “I am an international leader, the dean of the Arab rulers, the king of kings of Africa and the imam of Muslims, and my international status does not allow me to descend to a lower level.” ( after his microphone was cut for denouncing King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia .)

Col Gaddafi’s courting of militant groups, including the Irish Republican Army and the Palestine Liberation Organisation earned him the “mad dog” label from US President Ronald Reagan.

The US responded to Libya ‘s alleged involvement in a terror attack in Europe with air strikes on Tripoli and Benghazi . Col Gaddafi was said to have been badly shaken by the bombings.

The bombing of Pan-Am flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1988 was the next significant escalation in tensions. Libya was blamed for causing the deaths of 270 people in the air and on the ground, the worst single act of terrorism ever witnessed in the UK .

Col Gaddafi’s initial refusal to hand over the two Libyan suspects to be tried resulted in a protracted period of negotiations and UN sanctions. In 1999, two Libyans were handed over and tried in a Scottish court for the Lockerbie bombing, one was found guilty.

The resolution of the case, along with Col Gaddafi’s subsequent admission and renunciation of a covert nuclear and chemical weapons programme, paved the way for a significant warming of relations between Tripoli and Western powers.

With international sanctions lifted, Tripoli was back on the international political itinerary, allowing British Prime Minister Tony Blair, among other leading figures, to drop in at Col Gaddafi’s famously luxurious Bedouin tent erected in his palace grounds. Blair visited in 2004 and again in 2007.


Starting in the east in Benghazi in February of this year, they spread across the country. Col Gaddafi remained uncompromising and vowed to crush the rebellion.

The political fate of the Colonel Gaddafi’s regime was sealed when the UN Security Council adopted a resolution (number 1973) in middle of March to take “all necessary measures” to protect civilians in Libya and NATO started bombing government weapons armoury.

With the assistance of NATO air power, the rebels consolidated their position in Benghazi and a transitional government- National Transitional Council (NTC)– led by Mustafa Abdul Jalil was installed.

France was the first to recognise the NTC as the legitimate government of Libya . Gradually many European nations followed and the US also accorded recognition on 20th July.

Tripoli fell on August 23 and Gaddafi’s whereabouts were not known except that he was in Libya .. His wife, his daughter and two sons took refuge in Algeria . One of his sons Saadi has fled to Niger and so also his top Generals reportedly fled to Bourkina Faso through Niger .

The news pieced together suggested that when his hometown was falling into the hands of anti-Gaddafi forces, Gaddafi tried to escape in a convoy of vehicles which was attacked by NATO fighters (French planes) in the morning of 20th October.

Col. Gaddafi and a few men managed to escape and sought refuge in two large drainage pipes. Anti-Gaddafi forces finally forced him out from the hole and found him wounded.

Video shown in Al Jazeera showed Gaddafi blooded and staggering under blows from armed men was killed. One story was that as he was resisting, he was killed by anti-Gaddafi forces which captured him in his home town of Sirte , a stronghold for loyalist fighters. It is ironic that Gaddafi insisted during an interview in February this year : “They love me, all my people … they would die to protect me.” –

After Gaddafi’s death, the new path is a bed of roses for NTC. Jockeying for power among Libya ‘s well-armed and fractious new leadership may now intensify. Perhaps the most important test for the interim National Transitional Council will be to manage the enormous expectations of Libya ‘s 6 million people, now freed definitively from the fear of Gaddafi.

The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon cautioned Libyan people “ The road ahead for Libya and its people will be difficult and full of challenges. Now is the time for all Libyans to come together. Combatants on all sides must lay down their arms in peace. This is a time for healing and rebuilding, for generosity of spirit, not for revenge. For the transitional authorities in Libya inclusion and pluralism must be the watchwords.”

By Barrister Harun ur Rashid, Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva .

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