Libya was no longer the tribal society it had been. The discovery of oil, new prosperity and influx of foreigners had their impact. Growing numbers of Libyans were copying European dress, manners, ideas and use of foreign mass-produced products and communications. By 2008, 78.7 percent would be living in cities compared to 43 percent for Egypt. A new class of labor had developed alongside middle-class professionals and people with university educations. The few still in rural areas were independent-minded farmers rather than close-knit members of a tribal community. They and many in the cities still identified themselves as members of a tribe, but politically and socially the tribe did not matter as much as it had.
Gaddafi had not succeeded in getting all of his fellow Libyans to accept the united Libya of his revolution. Increased wealth disparities and housing shortages were displeasing to many. Gaddafi's political exhortations, his exhortations against rival Islamic authorities and his effort to enlist young women in the armed forces offended the sensitivities of many. Few saw the revolution of 1969 as their revolution, and they either did not participate in Gaddafi's people's committees or did so only minimally.
In the early 1990s, Gaddafi shifted his foreign policy agenda. He saw advantage in getting along better with other countries. His support of terrorism against Israel and his other violent acts had done nothing to take the world where he wanted it to go. In 1993 he saw Islamic terrorism tearing apart his neighboring country, Algeria. That year, a faction within the Libyan army attempted unsuccessfully to assassinate him. That was the year also that NATO air action was enforcing a UN ban on unauthorized Serbian military flights over Bosnia-Herzegovina and a no fly zone over Iraq. It was the year also that PLO and Israeli leaders formulated their agreement in Oslo, Norway. Also in 1993, Gaddafi had a better appreciation of the peace and stability required for commercial enterprise.
Gaddafi is reported to have converted his political Islamism into a hostility toward Al Qaeda. The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), known to be an Al Qaeda affiliate, was targeting Gaddafi, and Gaddafir began to categorize all his political opposition as Al Qaeda, a categorization that was to last into his final year in 2011.
In 1998, Syria ordered Gaddafi's former friend in terrorism, the neurotic Abu Nidal, out of the country. Nidal ended up in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. In December 1998, Gaddafi denounced terrorism. In April 2000 he invited an Israeli official to visit Libya. On September 11, 2001, Gaddafi condemned the attacks on the twin towers in New York. He pledged humanitarian aid to the families of the victims and spoke of the right of the US to retaliate against those responsible for the attack.
President Bush ordered US banks to freeze assets belonging to Al Qaeda and other organizations linked to Usama bin Laden, and one of those organizations was a Libyan anti-Gaddafi Al Qaeda linked group.
It was after the US invasion of Iraq in early 2003 and during Gaddafi's new role of cooperation with the West that Libya sought to put itself right with the international community by admitting its responsibility in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. And Gaddafi also dismantled his nuclear program, permitted inspections and abided by the terms of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
On Libyan television he expressed a new orientation toward Africa, saying that Libya is an African country, and "...may God help the Arabs and keep them away from us. We don't want anything to do with them."
At a summit meeting in Ethiopia in 2009, African heads of state elected Gaddafi leader of the Africa Union. Gaddafi described Libya's politics as a model for other African states. Multi-party democracy, he said, led to bloodshed. Gaddafi's no-party democracy – or one-party state – continued with an intolerance toward those who wanted an alternative.
There was Fathi Eljahmi who was arrested in 2002 and sentenced to five years in prison for stating at a "People's Conference" in Tripoli that reform in Libya would require a constitution, free speech and democracy. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is reported to have pleaded for Eljahmi's release from solitary detention. Eljahmi remained in custody. He fell into a coma and died on May 21, 2009. That month, a member of Human Rights Watch, Sarah Leah Whitson, described changes in Libya in Foreign Policy magazine. She wrote:
What Fathi al-Jahmi [Eljahmi] died for is starting to spread in the country. For the first time in memory, change is in the air in Libya.
She wrote that during her visit four years before she had found "... the repression of Libyan citizens was as suffocating as ever. She described the change she saw in her more recent visit as a "Tripoli Spring."
On February 11, 2011, the day when Egypt's Hosni Murbarak fell from power, the Libyan newspaper al-Watat compared Mubarak's politics with politics in Libya:
Had President Mubarak adopted the brother leader's theory and applied direct democracy for the people through people's congresses this chaos would not have engulfed Egypt.
On February 17, 2011, there was a "day of rage" in Benghazi, Libya. The protests in Benghazi were duplicated in Tripoli. Gaddafi's military fired indiscriminately into a crowd in Tripoli protesting peacefully. Gaddafi's son, Saif, apologized, but the killing of civilians continued. Attacking the protesters created bigger protests and more fear and brutality by the Gaddafi regime.
On February 22 Gaddafi said on television that the protesters were "serving the devil." He describe them as gangs, mice and mercenaries. The protesters, he claimed, were on hallucinogenic drugs and wanted to turn Libya into an Islamic state. Waving his Green Book he said that they deserved the death penalty. He vowed to track down and kill protesters "house by house."
Also on the 22nd, the UN Security Council demanded an end to the violence, and the Arab League suspended Libya. On February 26 the Security Council passed Resolution 1970, turning Gaddafi and the slaughter of unarmed civilians over to the International Criminal Court.
On March 28, President Obama described what inspired him to take action against Gaddafi:
In cities and towns across the country, Libyans took to the streets to claim their basic human rights. As one Libyan said, "For the first time we finally have hope that our nightmare of 40 years will soon be over."
Faced with this opposition, Gaddafi began attacking his people... Innocent people were targeted for killing. Hospitals and ambulances were attacked. Journalists were arrested, sexually assaulted, and killed. Supplies of food and fuel were choked off. The water for hundreds of thousands of people in Misrata was shut off. Cities and towns were shelled, mosques destroyed, and apartment buildings reduced to rubble. Military jets and helicopter gunships were unleashed upon people who had no means to defend themselves against assault from the air.
Libya's Qaddafi: The Politics of Contradiction, by Mansour El-Kikhia, 1997
Years of Upheavel, Chapter XIX, "The Energy Crisis," by Henry Kissinger, 1982
Gaddafi's Green Book, 1975
Copyright © 2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.