25 years on - and Gaddafi is still a one-man revolution: Charles Richards in Tripoli reviews the career of the maverick Libyan leader

BUNTING is out in Tripoli for Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's big anniversary celebration tomorrow. Huge stadium lamps turn night into day at Green Square, named in imitation of Moscow's Red Square, after the colour of its would-be Islamic revolution, started 25 years ago.

Few revolutions have been so closely associated with one man. Yet nothing underlines the failure of the revolution more than the difficulties the hundreds of guests from friendly countries and sympathetic organisations have experienced in reaching Tripoli.

Libya is cut off from the world. Its refusal to hand over two Libyan intelligence agents suspected of the bombing of PanAm Flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988 led in April 1992 to the imposition of a UN air embargo on the country. But the Libyans do not help their own cause. The head of state of Niger, in observance of the air embargo, had to fly to Tunisia and then travel overland. Even he was obliged to tarry nearly an hour at the border while the usual Libyan committee of immigration officials, police and security men competed to see who could be most dilatory in stamping the honoured guests' passports.

Colonel Gaddafi was born into a poor Bedouin family of the lowly Gadadfa tribe. When he led his group of army officers to seize power on 1 September 1969, he had been politically active since his teens. His main target was the corrupt and decadent monarchy of King Idris. And throughout the past 25 years, Colonel Gaddafi has imposed his own austere blend of tribal culture and Islamic puritanism on the country. Alcohol was banned. Entertainment is limited.

His curious blend of religion and nationalism, of Islam and Arabism, was inspired by his hero, Gamal Abdel Nasser, and his book The Philosophy of the Revolution. Colonel Gaddafi believes in the fundamental natural justice of Bedouin society, with its absence of formal structures and hierarchies. Yet he conforms depressingly to the mould of Arab leaders: a junior officer who seized power in a military coup and then clung on to it through a repressive and pervasive security apparatus posing as 'the will of the people'. The press is circumscribed. Freedom of expression is limited. Political activity is banned.

His fertile imagination led to an act of political alchemy in 1977 with the coinage of the term Jamahiriya - 'an entity of the masses', formally calling the country the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. On the world stage, the Libyan leader has earned a reputation as an oddball. His support of fringe groups, from the Provisional IRA to Muslim separatists in Thailand and the Philippines, and his backing of some of the viler Palestinian extremists such as Abu Nidal, has aroused anger all over the world. The disappearance of the Lebanese Shia divine Imam Musa Sadr in Libya in 1978 has never endeared him to the Iranians.

Externally his policies have been characterised by failure, ridicule and disastrous confrontation. He demonstrated his early political naivety by trying to buy a nuclear bomb from the Chinese. He was shown the door.

For all his trumpeting of the need for Arab unity, his projects for union with Egypt, Sudan and Syria in various combinations have never been implemented. He has engaged in costly adventures in Chad, had a brief border skirmish with Egypt in 1977, and been on collision course with the United States since the Reagan administrations of the 1980s, culminating in the bombing of Tripoli by US warplanes in 1986.

Yet the profoundest influence he has had on the history of the past 25 years has been economic. In 1970, the Libyans began what proved to be a highly successful policy of isolating individual oil companies and putting pressure on each of them rather than gunning for the industry as a whole. Libya's negotiating position was greatly enhanced by the fact that it had become Europe's largest single source of petroleum. Libya's actions shifted control over pricing from the oil companies to the producer governments. The effect has been high oil prices and higher energy costs ever since - and huge revenues for producers.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor