Libya Table of Contents
Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt (top) was the ideological mentor
of Colonel Muammar al Qadhafi (bottom) Nasser photo
Courtesy Embassy of Egypt
In the late 1980s, Qadhafi continued to perceive himself as a revolutionary leader. Qadhafi has always claimed that the September 1969 overthrow of the monarchy was a popular revolution, not merely a military coup d'état. In fact, only a few military officers and enlisted men took part in the September revolution. Qadhafi reconciled the apparent inconsistency by stressing that the military--and more specifically the Free Officers Movement, whose members took part in the coup and subsequently formed the RCC--shared the humble origins of the people and represented their demands. Qadhafi depicted the military as the vanguard elite of the people, a concept adopted from Marxist-Leninist ideology. But although Qadhafi wanted to be recognized as a revolutionary leader and justified military domination of Libya with the concept of the vanguard elite, he excoriated communism as well as capitalism.
The wellsprings of Qadhafi's political thought are the Quran and Nasserism. As an ardent admirer of Egypt's Gamal Abdul Nasser, Qadhafi has never wavered in the conviction that he is Nasser's legitimate heir. As such, he felt compelled to advance Nasser's struggle for Arab unity and socialism. Qadhafi was influenced by Nasser's theory of the concentric Islamic, Arab, and African circles of influence. And Qadhafi, like Nasser, was also influenced by the ideology of the Syrian Baath Party, which advocated Arab unity and socialism.
Qadhafi expanded Nasser's political thought by emphasizing the Islamic bases of socialism in that the Quran condemns class domination and exploitation. Qadhafi stated that although Islam "cannot be described as socialism in its modern sense, it strives to a certain extent to dissolve the differences among classes." According to Qadhafi, "almsgiving is the nucleus of the socialist spirit in Islam." Socialism in Libya was to mean "social justice." Work, production, and resources were all to be shared fairly, and extreme disparities between rich and poor were to be eliminated. But social hierarchy, as provided for in the Quran, would remain, and class harmony, not class warfare, would be the result. Qadhafi stressed that this socialism, inherent in Islam, was not merely a stage toward communism, as the Marxist theorists would argue.
For Qadhafi as for Nasser, Arab nationalism took primacy over pan-Islamism. Both leaders can be described as secularists, although Qadhafi increasingly emphasized the Islamic roots of his ideology. Yet, his main interest undoubtedly lay in the secular rather than the sacred world. Revolution, the propagation of The Green Book, mass mobilization, and liberation remained his obsessions. "I love the people, all the people," he proclaimed in a 1986 interview with a French television newscaster published in Jeune Afrique. "I would like the people to vanquish the government, the armies, the police, the parties, and the parliaments," he said in explanation of his notion of direct democracy in which people rule themselves without the mediation of traditional governmental institutions. "I am the prophet of the revolution and not the prophet of Allah," Qadhafi declared in the same interview, "for what interests me in this century is that The Green Book become the bible of the modern world."
The secular basis of Qadhafi's philosophy was emphasized further by the Libyan adoption of the Baath Party slogan of unity, freedom, and socialism. These ideals were embodied in the first revolutionary pronouncement of September 1, 1969, and reiterated in the Constitutional Proclamation of December 11, 1969. They were afterward refined and modified in response to practical Libyan considerations. The ideal of freedom included the freedom of the nation and its citizens from foreign oppression. Freedom was considered to have been achieved by the revolution and the subsequent negotiations that quickly ended the existence of foreign military bases in Libya. The ideal of freedom also encompassed freedom from want of the basic necessities of life and freedom from poverty, disease, and ignorance. In this regard, the ideal of freedom called for the ideal of socialism.
Libyan socialism has succeeded to the extent that social welfare programs have been subsidized by oil revenues. By all accounts, the Qadhafi regime has succeeded to an impressive degree in fulfilling basic human material needs (see Health and Welfare , ch. 2). Libya has also been relatively successful in achieving economic egalitarianism. To Qadhafi, such equality entails abolishing the conventional employer-employee relationship. Wage labor is regarded as a form of slavery. Similarly, to prevent landlord-tenant relationships, no person may own more than one house. Furthermore, because domestic servants are considered "a type of slave," the residents of a house should perform their own household work. To achieve economic justice, the slogans of "partners, not wage-earners" and "those who produce, consume" have been proclaimed and, to a significant degree, established.
The Libyan revolutionary ideal of unity was Arab unity, the cause for which Qadhafi was the undisputed champion after the death of Nasser. Qadhafi believed that, through unity, Arabs had achieved greatness during the Middle Ages, when Arab accomplishments in the arts and sciences had overshadowed European counterparts. He further believed that foreign oppression and colonial domination ended Arab unity; until it was restored, the Arab world would suffer injustice and humiliation, as it had when Palestine was lost. Qadhafi believed that the ideal of unity should be realized through practical steps, initial combinations of Arab states providing the nucleus for some form of ultimate unity. Toward this end he initiated unity schemes between Libya and several other countries, but, as of 1987, none of the schemes had been successful (see Foreign Relations , this ch.). At the 1972 National Congress, Qadhafi likened the role of Libya in unifying the Arab nation to that of Prussia in unifying Germany and to that of Piedmont in unifying Italy.
Although most Arab leaders share or sympathize with Qadhafi's ideology of Arab unity, most consider as naive his ardent conviction that unity can be accomplished. Despite his transnational orientation, Qadhafi is parochial in his outlook. His beduin background, obviously a critical factor shaping his personality, inculcated a set of values and modes of behavior often at odds with prevailing international norms. Therefore, he has been awkward at diplomatic give-and-take in comparison to other Arab leaders. For Qadhafi, nomadic life is preferable to urban ways because of its simplicity, pervasive sense of egalitarianism, and puritanism unpolluted by modern, largely alien, cultural influences.
Data as of 1987
Libya Table of Contents