Libya Under Qadhafi
On September 1, 1969, a small group of military officers led by then 28-year-old army officer Mu'ammar Abu Minyar al-Qadhafi staged a coup d'etat against King Idris, who was exiled to Egypt. The new regime, headed by the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), abolished the monarchy and proclaimed the new Libyan Arab Republic. Qadhafi emerged as leader of the RCC and eventually as de facto chief of state, a political role he still plays. The Libyan Government asserts that Qadhafi currently holds no official position, although he is referred to in government statements and the official press as the "Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution."
The new RCC's motto became "freedom, socialism, and unity." It pledged itself to remedy "backwardness", take an active role in the Palestinian Arab cause, promote Arab unity, and encourage domestic policies based on social justice, nonexploitation, and an equitable distribution of wealth.
An early objective of the new government was withdrawal of all foreign military installations from Libya. Following negotiations, British military installations at Tobruk and nearby El Adem were closed in March 1970, and U.S. facilities at Wheelus Air Force Base near Tripoli were closed in June 1970. That July, the Libyan Government ordered the expulsion of several thousand Italian residents. By 1971, libraries and cultural centers operated by foreign governments were ordered closed.
In the 1970s, Libya claimed leadership of Arab and African revolutionary forces and sought active roles in international organizations. Late in the 1970s, Libyan embassies were redesignated as "people's bureaus," as Qadhafi sought to portray Libyan foreign policy as an expression of the popular will. The people's bureaus, aided by Libyan religious, political, educational, and business institutions overseas, exported Qadhafi's revolutionary philosophy abroad.
Qadhafi's confrontational foreign policies and use of terrorism, as well as Libya's growing friendship with the U.S.S.R., led to increased tensions with the West in the 1980s. Following a terrorist bombing at a discotheque in West Berlin frequented by American military personnel, in 1986 the U.S. retaliated militarily against targets in Libya, and imposed broad unilateral economic sanctions.
After Libya was implicated in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, UN sanctions were imposed in 1992. UN Security Council resolutions (UNSCRs) passed in 1992 and 1993 obliged Libya to fulfill requirements related to the Pan Am 103 bombing before sanctions could be lifted. Qadhafi initially refused to comply with these requirements, leading to Libya's political and economic isolation for most of the 1990s.
In 1999, Libya fulfilled one of the UNSCR requirements by surrendering two Libyans suspected in connection with the bombing for trial before a Scottish court in the Netherlands. One of these suspects, Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, was found guilty; the other was acquitted. UN sanctions against Libya were subsequently suspended; full sanctions lift is contingent on Libya's compliance with the remaining UNSCRs, including acceptance of responsibility for the actions of its officials and payment of appropriate compensation.
On December 19, 2003, Libya publicly announced its intention to rid itself of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR)-class missile programs. Subsequently, Libya cooperated with the U.S., the U.K., the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons toward these objectives. Libya has also signed the IAEA Additional Protocol and has become a State Party to the Chemical Weapons Convention. These were important steps toward full diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Libya.
Nationwide political violence erupted in February 2011, following the Libyan Government’s brutal suppression of popular protests against Libyan leader Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi. Opposition forces quickly seized control of Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city, as well as significant portions of eastern Libya and some areas in western Libya. Drawing from the local opposition councils which formed the backbone of the “February 17” revolution, the Libyan opposition announced the formation of a Transitional National Council (TNC) on February 27, 2011. The Council stated its desire to remove Qadhafi from power and establish a unified, democratic, and free Libya that respects universal human rights principles.
On October 23, 2011, 3 days after Qadhafi’s death, the TNC officially declared Libya liberated. The TNC subsequently moved from Benghazi to Tripoli and formed a transitional government (i.e., an executive branch). On February 7, 2012, it approved an election law, and the Supreme Election Commission has started preparing for June elections for the General National Conference, to consist of 200 elected representatives.
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