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Qadhafi Era Military Leadership

The group of junior officers who seized power in 1969 wanted to introduce a radical form of Arab and Islamic socialism. The Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) of Qadhafi and eleven other officers assumed formal responsibility for drawing up general policies. The initial civilian cabinet was frustrated by the RCC's insistence on reviewing all of its decisions. After its resignation, a new cabinet in January 1970 had Qadhafi as prime minister, Major Abdul Salam Jallud as deputy prime minister, and other RCC members in key ministerial positions.

Although the RCC always spoke with one voice and Qadhafi and his associates generally succeeded in instilling a spirit of unity and discipline among the military, there was internal dissent. Differences came into the open in 1975 because of disagreement over the priority being given to armament purchases over domestic social needs in the use of oil revenues. As a result, the minister of planning was dismissed, and others left their posts. By late 1975, only five of the original twelve members were still serving on the RCC.

Officially phased out in 1977, the RCC was succeeded by the General Secretariat of the General People's Congress (GPC). At first this new policy-setting body was little more than the RCC under a new name. In the reorganization of 1979, however, when Qadhafi relinquished his position as secretary general, Jallud was replaced by a civilian as deputy secretary general and the other three military members of the General Secretariat were likewise replaced by civilians. They continued to serve as senior policy advisers to Qadhafi, although their public role was curtailed. In 1987, the most senior positions of the military hierarchy were held by members of the original RCC. Qadhafi retained the title of supreme commander of the armed forces. General Abu Bakr Yunis Jabir was commander in chief of the armed forces. Major Khuwayldi al Hamidi was chief of the general staff and headed the People's Militia or People's Army (formerly the Popular Resistance Force.) Colonel (formerly General) Mustafa al Kharrubi was inspector general of the armed forces and commandant of the navy and air force. Major Jallud held no military position, but he headed the revolutionary committees and was acknowledged to be Qadhafi's second in command.

In the course of the post-coup reorganization of the military into a single unified command, the RCC retired or fired--for political reasons--the entire leadership of generals and colonels along with a number of officers of lesser rank identified with the Idris regime. Qadhafi and the other RCC members maintained that the former military leaders had been involved extensively in various forms of corruption, particularly in arms-procurement contracts. In addition, the former high command had been largely in agreement with the monarchy's position on such issues as the continued presence of British and United States military bases on Libyan territory and the country's rather limited involvement in the ArabIsraeli disputes.

The former military leadership was also believed to have tolerated and in many instances to have profited personally from a recruitment and promotion system that awarded high posts to individual tribal leaders and members of influential families. Senior officers were chosen not on the basis of military qualities or experience, but rather because of personal loyalty or political favors provided to King Idris or in recognition of their political and religious conservatism. These factors, which had brought the senior officers their initial commissions and subsequent promotions, caused much of the low morale among junior officers and contributed to the eventual overthrow of the monarchy.

Unlike the former military leaders, many of whom were from the middle and upper classes, and by virtue of their social status could just as easily have chosen higher education or the bureaucracy as routes to advancement, most of the RCC officers were from the lower strata of society. For them, the most logical source of upward mobility under the monarchy had been the military. Of the original RCC members, most of whom were in their mid-twenties at the time of the 1969 uprising, approximately half were from tribal or peasant backgrounds. They reflected the country's three traditional geographic divisions, with roughly one-third coming from each of the major regions--Tripolitania, Cyrenaica, and Fezzan.

In political outlook, the military leadership that rose to power after 1969 was described as both soldier-revolutionary and ardent pan-Arabist. In published interviews, the senior officers, particularly Qadhafi, recalled that their identification with the goal of regional Arab unity and the adoption of a more militant posture toward Israel dated from their secondary school years, when their hero was Egypt's President Gamal Abdul Nasser.

The new military leaders frequently emphasized their passionate commitment to the moral tenets of Islam and to their own concept of Islamic socialism. Qadhafi and the other senior military figures became the dominant influence group in the country, representing both the modernizing and the traditional aspects of national life. On the one hand, they were committed to modernization, reflected in their acquiring technical military equipment and sophisticated weaponry and training personnel to operate and maintain it. Commitment to modernization also was demonstrated by their continuing emphasis on improving the literacy rate and on the development of technical skills and training. On the other hand, many of the top officers, including Qadhafi, remained proud of their desert backgrounds, their religious convictions, their social relationships, and their traditional belief in the overall primacy of Arab and Islamic attitudes and values. One important exception to emphasis on traditional values was Qadhafi's desire for a role for women in the armed forces, a proposal that was rejected by the normally obedient GPC.

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Page last modified: 23-10-2013 19:12:59 ZULU