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After the coup d'etat of September 1969, Khadafi structured his power on a series of initiatives aimed at ensuring control over the Libyan territory and most importantly over its population.  A rather small population living in a quite vast territory.


Khadafi's first move was that of obtaining the support of the Kabyles, the beduin tribes of Libya.  Being a beduin himself, Khadafi made his moves in this context with particular agility.

He distributed prebends, favored weddings of interest and assigned offices with the only goal of guaranteeing the support of the heads of the Kabyles and their tribes.  Being himself from a Kabyle of the central Fezzan region (which represents about 33% of the country's surface), it was easy for Khadafi to administer his power in a context of historical rivalry between the Cirenaic (50% of the country) population and that of the Tripolitan area (16% of the country).  Those who did not adhere to this barter were either set aside (in the best case scenario) or eliminated (in the most recurrent scenario).

The Kabyles of the Cirenaic were the ones that could potentially be more hostile to the regime because they had ties with the Senussia confraternity and with the previous monarchy.  These Kabyles immediately became the object of discrimination and persecution.  Cyrenaica itself was – as a punishment – systematically excluded from any and all investment or financial benefit.  It isn't by hazard that the 2011 revolt against the regime moves its first steps from this very region.

The Libyan Kabyles are about 50 in number, then there are the under-Kabyles, the federations of Kabyles and various minor groups.  Khadafi managed to give all of these groups prestigious posts as representatives at the central level.

Apart from the Kabyle that Khadafi belonged to – the “Qadadfa” that was located in Sirte – which had the highest number of representatives in key offices (the cousins Ahmed and Said Gheddafeddam, Ahmed Mohammed Ibrahim, Mohammed Masoud Al Majdud, etc.), the following other Kabyles were the staunchest supporters of Khadafi's regime:

- the “Warfalla” of Bani Walid, the greatest Kabyle of the center-north of the country that was the backbone of the dictator's army and security forces;

- the “Magarha”, the greatest Kbyle of the south-west of Libya (north Fezzan) and the biggest in the country (about 10% of the population) to which belonged Abdel Salam Jalloud (former number two of the regime) and Khadafi's brother-in-law, Abdallah Senussi (husband of the sister of the second wife of Khadafi);

- the “Barasa”, a Kabyle from Cyrenaica (near Al Baida), initially hostile to the regime but later conquered through the marriage of Khadafi and Safia Sarkash, his second wife;

- part of the “Obeidat”, a Kabyle from Benghazi and Tobruk, whose main representative was the foreign Minister Abdullati al Obeidi;

- the “Jawari” from Tripolitan, whose members held posts in the Revolutionary Council (Kweldi al Humaidi and Mustafa al Kharroubi).

As we mentioned above, the other tribal factions that did not support Khadafi were de facto excluded from the division of power and / or money (ex. The “Magharba”, teh “Awlad Suleimann” in Cyrenaica, the “M'nifa” from Huan Waddan).

map libya


The other means used regularaly by Khadafi to control the country was that of repression.  The opposition, even when peaceful, had no room in the dictator's imagination.  Those who dared challenge his power were eliminated or incarcerated.  To render the repression more efficient Khadafi used the Security Services:  The Internal Security Service (Jihaz al Aman al Dakili), headed by Khaled Tuhami, The External Security Service (Jihaz Al Aman al Kharigi), headed by Abu Zied Durda, The Military Security Service (Jihaz Al Aman Akaria), lately under the absolute control of Abdallah Senussi.

The first of these operated without bonds on the national territory, gathering informations on Libyan and foreign citizens and carrying out counter-espionage and counter-terroristic activity.

The second was dedicated to contrasting menaces from abroad, but mostly – especially in the first years of the regime – to the search and elimination of opposition members abroad.  This second activity was flourishing when the E.S.S. was headed by Mussa Kusa, now hiding in England, between 1994 and 2008.  The date in which the hunt for opposition members abroad began was June 11, 1980, the tenth anniversary of the chasing of Americans from the air base of Whelus Field, and the deadline set by the regime for the return home of Libyan dissidents residing abroad.

The military intelligence dedicated itself to the control of the armed forces.  This agency was kept by Khadafi at a low operative level, perhaps because Khadafi himself had staged his coup d'etat from within that agency.

muhammar khadafi
Muhammar Khadafi


Khadafi was afraid that the opposition could assume religious connotations because the preceding monarchy, which he overturned with a coup d'etat, identified itself with the confraternity of Senussia.  The confraternity, strongly present in Cyrenaica, adopted an orthodox Islam (its founder, Mohammed bin Ali Al Senussi, had ties to Saudi Wahabism) and a social system built on work farms (generally agricultural) named “zawiya”.   After expropriating the Catholic Church's possessions (with the exception of two modest churches in Tripoli and Benghazi – the present-day great Mosque in Tripoli used to be a Cathedral) because it was accused of collusion with the previous colonial regime, Khadafi had done the same with the possessions of the confraternity.

The confraternity's religious structures had been transferred to a newly-created organization, the “Dawa al Islamiya” (“Islamic Call”) that controlled the activity of the Mosques, presided the formation of the Ulamas, controlled the Islamic press, but most importantly which served as a transmission belt for consensus between the regime and the country's religious community.  This organization, which rose in 1970 as a Libyan part of the World Islamic Call Society, which in turn is a part of the OIC (Organization of the Islamic Conference), had the goal of diffusing Islam and the dictates of the Green book across the globe, of creating collaborations with other similar foreign organizations and mostly of being an element of political-religious penetration for the regime abroad.  During its first years of activity, the Dawa Islamiya was a destabilizing instrument against the countries hostile to Libya and was also involved in the seek and destroy mission against dissidents living abroad.

As with all of the agencies created by the regime, in its varied formula of duties and functions, this structure too ensured the regime with internal and external support.  It is not by hazard that the Dawa Islamiya was assisted in its activity by an “Office for Islamic Revolutionary Movements” and co-ordinated its initiatives with other agencies that supported the regime (Security Services, Revolutionary Committees, Center for Study and Research of the Green Book, Permanent Secretary of the People's Congress, Mathaba).



Having obtained his power through a military coup d'etat, Khadafi was always wary of a powerful and efficient army that could be a destabilizing element for the regime.  For this reason, after 1969, the Libyan armed forces were always kept at a low level of operativeness.  The chain of command was always held by the Rais through a General provisional Committee of Defense (like a Ministry) headed by a secretary general of the Provisional Defense Committee (Minister) in the person of one of his oldest and most faithful followers, General Abu Bakr Younes Jaber, member of the Council for  Revolutionary Command.

From the military point of view the defense of the regime was presided by the so-called “security forces”, thus the elite forces, well trained and armed but most importantly made up by the most faithful followers of the regime (recruitment was tribe-based).  These agents bypassed every hierarchy to refer directly to Khadafi himself.

There was the Republican Guard (c.ca 3000 men armed with tanks, missile systems and other armed vehicles divided into 2 brigades, one in Tripoli and another in Benghazi), the deterrence Force (for the defense of sensible targes, especially near the capital), the 9th regiment (stationed in Tripoli and armed with mechanized and anti-tank weapons), the Security Units (light infantry battalions in charge of guaranteeing security during the events attended by Khadafi), the 32nd brigade (c.ca 10.000 men) cammanded by Khadafi's son, captain Khamis Muammar al Khadafi (presumably killed in action on August 29, 2011).  A total of c.ca 15.000 /18.000 men, all volunteers, out of an mandatorily drafted army (called “people in arms”) of about 60-70.000 regulars plus 6-8.000 Navy soldiers, 6-8.000 Airforce soldiers and 12-15.000 Air Defense soldiers.  To these we must add c.ca 12.000 Policemen, Border Patrol and Coastguards (later merged with the Navy).  Thus another 25-30.000 men that – with various degrees of loyalty – could support the regime.


In December 1969, three months after the revolution, Libya drafted a new Constitution based on 37 articles that expressed the new inspirational principles of the new regime (Pan-arabism, anti-imperialism, nationalism).  The general principle of “power to the people” was introduced.  Islam was designated state religion, social solidarity, equal rights for all citizens, right to labour, free mandatory education, the family as a founding element of society, the right to medical assistance, freedom of opinion (within the “bounds” of public interest and revolutionary principles), a socialist-styled economic system (property is mostly public, while private property is tolerated only if it doesn't exploit the people, the State can act directly on the private sector and dispossess private property for public use).  There was also the introduction of the idea of a re-unification of the Arab masses that had been divided by false post-colonial boundaries.  All of this within a vision of utopia that has marked the international initiatives of Khadafi since the early years of his regime.

On March 2nd, 1977, a declaration on teh “Institution of authority to the people” was proclaimed.  It introduced two fundamental principles:  the authority is of the people (thus power to the masses) and direct democracy is considered the only form of administration for the public sector.  From both of these premises there came the system of Congresses and Committees that was already mentioned in Khadafi's 1973 Green Book as the only solution to the problem of democracy.

The 1977 declaration specified (art. 3) that the power of the people must be exercised through People's Congresses, Syndicates, Unions, Federations, professional Associations and the General People's Congress.  In practice what followed was the creation of a pyramidal system of aggregation and popular participation at various levels starting with the basic people's congresses (with their own secretariat and popular committee) all the way to the General People's Congress (aka the parliament, single-chambered and composed of 760 representatives with a yearly mandate), a Secretary of the General People's Congress (aka president of parliament) and a General People's Committee (aka the government) presided by a Secretary of the General Committee (aka Prime Minister) and made up of many General People's Committees (as many as the ministries needed and designated).

The pyramidal structure comprised neighborhoods (“mehallat”, c.ca 1.500), municipalities (over 400), districts (Sha'biyah, 32 in total) all the way up to the political head of the country.  This structure involved – both voluntarily and forcibly – an enormous mass of people out of a relatively small population (6.173.579 according to data from 2008) and a huge territory (1.759.540 square km).

With this capillary structure laid out on the entire territory, Khadafi could not only gather “transfer” consensus to his people, but also monitor any manifest dissent in the country.  No political party was authorized to operate in Libya.

The institutional system of Libya (the Great Socialist People's Arab Jamahiriya, as it will be officially called by 1977) did not envisage a head of the State, an office that was “indirectly” carried out by Khadafi in his role of “Supreme Leader of the Revolution of the Great Fatah”.

After the attempted coup d'etat of October 1993 and on the 25th anniversary of the revolution (September 1st 1994), Khadafi had also proclaimed the creation of the “Social popular Libyan Guides”.  Headed by a general and formed by influential individuals from various Kabyles with strong loyalty to the Colonel, the Guides controlled the social life of every district (sha'biyah).  This was yet another measure enacted by the regime to control the population through the integration of the tribal system in the complex Libyan administrative machine.


In 1982 Khadafi decided to constitute a new agency named “Mathaba” (Arabic for “gathering” or “reunion”) with the aim of creating a direct connection between the Jamahiriya and the various revolutionary movements around the world, including their support, both ideologically and financially.  The Mathaba was also called “World Center against imperialism, Zionism, racism and fascism”.   The foundation of the Mathaba happened simultaneously in other co-founding countries, namely Syria and Iran.

The Mathaba operated autonomously within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and had a direct connection to the External Security Service (operatively speaking) and with the “Office for the exportation of the Revolution” (dedicated to the diffusion of the Green Book – ideologically speaking).  Its members were stationed in foreign diplomatic offices with the role of “political commissioners”.  They also sought and eliminated dissidents abroad.

The Mathaba served as the primordial soup for the constitution of a “Revolutionary fighting force”, from which will stem the idea of an “Islamic Legion”.  In September 1989, on the 20th anniversary of the Libyan revolution, a para-military corp called the “Guard of the Mathaba” was created.  The group was made up of 4-500 individuals belonging to foreign revolutionary groups, yet affiliated to the Libyan organization.  In time the Mathaba became a fundamental instrument for financing foreign revolutionary movements all around the world (the Spanish ETA; the Irish IRA; Poder Popular in Argentina; the revolutionary left in general across Latin America as a counter-USA force; the Muslim minorities in Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago; the ANC in South Africa; the Angolan MPLA; the Namibian SWAPO; the Mozambican FRELIMO etc.)  The Mathaba was a strong vehicle for Libya's ideological interference on a global level, but also an instrument of repression and control of the regime.


A new batch of supporting structures for the regime were created in 1977 under the name of “Revolutionary Committees” which, at least at the start, should have worked at spreading the ideas of the Green Book by enacting a revolution as envisaged by Khadafi by monitoring public agencies, schools, institutions, the Congresses, the Popular Committees and the armed forces while at the same time recruiting new adepts.

The Committees were the keepers of the regime's orthodoxy.  They were against tribalism, reactionary or foreign ideologies and opposition in general.  Being made up mostly of youths that united more or less spontaneously, with the passing of time they evolved from being an instrument of support and proselytism to being one of intimidation and repression.  They were the regime's military arm and were involved in the elimination of Libyan dissidents abroad.  Their power constantly becoming more extended and less controlled, they gave way to an equal-sized escalation of abuses and injustices.

In the 1980's they were just a few thousands.  Lately – according to the regime's official data – they were about 30.000.  The Revolutionary Committees answered directly to Khadafi and had conquered ground within Libya's judicial system, thus creating the so-called Revolutionary Tribunals.

Between 1987 and 1988 their overly invasive approach to the Libyan social system had convinced Khadafi to reduce their power by moving part of their activity under the control of a new agency called the “Secretariat for mass mobilization and revolutionary leadership”.  Their activism within security structures and police forces was also dwarfed.  Yet despite the highs and lows of their power, the Revolutionary Committees remained an instrument in the hands of the regime to be used when needed.  During the last civil war they fought until the end together with the loyalist regiments in the guise of para-military entities, being often responsible for episodes of brutality.


Apart from the historical comrades of the Command of the Revolutionary Council (Kweldi al Jameidi, Mustafa al Kharroubi, Abu Bakr Youni) that ensured Khadafi an effective support in exercising his power (in a regime of reciprocity and complicity, of course), the Rais – whom did not officially represent any institutional power – could count on the members of his family for the enforcement of his will.  Khadafi's family was a consolidated part of the system and of his personal power.

khadafi children
(clockwise from top left) Saif al-Islam, Saif al-Arab, Saadi, Ayesha,
Hannibal, Khamis, Mu'tassim and Mohammed

Khadafi had 8 children, 7 sons and 1 daughter.

The oldest was Mohammed, son of Khadafi's first wife (Khaled Nuri Fateya) from whom he had divorced.  For this reason Mohammed did not seat in prestigious political posts.  Engineer, he was considered to be an expert businessman.  He exercised his activity mostly in the sector of telecommunications.  Apart from working in a strategic sector such as telecommunications and the internet, Mohammed represented a trait d'union between the regime and the Libyan entrepreneurial class.  He was married to his college sweetheart, the daughter of merchants.

Seif al Islam was the first male son of Khadafi's second (and last) wife and thus, in the Arab tradition, was the direct heir of his father's power.  The attention of international analysts was often centered on Seif al Islam in order to understand his real standing within the regime as well as his idea and initiatives.  He was the president of the “Khadafi Charity Organization and Development Foundation” and had started a series of international humanitarian initiatives around the world in order to underline the organization's international vocation and had staged similar national initiatives in order to defuse social malcontent (see the contacts with the relatives of the victims of Abu Salim, the contacts with international NGO's for the issue of human rights, the negotiations with the imprisoned former terrorists of the Islamic Fighting Libyan Group).  Politically speaking, Seif professed rather reformist and innovative ideas (Constitution, Democracy, Human rights) that were nonetheless “dangerous” and frequently opposed more or less actively by other members of the regime.  Seif has a degree in architecture, a master degree in International Management obtained in Vienna, Austria, and until the death of his father he never strove from his role of first male son of the dictator.
Politically speaking (lately, in order to assign more important political roles to Seif, Khadafi had created a new agency called the “Council for Social and Popular Guidance” that Mohammed was supposed to preside and represent) he joined the armed forces and was then accused – perhaps unjustly – of crimes against humanity by the International Tribunal in The Hague.  His first and foremost crime was surely that of behind the heir of Khadafi.

Mutassim al Billah was born after Seif Al Islam and had attempted to be a contender for the role of principal heir to his father's power.  He presided the Council for National Security and as such played an important role in the security sector.  If Seif was the “political” brother, Mutassim was the “operative” one.  Perhaps it is because of this that he was eliminated right after being caught.

The two brothers Saadi and Hannibal, rather than creating support for their father's leadership, created problems for the family.  Saadi was a colonel and had an unclear military role (he was accredited with the command of the “Joint Special Force”, made up of members of the Army/Navy/Aviation of which no operative instances are known).  His notoriety was mostly tied to his foolish football ambitions.  His biggest merit was that of having married the daughter of Kweldi al Hameidi, member of the Command of the Revolutionary Council.  Their wedding (not an easy one) guaranteed the connection between powerful personalities within the regime.  Hannibal, on the contrary, was famous for his intemperence, which he paraded both at home and abroad.  Suffice to mention the Swiss hostage crisis, staged as payback for Hannibal's arrest in Switzerland (*)

Aisha Muammar was the only daughter of Khadafi and was very close to him.  As lawyer she had participated in the defense of Saddam Hussein.  Aisha had a strong and combative character, she was emancipated and dedicated to humanitarian initiatives.  She ensured the indirect support of the regime among women.

Seif Al Arab did not meddle much with the family.  No role inside the family power structure is to him accredited.  He was the first of Khadafi's children to die in the civil war, sin silence and unseen, just like he had lived.

Khamis was the “military” son within the family.  He commanded a brigade of loyal soldiers, the most efficient within the armed forces, which ensured the security of the regime.  As expectable, Khamis died (at least until the news will be proven false) during a military operation.


Khadafi's power found its force in the above elements and structures that ensured its solidity and continuity.  Otherwise, Khadafi's dominion could not have lasted over 42 years.  After the death of the North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung and of Omar Bongo in Gabon, Khadafi became the longest lasting dictator still at the helm.

During the so-called “arab spring” that overran several North African and Middle Eastern countries, Libya would have surely maintained its regime if not for the negative circumstances that occurred in neighboring nations (circumstances that caused a domino effect in the region).  Had foreign forces not intervened miliatarily to help the revolt, Khadafi would have probably survived.  The war  showed that Khadafi still had popular consent (even through the Kabyles) and the consequent military power.

The limit that caused the downfall of the regime – although a blood-thirsty one like Khadafi's – was in their lack of flexibility, the impossibility of accepting and facing new scenarios.  This is a recurring parameter among all dictatorships where the logic of force and repression wins over consensus.

In the Libyan case this circumstance was made worse by the fact that Khadafi thought of himself and his role on messianic terms.  He could not accept the fact that his people did not recognize themselves in him.  This is also shown by the fact that Khadafi did not run when faced with certain defeat, he stayed among his people until the bitter end.  He preferred martyrdom to dishonor, he showed stupor in front of the rancor of his aggressors that had captured and were killing him.

Khadafi felt invested with a message and a universal role even in the international context.  His initial philo-Nasserism, the pan-arabism of many years back, up until the final africanism and his self-procured title of “king of kings” by the various African tribe leaders.  All of these elements traveled hand in hand with Khadafi's self-consideration.

Khadafi was not a frivolous operetta-type character as he is sometimes described because of his behavioral extravagance and his attire.

He had the acumen of the beduin, he could smell out situations and perils.  For this reason, during his administration of power he moved from one line to the next and sometimes his policy was tagged as unforeseeable or histrionic, yet always motivated by the survival of the regime.  He was a terrorist and a revolutionary, but he also fought terrorism.  He was alternatively pro or anti-American, a layman, Islamic fundamentalist, then a moderate Islamic.  He caressed the dream of a nuclear bomb then denied his fancy, he had the opposition abroad killed and then – in the final years of his reign – pardoned them.  He fought the Muslim Borthers then pardoned them, fought against the Libyan Fighting Islamic Group then graced and freed them.  He has been everything and its opposite.  He was a dictator, but also a sophisticated politician.  Surely an uncomfortable person, even for Italy, which has often had to face preeminent economic interests among difficult bilateral relationships.

His death does not pose – in principle – particular ethical problems.  A dictator that dies theoretically leaves the world a better place.  This would have even more value if there were an international justice system that would intervene with equity against the various dictators around the globe (the case of Syria shows that it isn't so).


A dead Khadafi invariably leaves behind himself a country torn by divisions and prevarications.  Today's Libya has the same limits as with the preceding dictatorship (violations of human rights, injustice, abuses) with the addition of one more negative element:  the lack of social stability which – although forcibly – Khadafi guaranteed.  In practice today's Libya is not better off than yesterday's.  In the last years of Khadafi's regime the number of political prisoners rose to over 600.  Today the number of the imprisoned people (after the war) is even higher.

One could argue that there is an added value for a dictatorship which is no more, yet when speaking of a population that has never enjoyed democracy, this added value could be equal to zero.  The risk is that Libya could go from a dictatorship to another authoritarian regime.  This is a highly probable circumstance.

Also, a socially unstable Libya – as it is today – can become a stomping ground for terrorism that finds its justification in radical Islam.  The murder of US ambassador Chris Stevens on September 11 in Benghazi by the members of “Ansar al Sharia” demonstrates this without any doubt.

Over a year after the death of Khadafi the armed militias that fought the regime continue to operate undisturbed without adhering – as requested by the new government – to a general dismantling of armed groups.  Every one of these militias tends to represent the interests of its Kabyle, thus invalidating the social cohesion that was guaranteed – although in an informal manner - in Khadafi's time.  Amidst a game of cross-vengeance and in application of the talion law that is rather popular among the beduin populations of the region, Libya continues to be plagued by abuses and bloodshed.

The Kabyles that were staunchest in defending the Rais' regime are still hostile to change as there is no room for national reconciliation.  The recent case of the military attack against Bani Walid, which is inhabited prevalently by the Warfalla and still out of the government's control, is proof of this.

Corruption – an element that was used by Khadafi as an adjoint element of social cohesion is still widely diffused.  The wealth accumulated by the Libyan Investment Authority – the agency that administered the regime's investments abroad with an estimated capital of over 60 billion US dollars – has all but vanished since its administration has shifted to the new government.  There is bickering on the creation of a federal system, but mostly on the division of the oil profits between Libya's regions.  The flourishing of social and financial chaos together with the spread of militant and subversive radicalism and the lack of security create further contrast in a society that is already divided and juxtaposed.


(*) July 15, 2008 : Hannibal and his wife Aline are residing in a Geneva hotel.  Two housemaids working for them go to the police to denounce mistreatments.  When the police show up at the hotel they are aggressed by the Khadafis and by their bodyguards (they are carrying weapons that were not declared when they entered Switzerland).  After a brief fight, Hannibal and his wife are arrested.  They are released on bail on the following day.  Khadafi father feels he has suffered a slight.  This will produce a diplomatic crisis between Tripoli and Bern that will last for over 2 years.