Today marks two years since Libya’s revolutionary leader, Muammar Gaddafi, was murdered. Hillary Clinton laughed at the incident and told CBS News, “we came, we saw, he died” — invoking the Roman tyrant Julius Caesar not by accident.
What she forgot to mention was that the invasion of Libya was much harder than the imperialists had anticipated. It took history’s largest military alliance more than six months to bomb and slaughter their way into the capital of a country with a population smaller than that of New York City. The events in Bani Walid and elsewhere show that the heroic resistance of the Libyan people continues to this day.
Muammar Gaddafi was born into a Bedouin family and was raised in a tent. As a child, he walked miles to and from school each day. He was a bright young boy who experienced firsthand how the colonial system oppressed communities under occupation. His experiences and the values instilled in him by his parents would lead him to become a great advocate for the poor and oppressed worldwide, particularly in the Global South. Gaddafi was born to serve the masses and this is exactly what he did dutifully until his murder.
Gaddafi joined the military and even received training in Britain, reflecting the deep ties between British colonialism and the corrupt monarch King Idris. The highest ranking Gaddafi advanced to was Lieutenant.
Despite success in his military life, Gaddafi could not ignore the extreme poverty and exploitation gripping Libya. Under the King, Libya was one of the poorest nations in the world. Less than 1 in 5 Libyans were literate, while laws concerning divorce and other matters enforced inequality for women. After Italian fascism had claimed so many lives and left the country in shambles, the emerging feudal order also worked to prevent any Libyans not a part of the tiny elite from having a future. Libya needed a change of course that developed the country in an equitable way while preserving the rich heritage of Libya’s many tribes. Muammar Gaddafi was the man who would lead the transformation of Libya from impoverished colonial client state into Africa’s most prosperous, equitable, and developed nation.
On September 1, 1969, the Libyan “royal” family awoke to find that their regime was crumbling. A 27-year-old Lieutenant Gaddafi was launching what would come to be known as the al-Fateh Revolution. Supported by the military and the popular masses, a Revolutionary Command Council headed by Gaddafi seized state power. At 7a.m., the goals of the Revolution were announced by the Council in their first communiqué:
In answer to your free will, fulfilling your dearest wishes, welcoming your constant requests for change and eruption as well as your desire for action and enterprise, listening to your calls to revolt, your armed forces have undertaken to overthrow the reactionary and corrupted regime whose stench suffocated and whose vision horrified us.
In a single blow, your valiant army has upset the idols and smashed their effigies. In a single stroke, it has illuminated the dark night in which succeeded one another, first the Turkish and Italian domination, then finally, that of a reactionary and rotten regime where reigned concussion, fractions, felony and treachery. From now on, Libya is a free and sovereign republic, named the Libyan Arab Republic which, by the grace of God is setting herself to work. She will go forward on the path of freedom, union and social justice, guaranteeing each of her sons/daughters the right to equality, and opening before them the door of honest work, from which shall be banished injustice and exploitation, and where no one shall be either master or servant, where everyone shall be free brothers, within a society where shall prosperity and quality, by the grace of God.Give us your hands, open your hearts to us, forget all adversities and make front moulded in a single block against the enemy of the Arab nation, the enemy of Islam, the enemy of humanity, who set our sanctuaries afire, and flouted our honour Thus shall we build our glory, revive our inheritance, vindicate our ravaged dignity and the rights we were deprived of. Oh! You, who witnessed the sacred struggle of our hero Omar Al Mukthar for Libya, for Arabism and for Islam Oh! You, who fought alongside Ahmed Al-Sherif for a just ideal; you sons of the desert; you sons of our ancient cities; you sons of our green countryside; you sons of our beautiful villages; the time for work has arrived. Let us go forward! At this juncture, I am pleased to tell our foreign friends that they must fear neither for their properties nor for their lives.
They are under the protection of the armed forces. Moreover, I wish they would rest assured that our present undertaking is directed neither against nor against any acknowledged international treaty of international law. This is an exclusively domestic affair concerning Libya and her endemic problems. Forward then, and peace be with you.
At first, the orientation of the revolution was Arab nationalist and Gaddafi considered himself a protege of Gamal Nasser. Yet the al-Fateh Revolution ended up being greater because it was far more ambitious.
In 1977, the largest direct democracy project the world had ever known was announced. Colonel Gaddafi, who would be referred to by his people as the Brother Leader, handed over power to the people through directly democratic institutions. These institutions respected the integrity of tribal systems while allowing large-scale development projects to be pursued by the central government. This period marked the rapid construction of public housing, schools, hospitals, and roads. In addition, rights for women and children continued to be expanded after 1969. Libya would become one of the most advanced places for women outside of the Communist bloc.
Gaddafi authored The Green Book and other works that outlined his ideals. His first love was his family, which was why NATO forces killed his daughter and later his grandsons.
While many of the projects pursued under the Jamahiriya government, like the Great Manmade River, were only made possible because of Gaddafi’s revolution, Gaddafi’s key achievement was empowering the Libyan people to control their own destinies and reach their full potential. In 2011, the literacy rate was higher than 80% with 99% literacy for those born after 1969. Libya’s development index was far higher than any other country in Africa, including Egypt and South Africa.
As the 21st century approached, Gaddafi recognized the bankruptcy of Arab nationalism and called on the Jamahiriya to pursue instead pan-African integration. Gaddafi supported development of other African nations and when Libya was under attack in 2011, large demonstrations supporting Gaddafi erupted across the continent. He was especially beloved by poor and working class people on the continent.
There is much to say about the noble man who stood up for humanity against its many enemies. Suffice to say that he will be remembered as one of the world’s greatest leaders and an honest person who gave his life for democracy, equality, and the promise of a better world for all. Even in his final moments, he was full of compassion.
Today is a day to celebrate the life and achievements of Muammar Gaddafi, and rather than feeling sad, to honor his legacy by advancing the just cause of global revolution.
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