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Muammar al-Qaddafi seized control of the Libyan government in 1969, and ruled as an authoritarian dictator for more than 40 years before he was overthrown in 2011.
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In 1974, Qaddafi published the Green Book, an explanation of his political philosophy. The book describes the problems with liberal democracy and capitalism, and promotes Qaddafi's policies as the remedy. Qaddafi claimed that Libya boasted popular committees and shared ownership, but in reality this was far from true. Qaddafi had appointed himself or close family and friends to all positions of power,
and their corruption and crackdowns on any kind of civic organizing meant much of the population lived in poverty. Meanwhile, Qaddafi and those close to him were amassing fortunes in oil revenue.
Qaddafi's ruling style was not just repressive, it was eccentric. He had a cadre of female bodyguards, considered himself the king of Africa, erected a tent to stay in when he traveled abroad, and dressed in strange costume-like outfits. His bizzare antics often distracted from his brutality, and earned him the nickname "the mad dog of the Middle East."
In addition to his oppressive rule at home, Qaddafi was despised by much of the international community. His government was implicated in the financing many anti-western groups, including some terror plots. The Black Panthers, Nation of Islam, and the Irish Republican Army all allegedly had links to Qaddafi. Because of Libya's links to Irish terrorism, the United Kingdom cut off diplomatic relations with Libya for more than a decade. In the most famous instance, Libya was implicated in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. A plane carrying 270 people blew up near Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people. In 1988, U.S. warplanes carried out bombings in Libya, in a failed attempt to kill Qaddafi.
In 1990s, the relationship between Qaddafi and the West began to thaw. As Qaddafi faced a growing threat from Islamists who opposed his rule, he began to share intelligence information with the British and American intelligence services. In 1994, Nelson Mandela persuaded the Libyan leader to hand over the suspects from the Lockerbie bombing. It wasn't long before Qaddafi had mended relations with the West almost entirely.
Qaddafi was welcomed in Western capitals, and Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi counted him among his close friends. Qaddafi's son and heir apparent, Seif al-Islam Qaddafi, mixed with London's high society for several years. Many critics of the newfound friendship of Qaddafi and the West believed it was based on oil. In 2001, the United Nations eased sanctions on Libya, and foreign oil companies worked out lucrative new contracts to operate in Libya. The influx of money to Libya made Qaddafi and his family and associates even wealthier, and the disparity between the ruling family and the masses ever more apparent.
After more than four decades in power, Qaddafi's downfall happened in less than a year. In January 2011, the Tunisian revolution forced out longtime dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and set off the Arab Spring. The next month, Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak was forced out, providing a morale boost to protesters in several Arab capitals.
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Ruthless, corrupt and crazy. Many of the world's dicators started out as charismatic young leaders, with a large measure of support from their countrymen—only to become bloated with power and abandon the principles they had pledged to uphold. These leaders held on to power by rigidly enforcing control, intimidating opposition and instilling fear among citizens. With access to unlimited power and riches, many developed secretive personal lives and bizarre habits. These dictators terrorized their people, and mesmerized the world, with their bizarre sayings, styles, and actions. Biography.com takes a look at some of the world's most erratic, and autocratic, leaders.
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