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Tuesday, 6 February, 2001, 12:14 GMT
Analysis: Gaddafi's revolution
By Middle East analyst Gerald Butt
The past always catches up with you. So Colonel Muammar Gaddafi must be thinking as he digests the decision of the Scottish judges in The Hague to jail for 20 years one of the Libyan defendants in the Lockerbie trial.
The Libyan leader could not hide his anger.
And having promised on 5 February to produce fresh evidence to prove that the sentenced Libyan was innocent, Col Gaddafi revealed nothing new - manging instead only a rather tired diatribe against the West.
Over recent years, looking and sounding increasingly weary, the Libyan leader seems to have come to terms with his own mortality.
On the diplomatic front he has sought to have Libya accepted back into the international community. He wants the world to believe that he and his country have cast aside their rebellious streak.
But he is having more trouble convincing people than he imagined, and the Lockerbie verdict will not make that process any easier. The image of the Libyan leader as an unpredictable maverick will be hard to erase.
Thirty years ago, Colonel Gaddafi led a military coup that toppled King Idris and ended the monarchy in Libya. But since then, he has ruled his country in the style of the most eccentric of absolute monarchs imaginable.
Colonel Gaddafi's Libya is unlike any other country in North Africa, the Middle East or the world at large. It has the stamp of its leader imprinted on every aspect of its life - even its name.
Colonel Gaddafi's political and social theories are set out in rambling fashion in three volumes of his Green Book, completed in the late 1970s.
Nearly four years after coming to power he launched what he called a cultural revolution.
The main thrust was to remove all traces of imported ideologies, like capitalism and communism, and all signs of foreign influence, before building a new society based on the basic principles of Islam and home-grown socialism.
As part of this process, corrupt officials were punished and politically unsound books burned.
As popular committees were formed, the Revolutionary Command Council was scrapped and effective authority taken from governors, ministers and senior officials.
But despite the cosmetic changes, ultimate power to push through revolutionary changes rested in the hands of Colonel Gaddafi alone.
Even though Libya enjoys a vast oil income, Colonel Gaddafi himself purports to enjoy a simple lifestyle. He greets foreign visitors in a traditional bedouin tent, and likes to spend long periods in the desert.
Libya has been shaped by its leader more than most countries. Members of his family had taken part in the armed struggle to end Italian colonial rule, and his father and one of his uncles served prison sentences.
The young Gaddafi was strongly influenced in his formative years by the pan-Arab nationalism espoused by the charismatic Egyptian leader, President Gemal Abdel-Nasser.
During the Suez crisis of 1956, Gaddafi, aged 14, took part in anti-Israeli demonstrations. Later, at military college, he began forming plans for toppling the monarchy.
After further army training in Britain, he returned to Benghazi, in eastern Libya, forming a secret group which planned the forthcoming coup.
On 1 September 1969 Colonel Gaddafi personally led an attack on the Benghazi radio station that signalled its start. Under the slogan, "socialism, unity and freedom", a new chapter in Libya's history began.
In opposing what he regards as the pernicious influence of the West on the Arab world and in pursuit of his desire to destroy Israel, Colonel Gaddafi has, at times, given financial help to a broad range of Palestinian and other armed groups around the globe, including the IRA.
All the while, the Libyan leader was preaching the need for Arab unity.
After the death of President Nasser in 1970, he had assumed it was his natural role to step into the shoes of the former undisputed leader of the Arabs.
Nearly three decades later, the bitterness he feels at being rebuffed time and again in his efforts at promoting unity has boiled over into a public rejection of the Arab world as a whole.
1986 was a low point for Colonel Gaddafi after the US bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi. He said in a recent interview that Africa "is closer to me in every way than Iraq or Syria."
From the perspective of other Arab leaders, Colonel Gaddafi is too quixotic and unpredictable to be taken seriously. As a result, they were not prepared to translate the sympathy they felt for Libya, as sanctions were imposed after the Lockerbie bombing, into action to help Colonel Gaddafi.
They believe that his meddling with terrorist groups and such acts as the murder of British police officer Yvonne Fletcher by staff firing from inside the Libyan People's Bureau in London in 1984 have made Libya a country that is best kept at arm's distance.
Among the Arab people, the judgment is less harsh.
Colonel Gaddafi has won some respect for having the courage to speak his mind without fear.
He has struck a common chord, for example, in recently denouncing the deals that a number of Arab leaders have struck with Israel as a shameful sell-out.
But at the same time Arabs are well aware that the views of this maverick veteran are as likely to have as much impact on real life as his former dream of regional unity.
In one respect Colonel Gaddafi is in step with all other Arab leaders in wanting the old revolutionary Libya cast into the history books. Which is why they want the Lockerbie verdict to be the start of a new chapter, not just another page in the old one.
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