The rambling statements of Muammar al-Qaddafi since the uprising in Libya began on Feb. 17 have led many to characterize the idiosyncratic Libyan leader as a madman, psychotic, out of touch with reality. Among the statements made by Qaddafi that have led observers to question his sanity are his characterization of the rebels as "drug-crazed youth" whose Nescafé the United States plied with hallucinogenic drugs. He also accused al Qaeda of being behind the rebellion, only to then again accuse the United States. In his first media interview on Feb. 28 since the uprising began, with BBC, ABC, and the Sunday Times, when asked about his countrymen rising against him, Qaddafi denied it:
"There are no demonstrations at all in the streets. Did you see the demonstrations? Where? They are supporting us. They are not against us. There is no one against us. Against me for what? Because I am not president. They love me. All my people are with me. They love me all. They will die to protect me, my people."
This led many to conclude that he was denying reality. He also went on a rant blaming al Qaeda:
"It is Qaeda, it is Qaeda, it is Qaeda, not my people. It is Qaeda, Qaeda, Qaeda, yes. They came from outside. It's al Qaeda. They went into military bases and seized arms and they're terrorizing the people. The people who had the weapons were the youngsters. They're starting to lay down their weapons now as the drugs that al Qaeda gave them wear off."
When he was asked in the interview whether he would step down, Qaddafi again denied that he has any authority:
"If they want me to step down, what do I step down from? I'm not a monarch or a king. It's honorary. It has nothing to with exercising power or authority. In Britain, who has the power? Is it Queen Elizabeth or David Cameron?"
Most recently Qaddafi indicated that the rebellion was the result of a conspiracy by the West to recolonize Libya in order to gain control of its oil.
Characterizations of being psychotic have been leveled at Qaddafi since he took over the reins of Libya in a bloodless coup in 1969 at the age of 27. A Time magazine article from April 1986 quoted U.S. President Ronald Reagan as calling him "the mad dog of the Middle East." But for the most part, during his 42 years at the helm of Libya, he has been crazy like a fox.
While this is not a definitive clinical diagnosis, Qaddafi can best be characterized as having a borderline personality. The "borderline" often swings from intense anger to euphoria. Under his often "normal" facade, he is quite insecure and sensitive to slight. His reality testing is episodically faulty. While most of the time Qaddafi is "above the border" and in touch with reality, when under stress he can dip below it and his perceptions can be distorted and his judgment faulty. And right now, he is under the most stress he has been under since taking over the leadership of Libya. Thus, the quotes elaborated above probably accurately reflect his true beliefs. He does sincerely cling to the idea that his people all love him.
Qaddafi's strong anti-authority bent and his tendency to identify with the underdog can be traced back to his childhood. He was born in a tent in the desert to a Bedouin family in 1942. When Qaddafi was 10 years old, Gamal Abdel Nasser took over the reins of Egypt at the head of the Free Officers Movement, which made a deep and lasting impression on the young Qaddafi. He initially attended a Muslim school, where he was recognized as being very bright, and was sent to Tripoli to continue his education, but was teased by the children of the cosmopolitan elite for his coarse manners, leaving him with a bitter resentment of the establishment.
In Libya at that time, a military career provided an opportunity for upward mobility, and Qaddafi entered the Libyan military academy in Benghazi in 1961. Nasser and his revolutionary nationalism assumed a heroic stature in the mind of Qaddafi and his fellow students. He first began to think of organizing a military coup against the corrupt regime of King Idris while in military college, and on Sept. 1, 1969, with a small group of junior military officers, formed Libya's own Free Officers Movement and successfully led a bloodless coup to depose the king.
From the very beginnings of his leadership of the junta known as the Revolutionary Command Council, the deeply anti-establishment Qaddafi actively supported groups that he considered underdogs, who represented themselves as attacking imperialism. He became one of the world's most notorious supporters of terrorist groups around the world, with no particular benefit to Libya. His support of terrorism was both wide and deep. He sent arms to the Irish Republican Army, provided financial support to the social revolutionary group FARC in Colombia, and to the Red Army Faction in Germany and the Red Brigades in Italy. He reportedly provided major financial support to the "Black September" organization responsible for the massacre of the Israeli Olympic team at the Munich Olympics in 1972. He praised the terrorist attack by the Japanese Red Army on the Lod Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, urged Palestinian terrorist groups to carry out attacks on Israel, and offered to provide financial support and training.
Following Nasser's lead, he attempted to create a pan-Arab nation, merging first with Egypt and Syria, and then later attempting to merge with Tunisia, but his would-be partners were quick to discover that to merge with Libya was to be taken over by Qaddafi, leading to the swift failure of these proposed unions. In Qaddafi's modest view, he and Libya were at the very center of three overlapping circles: the Arab world, the Muslim world, and the Third World.