UNITED NATIONS, N.Y. — For many Americans, Col. Muammar Qaddafi personifies terrorism. For years he adamantly refused to turn over the suspects in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, as well as in the bombing of a French plane in 1989. And his government has consistently made the US State Department's annual short-list of states that sponsor terrorism.
In Libya, however, he enjoys a different reputation. Ever popular, he has created an image of a man of principles, refusing to submit to a perceived American imperialism.
This stance and his rallying cry for Arab nationalism have kept Colonel Qaddafi at the top ever since he engineered a military coup in 1969. He erased English from Libya, kicked the British military out in 1970, and made sure that Libyans controlled businesses.
Qaddafi has repeatedly called for Arab unity. Yet at various times he has denounced the governments of Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco. But then his belligerence has given way to a zeal for mending fences.
In 1974, the mercurial colonel stepped down as prime minister, preferring to refashion himself as a supporter of the oppressed. But Qaddafi tightened his control over the country, resulting in his designation as "leader" of Libya.
In 1984, however, 20 commandos attacked Qaddafi's residence. They were unsuccessful, but they did not signify the end to coup attempts. Since then, Qaddafi has had to contend with growing dissatisfaction with a slumping economy, tribal rivalries, and political repression.