Qaddafi’s Coup and Rise to ‘Guide of the Revolution’: Timeline

Popular protests that ousted long-serving presidents in Tunisia and Egypt this year served as a catalyst for demonstrations against Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi. This timeline tracks Qaddafi’s 42 years in power. He holds no official title and is referred to as “Leader and Guide of the Revolution.”

June 7, 1942

Qaddafi is born near Sirte, Libya, to a Bedouin family.

Sept. 1, 1969

Qaddafi and a group of military officers overthrow King Idris I in a coup.


The U.S. and Britain close military bases in Libya. About 20,000 Italian residents are expelled.


Qaddafi and leaders of Egypt and Syria proclaim a ‘Federation of Arab Republics.’ The attempt at unity fails.


Qaddafi announces the nationalization of foreign oil assets. The Irish navy discovers Libyan-supplied arms destined for the Irish Republican Army aboard the ship Claudia.


Qaddafi publishes his Green Book outlining his opposition to capitalism and Marxism.


Lebanese Shiite leader Imam Moussa al-Sadr goes missing on a visit to Libya. More than three decades later, a former member of Libya’s revolutionary command council says that al-Sadr was killed by Qaddafi’s regime and buried in southern Libya.


British police officer killed in London by gunfire from inside Libyan embassy. Libyan suspects are allowed to leave country under diplomatic immunity. U.K. breaks relations with Qaddafi.

April 9, 1986

President Ronald Reagan calls Qaddafi the “mad dog of the Middle East” four days after Libyan agents bomb a disco in Berlin, Germany, killing two U.S. soldiers, a Turkish woman and wounding 229 others.

April 15, 1986

U.S. bombs Tripoli in response to Libyan-backed bombing of the German disco. Qaddafi escapes injury but his 15-month old adopted daughter, Hanna, is killed, along with about 100 others.

June 9, 1988

Qaddafi tells other Arab leaders to “go to hell” and wears a white glove on his right hand to avoid tainting it by shaking hands with them.

Dec. 21, 1988

Pan Am Flight 103 is blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 259 people on board and 11 on the ground.


The United Nations agrees to an air embargo and other sanctions against Libya in an effort to pressure Qaddafi into handing over suspects in Pan Am 103 bombing.


Libyan security forces open fire on 1,200 inmates of Abu Salim prison in retaliation for uprising in eastern city of Benghazi.


Libya hands over Lockerbie suspects, UN lifts sanctions.


Qaddafi’s government takes responsibility for Lockerbie, agrees to renounce terrorism and its nuclear weapons program. Foreign oil companies begin returning to country.


U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair visits Libya and says the country shares a “common cause” with the U.K. and U.S. in fighting terrorism and should be viewed as a partner. U.S. moves to ease sanctions on Libya complicated by Qaddafi’s alleged plot to assassinate Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah.


Libya releases five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor who faced the death penalty for allegedly infecting Libyan children with HIV, paving the way for more normal relations with the European Union.


Qaddafi has himself crowned “King of Kings” in Benghazi by a group African traditional leaders wearing gold crowns and sequined capes.

Feb. 2, 2009

Qaddafi, who supports the creation of a United States of Africa, is elected chairman of the African Union and denounces democracy on the continent.

March 30, 2009

Qaddafi storms out of Arab League summit in Doha, and calls Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah “a British product and American ally.”

Aug. 30, 2009

During a visit to Rome, Qaddafi pays 200 young women to listen to him lecture on Islam.

Sept. 23, 2009

Qaddafi delivers a rambling 90-minute speech at the United Nations during which he attempts to rip the UN Charter, asks Europe’s former colonial powers to pay $7.77 trillion in restitution to Africa and chastises world leaders for dozing off during his address. His speech follows his failed bid to pitch his Bedouin tent in New York’s Central Park.

Feb. 16, 2010

Libya begins revoking visas and detaining visitors from most European countries, escalating a row with Switzerland over the 2008 arrest of his son Hannibal and wife Aline for allegedly mistreating employees. The move follows an earlier Qaddafi proposal to abolish Switzerland.

March 19, 2010

Nigeria recalls its ambassador to Libya after Qaddafi tells African students visiting Tripoli the West African nation should be divided into separate Muslim and Christian states.

Jan. 14, 2011

Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali ends his 23-year rule by fleeing in the face of popular protests.

Feb. 11, 2011

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigns after 17-days of popular protests paralyze Cairo and Alexandria.

Feb. 16, 2011

Protesters in eastern city of Benghazi begin demonstrations against Qaddafi’s rule.

Feb. 18, 2011

At least 19-killed in “Day of Anger” anti-Qaddafi protests.

Feb. 22, 2011

With members of the regime defecting to the opposition and his control slipping outside of Tripoli, Qaddafi appears on state television to deny reports he’s fled the country and says he’ll die fighting the uprising to his “last drop of blood.”

Feb. 24, 2011

Qaddafi, speaking by telephone on state television, blames the uprising against his 41-year rule on al-Qaeda.

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