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Over 4 Decades, Libya's Gadhafi Consolidated Power

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

For more on the evolution of Gadhafi, we reached Ali Ahmida. He was born in Libya and he's the author of the book "The Making of Modern Libya."

ALI AHMIDA: In the 1980s he became a little bit eccentric, but he was there to consolidate his power. He tried to introduce something like (unintelligible) socialism based on his green book.

MONTAGNE: That green book, let's just say, it's very similar to the little red book of Mao.

AHMIDA: Exactly, Renee.

MONTAGNE: It's his philosophy...

AHMIDA: His philosophy, economic philosophy. It's funny that you mention Mao Tse-tung, because he not only has a green book because Mao had a red book, but also he regarded himself like Mao: I am a leader, I'm not really a president after 1977. And this is really very odd because when you don't even recognize that you call the shots and you deny that you are really the president, it means that despotism and control is even much deeper than somebody who is just declared dictator.

MONTAGNE: So as he was becoming a despot in a very classic tradition, did this sneak up on Libyans?

AHMIDA: Many Libyans, they supported him the '70s. In the '80s they really did not support him, but they began to say, well, we are better than the Egyptians, better than other - the Tunisian, other neighboring countries, because we still have the welfare state, we have free health care. So, well, we could survive, you know, care about other things.

MONTAGNE: At this point in time, are Libyans, do they see him as, you know, U.N. Representative Susan Rice called him just earlier this week, delusional? I mean, do they see him the way the West does to some extent, as a little bit crazy?

AHMIDA: Keep in mind, this is a guy who has been in power for 40 years, went from Third World liberator self-image to the king of kings in Africa. So I think the delusion is real, and I think many Libyans will share that view.

MONTAGNE: Professor Ahmida, thank you very much for talking with us.

AHMIDA: I enjoyed it very, very much.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.