With no constitution, the blueprint for governance was his "Green Book" — a slim volume of his philosophies that inspired an entire research department at one of Libya's main universities. Plaster representations of the book have been erected in cities across Libya.
in addition, no one branch of Libya's feared security apparatus has a monopoly on power.
One son — Mutassim — was picked to head one branch, while another son, Khamis, headed what analysts say is a British-trained unit. A third son, Seif al-Islam, has become the Western face of the regime and was put forth as the reformer, heading a variety of youth organizations.
All three were left to jockey for power while Gadhafi was depicted on billboards across Tripoli gazing into the distance.
Occasionally, he weighed in. For example, he once issued calls to dismantle the government because of corruption and distribute oil wealth directly to the people.
Each statement left observers scrambling for clues as to which son was more in favor.
All the while, Gadhafi watched, careful to remain firmly in control and ready to act in those rare occasions when the fear inspired by the security forces was not enough to maintain order.
The image of a leader unafraid to use force is one Libyans know well.
Seif al-Islam, in what many see as a thinly veiled warning of a possible escalation of the crackdown, said on state television early yesterday that the country could be headed for civil war and that Libya's army, which fully backed his father, was unlike the armed forces of Tunisia or Egypt.
The son's comments "showed that Gadhafi, or those close to him, want to fight it out and create a situation like in Somalia where they will leave behind them a broken society," said Saad Djebbar, a Libya expert with Cambridge University's North African Institute.