State of Internal Security
In the late 1980s, many segments of Libyan society deeply resented
the authoritarian nature of the Libyan government under Qadhafi.
The extent of silent opposition could not be assessed with certainty
but has been estimated at more than 50 percent by outside observers.
Dissent was hard to measure because all news media were strictly
controlled to serve as instruments of the state, and no forms
of association were permitted without the endorsement of the regime.
Citizens were fearful of voicing discontent or uttering critical
opinions that might be reported by a widespread informer network.
Punishment for open dissent was arbitrary and could be extraordinarily
Internal security mechanisms reaching into every corner of Libyan
society, and fears of harsh retribution have successfully prevented
antipathy to Qadhafi's actions from reaching a stage of public
demonstrations or open questioning. As many as 50,000 Libyans--mostly
from the more prosperous classes--have taken up residence abroad,
but the opposition groups that have sprung up among the exiles
have not presented a convincing threat to the regime (see Opposition
to Qaddafi , ch. 4).
Numerous attempts have been launched to overturn Qadhafi's rule.
In most instances, these attempts have originated among military
officers who have access to weapons and the necessary communications
and organizational networks. In no case, however, did they appear
to come near to achieving their goal. The effectiveness of the
internal security apparatus and the infiltration of officers loyal
to Qadhafi have frustrated most plots before they could develop
sufficiently to have a chance of success.
Among the reported coup attempts, possibly the most widespread
was uncovered among disaffected officers of the RCC in 1975. A
large number of personnel were tried in secret by a military court,
with many sentenced to death and hundreds condemned to long prison
terms. An undisclosed number of officers and civilians were arrested
in an abortive coup in January 1983; five officers were executed,
including the deputy commander of the People's Militia. A coup
attempt, reportedly involving bloody fighting in front of the
fortified barracks where Qadhafi resides in a Tripoli suburb,
occurred in May 1984. According to the United States Department
of State, over 5,000 were arrested, many tortured, and perhaps
more than 100 executed. A leading opposition group, the National
Front for the Salvation of Libya, took credit for this failed
operation, although Qadhafi blamed the Muslim Brotherhood.
Another reported plot in March 1985 was said to have been foiled
when it was infiltrated by persons loyal to Qadhafi. Some sixty
military officers, disgruntled over the country's economic mismanagement
and extravagance, were said to have been arrested.
A further instance of disaffection occurred in November 1985.
Colonel Hassan Ishkal, a senior officer and military governor
of Surt, was reportedly summarily executed after being summoned
to Qadhafi's headquarters. It was believed that he had broken
with Qadhafi over the interference of revolutionary guards in
the military and over Qadhafi's adventurist foreign policies.
Because of these coup attempts, protective security surrounding
Qadhafi was carried to unusual lengths. His travel plans were
concealed and changed abruptly, his patterns of residence were
disguised, and he moved about in a heavily armored convoy. His
personal bodyguard was composed of a Presidential Guard, drawn
from his own tribal group. Moreover, there were reports that Qadhafi
constantly moved senior military officers from one command to
another so that no officer could develop a unified command capable
of threatening the regime.
The major instrument used by Qadhafi to detect and avert coup
attempts was an extensive internal security apparatus. As of early
1987, details of the salient features of the security organization
were generally lacking. The system installed in the early 1970s
with Egyptian help was modeled on its Egyptian counterpart and
was once described as "composed of several overlapping but autonomously
directed intelligence machines." As it further evolved, internal
security functioned on several levels, beginning with Qadhafi's
personal bodyguard unit (reportedly given technical assistance
by East German advisers). The secret service and, at a lower level,
the police were constantly on the alert for suspicious conduct,
as were the revolutionary committees and the Basic People's Congresses.
The committees constituted an effective informer network and may
also act independently of other security agencies when authorized
and encouraged by Qadhafi. This multilayered complex assured tight
control over the activity of individuals in virtually every community.
* * *
Although published data on the Libyan armed forces is limited
and often contradictory, some details can be found in the article
on Libya by Gwynne Dyer in the compendium, World Armies.
Additionally, assessments of Libyan military capabilities in relation
to other armies of the Middle East are available in The Middle
East Military Balance (ed. Mark Heller). A number of aspects
of the role of military power in Qadhafi's regime are treated
in Richard B. Parker's North Africa: Regional Tensions and
Strategic Concerns. Reports by the United States Department
of State, The Libyan Problem (1983) and Libya Under
Qadhafi: A Pattern of Aggression (1986) summarize much of
what is known of Libya's attempts to subvert other governments,
to assassinate its opponents in exile, and to support international
terrorism. Libyan relations with the Soviet Union are analyzed
in Lisa Anderson's "Qadhafi and the Kremlin." Events in Chad and
other developments involving the Libyan military are reviewed
in the monthly Africa Research Bulletin and in Keesing's
Contemporary Archives. (For further information and complete
citations, see Bibliography.)
Data as of 1987