The Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
The remaking of Libyan society that Qadhafi envisioned and to
which he devoted his energies after the early 1970s formally began
in 1973 with a so-called cultural or popular revolution. The revolution
was designed to combat bureaucratic inefficiency, lack of public
interest and participation in the subnational governmental system,
and problems of national political coordination. In an attempt
to instill revolutionary fervor into his compatriots and to involve
large numbers of them in political affairs, Qadhafi urged them
to challenge traditional authority and to take over and run government
organs themselves. The instrument for doing this was the "people's
committee." Within a few months, such committees were found all
across Libya. They were functionally and geographically based
and eventually became responsible for local and regional administration.
People's committees were established in such widely divergent
organizations as universities, private business firms, government
bureaucracies, and the broadcast media. Geographically based committees
were formed at the governorate, municipal, and zone (lowest) levels.
Seats on the people's committees at the zone level were filled
by direct popular election; members so elected could then be selected
for service at higher levels. By mid-1973 estimates of the number
of people's committees ranged above 2,000.
In the scope of their administrative and regulatory tasks and
the method of their members' selection, the people's committees
embodied the concept of direct democracy that Qadhafi propounded
in the first volume of The Green Book, which appeared
in 1976. The same concept lay behind proposals to create a new
political structure composed of "people's congresses." The centerpiece
of the new system was the General People's Congress (GPC--see
Glossary), a national representative body intended to replace
The new political order took shape in March 1977 when the GPC,
at Qadhafi's behest, adopted the "Declaration of the Establishment
of the People's Authority" and proclaimed the Socialist People's
Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. The term jamahiriya is difficult
to translate, but American scholar Lisa Anderson has suggested
"peopledom" or "state of the masses" as a reasonable approximation
of Qadhafi's concept that the people should govern themselves
free of any constraints, especially those of the modern bureaucratic
state. The GPC also adopted resolutions designating Qadhafi as
its general secretary and creating the General Secretariat of
the GPC, comprising the remaining members of the defunct RCC.
It also appointed the General People's Committee, which replaced
the Council of Ministers, its members now called secretaries rather
All legislative and executive authority was vested in the GPC.
This body, however, delegated most of its important authority
to its general secretary and General Secretariat and to the General
People's Committee. Qadhafi, as general secretary of the GPC,
remained the primary decision maker, just as he had been when
chairman of the RCC. In turn, all adults had the right and duty
to participate in the deliberation of their local Basic People's
Congress (BPC), whose decisions were passed up to the GPC for
consideration and implementation as national policy. The BPCs
were in theory the repository of ultimate political authority
and decision making, being the embodiment of what Qadhafi termed
direct "people's power." The 1977 declaration and its accompanying
resolutions amounted to a fundamental revision of the 1969 constitutional
proclamation, especially with respect to the structure and organization
of the government at both national and subnational levels.
Continuing to revamp Libya's political and administrative structure,
Qadhafi introduced yet another element into the body politic.
Beginning in 1977, "revolutionary committees" (see Glossary) were
organized and assigned the task of "absolute revolutionary supervision
of people's power"; that is, they were to guide the people's committees,
raise the general level of political consciousness and devotion
to revolutionary ideals, and guard against deviation and opposition
in the BPCs. Filled with politically astute zealots, the ubiquitous
revolutionary committees in 1979 assumed control of BPC elections.
Although they were not official government organs, the revolutionary
committees became another mainstay of the domestic political scene.
As with the people's committees and other administrative innovations
since the revolution, the revolutionary committees fit the pattern
of imposing a new element on the existing subnational system of
government rather than eliminating or consolidating already existing
structures. By the late 1970s, the result was an unnecessarily
complex system of overlapping jurisdictions in which cooperation
and coordination among different elements were compromised by
ill-defined grants of authority and responsibility.
The changes in Libyan leadership since 1976 culminated in March
1979, when the GPC declared that the "vesting of power in the
masses" and the "separation of the state from the revolution"
were complete. Qadhafi relinquished his duties as general secretary
of the GPC, being known thereafter as "the leader" or "Leader
of the Revolution." He remained supreme commander of the armed
forces. His replacement was Abdallah Ubaydi, who in effect had
been prime minister since 1979. The RCC was formally dissolved
and the government was again reorganized into people's committees.
A new General People's Committee (cabinet) was selected, each
of its "secretaries" becoming head of a specialized people's committee;
the exceptions were the "secretariats" of petroleum, foreign affairs,
and heavy industry, where there were no people's committees. A
proposal was also made to establish a "people's army" by substituting
a national militia, being formed in the late 1970s, for the national
army. Although the idea surfaced again in early 1982, it did not
appear to be close to implementation (see Conscription and the
People's Militia , ch. 5).
Remaking of the economy was parallel with the attempt to remold
political and social institutions. Until the late 1970s, Libya's
economy was mixed, with a large role for private enterprise except
in the fields of oil production and distribution, banking, and
insurance. But according to volume two of Qadhafi's Green
Book, which appeared in 1978, private retail trade, rent,
and wages were forms of "exploitation" that should be abolished.
Instead, workers' self-management committees and profit participation
partnerships were to function in public and private enterprises.
A property law was passed that forbade ownership of more than
one private dwelling, and Libyan workers took control of a large
number of companies, turning them into state-run enterprises.
Retail and wholesale trading operations were replaced by state-owned
"people's supermarkets" (see Role of the Government , ch. 3),
where Libyans in theory could purchase whatever they needed at
low prices. By 1981 the state had also restricted access to individual
bank accounts to draw upon privately held funds for government
While measures such as these undoubtedly benefited poorer Libyans,
they created resentment and opposition among the newly dispossessed.
The latter joined those already alienated, some of whom had begun
to leave the country. By 1982 perhaps 50,000 to 100,000 Libyans
had gone abroad; because many of the emigrants were among the
enterprising and better educated Libyans, they represented a significant
loss of managerial and technical expertise.
Some of the exiles formed active opposition groups. Although
the groups were generally ineffective, Qadhafi nevertheless in
early 1979 warned opposition leaders to return home immediately
or face "liquidation." A wave of assassinations of prominent Libyan
exiles, mostly in Western Europe, followed. Few opponents responded
to the 1979 call to "repentance" or to a similar one issued in
October 1982 in which Qadhafi once again threatened liquidation
of the recalcitrant, the GPC having already declared their personal
Internal opposition came from elements of the middle class who
opposed Qadhafi's economic reforms and from students and intellectuals
who criticized his ideology. He also incurred the anger of the
Islamic community for his unorthodox interpretations of the doctrine
and traditions of Islam, his challenge to the authority of the
religious establishment, and his contention that the ideas in
The Green Book were compatible with and based upon Islam.
Endowed Islamic properties (habus--see
Glossary) were nationalized as part of Qadhafi's economic reforms,
and he urged "the masses" to take over mosques.
The most serious challenges came from the armed forces, especially
the officers' corps, and from the RCC. Perhaps the most important
one occurred in 1975 when Minister of Planning and RCC member
Major Umar Mihayshi and about thirty army officers attempted a
coup after disagreements over political economic policies. The
failure of the coup led to the flight of Mihayshi and part of
the country's technocratic elite. In a move that signaled a new
intolerance of dissent, the regime executed twenty-two of the
accused army officers in 1977, the first such punishment in more
than twenty years. Further executions of dissident army officers
were reported in 1979, and in August 1980 several hundred people
were allegedly killed in the wake of an unsuccessful army revolt
centered in Tobruk.
Data as of 1987