Government and Politics
SWEEPING AND FUNDAMENTAL changes were introduced in Libya after
Colonel Muammar al Qadhafi and his Free Officers Movement overthrew
the Sanusi monarchy on September 1, 1969, and proclaimed the "Green
Revolution." Because of the many radical and experimental policies
that Qadhafi has tried to implement in Libya, he has been described
frequently as a mercurial and quixotic leader. But while Qadhafi's
policy making has been unpredictable, it has not been random or
capricious. Rather, Qadhafi's political behavior has been dictated
by his own elaborate and evolving normative political ideology,
which he set forth in his three-volume The Green Book.
The essence of Qadhafi's philosophy is the Third Universal Theory,
so-called because it is intended to be an alternative to capitalism
and Marxism. The theory calls for the institution in Libya of
what Qadhafi calls "direct democracy." In a direct democracy,
as envisaged by Qadhafi, citizens govern themselves through grass-roots
activism without the mediation or intervention of state institutions
or other organizational hierarchies in the military, tribes, ulama,
or intelligentsia. In an effort to implement direct democracy,
Qadhafi altered or dismantled governmental and social structures.
He launched a Cultural Revolution in 1973, instituted "people's
power" in 1975, and proclaimed that Libya was a "state of the
masses" in 1977. Finally, to emphasize his policy of decentralization,
Qadhafi relinquished his own formal governmental position in 1979
and insisted he be referred to simply as "Leader of the Revolution."
The striking innovation in the Libyan political system since
Qadhafi came to power resulted from his desire to replace subnational
traditional leaders with administrators with the skills needed
to modernize the country. The changes were also ostensibly intended
to foster egalitarianism, mass mobilization, revolutionary commitment,
public participation, and self-determination among Libyan citizens.
From a pragmatic perspective, however, the changes served primarily
to undermine the authority of traditional or alternate elite groups
that posed a potential challenge to Qadhafi's leadership.
It is ironic, then, that the changes intended to enfranchise
the citizenry have instead served primarily to bolster Qadhafi's
personal power by diminishing governmental checks and balances
on his executive power and eliminating all other power bases.
In 1987 there was little doubt that Qadhafi remained the country's
strongman, the fulcrum of power, and the single most important
figure in Libya.
Although Qadhafi in theory advocated dismantling the structure
of government, in reality Libya in 1987 had an elaborate and complex
bureaucratic structure because the new organizations Qadhafi created
had been superimposed upon existing institutions. In 1987 the
primary formal instrument of government was the General People's
Congress (GPC), both an executive and legislative body, which
convened three times annually. The GPC was headed by a small General
Secretariat composed primarily of members of the former Revolutionary
Command Council (RCC), which was abolished in 1977. A General
People's Committee performed the function of a cabinet, replacing
the old Council of Ministers. Subnational representation and participation
were accomplished through three roughly parallel and overlapping
structures: people's committees that were organized at the basic
(urban ward or rural village) and municipal levels, Arab Socialist
Union (ASU), the only authorized political mass organization;
Basic Popular Congress (BPC); and revolutionary committees (see
Glossary) organized both geographically and functionally. The
lines of authority and responsibility among these four bodies
were unclear, which occasionally caused intense competition and
rivalry within the government. Moreover, in 1987 there were indications
that Qadhafi intended to introduce a fifth similar organizational
structure in the form of a new political party.
On the international level, Libya sought to foster pan-Arabism
and Islamic and Third World solidarity. Initially, Libya advocated
positive neutrality, but for pragmatic reasons, soon gravitated
toward a close relationship with the Soviet Union. Concurrently,
Libya's interpretation of the North-South dimension of global
politics emphasized the division between industrialized, resourceconsuming
nations and underdeveloped resource producers, a division that,
in Qadhafi's view, overshadowed the East-West dichotomy. Libya
under Qadhafi played a leading role in the efforts among producing
countries to gain full control of petroleum production and to
use that production for internal development and as a political
weapon with which to reward friendly nations and punish opponents.
Qadhafi is hostile toward the United States and other Western
countries because these countries generally support Israel. Because
of its anti-Western stance, the Libyan regime gained a reputation
for conducting unconventional, belligerent, and aggressive foreign
relations. There were frequent and widespread allegations that
Libya sponsored transnational terrorist activities, supported
dozens of insurrectionary movements worldwide, and assassinated
exiled opponents. Just as Libya's domestic policies had resulted
in a situation contrary to what Qadhafi claimed he desired, so
too had its foreign policy. Qadhafi's maverick foreign policy
not only angered Western countries, but it also alienated many
of Libya's erstwhile or potential allies in the Third World that
were the intended audience of the Third Universal Theory.
Because of the precipitous decline of the oil revenues that had
funded Qadhafi's foreign and domestic policies, the dizzying pace
of internal change, and the country's image as an international
pariah, the regime's viability and durability were questioned.
Nevertheless, in late 1987, most foreign observers doubted that
a coup d'état was imminent.
Data as of 1987