Until 1951 Libya was under foreign domination. In November 1949
the United Nations (UN) General Assembly passed a resolution calling
for the establishment of a sovereign Libyan state comprising three
historically diverse regions: Tripolitania, Cyrenaica, and Fezzan.
The UN commissioner for Libya, Adrian Pelt, suggested the formation
of a preparatory committee of twenty-one Libyans (seven from each
region) to initiate the framing of a constitution. The committee
created the National Constituent Assembly, which first met in
November 1950 and subsequently formed committees to draft a constitution.
On October 7, 1951, the new constitution was promulgated, and
on December 24, King Idris proclaimed Libya's sovereignty and
independence (see The United Nations and Libya , ch. 1).
The constitution established Libya as a monarchy; succession
was to pass to Idris's designated heirs. Because of its historically
distinct regions, the new country was organized as a federation,
each region becoming a province and maintaining its own autonomous
administration and legislature. Benghazi and Tripoli alternated
as the federation's capital. As do many European parliamentary
systems, the constitution provided for an executive branch--the
Council of Ministers (or cabinet)--headed by a minister and responsible
to the lower house, or Chamber of Deputies, of the bicameral legislature.
The number of deputies was 55, later increased to 103. The upper
house, or Senate, comprised twenty-four members, eight from each
province. The king held considerable executive authority; he formally
appointed the Council of Ministers and half of the senators and
had the right to veto legislation and dissolve the lower house
(see Independent Libya , ch. 1).
The king endorsed legislation, passed in April 1963, that produced
a major constitutional revision; the federal form was replaced
by a unitary structure that emphasized centralized national authority.
Provincial boundaries were erased, and ten smaller governorates
(muhafazat; sing., muhafazah) were created,
each headed by a governor appointed by the central government.
The constitution was also modified to provide for the extension
of suffrage to women and for the royal appointment of all senators.
Also, whereas the 1951 constitution had vested sovereignty in
the nation and declared the nation to be the source of all power,
the 1963 revision proclaimed that sovereignty belonged only to
God (Allah) and that it was given as a sacred trust to the state,
which was the source of all power.
The 1951 constitution, as amended in 1963, remained in effect
until September 1, 1969. At that time a group of military officers
and men headed by Captain (later Colonel) Qadhafi overthrew the
monarchy and proclaimed a republic instead (see The September
1969 Coup , ch. 1). The supreme organ of the revolutionary regime,
the RCC, replaced the existing constitution with the Constitutional
Proclamation of December 11, 1969, which was to be superseded
by a new constitution at some future, unspecified date. Meanwhile,
existing laws, decrees, and regulations not in conflict with the
December proclamation remained in effect. The proclamation confirmed
the RCC as the supreme authority, officially renamed the country
the Libyan Arab Republic, and provided for a system of government
(see National Executive and Legislative Evolution , this ch.).
It vested sovereignty in the people, made Islam the state religion,
and declared Arabic the official language. Education and health
care were specified as constitutional rights.
The December 1969 proclamation declared the Libyan people to
be part of the Arab nation, dedicated to "the realization of socialism
through the application of social justice which forbids any form
of exploitation . . . [The state's] aim is to eliminate peacefully
the disparities between social class[es]." Furthermore, the 1969
proclamation charged the state with endeavoring "to liberate the
national economy from dependence and foreign influence." Public
ownership was proclaimed the basis of social development and selfsufficient
productivity, but nonexploitive private property would be protected,
and inheritance would be governed by the Islamic sharia (see Glossary).
Freedom of opinion was guaranteed "within the limits of public
interest and the principles of the Revolution."
On the same day that the RCC issued the December 1969 proclamation,
it also issued the Decision on the Protection of the Revolution.
The decision established the death penalty for anyone attempting
to overthrow the revolutionary regime and stipulated imprisonment
for "anyone who commits an act of aggression" against the new
government. Aggressive acts were defined as propagandizing against
the regime, arousing class hatred among the people, spreading
false rumors about political and economic conditions in the country,
and demonstrating or striking against the government.
On March 2, 1977, in a novel approach to democratic government,
Libya adopted a provision known as the Declaration of the Establishment
of the People's Authority. The declaration changed the official
name of the country to the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
(sometimes seen as Jamahiriyah). The word jamahiriya
is derived from the Arabic word "jumhuriya," meaning
"republic." Qadhafi coined the word Jamahiriya; it has no official
translation but unofficially has been translated as a "state of
the masses," "people's authority," or "people's power." According
to Qadhafi, the jamahiriya system was to be "a state run by the
people without a government," and it heralded the dawn of a new,
more advanced stage in humanity's political evolution, just as
the phase of republics represented an advancement over the age
Data as of 1987