|Libya Table of Contents
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), a national representative body intended to replace the RCC.
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 than ministers.
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" 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.
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", 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 projects.
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 property forfeit.
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) 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.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress