The Cultural Revolution and People's Committees

Libya Table of Contents

Bureaucratic inefficiency and lack of public participation continued to plague the subnational governmental system. Not only did the ASU organization appear too complex to foster public involvement by the politically unsophisticated masses, but there was the additional problem of poor coordination between the ASU and subnational administrators. In large part to correct these problems, Qadhafi proclaimed the Cultural Revolution on April 15, 1973. The institutional linchpin of the Cultural Revolution was the people's committee, which also was the primary component of the third stage in the development of subnational administration.

Similar in structure to the ASU, people's committees were both functionally and geographically based. Functionally based people's committees were established in universities, schools, private business firms (including foreign-owned oil companies), farms, public utilities, banks, government organs, the broadcast media, and at harbor and airport facilities. Geographically based people's committees were formed at the governorate, municipal, and zone levels (municipalities being composed of several zones). Direct popular elections filled the seats on the people's committees at the zone level. The zone-level committees selected representatives who collectively formed the Municipal People's Committee; municipal people's committees in turn selected representatives to form the governorate people's committees. Any citizen of at least nineteen years of age was permitted to vote and to run for committee membership, but there were no standardized rules governing the formation of the people's committees, at least at the beginning. This resulted in considerable confusion, particularly when multiple people's committees formed in the same place began denouncing each other. In such instances, new RCC-sanctioned elections had to be called. The deadline for the formation of people's committees was August 1973. Estimates of the number of committees in existence by that time vary from approximately 1,000 to more than 2,000.

According to Qadhafi, people's committees were to be the primary instrument of the revolution. They were to decide what and who conformed to the principles of the revolution, a task that included the purging of government officials (up to the rank of undersecretary) and private executives and managers. Thousands of functionaries were dismissed, demoted, or transferred. In rare cases, executives and other functionaries were promoted. Such actions severely disrupted the orderly operation of countless government offices and private enterprises, so much so that by the fall of 1973 the press and the RCC were publicly criticizing the zeal with which committees substituted unqualified replacements for experienced persons. At no time did the RCC lose control of the situation, however; on occasion it reversed people's committee actions, dismissed individual committee members, and even dissolved whole committees, sanctioning new elections in the process. In a positive sense, the people's committees provided the masses with still more opportunities to participate in the governmental system, and the purges resulted in the replacement of critics (both real and imagined) of the Qadhafi regime by militants who felt more closely linked to the RCC and the revolution.

The people's committees originally were seen as an experiment, but by October 1973 a new law had formalized their existence and set their term of membership at three years. More significantly, the law transferred the authority and functions of municipal and governorate councils to the people's committees at the same levels. The chairmen of the governorate people's committees became the governors; the chairmen of the municipal people's committees became mayors.

During 1974 doubts increased regarding the operation of the people's committees. The Libyan press warned of the danger inherent in the creation of a new bureaucratic class. In early September, an RCC spokesman publicly accused the committee system of degenerating into anarchy and rashness and of deviating from the path of true democracy. New elections for all levels of people's committees were held from September 14 to October 3; some of the existing committees were reelected.

At the 1974 National Congress, Qadhafi stated that the complexity of administrative machinery limited mass interest in political participation, and he called for the removal of obstacles between the people and the government. He believed that policy planning should be centralized but that execution should be decentralized. The congress responded by recommending the abolition of governorates. It also stressed the primacy of the people's committees in administrative affairs and the ASU's supervisory authority over the committees.

In February 1975, the RCC issued a law that abolished the governorates and their service directorates; twelve years later, however many sources continued to refer to the governorates as though they still existed. A separate Ministry of Municipalities reemerged from the Ministry of Interior. Direction of the services previously administered by the governorate directorates--education, health, housing, social services, labor, agricultural services, communications, financial services, and economy--was transferred to nine newly created control bureaus. Each control bureau was located in the appropriate ministry, and the ministry became responsible for delivery of the service to the country as a whole. Another RCC law, issued on April 7, formally established the municipality as the sole administrative and geographical subdivision within Libya. It further stipulated that each municipality would be subdivided into quarters, each quarter to have its own people's committee. The municipal people's committee would comprise representatives from the quarters' committees.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress