The Cultural Revolution

Libya Table of Contents

Qadhafi was evidently disappointed with the failure of the Libyan populace to embrace and practice the principles of the Third Universal Theory. Characteristically impatient, by 1973 Qadhafi had grown critical of the people's lack of revolutionary commitment. He complained of the general refusal to fill positions in the military or to take jobs in the countryside (for which foreign workers had to be recruited), of students who wished to study only in the United States, and of an increase in the crime rate. Perhaps worst of all to Qadhafi was the apathy and reluctance with which a significant portion of the Libyan people greeted the impending Libyan merger with Egypt scheduled for September of 1973. He contended that such attitudes threatened the revolutionary advances anticipated when the monarchy was overthrown. That action had changed the form of government, but if other fundamental social, economic, and political changes were to be accomplished, the people would have to be rededicated to the Revolution. Thus in an April 15, 1973, speech at Zuwarah, Qadhafi proclaimed the Cultural Revolution.

The Cultural Revolution comprised five points: the annulment of all existing laws promulgated by the previous monarchical regime and their replacement by laws based on sharia; the repression of communism and conservatism by purging all political deviates--those who opposed or resisted the revolution, such as communists, atheists, members of the Muslim Brotherhood, advocates of capitalism, and agents of Western propaganda; the distribution of arms to the people so that a popular resistance would protect the revolution; administrative reform to end excessive bureaucracy, dereliction of duty, and bribery; and the promotion of Islamic thought by rejecting any ideas that were not in keeping with it, especially ideas imported from other countries and cultures. People's committees were established nationwide to enforce these policies and to control the revolution from below. If the people refused to participate in the popular revolution, Qadhafi threatened to resign, a tactic he had used on several occasions.

In May 1973, Qadhafi discussed the cultural revolution with foreign reporters and tried to stress its dissimilarity from the Chinese Cultural Revolution. According to Qadhafi, the Libyan Cultural Revolution--unlike the Chinese Cultural Revolution--did not introduce something new, but rather marked the return to the Arab and Islamic heritage. It represented a quest for authenticity in that it tried to forge or unearth linkages to the religiocultural foundations of society.

Several experts agree that Libya's Cultural Revolution struck a responsive chord in the Libyan psyche, similar to that struck by the rejection of Westernization in Iran. To a significant extent, Qadhafi's insistence on a foreign policy independent of either superpower, his hostility toward Israel and its supporters, his search for an alternate model based on indigenous Muslim values, and his criticism of bureaucracy and consumerism were shared by the Libyan people. Qadhafi did not appear odd in the Libyan context, despite his image in the foreign media. Instead, as expert Lisa Anderson stated, he was "an uncanny reflection of the average Libyan."

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress