Sunday, September 26, 2004

The Libyan System of Governance

September 1st is the anniversary of the Libyan Revolution and therefore I think that since we are still in September, it would be appropriate to answer a question I got some time ago. Then I can go on telling you about my travel adventures . (sigh) I really must post all those articles ….

So question 16 was:

I'm curious about the Libyan system of government, the 'jamahiriya' concept and so on. The Green Book is on the Internet but it's thirty years old. Does it have anything to do with how the country works now?


Libya is situated in North Africa, stretching along the Mediterranean shoreline for nearly 2,000 kilometres. Its area is 1,775,500 square kilometres making it the fourth largest country in Africa. Egypt is on its eastern border; Sudan, Chad and Niger are to the south and Tunisia and Algeria lie to the west. The population is concentrated in the cities, villages and farming areas along the coastal strip. In the early 1950s Libya was officially rated by the United Nations as the poorest country in the world. Today, it is quite wealthy.


Definition: “Jamahiriya — a society for all where all human beings are free and equal in the exercise of power and in the possession of wealth and arms.”


Libya is defined as a jamahiriya, which is a word resembling the word for 'republic', 'jumhuriyya'. Jamahiriya involves a system of councils where all citizens are promised the right to express their opinions. The jamahiriya is organized into 186 basic people's administrative congresses. These address 46 municipal administrative units. The basic idea of the jamahiriya system is popular influence and responsibility, through a system of direct influence in a pyramidal system. Representatives to higher institutions are elected by the members of the basic congresses.



The concept of the administrative system in Libya is summed up in the word Jamahiriya, which literally means “the state of the masses.” The theory is that the country is run by complete popular authority with no place for the traditional structures. Authority, wealth and the arms are all in the hands of the people.

Everywhere there are Basic People’s Conferences — from every village, city and town up to the General People’s Congress. The Conferences decide all matters of policy and their decisions are carried out by People’s Committees with the assistance and guidance of the voluntary Revolutionary Committees.


It is a unique experiment in direct democracy that was launched in March 1977, with the declaration of the establishment of popular authority and the rise of the age of the Jamahiriya — the state of the masses.

After the September revolution the first political structure was set up within the framework of the Arab Socialist Union. This in itself was a big step forward for the people after almost 20 years of rule by a puppet monarchy accompanied by a parliamentary facade.

However the domestic and international tasks of the revolution soon outgrew that framework and the menacing bureaucracy it cultivated.

In 1973, Muammar Qadhafi, the leader of the revolution, called for a popular uprising to set up People’s Committees in all government departments, factories, communities, farms, schools and universities. His call for administrative revolution resulted in mass marches on all government establishments.

In December 1976, Qadhafi called on the People’s Committees to go further by initiating action to articulate the popular will instead of merely approving and supervising plans by the various ministries.

A major national debate was inaugurated to determine the best political and constitutional arrangements for the realisation of popular power.

In March 1977, the first General People’s Conference of over 1,000 delegates from the People’s Committees, professional associations, and unions, gathered to create a political system unlike any other in modern history.

In the declaration of March 1977, the Republic of Libya became known as the “Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya”.

“Direct popular authority constitutes the basis of the political system,” in the Jamahiriya, the declaration stated. Authority is for the people, and none else. The people exercise their authority through the Basic People’s Conferences, People’s Committees, syndicates, unions, and professional associations, and the General People’s Congress.

“The most tyrannical dictatorships the world has ever known have existed under the shadow of parliaments,” Colonel Qadhafi points out.

His observation comes from direct experience. From 1951 to 1969 Libya was ruled by a parliamentary monarchy under King Idris that was nothing more than a cloak for dictatorship by the capitalist powers and the multi-national oil companies.

“The system of elected parliaments is based on propaganda to win votes. It is a demagogic system in the real sense of the word, and votes can be bought and falsified,” the Green Book states.

So to answer your question, yes the country still works using the method I explained above. I’m not trying to paint a perfect image of Libya because it is not so, but I would like to say that many good things have been achieved over the years such as free education for all, from 1st grade up to University, free healthcare, women’s liberation and equality in literarily all domains including the traditionally male dominated jobs ( women in Libya have exactly the same salary as men and scores of other projects. But I admit that it could have been much better and many mistakes were made; thus preventing Libya from reaching its full potential.



7 comments:

BobGriffin said...

That was fascinating. Thanks!
By the way, Abu Khaleel from Iraq in http://iraqdemo.blogspot.com/ advocated something similar.

Be Well,
Bob Griffin

smokey spice said...

Nharik sa3eed Highlander. I like your post. It's very informative about the institutional structure of Libya's government.
But I would add that we have to look at the facts on the ground as well as the theoretical and institutional foundation though. I disagree that what we have can be classified as direct democracy, even if that was the stated goal. There are far too many barriers to freedom of speech and transparency issues for that. I say this, but I also know that Libya has been changing over the last few years. Last I was there, people were much more frank in their discussions in contrast to the late 90s. I pray with all my heart that it continues in this direction.

One important aspect of governance that you did not mention is the economic structure, which strongly influences the political situation...which is also changing. From the 70s to just a couple years ago, Libya's economy was strongly socialist. Along with the wonderful opportunities of free education and health care, we lost the rights to own commercial and/or private property. Remember the Lajnat Il Tat-heer (Cleansing Committee) and the 'Min aina laka' doctrine?

I bring this up because I think it indicates in a real way the marriage between politics and economics and the socialist nature of Libya's governance. (FYI, In case there's any mistake, I'm NOT against socialism per se, but I prefer socialist democracies like Sweden's).

Anyways, my main point is that too many mistakes were made that have no valid justifications. I know I'm generally more critical/cynical, but in the Libyan context, with the small population of 6 million and oil exports, I think we Libyans have every right to expect free education and free health-care AND much more. Why are our streets full of pot holes, why do we use out-dated books in schools, why is our postal service inefficient, why are we funding foreign soccer clubs instead of something useful for us?

I have to run off to work now, but I hope this discussion continues. Maybe we should do a collaborative analysis on our blogs. Let me know if you're interested.

I really wish I had met you when I was living in Libya as these are the kinds of discussions I was truely lacking. I hope I wasn't overly harsh, but my heart is always with the people and never institutions and ideologies. I have a lot of faith in us as a people and know that given the opportunities, we will flourish.

Yala... salamat minee.

Mitchell said...

Thanks for the reply!

popot said...

Hey, just out of curiousity, can Colonel Qadhafi (I'm assuming he is head the libyan governement) be replaced by another, how do you go about the process?

smokey spice said...

"popot said...
Hey, just out of curiousity, can Colonel Qadhafi (I'm assuming he is head the libyan governement) be replaced by another, how do you go about the process?"

I hope highlander doesn't mind my volunteering an answer to your question. We may have differing opinions on this.
The Colonel has been the head of the government since 1969...that's 35 years. To me, this means that, no, he cannot be replaced without either another coup, internal party revolt, or revolution.

In my view, the process of transfering power remains unclear, but maybe some internal party elections might be used to legitimize a replacement. There are many who think that Qadhafi is easing the way for his son Saif to take over leadership. The fact that Saif has seemingly become the spokesperson for the government in dealings with the west may confirm this view.

Highlander said...

No smokeyspice I don't mind all opinions are welcome.

Eyewitness said...

After thanking our wonderful moderator
for her excellent presentation on the
system of governance of libya's colonel
I would like to ask her, now only for the
sake of educating all of us and of stimulating
this forum, to look at the real implementation
of this wonderful system in real life.

I repeat I am not trying to embarrass you or
to refute your claims highlander. I am only
asking this for the sake of benefiting the entire
audience of this forum. And to spice up its
atmosphere.

As a result you are free to ignore this question
all together and leave it for anybody else to comment.

In real life my friend, and as an eywitness to
this great system of governance I saw the following:

A population of a small and once peacful society
brutally brainwashed into violent and barberic
behaviour by a power hungry mentally retarded
military dictator. The once harmless and uneducated
libyan peasants all of the sudden found themselves
sucked into a tunnel of pre-designed people's socialist
republic.

These simple farmers that never knew a state, political
parties or democratic elections founds themselves all
of the sudden, thanks to the colonel and his green system
of governance, chanting such slogans as:

Sir w la tahtem yaqaed ...... nsafyhem beddam yaqaed.
Ehna sharbeen addam yaqaed.

They have practiced, for the first time in their
history my friend, the shameless act of public
hangings of their opponents …………………
during the month of Ramadan.

That mentally retarded dictator my friend was
Nothing but a cat’s paw. Used by the real perpetrators who
Aimed and quite successfully captured the countries newly
Emerging vast oil resources. These criminals are the real authors
of that system of governance my friend. From the blue-prints
of the people’s socialist republics that came out of the Marxist
Bolshevik revolution.

I think that it’s a terrible insult to your intelligence to give
It so much credit and to go into so much trouble explaining
It to a global audience in this forum.

The evidence I present for my claims my friend is the
Real life results of this system as portrayed by the slogans
And actions I declared above. And which I would not mind To explain in more details if you ask.

Not the propaganda pamphlets of this bloody regime from which you must have made your wonderful essay.

Eyewitness