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Summary and Trends in 1987

Despite the fact that Qadhafi has established an elaborate and complex system of overlapping institutions to foster public representation and "direct democracy," the Libyan regime in 1987 was still controlled by a small group of powerful men. Although no official leadership hierarchy delineated the relative power of these top leaders, Colonel Muammar al Qadhafi was de facto chief of state without holding such a title. He remained the primary decision maker and continued to act as the supreme commander of the armed forces, the Leader of the Revolution, and its founding father and foremost theoretician. Dr. Miftah al Usta Umar, Secretary of the General People's Congress, theoretically served as the chief of state. Abdel Salaam Jallud continued to be identified as Libya's number two man, despite doubts raised by his three-month stay in Syria. His return to Libya in early March 1987, however, indicated that rumors of a rift with Qadhafi were exaggerated.

The most recent government shuffle, taking place in early March 1987, entailed the replacement of Jadallah Azzuz at Talhi as Secretary General of the General People's Committee (a position corresponding to prime minister). His successor, Umar al Muntasir, who served previously as secretary of industries, was little known outside Libya. The Libyan news agency JANA announced that Talhi had replaced Kamal Hassan Mansur as secretary of foreign liaison (corresponding to foreign minister).

Outside the formal government or cabinet structure, the most important figures of the Libyan regime, in addition to Jallud, included Armed Forces Chief of Staff Abu Bakr Yunis, Inspector General of the Armed Forces Mustafa Kharrubi, and Colonel Khuwayldi al Hamidi, head of the "shock force" of the revolutionary committees tasked with suppressing political dissent. All of these men were among the twelve founders of the Free Officers Movement, whose members seized power in September 1969. And, following the purges in the aftermath of a 1975 coup attempt, they were the only original members of the original twelve Free Officers Movement who remained in power. The cohesion of this inner core has continued with little or no sign of conflict or dissension.

Prominent among the revolutionary committees' young radicals was Musa Kusa, who was in charge of the International Revolutionary Committee (sometimes called the Libyan World Center for Resistance to Imperialism, Zionism, Racism, Reaction, and Fascism). Qadhafi's cousin, Ahmad Qadhafadam, played a prominent role in actions against "stray dogs," i.e., Libyans opposed to Qadhafi who were outside the country and were targets for assassination. Finally, Khalifa Hunaysh headed the presidential guard, a group that safeguarded Qadhafi.

The regime faced tumultuous internal crises in 1987. The military establishment was disgruntled and demoralized by the war in Chad, economic problems were exacerbated by the world oil glut, and disputes among certain key regime figures threatened to erode Qadhafi's personal power base (see Growth and Structure of the Economy , ch. 3; State of Internal Security , ch. 5). A rift between Colonel Hassan Ishkal (also seen as Eshkal), military commander of the oil-rich central region and a long-time friend of Qadhafi, and Hunaysh, culminated in Ishkal's death under mysterious circumstances in Tripoli on November 24, 1986. Although the facts were not definitively established, foreign observers believed that Ishkal, who was Qadhafi's cousin, was killed by supporters of Khanish. Significantly, both men were members of Qadhafi's tribe-- the Qadhafadam--upon which Qadhafi has relied increasingly in recent years. But after the daily newspaper Jamahiriyah vehemently criticized the Qadhafadam tribe, the Libyan leader decided to distance himself from his kin. Foreign observers believed that unless intratribal conflicts were kept within manageable limits, yet another crucial base of Qadhafi's support would be eroded. The question arose as to how many domestic interest groups the regime could afford to alienate before it was left with no support.

Unlike many leaders, who, when confronted by mounting threats to regime stability, adopted a conservative and cautious approach to consolidate their grip on power, Qadhafi met threats with further changes. Qadhafi had often launched new domestic or foreign political initiatives to distract attention from domestic crises, and in view of this record, further political change came as no surprise. On November 3, 1986, Az Zahf al Akhdar (The Green March), the mouthpiece of the revolutionary committees, carried a long article, probably written by Qadhafi, which surprisingly argued the urgent need to form a new political party. In an astonishing assertion, the article indicated that such a new political party would replace the people's congresses. According to the article, the people's congresses should be "crushed" because of "exploitation, stealing, monopoly, haughtiness, domination, favoritism, tribalism, reactionism, and corruption" among the masses, which they represented. The statement was apparently motivated by recognition of the need to purge the GPC and the people's congresses of elements who voiced their opposition to some of Qadhafi's policies.

In the opinion of informed observers, Qadhafi's practical political decision making contradicted his political theories. For ideological reasons, he genuinely wanted the masses to evolve into a self-governing polity. For pragmatic reasons, however, he vetoed popular policies with which he disagreed, using the rationale that he was protecting the people from "opportunists" and "counterrevolutionaries." However, such paternalistic intervention contravened the very political process Qadhafi advocated by preventing the masses from reaching the stage of true self- reliance, Qadhafi's ostensible goal.

Despite these shortcomings, however, it seemed clear that the basic goal of direct democracy had been achieved to some extent. Certainly, most Libyans were better represented than they had been under the monarchy. By the late 1980s, there were many opportunities for the populace to participate in the political process and to influence the planning and regulations that affected their daily life. On occasion, the populace have succeeded in revising or changing national policy. For example, faced with the strong opposition of the 1984 GPC, Qadhafi conceded that military training of women would not require women to move away from home. In addition, "people's power" did provide for some genuine debate and consultation on most local and many regional matters. The jamahiriya system gave people experience in the exercise of responsibility that had largely been denied them in the past, if only because Qadhafi, whether or not by choice, did not wield absolute dictatorial power.

Qadhafi's power and his ability to veto citizens' wishes was circumscribed to some extent by the General Secretariat, which challenged his views. Moreover, Qadhafi's frequent resignations did not gain him many concessions from his colleagues. As Raymond Hinnebusch pointed out, the fact that Qadhafi felt the need to resort to such measures or threats indicated that policy decisions were taken by a majority vote and that Qadhafi could be defied.

Although popular participation and self-representation in Libya's government have increased, there are clearly limits to how much control citizens can ultimately exert over their government. On the one hand, Qadhafi has set limits to the extent of dissent he will permit. Qadhafi created the revolutionary committees specifically to counteract growing people's power. And, just as the Chinese Cultural Revolution degenerated into chaos because of the excesses of the Red Guards, Libya's own Cultural Revolution, in its quest to remold society according to Qadhafi's idiosyncratic vision of a pure Islam, may culminate in similar disruptions and upheavals. As of late 1987, however, the Libyan case had been far less radical, with markedly less violence. On the other hand, the implementation of the direct democracy is predicated on the assumption of sustained political interest and sound judgment that may be unrealistic for many of the citizenry. For example, women's participation in the political system was still at a low level in 1987, despite official encouragement of their participation. Nevertheless, as a unique type of direct popular democracy, the jamahiriya experiment was not likely to be of more than fleeting interest for policy makers, political theorists, and, those concerned with Third World development. Lillian Craig Harris suggested that although Qadhafi's utopian and simplistic The Green Book will not survive his tenure, the fact that he has so radically changed the Libyan political order indicates that at least some vestiges of his philosophy will endure indefinitely.

Although the ideal of greater public participation in government through direct democracy had appeal as a theory, Qadhafi was not been able to implement it practically; therefore, Libya's extremely complicated and inefficient system of government was not likely to be emulated. One reason for the incredible, and growing, complexity of the Libyan political system was that new structures were frequently superimposed on already existing ones without the elimination or even simplification of the existing structures. As a result of blurred lines of authority and responsibility, problems of cooperation and coordination between different parts of institutions have arisen. In the late 1970s, for instance, there were tensions between the ASU and the popular committees. Later, in the 1980s, friction developed between the revolutionary committees on the one hand and the army and people's congresses on the other. In view of the extremely rapid pace of political and socioeconomic change, it seemed evident that the jamahiriya system needed time to mature.

Qadhafi's revolutionary transformations have outpaced government institution-building and the citizen's political absorptive capacity, causing widespread reaction and rejection of his plans. The GPC in 1977 rejected Qadhafi's plan to dismantle the government (the presidency, the cabinet, and other political and administrative structures). The 1983 GPC called for more moderate changes at a slower rate. Similarly, the 1984 GPC rejected Qadhafi's proposals to enlist women in the armed forces, to revise the law to give women equal rights in divorce, and to abolish elementary schools in favor of parental tutoring. As of April 1987, the second and third of these proposals appeared to have been put aside while a compromise was worked out regarding the highly controversial issue of women's military training in locations far from home.

The preceding examples underline the resilience of traditions and traditional culture, including Islamic values and teachings (see Religious Life , ch. 2). Much to Qadhafi's chagrin, various aspects of traditional culture have proved to be too deeply rooted to permit the elite to sweep them aside easily. Therefore, Qadhafi's impatience at what he considers an unduly slow pace of change will probably continue for a long time. From this standpoint, the whole edifice of political and socioeconomic change wrought by the Libyan revolutionary elite under the guidance of Qadhafi still appears rather fragile. The post-Qadhafi era may go in directions very different from, and at odds with, at least some of the basic ideological features espoused by the previous elite. The real challenge facing Qadhafi was whether he could transform his revolution from above into a truly broad-based and popular mass revolution.

Data as of 1987

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