Prospects for Democracy in Libya
- Pages: 18
- Word count: 4349
- Category: Democracy
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The present Libyan regime of Colonel Muammar Al Qadhafi replaced the monarchy of Libya in 1969. Like all military coups Qadhafi’s regime was received with joy and great expectations from the Libyan people. Throughout the four decades of the rule of Qadhafi the political system was one advocated by President Qadhafi which he has recently described as the only democratic system on the planet. (Hewitt, 2006)
Democracy is conventionally the rule of the majority of people which still differs from one system to another. According to Wikipedia encyclopaedia democracy is broadly defined as “…a form of government for a nation state, or for an organization in which all the citizens have an equal vote or voice in shaping policy or electing government officials.”
The Objective of this paper is to study the prospects of democracy in Libya. This will be discussed under the following headings:
- What is Democracy?
- What are the criteria for a state to be democratic?
- What are the prospects of Democracy in Libya?
What is Democracy
According to Merriam-Webster Online dictionary democracy is defined as “a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.” Democracy is sometimes used interchangeably with freedom though the two words are not synonymous. However, it is sometimes thought to be the institutionalization of freedom. Throughout history there were a number of concepts and practices for it. However, the categories of direct and representative democracies are very common in today’s practices.
Direct democracy is where decisions on policies and selection of members of a government are through the direct voting of citizens. In other words it is different to systems where citizens elect representatives who become responsible for making decisions and choosing governors. According to Wikipedia encyclopaedia direct democracy is described as follows:
“Direct democracy is a political system where the citizens vote on all major policy decisions. It is called direct because, in the classical forms, there are no intermediaries or representatives. Current examples include many small civic organizations (like college faculties) and town meetings in New England (usually in towns under 10,000 population)”
Direct democracy is criticised for being more concerned about voting rather than other concepts of democracy such as freedom of speech and press, civic rights etc. It is criticised for putting much emphasis on the procedure.
On the other hand representative democracy, as the word denotes, means that the governing body is selected by the representatives of people. These representatives are elected in certain regions representing the people of that region; or they are chosen proportionally to the number of votes one party gets. Wikipedia encyclopaedia describes it as:
“Representative democracy is so named because the people select representatives to a governing body. Representatives may be chosen by the electorate as a whole (as in many proportional systems) or represent a particular district (or constituency), with some systems using a combination of the two.”
In today’s practice there are some practical difficulties for applying direct democracy. The size and complexity of the community make it difficult for all the community to gather in one place. Moreover, decisions that need thoughtful considerations in ample time is only possible for representatives, i.e. elected official, who can thoroughly discuss issues and reach sound decisions. Today the practice of democracy is mainly representative, where citizens elect their representatives in order that they are responsible for political decisions, formulating law and pursuing other programs for the benefit of the public; and the representatives are accountable to the public.
The practice of electing representatives is varied from one institution to the other or from a country to another. Elections may be on a national level or regional/provincial levels. Nationally legislators can be elected as representatives of geographical areas or alternatively proportional representation can be used. Here different political parties get votes nationally and according to their proportion of national votes they select their representatives. For provincial representation either the same national practice is applied or representatives are chosen informally through group consensus. (usinfo.state.gov)
Since democracy is the rule of majority, the group ruling will be the one that has the majority of votes. But this does not entail that in this position they can suppress the minority. In a democratic system the rights of the minority is protected by the institutional laws; it is not left to the goodwill of the majority.
“When a representative democracy operates in accordance with a constitution that limits the powers of the government and guarantees fundamental rights to all citizens, this form of government is a constitutional democracy. In such a society, the majority rules, and the rights of minorities are protected by law and through the institutionalization of law.” (Diane Ravitch, as cited in usinfo.state.gov)
Yet democracy is not the rules and procedures of representation and its laws. It is rather a social fabric in which government is only one element and coexists with other elements such as political parties, associations and organizations, which form pluralism. The thousands of organizations whether national or local exist independent of the government and play a major role of mediating between the government and the citizens. Thus democracy is practiced throughout the social fabric.
In such a society individuals practice democracy and know their rights through the different organizations and may be able to ask for more rights through these institutions.
What are the Criteria for a State to be Democratic?
The pillars of democracy are summarised by (usinfo.state.gov) as follows:
- Sovereignty of the people.
- Government based upon consent of the governed.
- Majority rule.
- Minority rights.
- Guarantee of basic human rights.
- Free and fair elections.
- Equality before the law.
- Due process of law.
- Constitutional limits on government.
- Social, economic, and political pluralism.
- Values of tolerance, pragmatism, cooperation, and compromise.
But in some more academic works several dimensions of democracy are identified. For example, (Diamond, et al. 1990:1-4).referred to the ten theoretical dimensions that various theoretical and empirical works have associated with democracy:
political culture; regime legitimacy and effectiveness; historical development (in particular the colonial experience); class structure and the degree of inequality; national structure (ethnic, racial, regional, and religious cleavage); state structure, centralization, and strength (including the state’s role in the economy, the roles of autonomous voluntary associations and the press, federalism, and the role of the armed forces); political and constitutional structure (parties, electoral systems, the judiciary); political leadership; development performance; and international factors.
(Diamond, Linz and Lipset 1988 vol. 2:XV as cited in Vanhanen, 1997)
There are a variety of pre-requisites for the prospects of democracy or even the existence of democracy in a country. While some scholars emphasise the economical power combined with the political one, others point out the importance of education and distribution of opportunities. Yet it is argued that the economical inequality in a country may influence greatly the concentration of power and wealth. This, if concentrated in the hands of a minority, means the suppression of the majority and depriving them of necessities of life. (Abootalebi, 1998)
In the absence of such necessities normally there are no groups or associations that indicate the socioeconomic development and hence the growth of civil society. The majority pursuing necessities of life cannot find the opportunity of forming such groups. For a society to be able to pave the way for democracy it is essential that the distribution of opportunities is relatively fair or at least the existence of a civil society is possible.
“The relative distribution of economic, intellectual, and other power resources among various sections of the population is the fundamental factor that is assumed to account for the variation of political systems from the aspect of democratization.” (Vanhanen, 1997)
However, for the purposes of this paper we need to consider certain criterion that can be applied for Libya. According to Abootalebi three areas should be assessed in order to make educated prediction of the prospects of democracy in a country. These are: measuring the strength of society; the organizational unity of labour; and measuring the strength of state.
Measuring the Strength of a Society
For those who claim the association of economic development and democracy the strength of a society can be measured by a country’s Gross National Product (GNP) and Gross Domestic Product (GDP). However, these which indicate the overall economy of a country do not necessarily indicate the overall development of societies. The development of a country should be related to the quality of the life of citizens, which can be measured by the Physical Quality of Life Index (PQLI). (Abootalebi, 1998) In confirmation of this idea Abbotalebi cites the point of view of Morris:
“The traditional measure of national economic progress–the gross national product (GNP) and its component elements–cannot very satisfactorily measure the extent to which human needs of individuals are being met, nor should it be expected to do so.” (Morris, 1979 as cited in Abootalebi, 1998)
In addition to the (PQLI) another recently developed index, Human Development Index, which has been developed by the United Nations, is used to measure the strength of a society.
“HDI combines indicators of social development, namely, life expectancy, mean years of schooling, and adult literacy, with an indicator of economic development–Gross Domestic Product (GDP). When HDI scores of countries are compared with the rank of these countries in terms of their GNP per capita, an obvious disparity appears in the two different methods.” (United Nation Human Development Report, 1994 as cited in Abootalebi, 1998)
It is assumed here that HDI is not only a good indicator of the development level but it also reflects, though indirectly, the socioeconomic power resources distribution. Thus it gives an idea whether in a community power and wealth are concentrated in the hands of a few or not. Abootalebi asserts: “Further, it is reasonable to assume that HDI scores also reflect, to some extent, occupational diversification within the country. The inclusion of GDP per capita in HDI measures the level of productivity and wealth of an economy.” Then he concludes using HDI that:
“As discussed above, a certain level of socioeconomic development is a necessary, but not sufficient, precondition for inaugurating democracy. In terms of level of socioeconomic development then, setting aside Israel (0.928) which is already considered a democracy, Kuwait (0.824), UAE (0.776), Turkey (0.745), Saudi Arabia (0.722), Libya (0.711), and Syria (0.709) are countries with most plausible prospects for establishing democracy.”
However, this is a conclusion that considers only one criterion. When the three criteria are considered a different result may be reached. Nevertheless some scholars believe that there is a strong link between the existence of a working class in a country and democratization. They conclude that “the real source of persistent democratic drives is working class mobilization that, in combination with middle class activism, can bring a political configuration favorable to democracy.” (as cited in Abootalebi, 1998)
The Organizational Unity of Labour (OUL)
It is reported that Abootalebi could observe in another study that there is an adequate correlation between OUL and democracy. He also believes this quality of a nation can be measured using four criteria: (1) the number of trade unions and affiliates; (2) the actual number of workers unionized, and their percentage of the total labor force; (3) the degree of government control; and (4) labor’s opportunity to strike, both on paper and in practice. In his attempt to apply this criteria Abootalebi’s data leads to a conclusion for Libya and some similar countries when he asserts that OLU “….must await a more tolerant state to become organizationally and politically effective (e.g., Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Libya, and Oman)
Measuring the Strength of State
In the main reference for this part of my study (Abootalebi, 1998) in the democracies of advanced industrial states the state is depicted as strong despite the false impression given on the face of it. Here the primary role of the state “… is the preservation of peace, order, and security, along with some redistribution policies (e.g., welfare programs).” In such countries the economical activity is dominated by the private sector though this is no indication of the weakness of the state the strength of which is manifested in its ability to tax and regulate the activities of the nation including the private sector. Yet the power of the government is limited as a result of the strength of groups, organization and political parties.
On the other hand, in developing countries and particularly in the Middle East almost all the countries share similar characteristics. States are dominant in every area of the society. This has made even the middle class ‘bourgeoisie’ very weak since it is dependent on the state in all the economical activities. Abootalebi (1998) states the reason: “Thanks mainly to oil dollars, foreign military and financial support, and the weakness of local political opposition, Middle Eastern states have expanded their power over the past few decades.” Thus in a state where the ruling group can paralyze the middle class the state will be very strong in contrast with the socioeconomic power which is weak being dependent on the ruling group.
Therefore, it is sometimes pointed out that the power of state here is not institutionalized but rather based on personal, family and group ties. Consequently the prospects of democracy increase only when there is an opportunity for the economical, social and political groups to resist the power of the state. When this happens the immediate response of the ruling elite is to use power and suppress such a movement. However, sometimes they may find that “coercive policy can prove more harmful than beneficial to the political elite in the long run, especially where modernization process has led to the growth of a vibrant, organized civil society.” (Abootalebi, 1998) Then they opt for loosening the grip on power and allowing some kind of participation of the citizens. Yet the response of the ruling groups to any kind of opposition from the people differs from one country to another.
“The ruling elite either tries to preserve its status by accommodating to some extent the demand for wider political participation and better economic opportunities (e.g., Turkey, Tunisia, Jordan), or resists any meaningful concession to the opposition, increasing the risk for eventual political instability (Oman, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Egypt, Pakistan, Iran before the revolution), or they choose a policy of oppression (e.g., Libya, Algeria, Syria, Iraq).” (Abootalebi, 1998)
Some other scholars propose a different way for assessing the prospects of democracy in a country. One of these (Huntington) emphasises the complexity of the factors that may be considered to measure the prospects of democracy. He lists a number of conditions:
- No single factor is sufficient to explain the development of democracy in all countries or in a single
- No single factor is necessary to the development of democracy in all
- Democratization in each country is the result of combination of
- The combination of causes producing democracy varies from country to
- The combination of causes generally responsible for one wave of democratization differs from that responsible for other
- The causes responsible for the initial regime changes in a democratization wave are likely to differ from those responsible for later regime changes in that
(Huntington 1991:38 as cited in Vanhanen, 1997)
Nevertheless prospects of democracy in Libya can be assessed using the tools proposed by Abootalebi and the other factors suggested by a number of scholars. However, the approach may not be a direct measurement of these factor but a discussion of certain areas that reveals the values of these tools.
What are the prospects of Democracy in Libya?
The appropriate approach for assessing the prospects of democracy in Libya, as I see it, can be conducted under the following headings:
- History since 1969
- Prospects as recorded in International Organisations
History since 1969
Immediately after the coup in 1969 it was announced that the ruling body will be the “Revolutionary Command Council” (RCC) which was composed of the officers who participated with Qadhafi in the coup. In his first speech on November 28, 1969 Qadhafi declared his rejection of representative democracy. Subsequently on December 11, the political powers of state were placed in the hands of the council which announced socialism as the economic philosophy of the country. Thus it was possible to nationalise business enterprises and seize also the economical power. Then in 1971 The Arab Socialist Union was created as the only legal political party in the country. All the trade unions were incorporated in the new political organisation and strikes were banned.
April 1973 witnessed the beginning of “popular revolution” that was aimed at placing the powers in the hands of the people and destroying the bureaucracy of the old government. It was supposed that people using their powers could hire and fire public officials at all levels. Following this declaration people organized “popular committees” in all institutions, government departments and other workplaces. This resulted in a number of difficulties since non-professionals made decisions for professionals. Consequently in October of the same year the RCC proposed a law that restricts the power of people to ‘non-vital’ sectors of the economy, but Qadhafi refused to sign that law. In 1975 the RCC was endangered by the coup led by two of its members. The consequences were quite negative on the prospects of democracy in the country.
“Dirk Vandewalle, a respected Libyan scholar, later wrote,
From this point onward, Libya’s revolution turned ideological, and collegial decision making yielded inexorably to one-man rule. Throughout the remainder of the year, civilian and military professionals and technical personnel were removed from the country’s planning institutes and ministries. Most of those who argued for long-term social investment, prudent investment policies, curtailment of spending on military outlays, and greater efficiency were sidelined. Within a few years others, including the country’s comptroller, Muhammad Mugharyif, were replaced by individuals more sympathetic to the regime’s political aspirations. The coup also marked the end of professional and technical criteria for military recruitment and was the beginning of a steady but noticeable influx of members of Qadhafi’s tribe — and later his family — into sensitive security and army positions.” (Anderson, 1999)
Since then Qadhafi seriously attempted to create a political structure in order to build political institutions that promote his political visions. Unfortunately these attempts were always unsuccessful and as a result he increased his control of the power and tightened the security measures. His political visions are mainly that a state can be ruled by the people without having the traditional state or representatives. However, the political powers are concentrated in the hands of the leader.
Qadhafi’s ideas were first published in a series of articles in 1975 and were later compiled into a multi-volume as the “Green Book” in 1976. The main idea of the book is that “…some sort of political mechanism must be developed to preserve individual sovereignty while generating a “collective state of mind” that would mobilize the society for action in its collective interest” (Anderson, 1999). The ‘Green Book’ also further emphasised the concepts of “individual sovereignty,” “direct democracy” and “popular authority”.
In March 1976 the theory of the ‘Green Book’ was applied. Libya was declared as a “Jamharriyah” which means the rule of masses. The structure of the government consists of two branches: the congresses and the committees. The legislative functions were carried out by the congresses and executive ones by the committees. These are established at the basic levels in the local areas and work up to Municipal Branch People’s Congresses leading to Municipal Congresses which then end at the national level in the General People’s Congress. The committees also have an identical structure. On the face of it this ensures the participation of the people in the political and economical decisions of the country. However, scholars of democratization think that it is nothing more than concentrating powers in the hands of Qadhafi.
“These “popular” mechanisms of government, however, had no power over the country’s budget, petroleum sector, armed forces, police, intelligence services or foreign policy. Moreover, the People’s Congresses and Committees depended on functionaries controlled by Qadhafi for their agendas and funding. In short, Qadhafi’s “direct democracy” and “popular authority” were much like the Holy Roman Empire: neither direct, democratic, popular nor an authority. As in every other significant change since 1969, this one also transferred more, not less, power to Qadhafi.” (Anderson, 1999)
The third governing structure the “Revolutionary Authority” was created in 1977. This one had the authority of supervising the ‘popular’ system. Unlike the popular system this flows down from the ‘Direction of the Revolution’ consisting of Qadhafi and his associates , to ‘Office of Revolutionary Committees’ which supervises the ‘Revolution Committees’ at the basic level throughout the country.
Yet the conclusion of Anderson’s study confirms that there is little prospect of democracy in the country.
“Internally, the overall prospects for Libya and its people are not bright, although life will probably get a little better as the economic isolation of the past seven years is reduced. The country will still be ruled by a leader willing to subordinate the well-being of his people to the quest to defeat his personal demons” (Anderson, 1999)
Prospects as Recorded in International Organisations
- World Audit Organization
According to the world audit organization the following statistics are the ones recorded for Libya in 2004:
|World Democracy Audit overall ranking||1-150||147|
Overall Libya is ranked as 147 in a range of 1- 150 countries, which of course confirms the conclusion reached in the historical review that there is very little prospects of democracy in the country.
- Human Rights Report
According to the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor released in February 28, 2005, “the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya is an authoritarian regime.” This conclusion is illustrated by detailing a number of aspects of human rights and the conclusion is later elaborated into the following paragraph:
“The Government’s human rights record remained poor, and the Government continued to commit numerous, serious abuses. Citizens did not have the right to change their government. Prison conditions were poor. Security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained persons, and prisoners were held incommunicado. Many political detainees were held for years without charge or trial. The Government controlled the judiciary, and citizens did not have the right to a fair public trial. Official impunity was a problem. The Government used summary judicial proceedings in many cases. The Government infringed on citizens’ privacy rights; restricted freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, and religion; imposed limits on freedom of movement; continued to ban political parties; and continued to prohibit the establishment of independent human rights organizations. Domestic violence against women was a problem. Traditional attitudes and practices continued to discriminate against women. There were reports of trafficking in persons. The Government continued to repress banned Islamic groups and discriminated against ethnic and tribal minorities. The Government restricted labor rights, denied basic worker rights, and discriminated against foreign workers.” (Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor)
However, recently (22 – 23 March, 2006) the Columbia University organized a conference about the prospects of democracy in Libya. According to the planners of the conference the following was stated as the main objective of the conference:
“Prompted by the thaw in U.S.-Libyan relations under the administration of George W. Bush, the two-day program is designed to reintroduce Libya’s academic community to the United States. Among the highlights of the program is a planned teleconference Thursday afternoon with Libyan leader Mu’ammar al-Qaddafi, who will discuss his views with conference participants in New York on the prospects for democracy in the 21st century.”
President Qadhafi in his teleconference participation pointed out that the Libyan democracy is the best in the world and questioned other democracies particularly that of USA.
“Despite the warming of ties, Kadhafi’s remarks on Thursday were typically combative as he lauded Libya as the only true democracy in the world and labelled the US political system as ’a failure.’ “ (Hewitt, 2006)
It is clear from the literature review and the available data in international records that prospects of democracy, as it is defined in the democratization theories, in Libya leave much to be desired.
While the leaders of Libya claim that they have their own democracy, the popular and revolutionary systems, democratization is not reflected in the socioeconomics of the country.
- STATE.GOV (2006) – Defining Democracy – downloaded on 18 November 2006 from: http://usinfo.state.gov/products/pubs/whatsdem/whatdm2.htm
- Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor – Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – 2004 – released in February 2005
- World Audit Organization – Libya: World Democracy Profile – downloaded on 18 November 2006 from: http://www.worldaudit.org/countries/libya.htm
- Onyango-Obbo, Charles (January 2004) – Africa’s Ills : Nothing Democracy Can’t Fix – World and I. Volume: 19. Issue: 01. Page Number: 256+
- Vanhanen, Tatu (1997) – Prospects of Democracy: A Study of 172 Countries. – Routledge – London.
- Columbia University (March 2006) – S. & Libyan Scholars to Examine Prospects for Democracy, March 22-23 – downloaded on 18 November 2006 from: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/news/06/03/lybia_event.html
- Hewitt, Giles (2006) – Kadhafi speaks to democracy panel in New York – downloaded on 18 November from: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=16078
- Abootalebi, Ali R. (1998) – Civil Society, Democracy, And The Middle East – downloaded on 18 November 2006 from: http://meria.idc.ac.il/journal/1998/issue3/jv2n3a8.html
- Anderson, Frank (1999) – Qadhafiis Libya: the Limits of Optimism – Middle East Policy. Volume: 6. Issue: 4 – Page Number: 68+
- Wikipedia Encyclopaedia – Democracy – downloaded on 18 November 2006 from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democracy