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Prospects for Democracy in Libya

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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¬† ‚Äú‚Ķa¬† 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.‚ÄĚ

The  Objective  of  this  paper  is  to  study  the  prospects  of  democracy  in  Libya.  This  will  be  discussed  under  the  following  headings:

  1. What is  Democracy?
  2. What are  the  criteria  for  a  state  to  be  democratic?
  3. What are  the  prospects  of  Democracy  in  Libya?
  4. Conclusions

What  is  Democracy

According¬† to¬† Merriam-Webster¬† Online¬† dictionary¬† democracy¬† is¬† defined¬† as¬† ‚Äúa¬† 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.‚Ä̬† 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‚Äôs¬† 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:

‚ÄúDirect¬† 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)‚ÄĚ

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:

‚ÄúRepresentative¬† 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.‚ÄĚ

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.

‚ÄúHDI¬† 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.‚Ä̬† (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:¬† ‚ÄúFurther,¬† 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.‚Ä̬† Then¬† he¬† concludes¬† using¬† HDI¬† that:

‚ÄúAs¬† 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.‚ÄĚ

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¬† ‚Äúthe¬† 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.‚Ä̬† (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‚Äôs¬† data¬† leads¬† to¬† a¬† conclusion¬† for¬† Libya¬† and¬† some¬† similar¬† countries¬† when¬† he¬† asserts¬† that¬† OLU¬† ‚Äú‚Ķ.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¬† ‚Äú‚Ķ¬† is¬† the¬† preservation¬† of¬† peace,¬† order,¬† and¬† security,¬† along¬† with¬† some¬† redistribution¬† policies¬† (e.g.,¬† welfare¬† programs).‚Ä̬† 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¬† ‚Äėbourgeoisie‚Äô¬† very¬† weak¬† since¬† it¬† is¬† dependent¬† on¬† the¬† state¬† in¬† all¬† the¬† economical¬† activities.¬† Abootalebi¬† (1998)¬† states¬† the¬† reason:¬† ‚ÄúThanks¬† 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.‚Ä̬† 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¬† ‚Äúcoercive¬† 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.‚Ä̬† (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.

‚ÄúThe¬† 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).‚Ä̬† (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:

  1. No single  factor  is  sufficient  to  explain  the  development  of  democracy  in  all  countries  or  in  a  single 
  2. No single  factor  is  necessary  to  the  development  of  democracy  in  all 
  3. Democratization in  each  country  is  the  result  of  combination  of 
  4. The combination  of  causes  producing  democracy  varies  from  country  to 
  5. The combination  of  causes  generally  responsible  for  one  wave  of  democratization  differs  from  that  responsible  for  other 
  6. 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:

  1. History since  1969
  2. 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¬† ‚Äúpopular¬† revolution‚Ä̬† 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¬† ‚Äúpopular¬† committees‚Ä̬† 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¬† ‚Äėnon-vital‚Äô¬† 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.‚Ä̬† (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‚Äôs¬† ideas¬† were¬† first¬† published¬† in¬† a¬† series¬† of¬† articles¬† in¬† 1975¬† and¬† were¬† later¬† compiled¬† into¬† a¬† multi-volume¬† as¬† the¬† ‚ÄúGreen¬† Book‚Ä̬† in¬† 1976.¬† The¬† main¬† idea¬† of¬† the¬† book¬† is¬† that¬† ‚Äú‚Ķsome¬† 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‚Ä̬† (Anderson,¬† 1999).¬† The¬† ‚ÄėGreen¬† Book‚Äô¬† also¬† further¬† emphasised¬† the¬† concepts¬† of¬† “individual¬† sovereignty,”¬† “direct¬† democracy”¬† and¬† “popular¬† authority‚ÄĚ.

In¬† March¬† 1976¬† the¬† theory¬† of¬† the¬† ‚ÄėGreen¬† Book‚Äô¬† was¬† applied.¬† Libya¬† was¬† declared¬† as¬† a¬† ‚ÄúJamharriyah‚Ä̬† 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‚Äôs¬† Congresses¬† leading¬† to¬† Municipal¬† Congresses¬† which¬† then¬† end¬† at¬† the¬† national¬† level¬† in¬† the¬† General¬† People‚Äôs¬† 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.

‚ÄúThese¬† “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.‚Ä̬† (Anderson,¬† 1999)

The¬† third¬† governing¬† structure¬† the¬† ‚ÄúRevolutionary¬† Authority‚Ä̬† was¬† created¬† in¬† 1977.¬† This¬† one¬† had¬† the¬† authority¬† of¬† supervising¬† the¬† ‚Äėpopular‚Äô¬† system.¬† Unlike¬† the¬† popular¬† system¬† this¬† flows¬† down¬† from¬† the¬† ‚ÄėDirection¬† of¬† the¬† Revolution‚Äô¬† consisting¬† of¬† Qadhafi¬† and¬† his¬† associates¬† ,¬† to¬† ‚ÄėOffice¬† of¬† Revolutionary¬† Committees‚Äô¬† which¬† supervises¬† the¬† ‚ÄėRevolution¬† Committees‚Äô¬† 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.

‚ÄúInternally,¬† 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‚Ä̬† (Anderson,¬† 1999)

Prospects  as  Recorded  in  International  Organisations

  1. World Audit  Organization

According  to  the  world  audit  organization  the  following  statistics  are  the  ones  recorded  for  Libya  in  2004:

Topics Range Results
World  Democracy  Audit  overall  ranking 1-150 147
Political  Rights 1-7 7
Civil  Liberties 1-7 7
Press  Freedom 0-100 146
Corruption 0-100 90

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.

  1. Human Rights  Report

According¬† to¬† the¬† Bureau¬† of¬† Democracy,¬† Human¬† Rights,¬† and¬† Labor¬† released¬† in¬† February¬† 28,¬† 2005,¬† ‚Äúthe¬† Great¬† Socialist¬† People’s¬† Libyan¬† Arab¬† Jamahiriya¬† is¬† an¬† authoritarian¬† regime.‚Ä̬† This¬† conclusion¬† is¬† illustrated¬† by¬† detailing¬† a¬† number¬† of¬† aspects¬† of¬† human¬† rights¬† and¬† the¬† conclusion¬† is¬† later¬† elaborated¬† into¬† the¬† following¬† paragraph:

‚ÄúThe¬† 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.‚Ä̬† (Bureau¬† of¬† Democracy,¬† Human¬† Rights,¬† and¬† Labor)

However,¬† recently¬† (22¬† ‚Äst 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:

‚ÄúPrompted¬† 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.‚ÄĚ

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.

‚ÄúDespite¬† 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¬† ‚Äôa¬† failure.‚Äô¬† ‚Äú¬† (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.


  1. STATE.GOV (2006) ‚Äď Defining Democracy ‚Äď downloaded on 18 November 2006 from: http://usinfo.state.gov/products/pubs/whatsdem/whatdm2.htm
  1. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor – Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – 2004 ‚Äď released in February 2005
  1. World Audit Organization ‚Äď Libya: World Democracy Profile ‚Äď downloaded on 18 November 2006 from: http://www.worldaudit.org/countries/libya.htm
  1. Onyango-Obbo, Charles (January 2004) – Africa’s Ills : Nothing Democracy Can’t Fix – World and I. Volume: 19. Issue: 01. Page Number: 256+
  1. Vanhanen, Tatu (1997) – Prospects of Democracy: A Study of 172 Countries. – Routledge – London.
  1. Columbia University (March 2006) – S. & Libyan Scholars to Examine Prospects for Democracy, March 22-23 ‚Äď downloaded on 18 November 2006 from: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/news/06/03/lybia_event.html
  1. Hewitt, Giles (2006) – Kadhafi speaks to democracy panel in New York ‚Äď downloaded on 18 November from: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=16078
  1. Abootalebi, Ali R. (1998) – Civil Society, Democracy, And The Middle East ‚Äď downloaded on 18 November 2006 from: http://meria.idc.ac.il/journal/1998/issue3/jv2n3a8.html
  1. Anderson, Frank (1999) – Qadhafiis Libya: the Limits of Optimism – Middle East Policy. Volume: 6. Issue: 4 – Page Number: 68+
  1. Wikipedia Encyclopaedia ‚Äď Democracy ‚Äď downloaded on 18 November 2006 from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democracy

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