Overview: In theory, Libya is governed according to the “Third Universal Theory,” which Muammar al Qadhafi developed and published in his three-volume work known as the Green Book. In it, Qadhafi presented his unique vision of reconciled socialist and Islamic theories and created a new political system known as “state of the masses,” or Jamahiriya. In reality, Libya is governed by an authoritarian regime ruled by Qadhafi, a small group of his trusted advisers, and several relatives in the northern harbor town of Sirte, which is on the southern shore of the Gulf of Sidra.
Constitution: Libya has no formal constitution.
Branches of Government: Although he holds no official title, Muammar Abu Minyar al Qadhafi has been the de facto chief of state since September 1, 1969, and, in essence, heads a military dictatorship. He has sometimes been called “Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution” in official press releases. The General People's Congress (GPC) is both an executive and legislative body that convenes several times annually. It is the primary formal instrument of government. Its membership of more than 1,000 delegates is drawn from subnational-level people's committees, people's congresses, and revolutionary committees. The leadership of the GPC is vested in the General Secretariat, which is headed by the secretary general, the official chief of state. The national-level General People's Committee performs all cabinet functions.
The unicameral GPC—Libya’s version of a legislature—has no seats, and its members are elected indirectly. The GPC interacts with the General People’s Committee, which comprises the secretaries of about 600 local “basic popular congresses.” The GPC secretary general appoints the secretaries, and the GPC confirms the appointments. Although the secretaries are responsible for the operations of their ministries, it is Qadhafi who exercises real authority, either directly or indirectly. The GPC is essentially ineffectual.
Administrative Divisions: According to some sources, Libya is divided into 3 provinces, 10 governorates, and 1,500 administrative communes. Yet other sources describe variations of reorganizations that may or may not have occurred. One source refers to a current primary subdivision of 34 municipalities or governorates (shabiyat). According to this same source, Libya reorganized from 13 municipalities into 34 municipalities in 2001. The CIA World Factbook reports that there are 25 “municipalities” but also notes that 13 regions may have replaced the municipalities.
Provincial and Local Government: In 1992 Qadhafi reorganized Libya’s local government by creating 1,500 communes (mahallat). Each commune has a budget as well as legislative and executive powers. The communes are supervised by revolutionary committees, which are directed by secretaries, whom Qadhafi personally selects.
Judicial and Legal System: All law in Libya is based on the Koran (sharia). The court system consists of courts of first instance, courts of appeals, and the final appellate level, the Supreme Court. The General People’s Congress (GPC) appoints justices to the Supreme Court. There are also revolutionary courts and military courts, which operate outside the regular court system and which try political offenses and crimes against the state. In his desire for international acceptance and economic benefits for his country, Qadhafi allowed Amnesty International into Libya in 2004. In a gesture of reform, he declared that “emergency laws,” which are enforced by the revolutionary courts and which allow arbitrary arrest without a warrant, would be abolished, adding that “normal criminal law procedure” would be followed.
Electoral System: None.
Politics and Political Parties: Political parties are illegal in Libya. However, some Arab nationalist movements as well as Islamic groups may be operating clandestinely.
Mass Media: Although the law provides for freedom of speech “within limits of public interest and principles of the Revolution,” the government strictly limits freedom of speech as well as freedom of the press. All print and broadcast media in Libya are state-owned and state-controlled. No privately owned radio or television stations are permitted. More than a dozen weekly and daily newspapers are published, but opinions contrary to the government are not allowed. Foreign newspapers and magazines are limited in availability and frequently censored, and their distribution is at times prohibited. Satellite television is widespread, but it is also sometimes censored. The official news agency is Jamahiriyah News Agency (JANA). The Libyan publications law reserves all rights for publishing to the General Corporation of Press, Professional Unions and Syndicates, and the Ad dar Jamahiriya.
Foreign Relations: Libya traditionally has been a staunch proponent of pan-Arab unity, both in theory and in practice. Libyan regional policy was predicated on an intractable opposition to Israel and support of the Palestinian cause. In the 1980s, Qadhafi made a bid for worldwide recognition and Third World leadership by espousing a philosophy known as the “Third Universal Theory,” which rejects both communist and capitalist models of government and calls instead for nonalignment, “people's power,” and “new economic order” based on a more equitable division of wealth between developed and underdeveloped countries. In accordance with this ideology, Libya pursued an activist and aggressive foreign policy, which included alleged support and sponsorship of numerous terrorist and guerrilla movements throughout the world.
After Libya was implicated in the bombing of a Berlin discotheque, the murder of a British policewoman in London, and the downing of two civilian airliners, severe economic sanctions and trade embargoes were placed against the country in 1992. As these sanctions and world isolation continued, Libya’s economy declined—without spare parts and foreign contractors to provide technology support, the country’s civilian and military infrastructure steadily deteriorated, and internal opposition groups found a focal point for their attacks on Qadhafi’s regime.
Since 1999, Qadhafi has made a series of shrewd and pragmatic decisions. He admitted civil responsibility for the downing of a civilian aircraft, paid US$27 billion in compensation, and later renounced weapons of mass destruction. Qadhafi turned his back on the Arab world when it chose not to challenge the United Nations sanctions on his behalf. Qadhafi instead worked to improve bilateral relations with some of Libya’s close neighbors: Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco. He made efforts to expand Libya’s influence in the African world by providing financial aid or granting subsidies to several countries, including Niger and Zimbabwe. He facilitated the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Darfur refugees in Chad. He has been working toward new relations with Europe, especially the European Union’s cooperation program for southern Mediterranean countries. On March 26, 2005, it was reported that Qadhafi, apparently no longer intractably opposed to Israel, proposed at an Arab summit the idea of a “con-federal arrangement between Israel and Palestine.” With the gradual lifting of UN and U.S. sanctions and embargoes between 1999 and 2004, and the normalization of Libya’s international relations, its economic activity has become revitalized. As of 2003, Russian defense companies were seeking new contracts with Libya. European business delegations have been competing for more than US$14 billion in contracts in Libya’s energy, infrastructure, and transportation sectors.
Major International Memberships: Libya is a member of the United Nations and several of its specialized agencies—such as the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization—and numerous other international and regional organizations. Some of the memberships include the African Development Bank, African Union, Arab Maghreb Union, Arab Monetary Fund, Community of Sahel and Saharan States, Council of Arab Economic Unity, Economic Commission for Africa, Food and Agriculture Organization, Group of 77, International Atomic Energy Agency, International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, International Development Association, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, International Finance Corporation, International Fund for Agricultural Development, International Labour Organization, International Monetary Fund, International Olympic Committee, International Organization for Migration, International Organization for Standardization, International Telecommunication Union, International Telecommunications Satellite Organization, Islamic Development Bank, Non-Aligned Movement, Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries, Organization of the Islamic Conference, Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Universal Postal Union, World Customs Organization, World Health Organization, World Intellectual Property Organization, World Meteorological Organization, and World Tourism Organization.
Major International Treaties: Libya is a party to numerous international conventions, such as those on Rights of the Child, Discrimination against Women, Biological Diversity, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, and Desertification. It also has also signed a number of conventions on such environmental issues as climate change, transportation of hazardous substances, the use of pesticides, and nuclear safety. Libya has signed the Law of the Sea, but has not yet ratified it. Libya is a state party to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, Partial Test Ban Treaty, Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, Chemical Weapons Convention, Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, and Geneva Protocol. Libya signed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Safeguards Agreement and the IAEA Additional Protocol. With regard to terrorism, Libya is a state party to the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, Suppression of Terrorist Bombings, Marking of Plastic Explosives for the Purpose of Detection, Against the Taking of Hostages, Offences and Certain Other Acts Committed on Board Aircraft, Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft, Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation, Protocol on the Suppression of Unlawful Acts of Violence at Airports Serving International Civil Aviation, Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation, Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Fixed Platforms Located on the Continental Shelf, and Prevention and Punishment of Crimes against Internationally Protected Persons, including Diplomatic Agents.