Government & Politics of Libya

After the revolution in 1969, Colonel Muammar al Qadhafi, applied his innovative and revolutionary Arab-socialist philosophy to Libyan nation has resulted in fundamental changes in political representation, property ownership, legal system, and commercial transactions.

Although Qadhafi holds no formal office, he exercises absolute power with the assistance of a small group of trusted advisers, who include relatives from his home base in the Sirte region, which lies between the rival provinces of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica.

Before the 1969 constitution, Libya had a dual system of civil and religious courts.  The new constitution established the primacy of Shari'a, or Islamic law, unifying the two systems.  Civil laws now must conform to Shari'a.

In September 1969 the monarchy of Idris I was overthrown and the constitution suspended in a military coup d'état. After the revolution, Qadhafi took increasing control of the government, but he also attempted to achieve greater popular participation in local government.

In 1973, he announced the start of a "cultural revolution" in schools, businesses, industries, and public institutions to oversee administration of those organizations in the public interest.  The March 1977 establishment of "people's power"--with mandatory popular participation in the selection of representatives to the GPC--was the culmination of this process.

The 12-member Revolutionary Command Council formed after the coup was replaced by the General Secretariat of the General People's Congress (GPC) with Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi as secretary-general.

It serves as the intermediary between the masses and the leadership and is composed of the secretariats of some 600 local "basic popular congresses." He resigned the post in 1979 but remained in effect ruler of the country and head of the revolution.

Every four years, the membership of the Local People's Congresses elects their own leaders and the secretaries for the People's Committees, sometimes after many debates and a critical vote.

The leadership of the Local People's Congress represents the local congress at the People's Congress of the next level. The members of the National General People's Congress elect the members of the National General People's Committee (the Cabinet) at their annual meeting.

In the 1980s, competition between the official Libyan Government and military hierarchies and the revolutionary committees was growing.  An abortive coup attempt in May 1984, apparently mounted by Libyan exiles with internal support, led to a short-lived reign of terror in which thousands were imprisoned and interrogated.

Qadhafi used the revolutionary committees to search out alleged internal opponents following the coup attempt, thereby accelerating the rise of more radical elements inside the Libyan power hierarchy.

Citizens are also members of the Arab Socialist Union (ASU), the mass political organization and only legal political party. In the late 1980s, sweeping domestic reforms replaced the army and police forces with the Jamahiri Guards.

A General People's Committee has replaced the original revolutionary cabinet, the Council of Ministers; each of the committee's members is the secretary of a department. In 1988 all but 2 of the 19 secretariats were moved from Tripoli, most of them to Surt. The General People's Congress serves as a parliament.


Libya professes to have a government in which the people rule directly. The highest official organ is the General People's Congress, consisting of some 2,700 representatives from local peoples' committees.

In practice, Libya is a military regime, with power vested in the revolutionary leader, Muammar al-Qaddafi, who holds no official title but is the de facto chief of state. The head of government is the secretary of the general people's committee. Administratively, the country is divided into 25 municipalities.

Political Parties

Political parties banned; mass organization accomplished primarily through Arab Socialist Union, which includes geographically and functionally based membership.

Main political players

Muammar Qadhafi: Has ruled Libya since achieving power through a military coup in 1969. In recent years he has followed a policy of engagement with Western governments, resulting in the reestablishment of high-level contact with nations such as the UK and France. A recent state visit to the latter is likely to lead to new trade arrangements and potential assistance with military and energy policy. This reflects a significant transition from Qadhafi's position during much of the 80s and 90s, and is in part recognition of his commitment to détente with the West established in 2003.

Abu Bakr Younis Jaber: Head of the Libyan army since the late 1970s; a long-time member of Qadhafi's inner circle and one of the original members of the Revolutionary Command Council (composed of 12 army officials and led by Qadhafi, it founded the Jamahiriya and the GPC).

Musa Kusa: Head of Libya's intelligence service and a member of the five-strong inner circle which holds most influence in the country. He remains an important figure and has headed meetings with the US and the UK since 2001.

Saif Al Islam Qadhafi: Colonel Qadhafi's most politically promising son and according to some analysts the likeliest candidate for succession. He is in charge of the Qadhafi International Charitable foundation.

Shokri Ghanem: Ghanem holds a PhD in Economics from Tufts University in the US and has been in charge of economic and foreign trade matters. He served as oil minister in the early 1970s and as deputy secretary-general of OPEC from 1988 to 2001.

He was made prime minister in 2003 and, although recently dismissed, he continues to oversee the country's reform process. He is now head of the National Oil Corporation.

Executive and Legislature

General People's Congress (GPC), both an executive and legislative body that convenes several times annually, primary formal instrument of government; membership of more than 1,000 delegates drawn from subnational-level people's committees, people's congresses, and revolutionary committees.

Leadership of GPC vested in General Secretariat headed by secretary general, official chief of state. Cabinet functions performed by national-level General People's Committee.

The country is divided into 25 baladiyat (municipalities), which in turn are subdivided into zones. The citizens of each zone are members of the Basic Popular Congress (BPC), each headed by an appointed revolutionary or leadership committee.

Legal System

Since 1969 Revolution, sharia (Islamic law) has replaced other jurisprudence. The Libyan court system consists of four ascending levels.  Regular court system adjudicates personal, criminal, civil, and commercial law. People's Courts, Revolutionary Courts, and Military Courts handle political transgressions and threats against state.

The GPC appoints justices to the Supreme Court.  Military courts and special "revolutionary courts" operate outside the judicial system.

Last Updated on Monday 4th August 2008