Libya: Government

Principal Government Officials

Chief of State: President of the General National Congress Aguila Saleh Issa
Head of Government: Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani

The TNC released a constitutional document in August 2011 describing its plans for a democratic transition. The release helped address concerns about the TNC’s authority as an unelected organization and tied the beginning of the transition in February 2011 to the official declaration of liberation in October 2011. The constitutional declaration is divided into five chapters, with 37 articles, and addresses (1) general national principles; (2) rights and public freedoms; (3) transition to an interim government; (4) judicial guarantees; and (5) the status of existing laws. The document affirmed the TNC as the sole governing authority of Libya until the “announcement of liberation” and the formation of the executive branch, which took place in November 2011. The form of government and political conditions are still taking shape as the interim government works to pass a law governing political parties, form electoral districts, and register voters.

Qadhafi-Era Political System
The former system was in theory based on the political philosophy in Qadhafi's Green Book, which combined socialist and Islamic theories and rejects parliamentary democracy and political parties. In reality, Qadhafi exercised near-total control over major government decisions. During the first 7 years following the 1969 revolution, the Revolutionary Command Council, which included Colonel Qadhafi and 12 fellow army officers, began a complete overhaul of Libya's political system, society, and economy. In 1973, Qadhafi announced the start of a "cultural revolution" in schools, businesses, industries, and public institutions to oversee administration of those organizations in the public interest. On March 2, 1977, Qadhafi convened a General People's Congress (GPC) to proclaim the establishment of "people's power," change the country's name to the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, and to vest, theoretically, primary authority in the GPC.

Qadhafi remained the de facto head of state and secretary general of the GPC until 1980, when he gave up his office. Although he held no formal office, Qadhafi monopolized power with the assistance of a small group of trusted advisers, who included relatives from his home base in the Sirte region, which lies between the traditional commercial and political power centers in Benghazi and Tripoli.

The Libyan court system is currently being reconstituted. Under the Qadhafi regime, it consisted of three levels: the courts of first instance; the courts of appeals; and the Supreme Court, which was the final appellate level. The GPC appointed justices to the Supreme Court. Special "revolutionary courts" and military courts operated outside the court system to try political offenses and crimes against the state. "People's courts," another example of extrajudicial authority, were abolished in January 2005. Libya's justice system was nominally based on Shari'a law.

Following successful NATO operations in Libya in 2011, the West has enjoyed new popularity among the Libyan people. The Qadhafi regime’s relations with the rest of the world deteriorated sharply following his brutal suppression of popular protests in 2011. The UN quickly took action to try to end the violence, passing UNSCR 1970 on February 26, which called for a referral to the International Criminal Court, an arms embargo, a travel ban, an asset freeze, and sanctions. UNSCR 1973, adopted on March 17, authorized member states to take military action to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack. Under the auspices of UNSCR 1973, the U.S., U.K., and France launched military action in Libya on March 20; NATO continued these efforts as “Operation Unified Protector” throughout the duration of the conflict. Working through the international Contact Group on Libya, key members of the international community, including the U.S., joined together to increase diplomatic pressure on the Qadhafi regime and support the TNC.

Since its October 2011 liberation declaration, the Libyan Government has worked closely with the international community on coordinating efforts to assist Libya in building democratic institutions. The Libyan Government has strengthened its relations with the EU, the UN, and the United States. The new Libyan Government took steps to increase cooperation with its African neighbors. Government officials have made frequent trips to neighboring capitals and have hosted a regional security conference.

From 1969 to early 2011, Qadhafi determined Libya's foreign policy. His principal foreign policy goals were Arab unity, the incorporation of Israel and the Palestinian Territories into a single nation of "Isratine," advancement of Islam, support for Palestinians, elimination of outside, particularly Western, influence in the Middle East and Africa, and support for a range of "revolutionary" causes.

Following Libya’s 2003 decision to dismantle its WMD programs and renounce terrorism, it sought to actively reengage the international community through improved bilateral relations with the West, as well as seeking leadership positions within international organizations. Libya served on the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Board of Governors from 2007-2008. From 2008-2009, it served a 2-year non-permanent tenure on the UN Security Council representing the Africa group. In 2009, Libya became chair for 1 year of the African Union and played host to several AU summits. The same year, it assumed the UN General Assembly presidency. Libya took over the Arab League presidency in 2010 and hosted the March and October 2010 Arab League summits and an Arab-African summit in October 2010.

Qadhafi-Era Terrorism
In 1999, the Libyan Government surrendered two Libyans suspected of involvement in the Pan Am 103 bombing, leading to the suspension of UN sanctions. On January 31, 2001, a Scottish court seated in the Netherlands found one of the suspects, Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, guilty of murder in connection with the bombing, and acquitted the second suspect, Al-Amin Khalifa Fhima. Megrahi's conviction was upheld on March 14, 2002, but in October 2008 the Scottish High Court permitted Megrahi to appeal aspects of his case, formal hearings for which started in March 2009, when two separate requests for Megrahi’s release were concurrently considered by Scottish Justice authorities: the first involved Libya’s request for Megrahi’s transfer under the U.K.-Libya Prisoner Transfer Agreement, and the other for his release on compassionate grounds. After a Scottish medical committee announced that Megrahi’s life expectancy was less than 3 months (thereby falling under compassionate release guidelines), Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill granted Megrahi’s release from prison, and permitted him to return to Libya on August 20, 2009. The decision provoked widespread objections by the Lockerbie bombing victims’ families, who were particularly enraged by what appeared to be a “hero’s welcome” in Tripoli.

UN sanctions were lifted on September 12, 2003 following Libyan compliance with its remaining UNSCR requirements on Pan Am 103, including acceptance of responsibility for the actions of its officials and payment of appropriate compensation. Libya had paid compensation in 1999 for the death of British policewoman Yvonne Fletcher, a move that preceded the reopening of the British Embassy in Tripoli, and had paid damages to the non-U.S. families of the victims in the bombing of UTA Flight 772. With the lifting of UN sanctions in September 2003, each of the families of the victims of Pan Am 103 received $4 million of a maximum $10 million in compensation. After the lifting of U.S. IEEPA-based sanctions on September 20, 2004, the families received a further $4 million.

On November 13, 2001, a German court found four persons, including a former employee of the Libyan embassy in East Berlin, guilty in connection with the 1986 La Belle disco bombing, in which two U.S. servicemen were killed. The court also established a connection to the Libyan Government. The German Government demanded that Libya accept responsibility for the La Belle bombing and pay appropriate compensation. A compensation deal for non-U.S. victims was agreed to in August 2004.

By 2003, Libya appeared to have curtailed its support for international terrorism, although it may have retained residual contacts with some of its former terrorist clients. In an August 2003 letter to the UN Security Council, Libya took significant steps to mend its international image and formally renounced terrorism. In August 2004, the Department of Justice entered into a plea agreement with Abdulrahman Alamoudi, in which he stated that he had been part of a 2003 plot to assassinate Saudi Crown Prince Abdallah (now King Abdallah) at the behest of Libyan Government officials. In 2005, the Saudi Government pardoned the individuals accused in the assassination plot.

During the 2005 UN General Assembly session, Libyan Foreign Minister Abd al-Rahman Shalgam issued a statement that reaffirmed Libya's commitment to the statements made in its letter addressed to the Security Council on August 15, 2003, renouncing terrorism in all its forms and pledging that Libya would not support acts of international terrorism or other acts of violence targeting civilians, whatever their political views or positions. Libya also expressed its commitment to continue cooperating in the international fight against terrorism. On June 30, 2006, the U.S. rescinded Libya's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.

In May 2008, the U.S. and Libya began negotiations on a comprehensive claims settlement agreement to resolve outstanding claims of American and Libyan nationals against each country in their respective courts. On August 4, 2008 President Bush signed into law the Libyan Claims Resolution Act, which Congress had passed on July 31. The act provided for the restoration of Libya’s sovereign, diplomatic, and official immunities before U.S. courts if the Secretary of State certified that the United States Government had received sufficient funds to resolve outstanding terrorism-related death and physical injury claims against Libya. Subsequently, both sides signed a comprehensive claims settlement agreement on August 14. On October 31, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice certified to Congress that the United States had received $1.5 billion pursuant to the U.S.-Libya Claims Settlement Agreement. These funds were sufficient to provide the required compensation to victims of terrorism under the Libyan Claims Resolution Act. Concurrently, President Bush issued an executive order to implement the claims settlement agreement.

In September 2009, several leading members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) released a more than 400-page document in which they renounced violence and laid out what they claimed to be a clearer understanding of the ethics of Islamic Shari’a law and jihad, parting ways with Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups whose violent methods they described as ignorant and illegitimate. The release of this revisionist manuscript shortly followed a public statement in August 2009, in which LIFG’s leaders apologized to the Libyan leader for their violent acts and pledged to continue working toward a complete reconciliation with remaining elements of LIFG in Libya or abroad. LIFG’s revised ideology and the subsequent release of many of its imprisoned members was due in large part to a 2-year initiative by Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi, in his capacity as Chairman of the Qadhafi International Charity and Development Foundation, to broker the reconciliation between the Libyan Government and elements of LIFG leadership.


CIA World Factbook (March 2012)
U.S. Dept. of State Country Background Notes ( March 2012)