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Qadhafi Era Opposition

There were numerous small groups opposed to the Qadhafi regime both within Libya and outside. The two most important groups in the external opposition were probably the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL) and the Libyan National Army (LNA), the latter composed of dissident former Libyan POWs in Chad. The NFSL's importance reflected its financial strength. It organised the 1984 raid on Qadhafi's residence at the Tripoli Bab Al Azizya barracks. Internal opposition was not apparent. A number of internal Islamic opposition groups emerged in the 1990's, largely in the eastern region. Significant disturbances took place in the East in 1993 and 1996, but dissidents otherwise made little impact. Only a few opposition members were believed to be at large.

In the 1980s, competition grew between the official Libyan Government and military hierarchies and the revolutionary committees. 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. An unknown number were executed. 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.

By the late 1980s, some observers believed that Qadhafi's hold on the Libyan public had waned, owing to his radical and sometimes bizarre policies in the name of the Libyan revolution. Yet opposition groups, consisting mostly of Libyan exiles, have been ineffective. The main threat to Qadhafi's continued rule came from the army itself. Numerous plots and coup attempts had been uncovered, most of which have not seriously threatened Qadhafi's authority. Distrustful of the professional military, Qadhafi often shifted senior officers from one post to another to prevent the officer corps from closing ranks. In addition, he entrusted his personal security to a handpicked detachment from his own region. A comprehensive internal security system involving police, secret service, and local revolutionary committees was alert to any indications of disloyalty or conspiracies. Any form of dissent from the policies of the government was deemed contrary to the revolution and subject to severe punitive measures.

In the late 1980s, Qadhafi began to pursue an anti-Islamic fundamentalist policy domestically, viewing fundamentalism as a potential rallying point for opponents of the regime. Ministerial positions and military commanders were frequently shuffled or placed under temporary house arrest to diffuse potential threats to Qadhafi's authority.

Apart from conflicts with the traditional religious hierarchy, Qadhafi had a longstanding conflict with the Muslim Brotherhood and other fundamentalist groups, whose membership went into exile or underground during Qadhafi's tenure. In March 1987, it was reported that nine Muslim dissidents, members of a little-known group called Holy War, were executed for plotting to assassinate Soviet advisers. A revolutionary committee member was assassinated in Benghazi in October 1986 by the hitherto unknown Hizballah (Party of God). As a result, the revolutionary committees began to monitor more closely than before the activities of the mosques, the imams, and the fundamentalists. The country's forty-eight Islamic institutes reportedly were closed in late 1986, apparently to stem the tide of religious, particularly fundamentalist, opposition.

In 1988, faced with rising public dissatisfaction with shortages in consumer goods and setbacks in Libya's war with Chad, Qadhafi began to curb the power of the revolutionary committees and to institute some domestic reforms. The regime released many political prisoners and eased restrictions on foreign travel by Libyans. Private businesses were again permitted to operate.

Despite these measures, internal dissent continued. Qadhafi's security forces launched a preemptive strike at alleged coup plotters in the military and among the Warfallah tribe in October 1993. Widespread arrests and government reshufflings followed, accompanied by public "confessions" from regime opponents and allegations of torture and executions. The military, once Qadhafi's strongest supporters, became a potential threat in the 1990s. In 1993, following a failed coup attempt that implicated senior military officers, Qadhafi began to purge the military periodically, eliminating potential rivals and inserting his own loyal followers in their place.

Gadaffi encountered continued problems with Islamic fundamentalists, most notably the Libyan Islamic Group, and it attempted to assassinate him in 1997. Based mainly in the United Kingdom its influence within Libya does not appear to be substantial.

Many people believed that the internal opposition, both secular and religious, was very weak. Gaddafi had long taken a consistently harsh view of religious fundamentalism, and there were no reports of this attitude changing. There was apparently some political tension between the western and eastern regions of the country, probably partly because fundamentalism was stronger in the east of the country. Developments since 11 September 2001 and the widespread international attack on terrorism probably contributed to a marginalisation of fundamentalist tendencies in Libya. Certain opposition against Gaddafi and his regime exists outside Libya, primarily in Egypt and the UK. Most experts ddid not consider this opposition very strong, and certainly not active and cohesive. The regime was not thought to see it as an actual threat at present.

Many obervers believed the US State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practices regarding Libya did not provide a wholly accurate and up-to-date picture of current conditions in Libya in all respects.

Libya's tribes were arranged in a pyramidal lineage scheme of subtribal, clan, and family elements. Before Libya's independence in 1951, the tribes operated as autonomous political, economic, and military entities. Tribalism remained a key determinant in political allegiances in Libya. Neither oil wealth and modernizing influences nor Qadhafi's revolutionaltered the web of kinship-based loyalties that characterized Libya's domestic political scene for centuries.




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