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People's Militia

The People's Militia was a Qadhafi-era insitution that vanished in 2011. The concept of universal military service was embodied in Statute 3 for 1984, approved by the GPC in March 1984. This law declared that all Libyans coming of age, whether male or female, were to receive regular military training, as long as they were physically able. Military studies were to be among the basic subjects of the educational curriculum at all stages above the elementary level. Military studies and training in regular military establishments of "specialized cadres in warfare" were restricted to males.

The statute provided for Libya to be divided into defense regions, the responsibility for defending each region being that of its inhabitants. Defense regions were to regard themselves as strategic reserves for each other. The new law did not supersede the provisions of the Compulsory Military Service Statute of 1978, which made all males between the ages of seventeen and thirty-five subject to a draft commitment of three years of active service in the army or four years in the navy or air force. Students could defer service until completion of their studies. The actual application of conscription laws was not entirely clear. In one case, a young man called up for two years' service was required to serve six years. In 1986, of 936,000 men in the 15 to 59 age category, about 550,000 were fit for military service. About 39,000 Libyans reach military age each year; many, however, lack the basic education needed to absorb training in the use and servicing of modern weaponry.

The implementing regulations for the 1984 statute stipulated that all secondary schools and equivalent institutions were to be assigned to various military units. Each student was to devote two days each month to training with the nearest military element having a specialization approximating that of the unit to which the student had been assigned. One month each year was to be spent with the student's original military unit.

Members of all government and business enterprises as well as artisans, professionals, and farmers, were also to train for two days a month and one month a year. At some factories, the military commitment was more onerous. When the work day finished at 2:00 P. M., employees were obliged to spend three to four hours with their military units five days each week. Such periods of intensive training continued for six months or more at intervals of every few years.

To a considerable extent, the new law merely reinforced a program in existence for some years to mobilize the entire population of physically fit students and working people into local militia units centered on schools, communities, and workplaces. The number of individuals organized into paramilitary units has been estimated at 45,000 but may have increased with the application of the new law. In 1987 the People's Militia was headed by Major Khuwayldi al Hamidi, one of the original members of the RCC. The militia units reportedly were generously equipped with arms, transport, and uniforms. In November 1985, it was announced that the first contingent of "armed people" trained as paratroopers had made a demonstration drop.

In early 1986, Western reporters were shown military training at a high school in Tripoli at which a minimum of two out of thirty-six class hours a week were devoted to military studies. In addition, one of three summer months was spent at a military camp. Graduates either entered the army directly or went on to college. Those entering college had to continue reserve training at their former high schools. The weekly lessons included hand-grenade throwing, signals and codes, and machine-gun maintenance. High schools concentrated on designated specialties, which in the case of the institution visited was the operation of the Soviet truckmounted Katyusha rocket launcher.

The mission of the People's Militia was territorial defense, and it was to function under the leadership of local military commanders. Qadhafi contended that it was the People's Militia that met the Egyptian incursions during the border clash of 1977, although the Egyptians insisted that their successful raids had been contested by regular army units. The militia forces are not known to have faced any other test that would permit an appraisal of their performance in home defense or as auxiliaries to the regular army. There was some evidence that local commanders had not responded energetically to their responsibility for training and supervising militia units.

Women in the Armed Forces

Qadhafi persistently sought to usher in a policy of direct participation by women in national defense. His efforts, which have been resisted by conservative elements of Libyan society and apparently by most young women as well, derived from his argument that women of the Arab world live in a subjugated state and must be liberated from oppression and feudalism. Qadhafi viewed practices governing a woman's role in society and her legal rights as disrespectful, reactionary, and contrary to the Quran.

Speaking at a rally in Tripoli in 1978, Qadhafi said that the goal of a totally armed people would be fully realized "when all Libyans--men and women--have been trained in an organized, modern fashion." Addressing in the same speech the political and religious problems that a full-fledged military role for women presented in Islamic Libya, Qadhafi declared that this "is not against religion, not against marriage, not against ethics."

Shortly thereafter, it was announced that women were to be conscripted along with men, but this plan apparently was not fully implemented. A women's army college opened in Tripoli in 1979, training volunteers aged thirteen to seventeen in basic military subjects and the use of various weapons. A total of 7,000 students had passed through the academy by 1983. Some female pilots and naval recruits had reportedly also been enlisted. Nevertheless, the notion of women as soldiers remained unpopular. Some observers believed that many of the students had been coerced into entering the academy. The institution was closed in November 1983, reportedly after students ripped down fences to escape and return to their homes.

Nonetheless, the new legislation introduced in February 1984 covering universal military service specifically included women. When the GPC took the almost unprecedented step of rejecting the proposal, Qadhafi saw this as evidence of lingering reactionary attitudes in a society that had not whole heartedly accepted the revolution. "Spontaneous demonstrations" of young women demanding the right to engage in military service were organized. In a speech on March 12, 1984, Qadhafi announced that popular demand made it necessary to introduce compulsory military service for all in spite of the CPC's action. After the Libyan retreat from Chad in March 1987, there were indications that women had served there in administrative positions.

The women's military academy was not reopened, however, and no immediate steps were taken to institute full-time military service for women. Training was apparently to remain an adjunct to high school and university studies. Even so, there was evidence that the program was not being resolutely enforced. As late as April 1986, the Libyan press mentioned complaints over the delays and haphazard nature of the training programs at the Zlitan Women Teachers' Institute, apparently owing to the indifference of local military authorities.

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Page last modified: 23-10-2013 19:13:04 ZULU