The Revolutionary Committees

The Revolutionary Committees

Appearance of revolutionary committees in late 1977 marked a further evolution of the political system. In response to Qadhafi's promptings, revolutionary committees sprang up in offices, schools, businesses, and in the armed forces. Carefully selected, they were estimated at 3,000 to 4,000 members in 1985. These supposedly spontaneous groups, made up of zealous, mostly youthful individuals with modest education, functioned as the watchdogs of the regime and guides for the people's committees and popular congresses. As such, their role was to raise popular awareness, to prevent deviation from officially sanctioned ideology, and to combat tribalism, regionalism, self-doubt, apathy, reactionaries, foreign ideologies, and counterrevolutionaries. The formation of the revolutionary committees was a consequence of Qadhafi's impatience with the progress of the revolution, his obsession with achieving direct popular democracy, and his antipathy toward bureaucracy.

The introduction of the revolutionary committees added still another layer to the political system, thus increasing its complexity. The revolutionary committees sent delegates to the GPC. Under Qadhafi's direct command and with his backing, they became so powerful that they frequently intimidated other GPC delegates. Reports of their heavy-handedness and extremism abound. In the 1980s, the "corruption trials" in revolutionary courts in which a defendant had no legal counsel and no right of appeal were widely criticized both at home and abroad. The infamous "hit squads," composed of elements of the revolutionary committees, pursued Qadhafi's opponents overseas, assassinating a number of them. Violent clashes occurred between revolutionary committees and the officially recognized or legitimate people's groups and the armed forces. It became clear by the mid-1980s that the revolutionary committees had frequently stifled freedom of expression. Regardless of Qadhafi's intentions, they had clearly "undermined any meaningful popular participation in the political process," as Lillian Craig Harris, an authority on Libya, observed.

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