2 Jan 2013

Libya’s Slapstick Democracy Explained

What exactly is happening in Libya after the revolution, you must be wondering. Since international media seems to have forgotten about the country, we decided to write a short guide about Libya’s tentative steps towards democracy. Typically, this process of transition has been misinterpreted by western media with its overly ethnocentric understanding of what democracy should look like.
To the untrained eye, Libyan democracy might appear to be anarchic and contradictory but it actually operates according to a set of unwritten rules.

The overriding principle for Libyan democratic procedures is that they are considered legitimate if they work as a scene in a silent era film. Keep that in mind and it will be easy to comprehend the overly theatrical nature of those proceedings.


The General National Congress is an elected chamber, much like any other parliament in the world outside North Korea and parts of the Gulf. However the GNC’s procedures were designed to give a voice for those who lost in the elections but still have lots of weapons. A simple majority is used to determine the outcome of legislative votes, but this could be invalidated should 15 or more armed men burst into the chamber screaming and waving their machineguns in the air. At this point, the chairman must recognise the motion and moves to delay the vote and must rush out saying “I’m sorry I have to leave, I’m invited to dinner.” (But using more than 25 men is considered bad form according to convention.)

Unpopular Committees.

During Gaddafi’s tyrannical rule, popular committees were a cornerstone of his hold on power. The popular committees were so resented by most Libyans that they decided to replace them with unpopular committees after the revolution. This has proved very popular as nobody can stand them.

Moved by this success, the government created its own unpopular committee called the Supreme Security Committee, known as the SSC because it sounds like a snake hissing. The SSC has to sustain its unpopularity by arbitrary decisions, such as banning New Year’s Eve celebrations and occasionally cancelling Tuesdays. Their decisions are often ignored but they contribute to the unpopularity they crave nevertheless.

Guardians of the Revolution.

The Guardians of the Revolution, sometimes called the guardians of the revolution, are a sort of quality control authority for democratic transition. They are mainly militias that fought during the revolution against Gaddafi and decided to disarm unconventionally by retaining their weapons. They see their job as correcting the mistakes that ordinary Libyans might make during the transition to democracy. Their name appears to be inspired by the British newspaper The Guardian, because of its traditional role in correcting the democratic mistakes of ordinary voters.

There are several groups that function as guardians of the revolution, of various sizes and ideological inclinations. Some are Islamist and some are even more Islamist. The largest is the Libya Shield Force, so called because oxymorons are highly valued in traditional Libyan culture. The LSF function as a regular army, but only on weekends. For the rest of the week, they operate on a more relaxed basis.

There are other groups named after regions in Libya, tribes or abstract principles. There is also an all-woman militia called the Angry Mermaids because they wear very tight skirts that make walking very difficult. They are however very effective under water.

Manifestations of Discontent.

The expression of discontent is a fundamental right in the new Libyan democracy. This is why it’s entrusted to fundamentalists. A popular method is demolishing buildings as a symbol of protest, using a combination of bulldozers and dynamite. This is done under strict condition with concerns of health and safety being paramount. Out of respect for public property only buildings that are a few hundred years old are destroyed.

There are other means for the expression of discontent, such as driving armed trucks onto a runway and closing the airport down for a few hours. This is usually accompanied by what might seem like an unreasonable demand, but this is classic western colonial projection. It’s reported that many of these acts are inspired by the Libyan rebels’ favourite film which inspired them during the revolution, Woody Allen’s ‘Bananas’.


In normal democracies, it is quite difficult to isolate irksome politicians that insist on asking awkward questions. Not so in the new Libya, where a convenient system has been devised. De-gaddafication, practiced through the Political Isolation Law, allows the authorities to single out people associated with the Gaddafi regime while glossing over their own role during that period. Those people can then be exiled from the political arena thus restoring harmony. Pointing out similarities to American laws during the 50s is hateful propaganda.

Irony is a very powerful democratic weapon. That is why the Libyan authorities have introduced several ironic laws, most of which seem to be based on Gaddafi era laws. These include a law that bans criticism of the revolution which is based on a Gaddafi law banning criticism of the coup that brought him to power. The rulers realise that light-heartedness in these matters is crucial to avoid taking themselves very seriously. They do however enforce these laws strictly, after all the law must be respected, ironic or not.

Written with love to the Libyan people, who shouldn't have to trade one tyranny for another.

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  1. Brillant and painfully spot on!!

  2. Very drole, however the last law you refer to (law 37) was actually over-turned by the supreme court. Anyhows, how surprising that Libya isn't a clock-work democracy 1.5 years after a bloody war that overturned 42 years of dictatorship.

  3. Libyan democracy is different from the real one in that it is overwhelmed by the dominance of the religious over cultural views,when rationalism &objectivity is excluded &neglected all that will only lead to a new production of another Gaddafi style ,,when all things are viewed according to ancient narratives of those people who lived a different life from ours things will be worse in the end

  4. what do they mean by popular committees and unpopular committees
    You say that now Libya unpopular committees. but which are popular with the people
    I get confused
    what distinguishes a committee today from Gaddafi time

  5. In what world is a freely and fairly elected national legislature, freedom of the press, and the ability to strike and collectively bargain without getting shot by the army or raided by the secret police a "tyranny"?

  6. it's kinda cool how cruise missile socialists use the same talking points as CNN and Fox news
    one of your best satires karlremarks

  7. A bit unfair in places, but very apposite in others: compensated overall by its sharp humour.
    What I have always regarded as rather amusing, and constituting a distinct "Libyan" style of governance, is the practice of making controversial decisions and then reversing them 48 hours later: rather inefficient, but better than the western practice of of making controversial decisions and sticking with them to the bitter end.

  8. Bitter sweet ... Sense of humor is an important Libyan asset.

  9. Fact is: SSC who most of them have no business with revolution, and many of them are #Islamist, can be classified as the militant wing to #MB's and the rest of the clan. Their goal is to establish an Islamic State, but they know it would be difficult to do because many #Libya-ns know their ideology, which will in fact be more or less similar to one they just went through for forty two years.

  10. It is also very interesting the Libyan political tool of expression called "shooting at the plain because I want to make my point which I have just forgotten". It is AWESOME. More even so if you think about the response to the shootings from the greedy international airlines that charge hundreds of Euros for shitty flights: "Lets-pretend-that-those-shootings-to-the-airplanes-at-the-airpot-are-perfectly-fine". These airlines which really care about security decided that the best way to maintain standards (an income) was to pretend that the shootings were in fact happy celebratory ones made by mistake by over-excited wedding guests but ... WAIT! now that you mention the issue we have just realized that the shootings never happened. Cool.


Karl reMarks is a blog about Middle East politics and culture with a healthy dose of satire.

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