What is in Gaddafi’s Green Book, Part One

In his televised addresses, Gaddafi is often quoting from his Green Book to justify exterminating his political rivals.  What’s in that book?

I bought the official English-language edition of the Green Book in Tripoli some years ago when I was on assignment for Travel + Leisure (that article can be read here) mainly because, in a country with little craft tradition and even fewer tourists, there wasn’t much else to buy as a reminder of one’s travels in Libya.  Long before I held the thin, poorly printed little book in my hands I was intimately familiar with some of its guiding principles because exhortations in English drawn from the Green Book were plastered on billboards at Tripoli airport and throughout the capital.  The public display of foreign languages had been banned and there was no commercial advertising, so inscrutable sayings from the Green Book were the only public signage most foreigners could read.  Invariably, they were presented in capital letters, perhaps to give them force and urgency: PARTNERS NOT WAGE WORKERS or NO DEMOCRACY WITHOUT POPULAR CONGRESSES.  At the time, I felt no need to read more of the Green Book but a few days ago, when Gaddafi in a televised address started to read aloud from the Green Book, I decided to go back and see what was in it.

The Green Book is not a constitutional document, despite Gaddafi’s periodic reference to it as if it prescribes this or that punishment for political dissent.  Just what it is, though, is harder to explain.  The back cover proclaims “The thinker Muammar Al Qathafi” — nowhere else have I seen that idiosyncratic spelling of his name — “does not present his thought for simple amusement or pleasure.”  This is for the best, because Gaddafi is no one’s idea of a gifted political thinker and it is hard to escape the suspicion that he published this book principally because he envied Mao Tse-tung the success he’d had with his Little Red Book so wanted one of his own.

The book is divided into three sections.  Part One is about politics and introduces the only-in-Libya concept of the Jamahiriyat, or state of the masses, which it buttresses with perplexing diagrams and the declaration that ‘The party system aborts democracy.’  This section tends to repeat itself until the reader is driven to submission.  Consider, for example, the exhortation ‘No democracy without popular congresses.’  Gaddafi elaborates on this concept: “Popular congresses and people’s committees are the final fruit of the people’s struggle for democracy.  Popular congresses and people’s committees are not creations of the imagination so much as they are the product of human thought which has absorbed all human experiments to achieve democracy.”  And so on.  To the extent that a substantive idea can be gleaned from the political section of the Green Book it is this: direct democracy is better than representative democracy.  Fair enough, though the Libyans fighting today for their homeland might argue that something was lost in the implementation and a fairer description of what exists under Gaddafi is that there’s no democracy of any sort.  And Gaddafi, no doubt, would contend that too is in the Green Book, because the political section ends with this odd negation of all that preceded it: “The era of the masses, which approaches us at a rapid pace following the era of the republics, inflames the feelings and dazzles the eyes…Theoretically, this is the genuine democracy.  But realistically, the strong always rule, i.e., the stronger part in the society is the one that rules.”  So, in short, never mind about that democracy business.

This is the first of a two-part post.  Click here for Parts Two and Three of Gaddafi’s Green Book >>

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