"Your armed forces have toppled the reactionary, backward and corrupt regime. With one strike your heroic army has toppled idols and destroyed them in one of Providence's fateful moments. As of now Libya shall be free and sovereign, a republic under the name of the Libyan Arab Republic. No oppressed or deceived or wronged, no master and no slave; but free brothers in a society over which, God willing, shall flutter the banner of brotherhood and equality."
On the morning of September 1, 1969, Libyans were woken up with this unexpected announcement on the radio. Army officers, led by a little-known 27-year-old lieutenant from the signal corps, Muammar al-Gaddafi, had overthrown Libya's unpopular King Idris while he was on a visit to Turkey for medical treatment.
Initially, Gaddafi modelled himself and his new regime on Gamal Abdul Nasser's in neighbouring Egypt, advocating pan-Arab socialist ideals.
However, in the early 1970s Gaddafi formulated his own "Third Universal Theory", as presented in The Green Book. In addition to bizarre theories about women, race, sports & a host of other areas, it was based on the principle "no representation in lieu of the people" and rejected not only capitalism and communism but parliaments and political parties in favour of people's congresses and committees, arguing that Western-style democracy was nothing but "elective dictatorship".
From 1977 onwards, Libya was no longer a "republic" (jumhuriya) but a Jamahiriya – a state of the masses. Power was held by the Basic People's Congresses, where all Libyans supposedly participated in national decision-making. In reality, Gaddafi still held absolute power in Libya and the function of the "People's Congresses" was simply to rubber-stamp his decisions. Any independent civil society organisations – trade unions, professional associations, political parties were banned. Setting up or trying to join a political party was a crime punishable by death.
Ashour Shamis, a long-time opponent of Gaddafi, says "In the seventies Gaddafi abolished state institutions. He took over almost every means of power in the country, politics, economics, security, education. It affected all aspects of the people's rights and freedoms. The only voice left was that of the 'revolution' and 'the leader' and his followers."
Many Libyan observers find the origins of Libya's current instability in Gaddafi's policies, which destroyed state institutions on the pretext of giving power to "the people". In an article for The New Arab last year, Libyan politician Guma el-Gamaty attributed the origin of militia culture in Libya to Gaddafi's deliberate weakening of the formal Libyan army.
A survey of the attitudes of Libyan students in Malaysia in 2017 found that Gaddafi's ideas still subconsciously influence Libyans' values and beliefs. While Libya adopted a multiparty system immediately after Gaddafi's overthrow, the overwhelming majority (84 percent) of respondents expressed distrust in political parties and more than half (58 percent) thought they should be banned. The authors of the survey concluded that "Gaddafi created a collective awareness of anti-democracy in general".
Ashour Shamis attributes the current chaos in Libya to Gaddafi's anti-governmental ideas and his destruction of social institutions. "Feelings of revenge and antagonism and jealousy, and hatred among social groups, classes and individuals have taken root everywhere. People considered everything 'fair game', hated and detested and despised the law and all manifestation of government."