Libyans turn page on Gaddafi’s ‘Green Book’

With Gaddafi gone, many in Tripoli no longer have to hide their contempt for the toppled leader’s eccentric manifesto.

the green book
Gaddafi’s Green Book was taught to Libyan schoolchildren from the age of eight [David Poort/Al Jazeera]

Tripoli, Libya – Muammar Gaddafi’s portrait may have all but disappeared from public view in Tripoli, but there is one relic of the old regime that is likely to haunt many Libyans for years to come.

Part political rant, part ‘how-to’ manual for dictators, Gaddafi’s controversial and sometimes comical Al-Kitab al-Akhdar, better known as The Green Book, has been taught in schools and touted in speeches since the first chapter was published in 1975.

For two hours a week, starting at the age of eight, schoolchildren were taught Gaddafi’s ideas on a wide array of topics, ranging from his views on breastfeeding to how men and women are both, in fact, “human beings”.

Many copies of the book were burned during the country’s more than six-month civil war, but some bookstores in Tripoli still have stacks of them, albeit no longer on display or for sale.

“How many do you want? Please take them all,” Abdul Basd, owner of the Al Mukhtar bookshop in Tripoli said when asked if he still had copies.

From a cabinet under the register he grabs a pile of the small green booklets and puts them on the floor of his bookshop. In a defiant gesture and with a smile on his face he sets the sole of one of his sandals on them to show his disrespect for the books.

“I certainly don’t want money for them. Imagine what people would think if I would still sell these books. I’d rather burn them.”

Some memorable excerpts from the Green Book

“Breastfeeding continues for about two years. Breastfeeding means that a woman is so inseparable from her baby that her activity is seriously reduced. […] The man, on the other hand, neither conceives nor breast-feeds. End of gynecological statement!”


“It is an undisputed fact that both man and woman are human beings. It follows, as a self-evident fact, that woman and man are equal as human beings. Discrimination against woman by man is a flagrant act of oppression without justification for woman eats and drinks as man eats and drinks; woman loves and hates as man loves and hates; woman thinks, learns and comprehends as man thinks, learns and comprehends. Woman, like man, needs shelter, clothing, and transportation; woman feels hunger and thirst as man feels hunger and thirst; woman lives and dies as man lives and dies.”


“Political struggle that results in the victory of a candidate with, for example, 51 per cent of the votes leads to a dictatorial governing body in the guise of a false democracy, since 49 per cent of the electorate is ruled by an instrument of government they did not vote for, but which has been imposed upon them. Such is dictatorship.”

The Green Book, written by the man who referred to himself as the “Brotherly Leader and Guide of the 1st of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya”, was once a bestseller in Libya.

But its popularity may owe more to Libyans’ fear of being caught not owning a copy than their admiration for Gaddafi’s literary skills.

Now, as the fighters of the National Transitional Council surround the last of Gaddafi’s strongholds, Libyans in Tripoli are finally daring to speak their minds about the 200 pages of The Green Book, subtitled “The Solution to the Problems of Democracy; The Social Basis to the Third Universal Theory”.

The Green Book was a disaster for Libya,” said Abdul Majid, an English teacher in the capital. “It lead the country to its current miserable state. Hospitals, schools and infrastructure are all in very poor condition. And that for a country that should be rich from its natural resources. Everything he wrote in there was a big lie.”

The book, translated into many languages and widely published, reads more as a collection of thoughts than as a coherent manifesto.

Rejecting capitalism and a free press, Gaddafi claims that liberal democracy is in fact a lie, as real democracy could only be reached by following his ideas to the letter. Popular committees, directly chosen by the people, should form a democratic framework, he states.

However, in practice it was Gaddafi himself who remained in control by appointing the cabinet and departmental ministers.

“He (Gaddafi) saw it as the only solution to reach real democracy. No democracy without The Green Book – and therefore all the regimes in the world that call themselves democratic are actually lying, Gaddafi used to say. It’s crazy,” Majid said.

“What’s in The Green Book is just theory. It didn’t work in Libya and even Gaddafi himself eventually admitted that. He said it might have worked in another country, and he specifically named Switzerland. But it wouldn’t have worked anywhere. It is simply not applicable.”

Privately, many Libyans have been making fun of the work for years, but now with Gaddafi removed from the stage, they no longer have to hide their contempt for the book.

One quote from The Green Book says: “It is an undisputed fact that both man and woman are human beings.”

“He wrote this as if it’s new information. It’s just silly,” Massaoud el Kanuni, a lawyer and university lecturer, said.

“No one understands what he wants to say with this. Educated people in Libya used to make fun of it, but always behind closed doors. The subject was not up for public debate. The book was like his Quran.”

As more Libyans shake off the shackles of fear after decades of authoritarian rule, many prefer not to be reminded of the hours in school spent studying The Green Book.

“What a waste of time! It feels good that I can say these things now. No one will hurt me or take me to prison,” el Kanuni said.

“This man repressed us for 42 years. We have 10 universities in this country and over 120 prisons. What does that say about his intention to educate his people?”

Source: Al Jazeera

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