ABSTRACT

One specificity of the Libyan situation was that the political crowds of the 2011 revolution rose up against a political system that was already doctrinally based on the premise of ‘mass rule’ – or Qaddafi’s notion of ‘the state of the masses’, the Jamahiriya. Crowds, in the case of Libya, were already at the heart of Qaddafi’s political project of direct democracy and perpetual revolution. His ideas about individual sovereignty, as propounded in the Green Book (1975), revolved around the abolition of central power and the primacy of popular assemblies and committees. This populist notion of mass rule and direct participation was overturned, but paradoxically also reinvented with renewed vigor when Qaddafi was overthrown by the thuwwar (revolutionaries) of 2011. In an attempt to counter the crowds of the revolution leading up to the ‘Day of Rage’ on 17 February 2011, Qaddafi choreographed mass demonstrations on 15 February. But this attempt failed and his security forces’ killing of protesters in Benghazi and Tripoli had the effect of multiplying the crowds of his opponents (Pargeter 2012: 221). Thus, while there was something radically new about the crowds of the Libyan revolution, there is also an uncannily restorative quality to the uprising. The study of Libyan crowds in the revolutionary period falls within the ideological context of Libya’s so-called ‘mass rule’ while totally rejecting the leader who propounded that idea. In this chapter I look at crowds in Benghazi and focus on their distinctive

gendered characteristics. The crowds of the Libyan revolution were male and female segregated, forming gendered or ‘doubled crowds’. For the study I looked at three types of gendered crowds: the female-dominated crowds of the families of the martyrs of Abu Saleem; the female-dominated civil society associative life of post-revolution Benghazi; and the male-gendered, patriarchal culture of tribal affiliations. The leadership of the latter comprises males, and their collective vocabulary is dominated by male-gendered terms, like ‘our sons’, indicating the profoundly patriarchal culture at work in Libya. Although gendered crowds overturned the Libyan leader, the patriarchal culture that underpinned them has persisted in the post-revolutionary period and continues to structure politics and the formation of civil society groups. For the most part these crowds have worked in tandem in the context of both

gendered crowds during the revolution and female-gendered civil society/ male-gendered tribal organizations in the post-revolutionary period. Contrary to segmentary theory which ‘assumes the existence of a tribal society comprised of homogeneous tribal segments … isolated from the larger social and economic structures of the region’ (Ahmida 2005: 69), tribalism is very much integrated into social, economic, and even political dynamics of Libya. Tribal organizations act in concert with the civil society’s broader social and political demands, namely in their shared, direct calls for a stronger political state and an institutionalized, viable army.