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An analysis of the public opinion trends in Libya

May 10, 2014 at 2:32 pm

A reading of the National Democratic Institute survey results – October 2013

The National Democratic Institute (NDI) conducted a survey in Libya during May 10th to 30th 2013, funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Denmark. One of the surveys addressed Libyan attitudes towards democratic transition, people’s trust in political leaders, as well as the ability to form new institutions and deal with challenges faced by the country. Diwan Market Research, a public opinion firm based in Tripoli, was the first to carry out such surveys. The NDI followed this to set out a series of recommendations to support and develop democracy, as well as represent the parties in Libya. The study’s sample relied on population data from 2006 in order to reflect a balanced representation of the various areas. The study also tried to provide details of Libyan opinions on a range of topics including current affairs, institutions, participation in elections and the performance of elected institutions.

General trends

The general trends of the survey indicated that 81 per cent of Libyans are optimistic about the current situation; this includes 19 per cent who are very optimistic. 15 per cent of those surveyed were pessimistic, whilst 73 per cent believe that many problems are due to a lack of security. They also expressed their concerns over the delay in political stability, militia disarmament and personal safety.

75 per cent believed that political stability was a challenge facing the country, whilst 37 per cent said it was public order, 25 per cent said militia disarmament and 13 per cent said security. Other issues included 5 per cent who were concerned about reducing poverty, 3 per cent who said completing the drafting of the constitution and 3 per cent who raised national dialogue as a concern.

There was a difference in opinion between the urban and suburban areas on national issues, as both believed that political stability and public order were top priority, 37 per cent and 34 per cent respectively, but the suburban areas were more concerned by violent crime (23 per cent), whereas the urban areas were concerned by militia disarmament (27 per cent). 15 per cent of the suburban sample was concerned with reducing poverty and social inequality. The survey revealed a similarity in the attitudes of males and females towards these issues.

The survey divided Libya into three areas, the West (Tripoli), the East (Cyrenaica), and the South (Fezzan). The results indicated a similarity of opinion on priorities for political stability, 37 per cent, 34 per cent and 35 per cent respectively, whilst the priority for disarmament was 37 per cent in Fezzan, 27 per cent in Tripoli and 14 per cent in the Cyrenaica. Despite the differences between the three areas, attitudes were similar on issues around fighting crime as a national priority, revealing the weak correlation between the spread of weapons and crimes being committed. This raises questions about the positions of the three areas on issues of widespread arms and the formation of the army and police. Although the number of assassinations in the eastern area increased, the number of those supporting disarmament of armed militias had decreased, whilst the number of those calling for improved security performance increased. It is not clear how the survey dealt with this issue, but in any case, it revealed the importance of analysing data on public opinion in order to help improve the state’s general policy.

Political exile

The majority of Libyans supported some form of political exile for those linked to the Gaddafi regime, but they differed on how to implement it. Whilst 23 per cent completely rejected political exile, 37 per cent supported it in one of two ways; 49 per cent supported prosecuting all the senior leaders and exiling them, whilst 18 per cent supported prosecuting and exiling all those who held a position in the former regime. This difference of opinion on how to apply political exile and on attitudes towards dealing with serious crimes is reflected in the 44 per cent who support prosecuting and exiling those committing serious crimes, whilst 45 per cent are content with only prosecuting them.

The survey sought to determine the attitudes of the national alliance forces and its supporters on political exile. The survey revealed an increase in support for the exile of senior officials; 68 per cent from the national alliance, 61 per cent of their electors, 55 per cent of Mahmoud Jibreel’s supporters and 53 per cent of other candidates’ supporters. The number of those who believed that exile should include all those who held a position in the former regime decreased to 15, 17, 19, and 21 per cents respectively. The results indicate the dominance of support for exile within the national alliance, both at a popular and political level, whilst only 22 per cent completely rejected exile.

The survey indicated that political exile has become a political and social option, and these results support other results from different Libyan research institutes. The survey by the NDI analysed the attitudes of the national alliance supporters and indicated the increase in supporting exile of senior officials was only amongst the alliance and their voters. The data also showed that confidence in holding the Justice and Construction Party responsible for political exile had doubled.

Country’s identity

The survey revealed that an overwhelming majority support the constitution’s reference to Sharia, either as a main source or the sole source and only 2 per cent were opposed to it. 37 per cent considered it to be the main source of legislation whilst 35 per cent considered it to be the sole source and 21 per cent considered it to be one source amongst others.

These results reflected attitudes towards women issues, as generally, Libyans adopt more conservative views on women. The majority of women and men believe that the woman should wear the veil (hijab) and 92 per cent believe that the state should play a role in encouraging women to wear the veil. The older generation believe that men should be given first opportunities for employment. 58 per cent of men rejected the idea of employing women and 44 per cent of women rejected the idea of employing Libyan women in place of foreigners. This suggests that there is a difference of opinion on the employment of women, but generally there is a stronger lean towards upholding conservative values.

Democracy, Institutions, and Participation

83 per cent of those surveyed supported democracy, despite its problems, considering it to be the best form of governance; 67 per cent agreed and 16 per cent strongly agreed. This is a similar figure to the number of those calling for the application of Islamic Sharia law. 35 per cent said that democracy rights and freedom, whilst 34 per cent saw it as a means to change the government though elections and17 per cent believed it was the right to criticise the government and those in power. The survey did not explain the intellectual framework of democracy, whether liberal or neo-liberal, because there could be disputes over the constitution’s sources of legislation, especially on issues of rights and freedoms.

The NDI survey also attempted to determine the attitudes of the Libyans towards their confidence in political institutions. The four highest ranking institutions that elicit absolute confidence are the ministry of interior (25 per cent), ministry of defence (24 per cent), ministry of justice (21 per cent), and the National Conference for the Libyan opposition (9 per cent). Confidence in the police reached 23 per cent with 21 per cent for the judiciary, 20 per cent for the National Conference and 15 per cent for the Libyan Youth Movement. Results indicated that 38 per cent had moderate confidence in the National Conference, 28 per cent for local government staff and political parties, 26 per cent for the Libyan Youth movement and 25 per cent for the judiciary.

Confidence in trade unions has dropped to 39 per cent, 33 per cent in the local government, 30 per cent in the media, 28 per cent in the political parties and 27 per cent for local leaders. There was a sharp decline in confidence in the armed groups (82 per cent), local media and leaders (32 per cent and 31 per cent respectively), political parties and unions (30 per cent), and local government staff (29 per cent).

Confidence in political institutions has increased whilst confidence in civilian community institutions and unofficial entities has greatly decreased. This raises concerns about the balanced formation of the state and whether all components have a fair chance to all of its components. It is worth noting that the survey’s method of monitoring public opinion attitudes towards the various institutions is unequal in terms of their roles and function and reflects biased results, as the evaluation of executive, legislative, and community institutions requires addressing these entities in a manner that takes their general characteristics, as well as their political and social roles into consideration.

Government spending

The NDI survey revealed difference of opinion on government payments, with 48 per cent regarding them as beneficial at different levels, whilst 52 per cent viewed them as unbeneficial. 48 per cent believed that obtaining a government job was necessary. 17 per cent believed that government payments after the revolution were very important, 41 per cent believed they made no difference, and 42 per cent considered them to be less important.

Confidence in the National Conference

The survey indicated that 72 per cent participated in the 2012 National Conference elections and that the number of young educated participants was quite high. The voting trends were linked to the party’s trends and family and relatives voting preferences. The results of the survey reflected the presence of 4 reasons behind voting for particular political parties; the ability to ensure Libya’s role at an international level, the party’s political program, the party’s attitude towards the former regime, and the qualifications/effectiveness of the party. The number of male voters increased to 84 per cent as well as that of females to 69 per cent and there was a similarity in votes amongst those of the same age group and residential area (suburban or urban areas).Participation in election campaigns was low at just 18 per cent. The survey revealed that 51 per cent believed the elections were free and fair whilst 33 per cent believed they were fair to some degree, indicating the stability of the National Conference’s legitimacy.

67 per cent believe that the Conference’s performance is good. 67 per cent trusts its ability to improve the future of Libya. However, the survey revealed criticisms of the Conference’s performance on transitional matters, 46 per cent thought it had not taken the necessary measures in the Constituent Assembly to form a Constitution, while 65 per cent said it had not taken the right steps towards national dialogue, 74 per cent felt that it had not fought corruption and 71 per cent said it had not improved the security situation. The National Conference on one hand, gained confidence as a political institution able to take the country to the next stage, but at a political level, it witnessed a decline in support of its dealing with the main issues during the transitional phase. The confidence and electoral legitimacy it has gained gives the Conference a chance to control the transitional phase until a new constitution is announced.

Political parties

86 per cent believe that political parties are needed at different levels and only 43 per cent expressed their confidence in them. 82 per cent said that political parties play an important role in expressing citizen’s opinions and 64 per cent said they created opportunities for local citizens to meet with their members of the National Conference. 79 per cent of those in the Fezzan region believed they play an important role in meeting the needs of the people, but this figure decreased in the Tripoli region to 61 per cent and to 59 per cent in the Cyrenaica region.

The survey indicated that 74 per cent believe the National Forces Alliance have the solutions to Libya’s problems, whilst 56 per cent felt that the Justice and Construction Party had the answers and 36 per cent plumped for National Front Party. The results indicated uncertainty on the other parties’ platforms. The survey reveals that 70 per cent knew the name of the NFA’s leaders, 44 per cent for the Justice and Construction party leaders, and 24 per cent for the National Front leader, whilst many were not familiar with the names of the other party leaders. This suggests that the other parties have had limited exposure at a national level resulting in the public’s lack of knowledge about them. These results may change as Libya becomes a dual party regime.


The significance of the survey lies in the fact that it contributes to the information about the general situation in Libya and the results revealed aspects of dispute about the transitional phase. At the same time, it also includes indications on the public opinion’s demands and their visions for the country’s future.

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of the survey’s results is the fact that it contributes to the results of other surveys that yielded similar results and can therefore, develop a number of solutions to support the country’s general policy development and establishment of institutions in line with the community’s aspirations and expressions.

An overview of the Libyan Centre for Research and Development

The Libyan Centre for Research and Development is an independent research institute focused on Libyan affairs and related Arab and international issues.

The Centre is an educational institute that focuses on studies and comprehensive development in Libya. The Centre is based on the idea that there is an gap between the decision making process and the actual taking of decisions. It aims to contribute to the repair of this imbalance by instilling a culture which relies on correct information and the results of scientific assessments, research and surveys when creating policies and making decisions.

The centre is also concerned with diagnosing and analysing situations in Libya, as well as analysing the social, education and cultural policies. It works on political and economic analysis and discusses the challenges facing the country at a national, identity, individual, unity, sovereign, dependency, technological and scientific level. It also examines the growth and development of the community, as well as the development of state institutions and the civilian community during the democratic transition.

Furthermore, the centre studies Libya’s relationship within its regional and international surroundings. It also examines the policies of other countries in relation to Libya, as well as assessing their positions towards the country.

The centre’s focus is limited to aspects of applied social sciences, such as sociology, economics, in addition to cultural and political science studies of the past and present. The centre does not focus on theoretical matters and issues, social theories, or political thought, except in relation to applied issues and linking it to analysing the prevalent order and culture in the pursuit of proposing scientifically correct alternatives.