Libya: Endless State of Controlled Chaos
By Mahmoud Al Abed
English News Editor
Albawaba.com - Amman
There are two Libyas, says a report on Feb. 13 by New York Times. One is the Libyan’ Libya, in which they crave for a normal life just like the other nations. The second is the Libya created by the leader, Muammar Kadhafi: different in almost every aspect.
Since he rose to power in 1969, Kadhafi wanted his country to be unique, but he introduced “quixotic” changes to the life of his people, according to the US paper.
As an example, Libya uses a different calendar: not western, not Hijri, which dates from the migration of Prophet Mohammad to Medina. Kadhafi likes it another way: to count from the death of Islam’s prophet, with a difference of 10 years from the original.
"Why do we keep using different dates?" a woman was quoted by the paper as protesting at her neighborhood Popular Committee meeting, a regular nationwide forum talking public rules.
"Why can't we be like every single other Muslim country and count from the time of the Prophet's migration, not from his death? What is this?"
“The date is but one example,” says the report, adding that Colonel Kadhafi also decided some time ago that he disliked both the Western and the Eastern months, so he renamed them. February is Lights. August is Hannibal, for example.
“There is Colonel Kadhafi’s Libya, a rich oil state that craves recognition on the world stage. That Libya used to attract attention by underwriting a host of violent groups deemed criminal by the West, but it tired of its status as international pariah. That Libya has been seeking redemption lately by playing the village elder who will unify Africa,” says New York Times.
“The other Libya is the country where the rest of the four million to five million Libyans actually live. No one seems to know quite how many there are. Their roads are potholed, their telephones unreliable and the young lack meaningful jobs.”
The low standard services and the snowballing unemployment rate stem, according to the paper, largely from the sanctions imposed by the United Nations in 1992 after Libya refused to extradite two suspects in the bombing in 1988 of a Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people. The sanctions were suspended nearly two years ago when Libya handed the two men over for trial, but they remain in effect.
The Arab league and friends of Libya, like Nelson Mandela, have called on the international community to end the embargo and accept the North African country as a full-pledged member after it has gone astray for years!!
The calls surfaced after a Jan. 31 a Scottish court verdict, when Abdul Basset Megrahi was found guilty for the Lockerbie bombing, and his co-defendant was acquitted. Kadhafi condemned the verdict as political and rejected paying compensation.
The final communiqué of a summit of the Sahel-Saharan African countries, founded by Kadhafi in 1998, supported Libya’s case and demanded freeing Megrahi, said reports.
Libyans want to know why they have not benefited more with sanctions in abeyance for nearly two years, especially since oil prices are high, earning the country $7 billion to $10 billion annually, said the paper.
"The roads here might as well have been through the war in Chechnya," Selma Iswid, 54, a housewife was quoted as addressing another Popular Committee meeting. "We are an oil-rich country, we should have better roads. They should put whoever built them on trial. All the facilities are in a very bad shape: services, transportation, health care. We are not satisfied with any of this."
Libyans also complain of other things: the country has no parliament, no military institutions, no political parties, no unions, no nongovernmental organizations and fewer ministries all the time.
According to the paper, Colonel Kadhafi describes this as a permanent revolution.
"In the era of the masses, power is in the hands of people themselves and leaders disappear forever," he wrote in the Green Book, his published revelations on civil society. “Libyans joke that after 31 years in power, their leader shows no signs of disappearing any time soon,” says the NY Times.
Libyans get subsidies for food and housing, but their incomes have steadily declined, in tandem with the value of the currency. A university professor who used to make the equivalent of $10,800 a year finds the same salary now worth $2,250, the paper added.
People moan because they believe their money is going to Africa, which Kadhafi wants to turn into another United States, under his leadership, of course after he was fed up with the ever failing unity among the Arab states.
A Jordanian journalist, who, among other colleagues, has met with the leader once in Tripoli, told Albawaba.com that the Libyan leader no longer believed the Arab heads of state would unite.
He opened the country to laborers from elsewhere in Africa, who do jobs like sweeping the streets. The general public accuses them of bringing scourges like AIDS, said the paper. Furthermore, riots erupted between Libyans and African immigrants last year, leaving scores dead, and charges were brought against a couple of hundred people from both groups.
"What could we possibly benefit from the Africans?" Khalid, a bazaar trader told the US daily. "Nothing! We don't feel we are part of Africa."
But Colonel Kadhafi plans to declare his own USA, the United States of Africa, at a conference in March at Surt, on the Libyan coast, and to base an African congress there, according to the report.
Foreign diplomats were cited as saying that for about five years Colonel Kadhafi has stopped underwriting terrorist groups and has vastly reduced purchases of weapons, which were embargoed anyway. Instead he has decided that the world will finally take him seriously if he represents Africa.
At first African leaders treated Tripoli as a cash machine, with payment starting around $2 million for their involvement, the diplomats said. But the attention Colonel Kadhafi generates is also a morale booster.
"He has managed to light a candle in the minds of the leaders who don't like globalization where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer," one Middle Eastern diplomat told the paper.
To make it work, though, he must repair his outlaw reputation and keep his oil industry humming. For the latter he needs investment, especially American exploration. Many American companies still do business through European subsidiaries, but the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act of 1996 bars any investment above $40 million, preventing major exploration.
But Libya should improve foreign investment laws and change the red-tape mentality when dealing with private enterprises and foreigners interested in investing their money there, said the daily.
Opposition inside Libya is almost not there. Islamists and other groups have been silenced by the powerful security apparatus.
The overseas opposition has largely disbanded, too. Young Libyans visiting Internet cafes make furtive efforts to call up the opposition Web sites but find little of interest, according to the report.
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)