x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Qadafi's Libya turns 40

As one of the world's longest serving leaders, Muammar Qadafi might seem to mock the conventional image of an elder statesman, yet in recent years he has been eager to win international acceptance. As a major oil producer flush with foreign reserves, Libya has embarked on an ambitious modernisation programme.

"Forty years ago today, the tanks and soldiers of the Libyan army converged on the Libyan capital, and in a twinkling the government of King Idris was replaced with that of Muammar Qadafi," The National reported. "Today, Tripoli is throwing the biggest party in its history to mark the anniversary. The city is covered in green flags and posters of a beaming Mr Qadafi - 40 years older but as brash as ever." As one of the world's longest serving leaders, Mr Qadafi might seem to mock the conventional image of an elder statesman, yet in recent years he has been eager to win international acceptance. "Having scuppered his nuclear programme in 2003 and renounced terrorism, Qadafi has been gaining a kind of official acceptance in Europe - including in Italy, Britain, Spain, France, and Switzerland," The Christian Science Monitor reported. "In June, he was photographed at the G-8 summit in Italy amid heads of state, including President Obama. "Two years ago, French President Nicolas Sarkozy made a lightening visit to Tripoli to secure the release of five Bulgarian nurses sentenced to death for allegedly spreading Aids. Soon thereafter, Qadafi came to Paris, where he slept under a Bedouin tent on the grounds of Hotel Marigny off the Champs Elyees, lectured French officials on human rights, and signed the guest book at Versailles inexplicably wearing, Snoopy style, a head-enswathing Russian fur hat. The French public was furious. Qadafi's rehab continued on August 31, 2008, when Mr Berlusconi apologised for Italy's colonial-era excesses, and agreed to pay $5 billion in compensation over 25 years, a deal that was also to stop the flow of migrants leaving Tripoli for Italy by sea. "As commercial strictures began to vanish, Libya began cutting deals far and wide. Its bank assets now run to $136 billion, and Libya is slowly shifting away from an "oil-only" economy, according to a June report by the International Monetary Fund." NBC News noted: "Awash with money from its rich oil reserves - the largest in Africa and the ninth largest in the world - Libya's leader Muammar Qadafi has embarked on an ambitious modernisation programme. "Qadafi has opened up his country to foreign investment. The rush is being led by oil companies, but breathtaking construction contracts have also attracted foreign developers as Libya hurries to make up for decades of sanctions which left Tripoli looking like a desert version of Eastern Europe before the fall of communism. "Its buildings were crumbling, its sewer systems were leaking and its roads were potholed tracks. But now, accepted back into the fold, Libya is rushing to catch up to the outside world." Al Jazeera reported that the Libyan leader "has said much of Africa's violence is due to foreign meddling, pointing the accusing finger at Israel. "Qadafi, who is also chairman of the African Union (AU), was speaking on Monday at a special summit of the group, which is coinciding with the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the coup that brought him to power. "Israel is 'behind all of Africa's conflicts', Qadafi told about 30 African leaders gathered under a huge tent at Tripoli airport. " 'As African brothers, we must find solutions to stop the superpowers who are pillaging our continent,' he said. "He demanded the closure of all Israeli embassies across Africa, describing Israel as a 'gang' and saying it uses 'the protection of minorities as an excuse to launch conflicts'. "Israel has acknowledged operating what it called a forward policy in Africa between the 1960s and 1980s, intervening in wars in Ethiopia, Uganda and Sudan." In a commentary for The Baltimore Sun, Daniel Morris said: "Mr Qadafi's maneuvering is best understood in the context of the dangerous, often fatal stakes of political leadership in Libya (and, it should be said, in many other parts of the developing world). Civil society institutions are weak, and the state has not divorced itself from intruding into almost every area of civic life. Mr Qadafi, for his part, has crushed at least two dozen coup attempts against his regime. "If this world sounds a little like anarchy, it may be for good reason. In his analysis of Mr Qadafi's Libya, historian Henry Christman, who wrote the introduction to the English translation of Mr Qadafi's infamous 'Green Book', draws a philosophical connection between the 'people's committees' found throughout modern Libya and the 'associations' talked about by pro-anarchists in previous centuries. "The gains to be made in a state of anarchy may not be readily apparent, especially since anarchy as a political theory is more often the subject of ridicule than serious study. But a growing number of political scientists have taken another look and sought to explain why anarchism would still appeal to leaders like Mr Qadafi. "The answer of two of these political scientists, Patrick Chabal of the University of London and Jean-Pascal Daloz of the Centre for African Studies in Bordeaux, France, has been widely discussed among African experts for being both concise and insightful. Put simply, disorder pays better. If you are in Mr Qadafi's shoes, at the gambling table with 44 billion barrels of oil and the nearly constant noises of coup-plotters (either real or imagined) at the door, democracy's checks and balances do not look like a good bet. "Instead, Mr Qadafi has placed his money on maintaining legitimacy at home through a combination of prestige-building and wealth creation. He still gets mileage out of denouncing the colonial-era misdeeds of foreigners. For their part, many Libyans expect Mr Qadafi to take every opportunity to poke Western powers in the eye." Meanwhile, reporting from Tripoli, John Thorne said: "On Monday, a special African ­Union summit was held in a white pavilion by the Mediterranean. Posters around town feature Africa, a continent Mr Qadafi hopes to unite under a single government. Many others show Mr Qadafi himself. "The Libyan leader will remain ­centre-stage. While he has proposed shrinking the government, and a committee spearheaded by his son, Saif al-Islam, has studied options for rewriting the constitution, neither initiative is likely to lead to major reform, analysts said. " 'The idea is not to change things overnight, but to phase out ministries such as health and education over a few years and establish independent entities instead,' said Prof Fetouri, who has served as a consultant to a committee studying ways to restructure government. " 'If you don't see reform in the political system, change in the economy is going to be slow,' said Ronald Bruce St John, a Libya expert and analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus, a think tank that is part of the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies. "The challenge for the government lies in the fact that 'for all the money in their coffers, they have not yet found a way of translating that into better lives for citizens', said John Hamilton, a contributing editor for Africa Energy magazine."

pwoodward@thenational.ae