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LIBYA

 
  
  

 

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Key Economic Data 
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $ 19,131     71
     
GNI per capita
 US $ n/a n/a
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

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Update No: 048 - (27/11/07)

"Sult al-Shaab" (The People's Power) and its Problems
When Libya opened to the West in December 2003, it sent an important signal to the world. The Libyan leadership was willing to abandon its reputation as a nefarious troublemaker in order to cultivate the image of a 'partner' for the West with which it was possible to do business. By and large, Libya has changed. It is now respectable. The once demonized and ridiculed leader Mu'amar al-Qadhafi is invited to important capitals in Europe, and the country is on target to increase oil production thanks to the return of American oil majors and other oil companies from around the world, which no longer have to fear about incurring US sanctions for operating in Libya. A 'New York Times' article recently casually described - or rather endorsed - Libya as a 'US ally'; if nothing else this alone indicates the extent of Libya's recent and successful image makeover. Nevertheless, inasmuch as Libya's external image has changed, many of its internal structural impediments to reform remain. 

A Challenge to the Technocrats
Libya's new technocrats, and advocates for more practical governance such as Seif-ul Islam al-Qadhafi and presumably the leader himself, still encounter obstacles to reform emanating from the 'Green Book', which is till the closest document to a Constitution in Libya. In theory, this means that the country's administration and bureaucracy are still in the hands of the people, while the reforms associated with Libya's 'Glasnost' are still not translating well to a 'perestroika' because of conservative tendencies within the Revolutionary Committees, who, in fairness, are being forced to witness the de-facto dismantling of their 'Revolution' and very 'raison d'etre'. The reform efforts are threatening to upset the patronage networks built over the course of the Revolution. Libya must either adapt these institutions to enable its much vaunted reform process or create new ones for this purpose. As this struggle continues, Libya will hit a few bumps on the road to reform, reflecting the virtual anarchy that is emerging at the bureaucratic level, suggesting that the technocrats have a long road ahead before they can effect any real changes. The leadership's control over foreign policy and the oil sector are not in question. Both of these areas were never subjected to the scrutiny of the People. However, economic and essential bureaucratic matters the main conduits for 'people's power' as exercised through the Popular Committees envisaged by the Green Book. 

And so it is that, while the technocrats have identified tourism as an important tool, a pivot, for Libyan economic reform and for boosting the private sector, other Libyans failed to 'receive the memo'. Seif ul-Islam, himself, has made widely reported speeches on the need to develop Libya's untapped tourism potential, even touting the opportunities for eco-tourism in Cyrenaica. To facilitate tourism, countless reports, commissioned by Libya over the years, cited bureaucratic issues as the main obstacle. Dealings with Libyan diplomatic missions have been notoriously difficult (though not all to the same degree). In 2005, Libya removed a particularly idiosyncratic policy, requiring travelers to Libya to have a translation of their passport in Arabic, very much a remnant of Libya's pan-Arab anti-Western years. However, it appears, without an official forewarning, that Libyan authorities are once again denying entry to tourists if they don't have an Arabic translation of their passport - even if they have a valid visa. In November, several tourists arriving by cruise ship (or ferry from Malta) and airplane were forced to return home after arriving on Libyan soil because they tried to enter with their regular passports and visas. This development fully reflects the confusion among some areas of government. Eighteen French nationals were stranded at the Tripoli airport for over 48 hours, until the French envoy to Libya intervened Monday on their behalf and they were allowed to return home. Another 172 French citizens who landed in Sebha, the last city before the start of the sand Sahara, were prevented to disembark from their Air Mediterranee run aircraft. Apart from the oddity of the ordeal, what is truly surprising is that this should happen to tourists holding French passports, at a time when Libya's leader has been engaging in ever warmer relations with France. The plane was ordered to return to Paris overnight. To make matters more interesting and familiar to those who visited Libya in the pre-WMD declaration days, 83 French nationals, already in Libya, were not able to leave Sebha, because the translation rule also applies for travelers returning home. 

There can be little doubt that president Sarkozy will demand an explanation from Qadhafi, when the Libyan leader visits Paris in December. There can also be little doubt, that Qadhafi is himself privately scrambling to find just an explanation for this odd policy. Indeed, there is little doubt that the Libyan leadership had very little to do with the re-adoption of the 'translation of passports' requirement, also because it comes just as the World Travel Market Global Trend Report 2007 published in November cited Libya's efforts to attract tourism. Apart from speeches and public relations events, Libya is attracting real investment into the tourism sector. The Libyan General Board of Tourism said that Libya has attracted some 126,000 visitors, 73 national and 21 foreign investors. The combination of culture with 'sun, sand and sea' has already attracted a number of international hotel groups The Corinthia Group operates a five-star hotel in Tripoli, while the Italian company Gruppo Norman is building a resort to accommodate up to 3,800 people on Farwa Island. Following the lifting of the international sanctions, Libya has seen a noticeable increase in the number of tourists. Libya, once neglected by international visitors, has welcomed tourism development as a means for economic growth and has started to build the necessary infrastructure as well as welcoming foreign investment, particularly from Middle East countries. 

Doubtless, the passport translation requirement is an additional hassle for tourists, though travel agencies offering Libyan travel packages can surely adapt by setting up links with official translation services. This may require some time, but it is a problem that can be solved. Nevertheless, the Libyan leadership must identify those responsible for pushing the measure. These are probably conservative elements either concerned over the inevitable demise of their bureaucratic role in view of the much discussed reforms. They may also be Islamic conservatives worried that the development of tourism will inexorably entail a relaxation of official alcohol restrictions and possibly social mores. Col. Qadhafi forbade alcohol in 1970, months after he took over power; however, he has always promoted progressive policies where women's issues and rights are concerned, often clashing with some of the religious authorities and traditionalists. The passport translation debacle may well be another such struggle, which also gives a glimpse of the real nature of political risk in Libya. The issue here is less one related to Islamic fundamentalism than with disillusioned bureaucrats and revolutionary apparatchiks taking their last shots to undermine the Libyan leadership's determination to change in order to survive. 

Coincidentally, in November, just as mystified tourists were being turned away, Libya launched its third conference on translation, organized by Libya's Academy of Graduate Studies, the British Council and the Italian Institute in Tripoli. The conference emphasized the important role of translation in the advancement of civilizations, and particularly Arab civilization. The conference opening address stressed that Arabs had advanced previously due to translation, not due to learning foreign languages stressed. "In order to revive knowledge, translation and the transmitting of scientific information is needed," said one of the organizers, who also called for the establishment of a national institution for translation that will sponsor and oversee major translation projects, in order to help revive a scientific revolution in the Arab world. During the two day conference, scholars discussed research papers on translation and the policies of translation in the West and in the East among other topics. It would be out of place to envisage a link between the desire for an 'official translation' institute and the odd resumption of the passport translation law. 

Formalizing Trade with the United States
In business news, Libya made progress in increasing bilateral commercial relations with the United States as US and Libyan officials started formal negotiations for a bilateral trade agreement as diplomatic ties between Washington and Tripoli. The Secretary of the General Peoples Committee of Libya for Economy, Trade, and Investment Ali Abd-al-Aziz al-Isawi visited Washington to discuss Libya's desire for a legal framework for trade cooperation and investment with the United States. It was the first visit by a Libyan minister in decades. The visit keeps expectations alive that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice might visit Tripoli even before the end of the year, likely after the Annapolis conference. Washington has also hinted that it would support Libya's effort to join the World Trade Organization (WTO). Nevertheless, US officials also expressed dismay over the new Libyan measure demanding that all foreign passports should be translated to Arabic, indicating this move is hardly in keeping with an open market. 

Oil News
In November, Exxon Mobil increased its involvement in Libya agreeing to drill 177km off the coast of Libya. Exxon and Libya's National Oil Corporation signed an exploration and production-sharing agreement requiring Exxon drill at least one well in the offshore Sirte Basin in the next five years. Libya is still aiming to achieve a production target of 3-million barrels a day over the next six years. It should be noted that Libya's oil reserves are easier to exploit than those of other oil rich countries, costing some USD 1/barrel. Under the new oil investment regulations, Exxon has to pay a signing fee and train Libyans. The Sirte Basin holds some 80% of Libya's 41.5-billion barrels of reserves, according to the US energy department.    

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