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Books on Libya

Update No: 074 - (01/02/10)

Troubling Signs Ahead
Over the course of 2009, there were a series of important setbacks in Libya, which suggested that the modernization or reform and diplomatic process that had began in 2004 is waning. If the past January is an indication, 2010, may see even more ‘regression’, making Libya a riskier proposition for foreign investors in the oil and other sectors. The problem rests with the Libyan leadership, which has rediscovered the ideology of Qadhafi’s “Third Universal Theory” and the “Green Book”, enforced by the most efficient of Libyan institutions, the Revolutionary Committees. Dubious notions of ‘honor’, more akin to petty revenge in the form of a continuing Libyan retaliation toward Switzerland are also raising doubts about Libya’s reliability. In what is looking ever more a repeat of the Bulgarian medic debacle, Libya and Switzerland have endured over a year and a half of poor relations because Swiss authorities had the audacity to arrest one of Col. Qadhafi’s sons in July 2008 for physically abusing hotel staff and trashing a room in Switzerland.

Among other retaliatory measures, Libya reacted by arresting two Swiss businessmen, who were later charged with breaking Libyan immigration laws and business fraud; the two men remain in Libya awaiting trial. Moreover, the initiatives of Saif ul-Islam al-Qadhafi (Saif), one of the Libyan leader’s sons, have faced setbacks even as speculation continues that he will inherit his father’s role. Saif, who champions greater media, political and economic freedoms has had his ‘wings’ clipped, suggesting that the conservative forces, the Revolutionary Committees, are making it difficult to carry out reforms. More significantly, perhaps, rather than showing any concern for Libya’s actual problems from unemployment or the reluctant economic diversification, the Libyan leader is taken by grandiose ideological projects that have little to do with Libya’s interests and far more with his own ambitions. Whereas, until the early 1990’s, the Libyan leader was deeply concerned by Arab nationalism, he is now fully engaged in promoting the even more unlikely concept of the United States of Africa. In February, Qadhafi will end his term as president of the African Union (AU), the very institution that is to serve as the model for the single African state. Characteristically,the Libyan leader has been a very eccentric African Union president as a result. The last days of his term promise to be equally eccentric. He is expected to request to be allowed to stay on for a second consecutive turn as president of the AU, a move that would severely compromise the credibility and effectiveness of the organization, while doing absolutely nothing for ordinary Libyans.

Musings on the Press and General Implications
In January, Qadhafi - addressing Libya’s highest legislative body, the General People’s Congress - set a rather anti-reformist agenda for 2010. He tackled the media, which had made important gains in the past few years as far as freedom of the press is concerned. Qadhafi said that Libya’s media should be “run for the people” and “by the people”, suggesting that in the West, capitalists control the media “to the detriment of the rest of the population, who suffer from lack of shelter, heath care and access to the media”. In Libyan Jamahiriya jargon, this is tantamount to saying that privately owned media outlets are anathema. Qadhafi then proposed that a committee be established to bring together all interested Libyan societal groups to take control of the media. Promptly, two Libyan newspapers linked to the ‘al-Ghad’ (tomorrow) publishing group, which has so far run the Oea and Quryna papers associated to the country's reformist camp championed by Saif ul-Islam Qadhafi, have been shut down. Al Ghad’s sin, it seems, was to publish an article in the Oea paper, predicting a government reshuffle. The al-Ghad group has also published articles alleging corruption at high government levels while advocating political reforms. The government has spun the story, presenting the al-Ghad group as being guilty of not paying for the use of its printing presses.

This all suggests that Saif ul-Islam is being forced to compete with the conservative old guard for power; indeed, it also suggests that Qadhafi’s own power is limited, as entrenched interests are blocking efforts to liberalize the country.

The brewing rivalry between conservative and reformist camps could have repercussions in the crucial oil sector. Western oil companies will be reluctant to invest in further exploration, which Libya needs to achieve its production targets. Libyan oil contracts have become more ‘nationalistic’ in the past year, as evidenced by the debacle involving the Canadian firm Verenex, which the Libyan government prevented from being sold to the Chinese CNPC oil company, which offered USD 462 million, only to buy it for USD 299 million.

Apart from the famous renunciation of ‘weapons of mass destruction’, Libya’s improving image and emergence from international isolation since 2004 is largely due to efforts by the reformists, headed by Saif ul-Islam, who still has no formal political mandate. By most accounts, Saif remains the most visible possible successor to the Libyan leadership, but ‘conservative’ (in Libya = ‘revolutionary’) groups have been showing growing opposition to him, fearing that he would render several of the institutions in the ‘Jamahiriya’ irrelevant. Apart from the al-Ghad newspapers, in 2009, Libyan authorities shut down the independent Al-Libiya television station, another al-Ghad group company. The conservative elements have used the media as a tool to challenge the reformists. As a further sign of the retreat of the reformists, Qadhafi mused that “Libyans had only one source of wealth, which is oil. Those who made their wealth from outside oil were those who deviated from the normal path or stolen public funds”. Such statements are incompatible with Libya’s goals to attract foreign investment and contradict Qadhafi’s thoughts, in 2007, to transform Libya into a nation of investors, eliminating all social services.

The African Union Debacle
One of the problems in Libya in 2009 was that the leader himself was perhaps too distracted in being the president of the African Union (AU) to care about his own country. Qadhafi’s tenure ends in February, but it is widely expected that the Libyan leader will try to win yet another round. The Libyan leader wants more time to push his United States of Africa, including a single African military, currency and passport.

Tunisia, perhaps eager to attract investment from the Libyan sovereign fund, has been lobbying in favor of a second Qadhafi tenure as AU president. This is a clear challenge to the professed AU democratic values and could compromise the AU’s effectiveness in confronting various African crises even further, fuelling divisiveness. After North Africa, the AU’s presidency should go to a country from the southern African block, the South African Development Community (SADC). The SADC has picked Malawi’s president Bingu wa Mutharika to serve as rotating president. The AU has a large deficit and needs money to continue running. Qadhafi can provide this money; the AU needs at least USD 1.3 billion to run its programs. Therefore, he has good chances of succeeding in his bid; several small African states would back Qadhafi in his effort, though a diplomatic row would be inevitable. If Malawi’s president is finally chosen, Libya could easily retaliate by cutting funds to the Union. If the Qadhafi bid were successful, it would prompt western countries to cut or reduce funds to run the AU. Either way, there is the risk the AU will be even weaker. That said, Qadhafi’s leadership of the AU has been less than stellar. The Libyan leader used the AU as a platform for self-aggrandizement, challenging the democratic principles the organization espouses, failing to sanction coups (Guinea, Mauritania for example), claiming himself to be the King of Kings, while sycophantic leaders of poorer African nations heaped praise on the Qadhafi’s Green Book and the ‘revolution’ it inspired. Quoting Qadhafi on accepting the AU presidency in 2009:- "God has created us as blacks but The Green Book says that black people will prevail over the world, and today the Kenyan son has imposed himself over the United States of America." Can Africa withstand another year of this kind of stuff?         

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