Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

28 Shevat 5761 - Febuary 21, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Libyan Life is Chaotic Under Qaddafi
by Yated Ne'eman Staff

Things in Libya change from day to day and from week to week, according to the whims of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, long-time leader of the north African state. The four to five million Libyans never know what to expect, according to a recent article in the New York Times.

Decision making is supposed to be done in so-called Popular Committee gatherings, a cross between a Vermont town hall meeting and a Soviet block association. These gatherings are called without warning and at least twice a year. Colonel Qaddafi "suggests" an agenda for the sessions and every office -- schools, government ministries, airlines, shops -- must close for days, sometimes weeks, for the sessions.

Keepers of shops bemoan their losses, but any found open face a stiff fine and a license suspension. Libyans must show their stamped attendance record at unpredictable moments -- when leaving the country, for example. No Popular Committee stamp could mean no exit.

The country has no parliament, no military institutions, no political parties, no unions, no nongovernmental organizations and fewer ministries all the time.

Colonel Qaddafi describes his kind of government as 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.

The most important information, like an accounting for the massive oil money, never makes it to the people. Libyans get subsidies for food and housing, but their incomes have steadily declined, as has 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.

People grumble that their money is going to Africa. Billboards around the capital show Colonel Qaddafi's image imposed over a map of the continent. "The Pulse of the Millions!" one slogan proclaims. Qaddafi, officially called "Brother Leader," has decided that he can win the world recognition that he apparently craves by becoming a power in Africa.

Indicative of the way that Qaddafi does things is the calendar year. In the Islamic world it is now the year 1421, counting from the date Mohammed migrated from Mecca to Medina. Libya's leader decided that it should be otherwise. For a while Libya counted from Mohammed's birth (making it now the year 1431), but now they count from his death 1329 years ago.

Colonel Qaddafi also decided some time ago that he disliked both the Western and the Eastern names of the months, so he renamed them. February is Lights. August is Hannibal.

In such an environment, it is hard for business to flourish. The Colonel does not make things easy. Moreover, there is the matter of economic sanctions that were imposed in 1992 because Libya refused to hand over those responsible for the bombing of a Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988 which killed 270 people.

Libya could not exploit her oil wealth as long as those sanctions were imposed.

Yet even since they were lifted two years ago (because Qaddafi decided to hand over the two terrorists) the people in the street have seen little change. The roads are still potholed, the telephones still unreliable and the young lack meaningful jobs. The huge number on the public payroll -- about 800,000 -- have not had a real wage increase in about 20 years.

"You need good connections to get anything in this country -- a scholarship, a job, a house," a young university graduate told the New York Times.

"In Libya you always wait for hours and you never know why you wait or who you are waiting for," said a businessman.

Despite the grumbling, there is no active opposition. Colonel Qaddafi's security forces have effectively stopped it.

Colonel Qaddafi's oldest three sons -- in their late 20s and early 30s -- have increasingly high profiles. Sometimes they seem just like their father.

Al Saadi, the No. 3 son and a player for the Tripoli soccer team Al Ahli, sometimes exerts his influence to sway decisions in his club's favor. Last year rivals in Benghazi paraded a donkey through the streets wearing his No. 10 jersey -- but their stadium was subsequently bulldozed.


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