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
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
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
"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
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.