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Saturday, 19 February 2011 10:21

Libya – A Country in the Capsule

Interview with Emeritus Professor at the John Hopkins University William Zartman.

MOSCOW, February 18, 2011 (VOR) - I think Gaddafi has a security force behind him. The Libyan people do not have a history of this kind of pressure on the government - they are not politically activated in the same way as people of Tunisia and Egypt or some other countries. So, it is not beyond the possible imagination but it seems to be that it might be a little bit distant.

kadafiLibya has an over-aging leadership and has a succession problem. Let’s consider: Gaddafi came in 1969, 40 years ago - so he must be in his late 60s - you can check that. He is a little bit younger than Ben Ali and certainly not as old as Mubarak, Saleh in Yemen and Bouteflika in Algeria. There is also a successor for Gaddafi - his son Saif al-Islam - but he also has a brother.

Do I get you right that the middle class in Libya is not yet as developed as in Egypt for instance?

Right.

How do we explain that? This country obviously has good money from oil sales.

Yes. The state hands out money to people. There are also certainly businessmen, but they are all under the control of the supreme leader.

Does that mean that there is strong polarization in that society? They are mostly poor and there is a small group that possesses good wealth.

Yes but they don’t. I do not know where the money goes. The situation we saw in Tunisia is not a class war that you described. The state takes all the money from oil sales and hands it out to its people. It is a highly socialized society. In substance, a socialist state is a corporate state.

Do I get it right that more international investment has come to Libya in the recent years?

Yes.

Then how do we describe the investment climate? Is it really that attractive?

Yes, I think it is rather attractive. I mean the investors pay whatever they have to pay their fees to the state, but then they make money themselves. The two things that kept the investors out were the sanctions from the outside and the danger of nationalization from the inside. We believe this danger has disappeared now.

Professor, the reason why I am so interested in Libya is that the ripples that are now going across the Middle East seem to be more or less similar. But the countries are so much different and Libya, to my mind, stands quite apart. And besides, there is much less information on Libya as compared to any other country of the Middle East. Does that mean that it is a closed society or it just did not attract that much attention of the media? How do you explain that?

Well, all the above: it is a closed society, it is highly controlled, and it did not attract much attention of the media because it was closed both from the inside and from the outside. It is an authoritarian regime and it is a quite different place than the other countries. There are a lot of similarities and a lot of differences between all these countries, Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Bahrain, Yemen. The countries of northern Africa - from Egypt to Algeria and Morocco - have a lot of similarities.

We said Libya is a closed society. But is it the same closed to international Islamist elements?

Gaddafi reinvented the Islamic doctrine and his security forces are quite effective. He created his own brand of Islam.

Brand of Islam? Could you expand a little bit on that? It is fascinating. He is a socialist guy and he reinvented Islam. In what way?

He changed some of the doctrines and some of the holidays. I don’t remember the details and I haven’t memorized the Green Book. It is all there.

They are the Sunnis, right? Or Shia?

No-no, they are Sunnis. The standard religious practice there is Sunni. Gaddafi’s brand of religion - I don’t know how deeply it penetrated into the hearts of people - is his own thing, his own way of practicing Islam. It is in the Green Book.

To sum up, it is a very special country, a closed country, with the religion of its own, with the economic system of its own, which is seen as relatively stable and moderately attractive for investments. Is that correct?

Yes but I would say it has a religion of its own. I mean it depends on how you cut it. Libya has a brand of Islam of its own.

Does he maintain contacts with his colleagues in the Middle East?

Oh, yes, he goes everywhere and attends all large-scale meetings. He sets up his ten in any country where there is a meeting of the African Union, or the Arab summit, or the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Yes, he cut himself off from going into the world but he travels on his own in his own little mental capsule.

What is the attitude of his colleagues towards him? Do they see him as a strange guy or a brilliant politician or a reformist?

Imagine - you meet for Christmas time and here comes your cousin John, who is the black sheep of the family, has a beard and many other strange things, and no one knows where he makes his money and so on - but he is your cousin after all, he is the son of your uncle. You look at him as an odd man and tell your children not to get too close to him, but he is a member of the family. So is Gaddafi. He just acts like a strange cousin.

To find out more on the issue, read or listen to our Burning Point program from February 17, 2011 in Radio section. (END/2011)

 

 
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