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"Economic Development" without Political Reform:
Will Foreign Investments Help?

Begging for help

Last month Qadafi convened an "Investment Conference" in Tripoli to beg for help from foreign businesses. He tried desperately to reassure potential investors, mainly Europeans and a hand full of Asians, that their assets would be safe from the specter of nationalization. He told them in his usual twisted logic that everything in Libya is already owned by the people. No need to be fearful! The so-called leader-for-life is seeking to finance the next "five-year development plan" which calls for $35 billion in investments. Most of this amount is intended for the oil and gas industry, the only single source of foreign revenue in the country. Some undisclosed sums will be spent on the crumbling infrastructure, if such a thing is still in existence in the 'Udhma or great jamahiriya!

The Libyan "elite" is hoping to finance nearly 40% of the total so-called "development plan" from foreign sources. Qadafi's helping hands were talking about the urgent need for opening export markets, training the impoverished workforce and encouraging desperately needed transfer of technology. Potential investors were told that they are more than welcome to form partnerships with existing state-owned (sorry!) people-owned companies. A bewildering bureaucratic web dominated by the security apparatus whose threads are firmly tied to the fingers of the master puppeteer himself and his five sons who are increasingly having free reign to amass wealth and influence. The leader is creating a dynasty. Qadafi's ingenious backward system is incapable of finding decent employment for the 30,000 young people graduating every year. As the third universal slogan goes: Power, weapons and wealth to the people!

What is wrong with this design? Because of the anarchistic and arbitrary nature of Qadafi's system of government, Libya will remain a high-risk country. Many five-year development plans ago, the richest country in North Africa now has the most antiquated institutions of all. The majority of Libyans are trying to feed their families on monthly salaries of $170 or less. The country's infrastructure is in shambles. Basic services of education, health and housing are in a sorry state of affairs. Drinking water and power shortages plague the very place of the conference. What about the Eighth Wonder of the World, the so-called great man-made river? Corruption, corrosion and the collapse of well walls are promising to transform the more than 12-billion dollar project into the grandest man-made economic fiasco on planet earth. Long live the tribal "visionary leader" and his impotent tube! And if this is not enough, the population is expected to double in the next 25 years. With what has been achieved in the past 31 years of indescribable mismanagement, it is difficult to even guess how many Libyans will be able to make ends meet in the very near future. Qadafi often lectures the traumatized Libyans to fend for themselves, yet he has systematically closed all possible doors of opportunity for economic independence. Dubious illegal "laws" are dictated from above to ensure that private enterprise remains stunted and under control. After all, the leader has successfully made a constitutional monarchy into an absolute ruthless totalitarian system. Libyans are the most oppressed people in the region.

Laws drafted this year alone make it almost impossible for the majority of the people to form the only type of company allowed in the happy 'Udhma. It is required that an investment of one million dinars (roughly $550,000) be paid by 500 shareholders, with not one of them being allowed to own more than 5% of the shares. The democratically appointed "Lejan Al-Tat-heer", or cleansing committees, began applying the rule retroactively to companies established before its enactment. Incidentally, Tat-heer in Libyan Arabic means both cleansing and circumcision! Who could think of such an elaborate and far-sighted legislation except stupid "jamahiri leaders" who exclusively own power, wealth and weapons!

The Shameless Europeans! Our "democratic neighbors" are embracing the tyrant and clambering for his contracts. Our Italian, British, German and French friends know more than anyone else about the oppression of the Libyan populace. They do know about the continuous support of violence and glaring violations of human rights. They are very well familiar with the extreme policies of the regime, but nonetheless eager to mend fences with the criminal colonel. Even before their trials, of alleged bloody terrorist acts committed against their own unsuspecting civilians, have concluded. The blowing up of airliners over Lockerbie and the Great Sahara to mention only two revolutionary Christmas gifts from the master thug of Libya. The willingness of the major European powerhouses to do business with tyranny is puzzling to say the least.

Instead of helping the faint cries of real democracy, they are looking the other way. They are greedily going for money and oil even if it is mixed with the blood and tears of those courageous Libyans who dared to demand a return to constitutional government, elections, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and rights to life, peace and the pursuit of happiness. I am not asking Europeans to forgo their national interests, but I am asking them to build interactions with people not tyrants. I am also asking them to stand for their own ethical heritage and philosophical principles. It is amazing how Western powers, including the U.S., preach democracy every where in the globe. But when it comes to the Arab Middle East the democratic jargon suddenly disappears and is replaced by support and even help to maintain antiquated regimes that are an insult to humanity at large and to those who do business with them. Why do Western powers still practice this shameful cold war policy nurturing Arab totalitarianism? We may need to find collectively a logical answer to this absurdity.

One last thing, the Libyan people must, by now, recognize that real plans for economic, social, and human development should be preceded by real political reforms without which no progress or happiness are possible. After more than three decades of mindless experimentation with the future of the Libyan nation, the current gang proved beyond any doubts that it is incapable of leading the way.

Eid mubarak and Happy New Year to you all!

Abdelrahim Saleh

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