As oil cash fades, Libya opens up
A United Nations vote Friday could mean the end of formal UN sanctions against Libya.
For the past two weeks the streets of Libya's capital have been strung with banners celebrating the 34th anniversary of the Sept. 1 coup that brought Col. Muammar Qaddafi to power.Skip to next paragraph
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"Congratulations on 34 years and here's to another 34," reads a banner in Green Square - the concrete expanse where crowds gather to hear Colonel Qaddafi's famous hours-long speeches.
Images of The Leader of the Revolution, as Qaddafi prefers to be known, hang from the graceful whitewashed buildings that are a legacy of Italy's colonial rule. On some banners, he appears young and dashing. In others, defiant, fist raised.
Qaddafi has not forgotten his revolutionary ways.
But after more than a decade in international isolation, the man Ronald Reagan called a "mad dog" is preparing for a revolution of a different kind.
Winning back international respectability and getting the United Nations to end sanctions - which could come Friday after several false starts - are not isolated goals.
They are the key steps in a wider Libyan strategy to modernize and diversify the economy - now dependent on a faltering oil sector - and reintegrate it into the global market. Central to the plan is the privatization of government-owned institutions.
It is a groundbreaking step for Libya's leader. His Green Book - the slender volume on which the country's government is based - advocates a mixture of socialist principles and Arab nationalism.
But in a speech to mark Revolution Day, Qaddafi spoke of "a new page" in Libya's relations with the west.
Miloud El Mehadbi, a professor of international relations at the World Center for the Study and Research of the Green Book in Tripoli, sums up the new direction: "We have dropped the dogma and embraced pragmatism," he says.
Libya's offer of several billion dollars to compensate the families of the victims of the 1989 airline bombings over Lockerbie and Niger - in exchange for ending its pariah status - is not seen here as an admission of guilt. It is viewed by most Libyans as necessary in the face of growing US antagonism towards regimes it views as hostile.
As a result there is no celebratory mood on the city's streets, where shoppers browse stores stocked with Italian fashions and the latest Sony digital cameras.
The pain of sanctions ended in 1999, when the UN embargo was partially lifted in response to Libya's handing over of two suspects in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie in Scotland.
"Libya is a rich country and we can afford it," says Reem Terhouni, an office worker. "The money is nothing to us but we hope it will help us to make Libya the gateway to Africa."
Libya has made "a realistic choice," says Almrghni Jhomma Nagi, editor of Ash Shams newspaper. "We are paying the money to buy ourselves peace."
Although the choice was made long before the war in Iraq, the toppling of Saddam Hussein and criticism of neighboring regimes, including Syria and Iran, has deepened a view among some that peacemaking with the West can not be delayed.