Page last updated at 12:30 GMT, Monday, 31 August 2009 13:30 UK

Gaddafi celebrates, Libyans contemplate

Man walks past celebration poster

By Rana Jawad
BBC News, Tripoli

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi does not celebrate quietly. To mark his 40th year in power, he plans six days of lavish concerts, parties, plays and exhibitions.

But not everyone in Libya sees cause for a celebration.

In recent years the entire country has slowly begun to resemble one massive construction site.

"Flats are going up all over Libya," says business consultant Sami Zaptia.

"After 1 September we expect some announcements as to who exactly is going to get the houses."

He says it remains unclear how the distribution will come about and what the requirements will be for people to get them.

'Fortress mentality'

The uncertainty that has plagued the minds of Libyan people for the past 40 years seems difficult to shed.

There are work opportunities here, we are not facing the difficulties of massive job cuts or anything of the sort experienced abroad
Libyan man

"It's been 40 years of the same thing, perhaps 40 years of going backwards not forward," says a middle-aged man who asked for his name to be withheld.

"You go to the hospitals or public schools and that alone showcases what we have got.

"We are just six million people and our wealth is countless from natural resources and foreign investment, but until now we've seen nothing from it."

Libyan government officials are usually quick to blame the decade-long international sanctions of the 1990s.

A reality that contributed to a "fortress mentality and conservative spending", according to Mr Zaptia.

Avoid offence

Eventually, with the lifting of the sanctions and changing relationship with the West, the attitude changed, he says.

And the period of isolation is an excuse that has perhaps run its course with many Libyans here.

44 billion barrels of reserves - largest in Africa
Earns $40 billion a year
Oil makes up 75% of government budget, 95% of exports
Produces 1.8 million barrels a day
GDP/head: $9,000 - among the highest in Africa
Sources: Oil and Gas Journal, Libyan government, IMF

But to avoid offending anyone, they are more inclined to speak through Col Gaddafi's words.

People will say: "Even our leader said there is corruption and he wants to get rid of the whole government and give us the oil wealth."

Libyans also see hope for their country's future standing in the world.

"We are rich, [the West] needs us, and they are all coming to work here now," a young man said, as he explained why it is better to be in Libya these days.

"There are work opportunities here, we are not facing the difficulties of massive job cuts or anything of the sort experienced abroad."

Nevertheless, at least 13% of the population is unemployed.


Some observers say Col Gaddafi's socialist-inspired policies made Libyans too reliant on the state, removing the incentive to seek work.

File photo of Muammar Gaddafi from 1971
He was a young, handsome, and ambitious man with big dreams for us when he took over
Elderly Libyan woman

Some Libyans agree with that assessment, but others blame about-turns in official policy.

One man recalls: "One day we all had small businesses to run, the next we found out it was almost illegal and had to shut down.

"Or we could rent our homes to people and then there was the policy of 'every home belongs to its dweller'.

"Another time, our children were learning foreign languages in school one year and the next year it was banned."

But Libya has come a long way since those tumultuous, uncertain years and the country seems to be trying to make amends for what some have described as the "failed experiments" of the past.

There are very obvious signs of a budding, competitive economy - with more and more people starting their own businesses, and new shops and restaurants opening their doors to a public hungry for modernity.


But there are still signs of eccentricity when dealing with international issues - such as the rapturous welcome home afforded to Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber.

Saif al-Islam
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi is seen as the most likely successor to his father

And although it is too early to judge the outcome, there are remnants of the fickle policy-making that has been an ever-present feature of the past 40 years.

Col Gaddafi blames the government for the ailments.

His reformist son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi - who many believe will succeed his father even though he denies it - will blame what he once described as "renegades who want to move backwards".

Meanwhile, foreign investors remain in a state of limbo with an uncertain future.

As for Libyans, they are generally past the phase of laying blame or trying to hold their officials accountable.

Many here say that the Libyan leader "holds a unique standing in the country and will always be looked up to".

"He was a young, handsome, and ambitious man with big dreams for us when he took over," one elderly woman said.

"But then things changed... maybe it is those who were around him, who knows?"

However, as one young taxi driver put it: "We don't care who was responsible for what, we just want to work and move on with our future."

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