March 5, 2007

MY SON, THE ECONOMIST:

The colonel who came in from the cold: Libya opens its doors to the West: Thirty years ago, Muammar Gaddafi's Green Book branded democracy a 'problem'. Now, not even pan-Africanism can save Libya's leader from the forces of change. (Peter Popham, 05 March 2007 , Independent)

"Gaddafi is a man of vision, in the good sense and the bad," said one who has been observing Libyan politics closely. But his opponents, led by his son Saif-al-Islam, are also visionaries of a kind - and their vision is more closely aligned with the sort you find in the pages of The Economist. That figures because Saif, 35, besides being chairman of the Gaddafi Foundation for Development, is also midway through a part-time PhD at the London School of Economics.

Five minutes after Gaddafi walked offstage in a huddle of well-wishers, his prime minister Dr al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi, Saif's ally, who had been sitting in the front row, gave a hurriedly organised press conference in the foyer.

No grand visions of African unity here, no peering into a future beyond oil. This was simple stuff. "We want to invite foreign companies to come to Libya to invest," he said. "Libya has an open-door policy towards foreign investment. Libya has peace and stability and we invite all states in the world to invest in our country ... We are open to hotels and services, too. Any investment in the tourism sector will be acceptable..."

After decades of almost Soviet-style isolation, padded and protected by the oil revenue that leaves Libya today with no debt and some $60bn to dispose of as it chooses, Saif al-Islam and his friends are trying to tug the door open. In January a Harvard business guru, Michael Porter, helped Saif and the prime minister set up the Libya Economic Development Board, to encourage entrepreneurship by Libyans. Other Western think-tanks are advising on liberalisation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 5, 2007 5:14 PM
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