Gaddafi deals with his demons

Despite all the anti-US rhetoric, Libya is set to talk business with the so-called `enemies of science and education', learns Alex Duval Smith

LIBYA will maintain an outwardly defiant stance towards the United States and to a lesser extent Britain, despite the suspension of sanctions imposed over the Lockerbie bombing. But behind the scenes Muammar Gaddafi's regime plans talks with both countries.

During the first visit by a Western newspaper to Libya and its leader, Colonel Gaddafi, since sanctions were lifted two weeks ago, The Independent on Sunday also learned of lucrative trade deals in the offing.

Ahmed Ibrahim, a government spokesman, said on television last week that Libya should have "two foreign policies - one for friendly countries and one for enemies". In an outburst during a speech in his Bedouin marquee in the Sahara, Col Gaddafi made it clear which category the US fell into: it was, he said, "an enemy of science and education".

The "friendly countries", said Mr Ibrahim, were those in Africa and the Middle East which breached the ban on commercial flights during seven years of United Nations sanctions. Foremost is South Africa, which helped broker the handover two weeks ago, for trial in the Netherlands of two men accused by Britain and the US of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

The explosion aboard Pan Am 103, bound for New York from Frankfurt, killed 270 people on 21 December 1988. In 1992, the UN imposed air and arms embargos against Libya and later ordered some of the country's assets to be frozen until the handover of Lamin Khalifa Fhimah and Abdelbasset Ali el-Megrahi.

But Libya's stated defiance may be mere rhetoric. Despite seven years of internal propaganda, during which "imperialism and its agents" were demonised, Ali Triki, Libya's foreign minister for Africa, said in an interview that talks would start soon in New York with Britain and the US. "The three countries are looking forward to normalising relations and boosting trade," he said.

It is believed that lucrative contracts, including a $16bn (pounds 10bn) purchase of Airbuses by Libyan Arab Airlines, will be woven into the talks, which are conditional on UN sanctions - currently suspended - being permanently lifted. "Friendly countries" will get a head start in re-establishing air links: South African Airways is due to start its service this week.

The New York talks will be an opportunity for Western human rights groups to press for greater access to Libya. The mostly urban population lives in comfort, with oil revenues paying for free health care, schooling, rent-free housing and subsidised food and cars, but the country has no political opposition. Fearing police brutality as a result of denunciation by fellow citizens - a means of achieving favours such as cars and better housing - ordinary people are terrified of discussing politics.

Col Gaddafi, now 57, is celebrating his 30th year since overthrowing King Idris and becoming "Guide of the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriyah" (country of the masses). He can be found, far from his people but close to his Gaddafa tribal roots, in the desert near his birthplace, Sirte.

You only come to Sirte, 280 miles east of Tripoli, by appointment. That is abundantly clear as you approach from the air the desert runway ringed with bunkers, tank pits and anti-aircraft artillery. Last Wednesday Col Gaddafi was busy. Sirte airport was jammed with private jets as African leaders flew in for "Brother Leader's" blessing, maybe funding, or instructions even.

The former Zambian president, Kenneth Kaunda, facing a witch-hunt in his own country, stripped of his citizenship and possibly needing funds for his Supreme Court appeal, was there. Frederico Mayor, secretary general of Unesco, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, came to present a medal to Col Gaddafi for giving $1.4m towards a 35-year project for African historians to write the history of their continent. The leaders of Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, the Central African Republic, Eritrea, Sudan and the new Prime Minister of Niger also came for a meeting of Comessa - a year-old, Libyan-initiated group of Saharan states.

Col Gaddafi, wearing a beige gown, held court far from the airport, in a large white marquee buffeted by the Saharan wind. From a large pink armchair resting on Persian carpets, he launched an anti-American rant as the electric lightbulbs swung overhead. By his side was his aluminium crutch, a constant prop since last year, when, according to unofficial reports, he was attacked by Chadian Islamists.

"The Western perspective of Africa is of a slave market - an undeveloped, backward people who lack civilisation and culture. That is why the world acts as it does against Africans. So when this world organisation [Unesco] took the right approach, the United States boycotted that organisation," said the Libyan leader, referring to the American withdrawal 14 years ago from Unesco, followed by Britain (which has recently rejoined).

"That shows that America is an enemy of science and education. World culture and civilisation are not hostage to the US," he said.

There was no mention of Lockerbie; Col Gaddafi will not talk about it. Nor will he denounce acts of terrorism - indeed, he recently justified them: "in a certain time and place, when we were at war".

It is not clear how firm is his hold on power. He rules by tribal favouritism, and there is speculation that he is edging towards handing over to one of his two sons. But diplomats who know Libya well sense changes afoot which are not of his making.

With sanctions, he could hide and he could demonise America, said a European diplomat in Tripoli. "Libyan people are poorly educated and ripe for the promises of the Islamists, who are waiting in Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt. The West and Europe should realise that it is in their interest to take an interest in Libya now."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Games Developer - HTML5

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With extensive experience and a...

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£26000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Product Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Due to on-going expansion, this leading provid...

Recruitment Genius: Shift Leaders - Front of House Staff - Full Time and Part Time

£6 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a family ...

Day In a Page

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Atwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'