End of Libya's purdah to test Gaddafi's grip

WEARING open-necked shirts, his head thrown back in laughter, Muammar Gaddafi towers above the people of Libya, on hand-painted billboards across Tripoli. The message to the capital's consumers seems to be that, in the sanctions war, the Leader had the last laugh.

Yet, a week after United Nations sanctions against Libya were suspended in return for the handover of two men suspected of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, Colonel Gaddafi is facing the toughest challenge of his 30 years in power.

When air and arms sanctions against the north African country, in force since 1992, are finally fully lifted - probably within three months - Libya will reveal itself to the world as a modern Muslim country.

Alcohol is banned but women drive cars and walk arm-in-arm with their boyfriends. Mobile phones are heard ringing as often as muezzin calls to prayer. In cities, everyone has electricity and water. Health care and schools are free.

This thriftily managed oil-producing country did not suffer materially from the imposition of UN sanctions after the 1988 Lockerbie disaster in which 270 people died - land links were never cut. But the five million people of the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriyah were psychologically cut off from the world, leaving their leader to rule by personality cult, intimidation, executions and fear.

Whatever did go wrong could be blamed on the Americans. Yesterday, at Tripoli Hospital a young casualty ward doctor bemoaned the lack of equipment and medicines. In a spacious white room with four patients on trolleys, he said: "The hospital, which is one of the biggest in Africa, is only four years old. It is very modern and we have staff from all over the world. But we are short of equipment and drugs, because of the embargo."

Most Libyans who meet foreigners are friendly but shy, and nervous of speaking. "The Leader is good as long as you are a well-behaved person," a woman in the market said. "We accept the situation because prices are cheap and education is free," a teacher said, "but there is a lot of treachery; you cannot trust your neighbour."

Seven years ago, when sanctions were imposed on the former Italian colony, the world was emerging from the Cold War. For years, Colonel Gaddafi had played the United States and the Soviet Union off against each other. Now aged 57 and seen by the Western world as the leader of a terrorist state, he can no longer do that; neither can he blame sanctions for everything.

Since 1973 when he first published his Green Book - explaining how to attain pure, Muslim socialism- Colonel Gaddafi has changed some of his views. Libya is a consumer society and he looks to Africa, not pan-Arabism, for solidarity.

But despite ruling by "people's congresses", he represses dissent, calls for thieves' hands to be cut off and executes treasonous military.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss