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Libya's efforts to build economy, tourism snagged by its own capriciousness
Libya's old guard of politicians, internal security officials and tribal leaders is resisting political and social reforms proposed by Gaddafi's liberal-minded son, Saif al-Islam. Reforms "are moving, but not very fast," the younger Gaddafi conceded.
Switzerland is not the only Western nation to feel the Leader's wrath in recent weeks. Although relations with the United States have improved, prickliness persists. Libyan officials were furious about their country's being added to a U.S. security watch list after the attempted bombing of a U.S. airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day. And when a State Department spokesman joked last month about Gaddafi's call for jihad against Switzerland, the Leader warned U.S. oil executives in Tripoli that the comments could harm their business interests. The State Department spokesman apologized.
Billions in U.S. private-investment dollars promised in exchange for Libya dismantling its program to develop weapons of mass destruction have not materialized, deepening the frustration of officials here. U.S. oil companies have flocked to the North African country, but many other firms have held off, fearing the capricious business environment.
"There's a lot of reluctance on the investment side. The situation is not stable. There have been problems. They've seen issues with different companies," said Gene A. Cretz, the U.S. ambassador in Tripoli.
Cretz added, though, that Libya could prove a draw for American investors, citing the government's plans to hand out $130 billion in contracts over three years to build up the country's infrastructure.
The potential is clearly visible at Leptis Magna. Although it is a U.N. World Heritage Site, less than two hours' drive from the capital, there are no luxury hotels in the vicinity. A few stalls sell postcards and other tourist items, but Libya has yet to make the most of its long Mediterranean coastline the way neighboring Tunisia and Egypt have theirs.
Krima, the tour guide, led his small group through the impressive ruins, stopping now and then to proudly recount their history. Past sculpted heads of Medusa and carvings of centaurs and Hercules, he led the way inside the Hadrianic Baths, reputedly among the best-preserved Roman bathhouses in the world. The tour ended at a stunning amphitheater overlooking the sea.
"We need to tell the world of our heritage, to bring tourists here, to make money," Krima said. "The government does not have the experience to do this."
"Perhaps in the next generation," he added wistfully.