Guided by the radical and bizarre principles of Col. Maummar Qaddafi's Green Book, Libya is carrying out a total revolution in its political and economic life with the aim of achieving Qaddafi's vision of "the new socialist society."
Virtually everyone's source of power and wealth in traditional Libyan life - the great tribes, the rich families, the bourgeoisie and the bureaucracy, even the religious leadership - has been crushed or taken over as Qaddafi builds a new system that is uniquely his own.
Unlike Saudi Arabia, which is trying to develop and modernize within its traditional political and economic systems, Libya has jettisoned the past and is using its wealth to transform the country socially and politically as well as physically.
Compulsory education, compulsory participation in the new political system, compulsory military training and the acceleration introduction of women into the work force are all contributing to the eclipse of Libya's historic patterns of life. The jobs oftens of thousands of men that depended on the old system - messengers, drivers, teaboys - have been eliminated and their holders sent off to more productive tasks, in a move as much symbolic as economic.
Libya's abundant oil revenues have enabled Qaddafi to extend his control and impose his ideas out to the most remote and primitive oases.
By 1980, according to Planning Secretary, Musa Abu Fraywah, the entire country will be linked by bus service and television, further breaking down the traditional patterns of isolated rural life.
Those few villages where economic development is not feasible, he said, will be cleared and their populations will be resettled, ending forever the political and social influence of local leaders.
Observers here say that even if Qaddafi were removed from power, the country is now irretrievably in the hands of a new generation nurtured on his ideas and catapulted during his nine years in powef from improverished ignorance into a prosperous new era.
While there is unanimity among Libyans and foreigners about what kind of system existed here before the revolution and how Qaddafi has gone about dismantling it, it is not at all clear what new system will eventually replace it. There appears to be a wide gap between Qaddafi's oddball utiopian theories and the demands of running a modern state.
Publication early this year of part two of the Green Book, subtitled "The Solution of the Economic Problem," touched off a systematic assault on what remained of private property and wealth in this socialist country.
Private houses are being confiscated under a law that bans owning more than one dwelling, and the next step is to be a ban on the accumulation of capital or savings by individuals.
"The final step," according to the Green Book, is "when the new socialist society reaches the stage where profit and money disappear."
Qaddafi has had to defend these ideas as consistent with and even inspired by the Koran when they stirred opposition in Libya's religious establishment. How they will work out in practice, in a country with Libya's vast oil wealth, is not yet known.
Some foreigners here tend to guffaw over what they see as Qaddafi's naive and ill-conceived economic theories. But the implementation of them has begun.
"They are going to do it. They mean business," one veteran ambassador here said.
Already the state - or, more properly under Qaddafi's theory, the Libyan people - owns the factories, the farms and most of the import and export companies. Private enterprise is rapidly fading into the past.
But Libyan socialism differs from traditional socialist theory, and from Marxist Leninst practice, in several ways.
The Green Book emphasizes that every Libyan is entitled to ownership of "the material needs of man that are basic, necessary and personal. "These include, it says, "food, housing, clothing and transport," because a man is not free if anyone else, or even the state, controls these essentials of life. Thus the confiscation of private houses applies to multiple ownership, and landlordism, not to the individual in his own home, which he is entitled to keep.
Under the political program laid down in the first part of the Green Book, "The Solution to the Problem of Democracy," there is no political party in Libya, Communist or otherwise. In theory, there is not even any government - the country is run through direct popular democracy, like a vast town meeting.
In practice, the means local and regional "popular congresses" have some autonomy, but the important decisions are made in Tripoli. One Cabinet minister gave this example: The central government decides that a particular regional center needs a hospital and how many beds it should have. The popular congress of that region has some freedom to decide the exact location and to appoint the staff.
More important than the actual decision according to students of the Libyan system, is the participation itself, because it makes the local population understand that the old ways of making decisions and the old days of deferring to tribal or religious considerations are gone.
Behind this facade of popular democracy, many observers here say, Qaddafi exercises one man rule on all important policy matters.
The "leader-teacher" is the sole source of ideology. No organized dissent is tolerated. But Libya is more complex and less predictable than other dictatorships.
Unlike other revolutionary regimes that try to sweep away the individuals as well as the policies of the past, Libya does not appear to be vindictive. May of those who served and profited under the monarchy have found places in the new Libya by coperating with Qaddafi, just as some foreign oil companies have withstood the tide of nationalization by yielding to Libyan terms for staying on.
In the same way, observers here say, many of the rich merchants who used to control the import and export business have stayed on to run the new state-owned companies. They are welcome, sources here say, for the most pragmatic of reasons - there are not enough Libyans to carry out all of Quaddafi's programs and he needs the expertise of the older generation for another few years at least.
The country has only about 2.5 million people. When Qaddafi came to power in 1969, most of them were illiterate and had barely been touched by the benefits of the oil income.
Libyans generally viewed their family and tribal leaders and their village elders and religious leaders as the true source of authority and power. To establish his legitimacy, Qaddafi had to overcome the traditional power structure.
"Look at the targets he attacked," a Libyan political scientist said, "the intellectuals, the bourgeoisie, the powerful tribes, the big landowners. These were the very people who never did anything for him when he was growing up.
To Qaddafi, these traditional leaders were corrupt, self-serving, and compromised by their subservience to European and American interests.
Qaddafi destroyed public confidence in the old leaders at the same time he cut their power by dividing the country into new administrative regions tht cut across tribal lines.
When this process failed to go fast enough, Qaddafi announced a "popular revolution" in 1973, in which all existing laws were suspended and which culminated four years later in "declaration of the establishment of the people's authority."
That document, published in March 1977, said that the people of Libya "declare their adherence to the spiritual values to safeguard morals and human behavior as well as they affirm the march of the revolution, under the leadership of the revolutionary thinker and teacher, our leader Col. Muammar Qaddafi, toward the complete popular authority and the stabilization of society."
Having thus swept away every form of authority other than his own, Quaddafi turned his attention to the country's economic structure.
The principles by which that is to be reshaped are outlined in the second part of the Green Book.
This provides for abolition of the wage system and a kind of "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" formula to compensate individuals for their work.
The Green Book also says that - no individual has the right to carry out economic activity in order to acquire more wealth than is necessary for his needs, because the excess amount belongs to other individuals. "While this may seem like a disincentive to production, Qaddafi leaves a loophole by providing for "differences in wealth" for those who "perform a public service."
Cynics say this legalizes the practice of bestowing goodies on army officers to buy their loyalty, but while that practice probably does exist it is too soon to tell how it will be altered, it at all, by the implementation of the Green Book's theories.
The country is in the middle of a $24 billion development program that is producing roads, schools, hospitals, apartment houses, ports, and most of all farms at a dizzying rate - so fast that newly created farms are standing unused because of a shortage of hands to work them.
This flow of development has enabled Qaddafi to deliver on his promises to improve the lot of the Libyans, even as he appeals to their pride by his Arabic-only, damn-the-colonialists nationalism.
"Qaddafi is a good strategist," a Western diplomat said. "He knows his country. He has far-out ideas, but his program is moving along."