More modern every year, Tripoli now has giant Times Square-style signs with rippling neon lights at many of its main intersections. Instead of cigarette puffs and "I'd walk a mile . . . ," however, these signs proclaim, "No democracy without popular committees," or "The breakthrough forever."
The breakthrough is the name given here to Col. Muammar Qaddafi's takeover in a swift, bloodless coup Sept. 1, 1969. Whatever else it has done for Libya since then, the breakthrough has given rise to an active industry whose mission is to propagate revolutionary slogans as broadly and relentlessly as possible.
Posters, plaques and billboards shout the message all around town, proclaiming: "Committees everywhere" or "Houses belong to those who live in them." Near the port, where ships wait weeks to unload goods from around the world, a banner proclaims, "A people that eats from beyond its borders is not independent."
So committed to its slogans is Qaddafi's government that a favorite has been made part of the answer-back for all official telex machines. So a message from the National Department Stores buying agency confirming purchase of Danish tea cookies begins and ends with "The breakthrough forever."
THE NATIONAL Department Stores have also produced some grumbling in recent months. Since full nationalization of trade in September, they have been in principle the sole authorized outlet for imported food, clothing and other goods, from gold watches to Italian shoes.
Although the Economy Secretariat counts 2,000 of the stores around the country, ranging from 60 to 24,000 square meters, Libyans complain they have to wait too long in line at the cash register and opening hours are less convenient than those of private neighborhood shops.
"I would like to have them open at any time I want to go buy something, day or night," said a young Libyan civil servant who said complaints were frequent among his friends.
Agreeing, a foreign resident said: "You have to go to five stores just to stock up on canned goods. In one store you see 200 cans of chickpeas, but nothing else. In another, you have 200 cans of sardines, but nothing else."
Mohammed Jodeiri, director of planning for the Economic Secretariat, said 100 former traders were Letter From Libya being allowed to reopen their shops to relieve such distribution bottlenecks in rural areas. The shopkeepers will have to get goods wholesale from state stores and will receive a monthly salary instead of a profit.
"Of course, this is just a temporary measure to respond to a specific problem," Jodeiri added, contesting rumors that the exceptions in the countryside are to be extended to Tripoli and Benghazi, the main cities. "It is not a change in the rule."
THE GREEN BOOK, a three-volume treatise by Qaddafi, has become the inspiration for his government. In addition, the book has inspired most of the slogans plastered around Tripoli.
It also inspired an unusual television appearance here the other night. Just before the latest segment of Dallas, a blond in her forties with a bouffant hairdo took her place in front of a band and, grasping the microphone, sang a bouncy, English-language rendition of a patriotic song whose chorus was:
"Oh, nation, oh, so fine. First of September 1969."
A French official assigned to coordinate Libyan television's purchase of French productions asked his Libyan contacts recently why they regularly buy such "imperialist" programs as Dallas. The answer, he recounted, was that Libyans are determined to buy U.S. programs with a message about the corruption of American society.
Libyans, after years under harsh Italian colonialism and a backward monarchy, have had many such problems finding an efficient middle ground between desire for Western progress and assertive pride in their Arab tradition.
During his drive several years ago to make all names in Libya Arab, for example, Qaddafi insisted in a television address on calling his automobile a hamamah, Arabic for pigeon. He explained to his puzzled compatriots that this was the correct name because the French sedan is called a Peugeot--which Arabs often mispronounce as "pigeon."