Soha Wafalli, 24, is chipper and engaged to be married next summer. But she entertains few ambitions for the rest of her life, or the life of her children beyond that.
She has traveled in Europe and would like Libya to look a little more like Germany or Malta, with "nice hotels . . . and nice chocolate." But her expectations are far more subdued: a government-subsidized apartment, government-subsidized food and, for the children, a daily dose of lessons from leader Moammar Gadhafi's Green Book, a staple in the public schools when Wafalli was a student and one she says she wants the next generation to follow.
As for economic growth, foreign investment or hopes that her family will live better than her parents, she is more concerned that the price of bread remain stable, as it has for at least 20 years. "And every day you should have the Green Book," said Wafalli, a secretary at the College of the U.S. Aggression Martyrs, the title given to the former Tripoli College after a U.S. bombing raid against Libya in 1986.
Thirty years into Gadhafi's revolution, an unspoken social contract has evolved between the government and its citizens. In return for a low cost of living, with health care, housing, food and fuel either free or heavily subsidized, expectations have been damped and criticism of the system is kept on a tight rein.
Libya is a country with little sense of broad prosperity despite oil revenues of almost $6 billion last year and $9 billion the year before. But Libyans say they have no qualms about the money Gadhafi has used over the decades to support revolutionary movements in Africa and underground groups in Europe and to build tributes to his own rule, like the country's lavish new convention center in Sirte.
Opposition to these policies is heard regularly abroad. Criticism comes from dissident Libyans in exile, Western governments that punished Libya's support for terrorism with an embargo and human rights groups that condemn what Amnesty International called Gadhafi's record of "gross human rights violations," including the lack of free expression and arrests of political opponents.
The Libyan leader is blunt on this point. Under the ideology outlined in the Green Book he published to explain his philosophy, political parties are unnecessary because the people's will in Libya is expressed perfectly in the "popular congresses" held every few months. It is, in essence, a system of "committees everywhere," as one sign says, but virtually no distribution of power, and a set of unwritten rules that limit discourse to routine griping about roads and schools.
To some extent, the ideology appears to have sunk in. Political conversations between Libyans and visiting foreigners often begin with a recitation of the Green Book's central theses, go on to references to school shootings and militias in the United States and conclude with forecasts that the Libyan system will spread throughout the globe.
On a practical level, whether the government has money stashed in foreign accounts, invested abroad in ventures such as the Banco di Roma or flowing, as it once did, to the Irish Republican Army, it is all shrugged off as Gadhafi's effort to remake the world in Libya's image. That is, at least as long as people continue getting their monthly ration book to underwrite the cost of sugar, cooking oil and other commodities.
"We have a saying: 'You are not free if you don't control your needs,' " said Hakim Sadek, a 38-year-old teacher at the local university.
His salary of less than $200 per month is "more than enough" for him and his wife and child, Sadek said, because of the subsidized cost of living, free health care and other government benefits.
How long that system can sustain itself without diversifying or convincing foreign capital and expertise to return is the question Gadhafi and his advisers face as the population of 5.5 million continues growing and their revolution reaches middle age. Unlike the prophecies splashed on countless posters and symbolized in one creepy statue here, with oversize spiders crawling over books representing communism and capitalism, the Green Book's "Third Universal Theory" has yet to spread beyond the country seized by Gadhafi and a few followers who toppled the monarchy.
The cracks are becoming obvious. Certain street corners in Tripoli have become the province of day laborers who stand with their tools awaiting an offer, oblivious to revolutionary rhetoric that insists there is no unemployment. Speakers at a recent medical conference conceded that the country faces a heroin problem, according to news service reports, and Gadhafi himself acknowledged in one recent interview that his security forces have suppressed an uprising by Islamic militants.
But the system is making some compromises to the leader's principles in order to stay afloat. Some of the same oil companies and multinational firms that left Libya during the last decade are being courted back. Libyans say laws have been eased to make it easier for businesses to open and to hire workers for conventional wages, a change from a system that in theory requires a sort of forced profit sharing.
Hundreds of Libyans are enrolled at Tripoli College's nightly English classes, satellite dishes brim from villas and dowdy apartments alike and, when the country staged its big gala for the revolution's 30th anniversary, the choreography was set to "It's a Small World" and "Row, Row, Row Your Boat." Before the show started, the Libyan orchestra members jammed quietly among themselves on old Motown tunes.
CAPTION: Moammar Gadhafi's government offers citizens the necessities of life in return for loyalty.