Magazine article The Spectator

Wind of Change

Magazine article The Spectator

Wind of Change

Article excerpt

Libya, it emerged in Crossing Continents on Radio Four last week (Thursday), is opening up and allowing limited scrutiny of its affairs. Although it bears some similarity to Saddam Hussein's Iraq it is clearly a freer country than most dictatorships of its kind. It remains, though, a police state run by Colonel Gaddafi who makes all the decisions, and the regime still controls most activity and employment.

As the presenter Rosie Goldsmith found it's a society that isn't really working well, hence the need for change. Rigid socialist states never do for long, though socialists hate to acknowledge the fact which is why, with the use of force, they last longer than they should. It appears that Gaddafi might have realised this and is presenting a more open, amenable face to the world. When Goldsmith spoke to three intelligent teenage schoolgirls in Tripoli their replies reminded me of conversations I'd had in Iraq.

She asked them what they thought of Gaddafi and they said in excellent English: `He's like a friend really, not a leader.' `In one word, he's a hero.' `He just gives us complete freedom, freedom of speech, freedom to do what we want.' They were obviously brainwashed by Gaddafi's ludicrous Green Book of rules which they're forced to study; either that or the watchful presence of government minders gave them no alternative but to make such utterances. They were also wearing military-type clothing, which apparently is the Libyan idea of school uniforms. If one of the girls is to be believed, Libyans, unlike Iraqis under Saddam, are allowed to watch foreign television stations. One girl said that she liked Larry King Live on CNN; another fancied Mel Gibson.

Goldsmith said she had found it difficult to get into the country and decided she'd been allowed to because Gaddafi is desperate to make friends and is trying to distance Libya from its recent past. What a past it is too. After he seized power in 1969 he laid down that families could have only one house, their savings were limited and the state took over all production and commerce. The only job you could have was with the government. In return bread, rice, televisions and even cars were subsidised and free health care and education were introduced. …

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