LIBYA-The Libyan Paradox

By St John, Ronald Bruce | The Middle East Journal, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

LIBYA-The Libyan Paradox


St John, Ronald Bruce, The Middle East Journal


LIBYA The Libyan Paradox, by Luis Martinez. New York and Paris: Columbia University Press, in association with the Centre d'Études et de Recherches Internationales, Paris, 2007. xiii + 158 pages. Notes to p. 178. Chron. to p. 180. Index to p. 182. $50.

Reviewed by Ronald Bruce St John

Luis Martinez is a research fellow at the Paris-based Centre d'Études et de Recherches Internationales (CERI), part of Sciences Po and associated with the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS). Published as part of the CERI series in comparative politics and international studies, a series consisting of translations of noteworthy French-language manuscripts and publications in the social sciences, The Libyan Paradox is a most welcome addition to the field of contemporary Libyan studies.

The author focuses on the political economy of Libya after the imposition of UN sanctions in 1992 and especially after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. At the same time, there is ample discussion of earlier periods, before and after the One September Revolution, to add necessary background and context to more recent events. The basic hypothesis of the book is that the Qadhafi regime is distinguished by "an intermingling of the most intimate kind between the security apparatus and Libya's oil money" (p. 3). Characterizing revolutionary institutions as predatory, the author rightly considers the nexus between the security forces and oil wealth as a major obstacle to political change.

Several sections of this book are noteworthy and combine to make a significant contribution to our understanding of contemporary Libyan politics. The author's extensive treatment of the regime's response to opposition, especially armed revolt in the 1990s, is fascinating. Martinez highlights the regime's widespread use of the Revolutionary Committees and Jamahiriya Guards because it distrusted local militias and the army. As a result, an important consequence of UN sanctions in this period was to concentrate economic and financial power in the hands of the Revolutionary Committees and Jamahiriya Guards, ensuring they would play a central role in the process of social redistribution. The author also provides a detailed examination of the Libyan security services, dissecting a complex, convoluted, and ever-changing security apparatus.

Martinez also explores the inability of the regime to overcome tribal loyalties, an early policy of the revolutionary government and a shortcoming that marked a real failure for the regime. Instead, Qadhafi increasingly concentrated power in the hands of the members of his own tribe, together with a few affiliated tribes. The author also does a good job of examining the significance of the administrative and political change that occurred in Libya in the 1990s. …

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