Libya: Snapshot of the Regime, Prospects for Reform

In an interesting feature for Reason‘s March issue, Michael Moynihan draws upon his recent trip to Tripoli in order to elucidate what he views as Libya’s continuing stagnation despite both its tremendous oil wealth and recent efforts to engage in dialogue with the West. Highlighting notable contradictions between the government’s rhetoric of reform and ground-level realities, Moynihan recounts a number of conversations with ex-terrorists who, although touted by the government as fully rehabilitated, were actually taken off death-row or promised reduced prison sentences in exchange for renouncing political violence and aiding anti-terrorism investigations. One such individual, claiming he “saw the light” and had abandoned Islamism to work for Colonel Qaddafi‘s government, defended Libya’s freedom of the speech and journalistic diversity — but when asked if one would be allowed to print an anti-Qaddafi slogan, he questioned why anyone would do that, which Moynihan interprets as an unintentional barometer of Libya’s true level of liberalism.

Despite these encounters, Moynihan retains some hope that Saif Qaddafi, Muammar Qaddafi’s son and presumed heir, will issue in a new generation of leaders that will “loosen their chokehold on power in exchange for a seat at the adult table of international politics.” But the current wave of superficial and cosmetic reforms, he says, “have brought [the Libyan people] no closer to the representative democracy Qaddafi promised 40 years ago.”