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Orchestrating Libya’s Metamorphosis

Orchestrating Libya’s MetamorphosisRecentlyappointed as prime minister of Libya, Fletcher graduate ShukriGhanem is charged with the weighty task of re-introducing thisIslamic nation to the world and shaking off the specters of isolationismand terrorism. Medford/Somerville,Mass.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [01.10.05] After decades of being walled-off from the world bysanctions and a history of terrorism, Libya is emerging from itsauthoritarian confines with Tufts-educated prime minister ShukriGhanem (F’73) at the helm.

“Thestate used to run most things but the performance was not up tothe level we’d hoped,” Ghanem told The Timesof London. “So now our policy is to open up internally andexternally. We’ll do this in two stages: to privatize existingactivities and then to open the door wide to the outside world.”

In the pasttwo years, the Islamic socialist state has renounced weapons ofmass destruction and admitted responsibility for the 1988 bombingof Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270,agreeing to pay a $2.7 billion settlement. These gestures haveopened the doors to foreign investment, tourism and entrance ontothe global diplomatic stage.

The key, Ghanemsays, was a gradual realization that stockpiling weapons wouldnot help the nation in the long run. Despite being rich in oil,Libya was by all accounts economically and technologically backward.To take advantage of its oil reserves, sanctions needed to belifted, so the country took steps to repair its past.

"Economicallyit’s not wise to develop weapons,” he told the FinancialTimes. "You find that they’re eating all yourmoney. North Korea went into starvation."

Ghanem, whobecame prime minister in 2003, emerged in the mid-1990s as a memberof a growing chorus of voices advocating change in cash-strappedLibya. Though criticized by some in his country for defying thelongstanding principles set forth in Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s“Green Book” blueprint for Islamic socialism, he realizedthat change was needed.

"Thegovernment spent so much money on the public sector, on industrialprojects, but it proved that whatever it touches it spoils,"Ghanem told the Financial Times. "We ended up witha number of white elephants in the country. It's a problem oflack of decision, of coordination, of firmness in government."

Ghanem receiveda doctorate from The Fletcher School in 1973. Prior to assuminghis post as prime minister, he served as economic minister forLibya and also worked for OPEC in Vienna.

Change hasn’tbeen easy, especially amid opposition from those who flourishedunder the old ways of doing business.

“Somepeople have privileges which they hate to see changed,”he told The New York Times. “Lots of people preferthe status quo to having a shot in the dark.”

Ghanem isnot interested in trying to win over those who would indulge incorrupt political practices.

“Wedon’t need to convince a few inept managers,” he toldThe Times of London. “The people are already convertedand want things to get better.”

There is stilla long way to go. Despite the lifting of sanctions, Libya is stillon the United States’ list of states sponsoring terrorism.Also, the authoritarian country’s government is fraughtwith corruption. Ghanem is hopeful that other nations will believethat Libya is trying to change its stripes.

“I thinkthey should trust us, because they know that we are genuine. Weknow they have to trust us because we voluntarily came and said,‘Now we want to abide by the regulations,’”Ghanem told the CBS news show 60 Minutes II.

The oil-richnation of just over 5 million people has already attracted hordesof American oil investors, who left the country amid conflictin the 1980s. Libya’s oil reserves, while estimated to bevast, are largely unexplored – all the more exciting toinvestors from abroad.

“TheLibyan oil industry needs a lot of investment,” Ghanem toldTime. “American oil companies will be able to spendand take risks.”

In signsof the changes taking place in the once-reclusive land, the soleluxury hotel will soon encounter competition, ads for consumergoods are replacing portraits of Gadhafi, and duty-free shopsare opening in Tripoli’s airport.

“Ourreal challenge is how to mobilize our resources – so manyare untapped – and make everyone take part in the developmentof our economy,” Ghanem explained to the Financial Times.

To that end,increased tourism is a goal for Ghanem. Sites ranging from pristinecoastline and vast deserts to the ancient Roman city of LeptisMagna are ripe for foreign visitors – and foreign spending.

“Tourismis a resource that has not yet been tapped,” he told TheTimes of London. “We think that the development ofthe last and biggest shore on the Mediterranean will be a win-winsituation for investors and Libya. But we need to build an infrastructureand we need to lift travel restrictions.”

Libya stillhas many hurdles to overcome – most of all, its own past.

“Themission is not easy,” he told Financial Times.“Hopefully it is not mission impossible.”

 

 

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