- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 9, 2009

TRIPOLI, Libya | In Ahmad Shegefi's jewelry store, the television was tuned to Al-Jazeera replaying footage of the moment during a recent Arab League summit when Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi interrupted proceedings to insult Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah.

“Really, if he was a child, he would have acted no different than in his supposed maturity,” Mr. Shegefi said. “Quite frankly, his behavior is embarrassing for me as a Libyan.”

Col. Gadhafi, whose antics on the regional and world stage have become almost commonplace, denounced King Abdullah as “a product of England and protected by the United States” before storming out of the hall. Six hours later, Al-Jazeera carried footage of the two leaders making up.

Corrected paragraph: Forty years after Col. Gadhafi took power in a coup against the Libyan monarchy, his people are more willing to criticize him openly.

The criticism coincides with an opening to the West following the lifting of terrorism-related sanctions in 2003. That opening has seen foreign investors pour in and a construction boom take place in this desert country of 6 million, the world's eighth-largest oil producer.

Libya clearly has changed its attitude toward capitalism since the 1980s, when an entire generation was terrorized by the question uttered by officials of government-appointed local committees charged with investigating cases of private wealth. “Min eina laka hatha?” (“Where did you get this from?”) often was followed by intrusive investigations and the confiscation of property.

The days of socialist rule saw thousands of houses, businesses and plots of land confiscated as an interventionist state discouraged private enterprise, snooped on citizens' affairs and punished those it considered profiteers.

The change in course toward economic liberalism, if not political reform, may be related to the question of succession to Col. Gadhafi. One of his seven sons is expected to follow him, in keeping with a trend of Arab socialist republics turning into quasi-monarchies. Syria's Bashar Assad stepped into his father's boots in 2000, and before the U.S. invasion in 2003, Iraq's Saddam Hussein had been grooming one of his sons to assume power. Meanwhile, in Egypt, Hosni Mubarak has been preparing his son, Gamal, for the presidency.

Until 2007, Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, an urbane graduate of the London School of Economics, led Libya's public diplomacy abroad. However, he is said to be unpopular with Mr. Mubarak, who doubts that Saif al-Islam, 37, can control Libya's powerful tribes. Egypt strives to be the Arab world's diplomatic leader, and Mr. Mubarak has a strong interest in securing his western flank by preserving Libya's stability.

“A tough leader is necessary in Libya, where the tribes need a strong hand to keep them down,” said a local political analyst, who requested anonymity because of sensitivities surrounding the future of Col. Gadhafi's rule.

Images of another son, Motassem, sitting stone-faced behind his father at the Arab summit in Doha were broadcast by Al-Jazeera.

In 2007, Motassem met then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, indicating his star was on the rise. A few months later, Saif al-Islam surprised Libya watchers by announcing his withdrawal from politics. This followed the removal from the prime ministership of Shukri Ghanem, a technocrat and ally of Saif al-Islam's.

“Saif [al-Islam] has largely withdrawn from politics and into civilian life and his construction business and has the same circumscribed influence over his father as Motassem,” said Aya Burweila, a North Africa specialist at the Research Institute for European and American Studies (RIEAS) in Athens.

Saif al-Islam remains in charge of Libya's opening to the West, and he travels frequently to recruit advisers. Locals point out high-rise construction along Tripoli's Mediterranean beachfront as properties of regime-connected insiders.

“Within the regime, there's a separation between the people who want clubs, bars, skyscrapers and free-trade zones to be allowed and the others who are against the opening,” said Yassen el-Kanuni, a British-educated businessman who often retreats from Tripoli to the great wastelands of the Libyan Desert. “A good example is Dubai and its scenario of social destruction from too much opening.”

If the old guard sees Saif al-Islam's nonmilitary background as a liability, it may prefer one of Col. Gadhafi's younger sons, Khamis. He commands the 32nd battalion of the Libyan Armed Forces, whose task is to protect the president in the event of a coup, but otherwise he keeps a low profile.

'The position granted to Khamis is an especially poignant one: In the unlikely event of a coup, he is the son trusted to protect his father,' said Ms. Burweila of the Athens-based RIEAS.

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