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Libyan Economy in Post-Revolution Boom

  • Al Pessin

The International Monetary Fund says Libya should see economic activity double this year, compared to last year with its eight months of war. That would push the country's economic activity well above 2010, the last full year of Moammar Gadhafi's reign.

On a busy road on the outskirts of town, a vegetable stand run by Ibrahim Jiuma Garguti has doubled in size since the revolution.

Garguti says people have more money to spend and officials don't bother him anymore.

"The government used to bother us about licenses," said Garguti. "The municipal guards used to take merchandise and harass us. They would say we were crowding the road and ask for bribes. But now those days are gone."

Downtown, it's the same story. There is a steady stream of customers at the "It's For You" boutique. Owner Mohammed al-Saadi's says business has doubled, partly because people have more money to spend, thanks to government subsidies, but also because he says Libyan women are more in the mood to buy fashionable items. Economists call that "pent-up demand."

"Thank God now everything has changed and the country is going forward, and things are constantly improving," said al-Saadi. "The country has changed enormously, and we are able to work easily and follow the demands of the Libyan market and give Libyan customers what they want."

Al-Saadi says there are no more Gadhafi-era restrictions on what he can import, or from where.

But the boom is not universal. Half-finished construction projects dot the capital, tied up in investor concerns or stalled after Gaddhafi cronies fled.

At the offices of the Tripoli Post newspaper, editor Said Laswad says the Libyan economy needs a major restructuring.

"Those who are still running the Libyan economy are the remnants of the previous regime, with all the negative aspects of the culture of that regime. You really have to change everything and start anew. We have to start everything from scratch," said Laswad.

One change many experts call for is diversification. Oil accounts for 65 percent of Libya's economy, and 95 percent of its exports. Said Laswad says the new government needs to end the culture of corruption and centralized control, and to stimulate the country's moribund private sector.

"There was no what you can call in the world a private sector or economy as such," said Laswad. "Everything was owned by the government, by Gadhafi and his stooges."

Laswad says the Libyan people have the right to hold accountable those who stole billions from them during the Gadhafi years. But he says there are many business people whose ties to the regime were minimal and who could play a key role in rebuilding the economy and creating a more honest and transparent system that benefits everyone.

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