The Libyan Paradox

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The Libyan Paradox

By Luis Martinez
Columbia University Press, 2007
192 pp. $50.00
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Libya, led since 1969 by the mercurial Muammar al-Qaddafi, has long been seen as the quintessential rogue state. Slapped with UN sanctions in 1992 for its many misdeeds, Libya thereafter set in motion a tortuous process of radically changing course. In the ensuing long decade, it abandoned efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction, renounced terrorism, compensated families of terrorist victims, and replaced militant pan-Arabism with a will to get along with the West politically and economically. In 2003, the last UN sanctions on Libya were lifted, and three years later the United States and Libya restored diplomatic relations. In describing this Libyan diplomatic reversal, Martinez dismisses the notion of Libya as a broad-based populist polity. He depicts instead a tiny, tight-knit governing group concerned about regime survival responding to domestic economic malaise, dissidents both in the military and among Islamists, and, most of all, the perceived threat of U.S.-driven regime change. This opening to the West, he argues, is best seen not as incipient democratization but as the prudent adjustments of an authoritarian state. Still, the call by one of Qaddafi's sons, Seif al-Islam, for a constitutional state is heartening. In any case, can one discount the prospect of yet more flamboyant diplomatic démarches by Qaddafi himself?