Socialism and consumerism rub shoulders in Tripoli

Tue Nov 18, 2008 8:17pm EST
 
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By Tom Pfeiffer

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - As economic barriers fall between Libya and the West, a boom-town atmosphere fed by the novelty of consumer culture has gripped its capital Tripoli.

Hotel rooms are in short supply as foreigners flock to the Mediterranean port city to seal business deals made possible by the OPEC member country's recovery from years of sanctions.

As the sun sets and a cool breeze wafts through shady colonial-era arcades, Tripolitans stroll past shops laden with a growing array of imported goods, from veiled Barbie dolls to England football shirts, designer handbags and silk scarves.

According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, foreign direct investment into Libya rose to $2.5 billion in 2007 after a slow recovery since 2004, the year after Libya gave up its weapons of mass destruction program.

That put it on a par for inflows with Morocco and Sudan in Africa.

Near Green Square's glaring floodlights and posters celebrating 39 years of Muammar Gaddafi's Islamic socialist revolution, businessmen with the latest laptops discuss investment projects over Italian coffee and fruit smoothies.

As the number of flights to Tripoli grows, the airport's car park has overflown into a field nearby. A $2 billion project to increase passenger capacity more than sixfold is under way.

"If you don't visit a particular area for a while it becomes hardly recognizable," said Libyan singer-songwriter Ahmed Fakroun. "You ask yourself: "When did all this happen?'"   Continued...

 
<p>A shopkeeper works outside his shop at the old market in the Libyan capital of Tripoli in this April 15, 2006 file photo. As economic barriers fall between Libya and the West, a boom-town atmosphere fed by the novelty of consumer culture has gripped its capital Tripoli. Hotel rooms are in short supply as foreigners flock to the Mediterranean port city to seal business deals made possible by the OPEC member country's recovery from years of sanctions. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra</p>