Life of Libyan leisure

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi may be turning a new leaf. After giving up his pursuit of WMDs, the one-time enemy of the West is sponsoring a new real estate development on the country’s northeastern coast.

First, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi renounced terrorism and agreed to give up his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction after international pressure. Now his son is looking to go a step further by leading a large scale development in the northwestern part of Libya, one that could help open the country up to capitalism

In the first few years after he toppled King Idris in a military coup in 1969, Gaddafi the elder set out his socialist vision for Libya in the so-called Green Book, the main thrust of which was to remove all signs of capitalist ideology. Little more than 35 years later, he seems to be backtracking with plans to create a “semi-independent” city offering low taxes, offshore banking and a more lenient social regime—perhaps akin to Hong Kong’s relationship to China.

Colonel Gaddafi’s son, Al-Saadi Gaddafi, is championing the high-tech enterprise, which will reportedly require billions of dollars, in hopes that it will attract foreign investment and accelerate the sea change in Libya from simply an oil-rich state. It is thought that Emirates property company Emaar Properties, which is currently behind plans for the world’s tallest tower in Dubai, is assisting the 33-year-old Gaddafi to make the dream a reality. British master planner WS Atkins has also been invited to work on the project.

Unveiling the vision recently in Paris, the younger Gaddafi said: “We would like to create an environment that enables investors to make projects like they do in Paris, New York and London. This is a historic decision. We are talking about two systems and one country.”

The new city is earmarked for a 40-kilometer stretch of coastal desert near the Tunisian border. Although the details remain sketchy, the first phase could include a tourist resort, with later stages promoting high-tech industry, as well as medical and educational infrastructure. An airport and a harbor would also be required to make the destination easily accessible. Al-Saadi confirmed that his father, who is looking increasingly frail nowadays, is backing the project. Work could begin in two years’ time.

It is a long way indeed from the days when Gaddafi provoked the West with his anti-capitalist rhetoric, not to mention his suspected funding of terrorist groups. But with his recent change of heart, Libya, with its long stretch of Mediterranean coastline and rich history, could prove increasingly tempting for other real estate investors. In an interview with PERE earlier this year, Sam Zell noted that “at some point, Libya is going to be a great story.”