August 21, 2008 / 12:56 AM / 10 years ago

Countdown to reforms in Libya begins: Saif

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libya, now in the mainstream of international politics after decades of isolation, needs reforms to revamp its political system into one that stands out against the region’s “forest of dictatorships”, Muammar Gaddafi’s most prominent son said on Wednesday.

Saif al-Islam, son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi during an interview with Reuters in Nice, July 30, 2007. REUTERS/Gilbert Tourte

Saif al-Islam said his North African country has to strive to build a better future based on independent institutions and a thriving civic society since it had reconciled with the West.

Ties between OPEC member Libya and the United States have improved dramatically since 2003, when Libya accepted responsibility for the Lockerbie airliner bombing and said it would stop pursuing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

Since then, the United States has dropped many sanctions, removed Libya from a terrorism blacklist and restored diplomatic ties.

Saif has long called not only for a free market economy but also for deeper democracy in Libya, saying the country of six million lacks a free press and its democracy is imperfect.

“The countdown to build the state of institutions begins,” he told a youth rally at Sebha town, 800 km (500 miles) south of Tripoli.

Saif, whose speech was broadcast live on Libyan state television, said the country needed reforms of its Jamahiriyah system of town hall meetings inspired by his father’s political philosophy.

Saif sees a revamped Jamahiriyah to be different from the current system.

Gaddafi’s admirers say the system of communal gatherings, in which political parties are banned, guarantees ordinary people a direct say in ruling themselves and ensures political stability.

Critics say the Jamahiriyah system, the only government most Libyans have known, is a fig leaf for authoritarian rule and has kept the country poor.

“Reforms will start by a new administration structure and end with a popular contract which will keep the Jamahiriyah system in place but with a new form that is different from the bad initial one,” said Saif.

Gaddafi seized power in a coup in 1969 and in 1977 he proclaimed Jamahiriyah popular rule to try to create the perfect society in line with the teachings of his Green Book, which combines aspects of socialism, Islam and pan-Arabism.

“FOREST OF DICTATORSHIPS”

“Now we want to agree on laws that rule us in the future. The era now is different. We want a new administrative system, law and a constitution for once and all that do not change each time,” said Saif.

Saif named an independent media and judiciary as the pillars of the future reformed political system and a free civic society bent on defending human rights.

“We are living in a forest ruled by dictatorships and hereditary regimes that trample human rights. All are dictatorships with fictitious parliaments and constitutions,” said Saif, giving his view of the Middle East and North Africa’s Arab political landscape.

He said Libya’s reformed political system must be different from those in the Arab world now. “It should be an example and a model in the Middle East,” he added.

“We Arabs have become a mockery, with pervasive torture and sites of secret prisons,” he added.

Saif said reforms in Libya were on track to succeed. “The train of reforms is on track. It has not reached its final stop but it is on a good track to arrive,” he added, claiming a leading role for himself.

“I had played a role in diplomacy, in government, in development policy and other things because Libya has no institutions to do that,” he said.

Writing by Lamine Ghanmi

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