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When Gaddafi wanted to create a Dubai-style city in Libya

Hesham Salah/Dubai
Filed on February 26, 2019 | Last updated on February 26, 2019 at 06.32 am

"Many leaders who have visited Dubai have said how they wished their countries could be like this unique city."

In the 44th chapter of his latest book, Qissati, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, recalls his meetings with the late Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi. Sheikh Mohammed says Gaddafi wished for the appearance of change but did not want true transformation.

Many leaders who have visited Dubai have said how they wished their countries could be like this unique city. Many have contacted me and I have met with leaders wishing to replicate the Dubai experience in their own countries. For most of them, however, this has been just a dream because they have been unable to see behind the amazing buildings and infrastructure to understand the ideas and realities on which they are based.

As l write this, I am reminded of the late Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, who called me one day saying he wanted to build a new Dubai-style city in Libya to serve as Africa's economic capital.

I sent Mohammad Al Gergawi, the head of my executive office at the time, to carry a message to Libya. He specifically asked that we look at transforming Tripoli and the airport of Mitiga to make a new capital for Africa.

It was a long and meaningless conversation. My envoy summed it up saying: "Gaddafi admires no nation, nor any leader. He expresses his opinions with a fanaticism that makes it hard to have any type of discussion. He does not talk like a leader."

After reading Al Gergawi's report, I decided to go myself. I flew to Tripoli, a beautiful city with a rich, vibrant history. Later, I visited Gaddafi in his tent in the city of Sirte and, just like the last time we had met, he monopolised the entire conversation.

In the evening, we went to one of Tripoli's public squares, which was packed with people. We were surprised to find that someone had told the people we were there. They surrounded the car in a hysterical frenzy, with emotions running high, and the car began to rock because of the jostling and pushing. Moments Later, I began to feel that our car was being lifted off the ground. I found such exuberance troublesome, even if it was meant to be welcoming and a true expression of emotion. I wasn't able to make myself heard over their shouting.

Gaddafi wished for the appearance of change but did not want true transformation. Change needs real achievements and hard work, not simply empty speeches. Change cannot happen with the scale of corruption we witnessed during our visits to Libya. Change needs a clear, clean and transparent environment to flourish.

The Libyan people did not need Mohammed bin Rashid to show them how to create a better society-they were quite capable of turning things around for themselves. As we found in the UAE, the government's job is merely to create an enabling environment; the people will do the rest.

The Libyan nation was full of scientists, talented individuals, executives, researchers, physicians and engineers; all they needed was the right environment to unleash their potential and bring about positive change.


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