This guy is the West’s best hope?

ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images Libya’s notorious leader, Col. Moammar Qaddafi, has earned little but praise from the West of late. The United States restored diplomatic relations in 2004 when Qaddafi promised to dismantle his WMD program, cooperate in the war on terror, and pay generous reparations to the families of victims of the 1988 Pan Am ...

600675_070711_qaddafi_05.jpg
600675_070711_qaddafi_05.jpg

ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images

Libya's notorious leader, Col. Moammar Qaddafi, has earned little but praise from the West of late. The United States restored diplomatic relations in 2004 when Qaddafi promised to dismantle his WMD program, cooperate in the war on terror, and pay generous reparations to the families of victims of the 1988 Pan Am bombing. With the recent $900 million oil exploration contract between Libya and BP, former British PM Tony Blair gushed that he found "a relationship on a personal level with him a very easy one."

But when a Libyan court sentenced five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian doctor to death for allegedly intentionally infecting children with HIV, the rehabilitated Qaddafi found himself cast in the familiar role of international villain. The Libyan Supreme Court upheld this verdict today, though a last-minute deal may yet save them from the firing squad.

ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images

Libya’s notorious leader, Col. Moammar Qaddafi, has earned little but praise from the West of late. The United States restored diplomatic relations in 2004 when Qaddafi promised to dismantle his WMD program, cooperate in the war on terror, and pay generous reparations to the families of victims of the 1988 Pan Am bombing. With the recent $900 million oil exploration contract between Libya and BP, former British PM Tony Blair gushed that he found “a relationship on a personal level with him a very easy one.”

But when a Libyan court sentenced five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian doctor to death for allegedly intentionally infecting children with HIV, the rehabilitated Qaddafi found himself cast in the familiar role of international villain. The Libyan Supreme Court upheld this verdict today, though a last-minute deal may yet save them from the firing squad.

Qaddafi has a lot more to worry about than the alleged depredations of Bulgarian nurses, as Princeton’s Andrew Moravcsik makes clear in Newsweek. Libya relies on oil for 95 percent of its exports and 60 percent of its total GDP, putting the country in danger of falling into an oil dependency trap. One third of young people are unemployed, private-sector job creation is nonexistent, and half of those Libyans lucky enough to have jobs work in the country’s bloated bureaucracy.

Perhaps most unsettling, though, is Libya’s growing Islamic fundamentalism. Women are covering up in increasing numbers, experts say, and last year’s protests over the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad quickly turned into a violent anti-Qaddafi rally. Moravcsik warns:

If the leader can’t set his country on the track toward modernity, Libya could succumb to chaos or Islamist rule – a chilling outcome for other moderate, reform-minded leaders in the region.

His ultimate conclusion that Libya may be emerging “as the West’s best hope in the turbulent Middle East” says a lot about just how dire the situation in the region has become.

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