Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March 2001, page 65

Libya: Looking Toward a Post-Lockerbie Future

A Look at Libya’s “Space Technology” in Tripoli’s Cultural and Scientific Complex

By Delinda C. Hanley

A visit to the Fatah Cultural and Scientific Complex in Tripoli, near what used to be Wheelus Field, the largest U.S. military air base outside the U.S. in the 1950s and 1960s, begins in the lobby of the building that opened in 1981. Young people and school groups sit at tables drinking sodas and awaiting their turn in the planetarium. An exhibit entitled: “The Libyan Arab people’s determination triumphed over U.S. arrogance,” decorates the walls. Disturbing photos and children’s drawings capture the death and destruction caused by the April 15, 1986 U.S. bombing that destroyed Libyan homes and the French Embassy, in addition to military targets. All the windows of the cultural center, as well as of a neighboring diabetic hospital, were destroyed as well, we were told.

We were somewhat relieved to learn that a technical problem would prevent us from watching a documentary film of the American raid. Although we of course felt guilty that we had the luxury of only seeing a film of the raid, nevertheless we knew that it would be difficult to watch.

Touring the facility, we admired one of three theaters, which reminded us of a small, faded U.S. movie theater that has seen better days. Each Friday, and on holidays, children fill two of the center’s three theaters to attend plays and concerts. The third auditorium is the site for concerts, lectures and other cultural activities, and each year the center presents an International Spring Festival for Peace and Freedom.

Excited young people filed into the 240-seat planetarium, where Western pop music signaled it was time to gaze upward at the astronomic dome and learn about the constellations. Stars projected on the ceiling moved across the desert sky as students spotted the Big Dipper, and we saw the constellations that would be over Tripoli that night. All this courtesy of 25-year-old equipment that the center was unable to upgrade.

Mr. Al Zarouk Abdul Latif, Secretary of the People’s Committee for Information, Culture and Tourism for Tripoli, explained afterwards that, while the U.N. Security Council had lifted sanctions imposed on Libya by Resolutions 748 (1992) and 883 (1993) after Tripoli turned over for trial the two suspects in the Lockerbie bombing, U.S. sanctions remain in place. The American sanctions prohibit all financial and commercial transactions with Libya by U.S. citizens unless licensed by the U.S. Treasury Department. The exporting to Libya of all U.S. goods, services or technology, as well as the import of Libyan goods or services, remain forbidden. While some items can be purchased in Europe, the secretary said, there always seems to be one American component involved, which means that Libya is still prevented from buying most equipment.

The sooner relations normalize between the countries, Al Zarouk said, the sooner his nation can enjoy modern technology. “Libyans have always been peace loving,” he added. “It is our social nature. We have a long cultural and moral heritage we can offer to the world.

“For the last 20 years Libya has been given a bad image in the U.S.,” he continued. “This has deprived the ordinary [American] man-in-the-street of the real view of Libya. We are not adversaries of the Western world. We are ordinary people, not the terrorists we have been labeled. The West has been misled.

“It is so sad that, without evidence, Libya has been labeled a terrorist state, while we have evidence that the U.S. government is a terrorist state,” Al Zarouk said. “The U.S. Navy’s fleet bombed Libya. As a result of sanctions, no one brought aid to Libya. No experts came to help us fight disease. Are we terrorists or are those who misuse power the real terrorists?”

Al Zarouk described the problems faced by the Cultural and Scientific complex in finding even basic spare parts for the facility that is used for children to learn about astronomy. “When we got in touch with the U.S. company which originally sold us the equipment,” he said, “the media said we were seeking space technology. Your media fabricates lies.

“Who will listen to us in the Western media?” Al Zarouk asked. “They just say, ”˜Oh it’s Libya. Anything is possible.’ That’s why we want ordinary Americans to come here and see for themselves.” 

Delinda C. Hanley is the news editor of the Washington Report.