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Libya Celebrates Anniversary of Revolution

(Soundbite of ambulance sirens blaring)

SCOTT SIMON, host:

Libya today celebrates the anniversary of what it calls the revolution. September 1, 1969, a 27-year-old army officer, Moammar Gadhafi, overthrew the king of Libya in a bloodless military coup, and he's been in office ever since.

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NPR's Ivan Watson is in Tripoli, watching the celebration unfold.

Ivan, thanks very much for being with us.

IVAN WATSON: You're welcome, Scott.

SIMON: I can appreciate that reporting from Libya probably isn't the same as being, you know, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, but Libyans, as you've been able to talk to them, what are some of the ranges of feeling that they have about the revolution almost 40 years later?

WATSON: Well, first and foremost, they're very friendly, very hospitable, but when it comes to politics, they're either rather inarticulate or just really worried about speaking to foreign journalists about political ideas. I don't think there's a lot of enthusiasm, from what I can gather, about this 38th anniversary.

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In fact, perhaps apathy. There was a big spectacle, as we heard a bit earlier in Tripoli's Green Square, where there were convoys, motorcades, police cars and police motorcycles and ambulances with sirens blaring and bands and everything. And there was a speech and fireworks by some Libyan officials.

Though there was a crowd of about a thousand people there, I'd say far more people were just walking around at other parts of the square with their family members, kind of ignoring the proceedings. I think people just aren't that excited about politics in general in Libya.

SIMON: Moammar Gadhafi effectively made peace with the West when he gave up his weapons of mass destruction program in 2003. Is he taking the country in new directions now?

WATSON: That also is not quite clear. His aides say that they are heading in a new direction of economic development even though they have achieved everything they needed during the previous 38 years. There seems to be some kind of power struggle under way about whether or not to reform the economy, whether or not to move away from previous ideas that he put forward, such as banning all retail, all private property, banning lawyers even. This was at the height of his revolution in the '80s.

And now his son, Saif al-Islam, who is pushing a reformist mandate, he has hired American consultants to help reform the economy, he wants to build the tourism sector, and he has helped introduce, for the first time, just this summer, some non-government-controlled newspapers to try to bring some new ideas to this country.

SIMON: So Moammar Gadhafi, who overthrew a king, seems to be in the process of installing his son to succeed him.

WATSON: That also is not clear. When people asked Saif al-Islam about that, he refuses to answer that question. Nobody has anointed him. And in fact, the reforms that Saif al-Islam has tried to bring forward, there has been resistance, some of them have not pushed through.

Here we are - you still can't really use credit cards in most of this country. Much of the economy is still controlled by the government despite all of his big plans and his grand statements to make changes. So Saif al-Islam does not necessarily have the line of succession yet. That's still up in the air.

SIMON: NPR's Ivan Watson, have a good weekend.

WATSON: Thank you.

SIMON: NPR's Ivan Watson in Tripoli. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.