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The challenge of rebuilding Libya

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Kai Ryssdal: There was a big meeting in Paris today. Forty-two years to the day after Muammar Gaddafi took power, leaders of the National Transitional Council met with leaders of more than 60 other countries to talk political and economic reconstruction.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was there. She said the rebels still face serious challenges in rebuilding their country.

Commentator Reza Aslan says money isn’t one of them.

Reza Aslan: The National Transitional Council, or NTC, will have to rebuild Libya’s crumbling infrastructure practically from the ground up. And that’s going to cost money — a lot of money. The good news is money is one thing that Libya doesn’t lack.

Libya is the world’s 18th largest supplier of oil. Yes, oil exports have dropped from a high of 1.6 million barrels a day before the uprising to less than 100,000 barrels today. But experts say it will take less than year to get oil production back to pre-war levels. Already, a slew of oil company executives are en route to Libya.

Libya also has about $10 billion in gold reserves at its disposal. And as we all know, the price of gold keeps rising and rising. Add to all this the $100 billion in frozen assets owed to it by foreign governments and it’s clear that lack of money is not going to be a problem for the new Libyan government.

The problem will be how to use the money it has to heal the deep tribal divisions between wealthy Tripoli and impoverished Benghazi.

For 40 years Gaddafi exploited this divide to his own advantage. He placed all government institutions in Tripoli and showered it with riches. But he brutally oppressed the people of Benghazi and allowed the city to fall to ruin.

There are those in Tripoli who are convinced that the Benghazi-based NTC plans to make up for decades of neglect by shutting Tripoli out of the post-revolutionary spending spree.

This would be terrible mistake. As we learned in Iraq, the desire for an oppressed community to avenge itself can be a recipe for years of bloodshed and civil chaos. Such instability would frighten off both foreign investors and humanitarian aid groups.

That is the one thing a wealthy country like Libya can’t afford.

If the NTC cannot heal the rift between Tripoli and Benghazi, then no amount of money will bring peace and stability to the country.

Ryssdal: Reza Aslan is the author of “There is No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam.” Share your thoughts — write to us.

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