When Hisham Matar published In the Country of Men in 2006, Libya was in the midst of a comprehensive rehabilitation and restoration of normal relations with the Europe, the US, and Western oil companies. I find it illuminating to place it in the post-2004 timeline of Libya’s international rehabilitation:
CNN, 2004: “The Bush administration on Thursday lifted the U.S. government’s 23-year-old ban on travel to Libya a day after Tripoli reaffirmed its responsibility for the 1988 Pan Am 103 terrorist bombing.”
USA Today, 2004: Free from most U.S. sanctions after nearly two decades, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi makes his first trip to the West in 15 years Tuesday, visiting Brussels to re-establish ties with the European Union.
BBC, 2005: “Three US oil companies are resuming their oil and gas operations in Libya after a 19-year absence. ConocoPhilips, Marathon Oil and Amerada Hess had their exploration contracts suspended in the 1980s after the US imposed sanctions on Libya. But since the US lifted its embargo on Libya last year, other oil giants including ExxonMobil have returned.”
Al Bawaba, 2006: “We are pleased to be resuming our long and productive partnership with the people and the state of Libya in this strategic asset,” said Jim Mulva, ConocoPhillips’ chairman and chief executive officer. “This agreement provides a strong basis for us to invest in our aligned goals for increased reserves and production, and in the training and development of our Libyan work force.” The fiscal terms of the agreement will be similar to the terms in effect at the time of the suspension of the co-venturers’ activities in 1986.
Reviews of In the Country of Men, 2006:
- Guardian: “At a time when western leaders have been cosying up to Gaddafi, it is salient to be reminded of the cruelty of his reign.”
- Financial Times: “Libya was once a pariah state, but its ruler, Colonel Gadaffi, has orchestrated a dramatic rehabilitation of his country…[the novel is] a timely reminder of the brutal methods that Gadaffi employed to become the Arab world’s longest-serving leader.”
- The Independent: “People should not forget the past, they should move beyond it,” Blair said of his visit to Tripoli. It is this platitude that Hisham Matar, a Libyan exile, confronts in his debut novel, which chooses to remember the brutality of Libya under Gaddafi.”
Reuters, 2007: “Prime Minister Tony Blair hailed what he called Britain’s transformed relations with once-isolated Libya after meeting Muammar Gaddafi on Tuesday and the two countries unveiled major energy and defence deals. Libyan Prime Minister al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi said Libya would buy British missiles and air defence systems, in what would be the largest UK defence sale to the former outcast state since an international arms embargo on Tripoli ended in 2004.”
BBC News, 2008: “Libya is back in business with the West, able to exploit its oil and gas riches, after years of isolation. But as Lucy Ash reports, some are disappointed there has been little impact on the North African country’s human rights record.”
Huffington Post, 2009: “…nowadays billions of dollars enter and leave every day on planes carrying officials and business people eager to sign oil, trade and defense deals with Libya. It has been rehabilitated to such an extent that Gaddafi has hobnobbed with the Presidents of France and Italy in their respective capitals and in July, the Swiss president himself flew to Libya to apologize for the brief detention in 2008 of one of Gaddafi’s sons for allegedly beating up two of his servants.”