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The Kadafi Generation: Growing Up With Libya's Revolution

December 06, 1987|JENNIFER PARMELEE | Associated Press

TRIPOLI, Libya — The young curly-haired Libyan has learned his lessons well, smoothly denouncing American "imperialism" and boasting about leader Moammar Kadafi between drags on his Marlboro cigarette.

"America is attacking us from all sides," Ibrahim tells an American visitor, frowning into the sunlight and fingering a Kalashnikov assault rifle slung over green fatigues. As he speaks he watches hundreds of Soviet tanks rumble by central Green Square in the annual Sept. 1 anniversary celebration of Kadafi's ascent to power in a military coup in 1969.

"You have tried to turn Tunisia and Egypt against us. You attacked our homes, our children, with bombs, from the sea to the north. Now America is trying to get us from the south, from Chad, but we will never give in."

Parrots Officialdom

Ibrahim is 22 years old, a member of his country's vigilante Revolutionary Committees. Effortlessly, sometimes with a glower, sometimes flashing a toothy smile, he parrots Libyan officialdom and the words of his leader.

He is a member of the Kadafi generation.

More than half of this North African country's 3.5 million inhabitants are age 18 or under and have never known life other than under Kadafi.

Nationalism and a revolutionary fervor have been carefully nurtured, at school and at ideologically oriented summer camps. And sometimes, observers say, traditional education takes second place to revolutionary goals.

Starting Early

Children grow up with slogans from Kadafi's Green Book manifesto--on classroom walls, at the supermarket, at the soccer stadium. Daily tirades against American evils, on the radio, on television, are as much a part of their landscape as date palms and soccer games in dusty lots.

Children as young as 10 can be seen at televised political meetings, solemnly calling for Arab nations to withdraw their assets from American banks in retaliation for U.S. government sanctions, or threatening to form "suicide squads."

At summer camps, mandatory for children between ages 8 and 16, youngsters make scale-model bombs and draw unflattering caricatures of Uncle Sam, along with more standard arts and crafts.

Is this Libya's future?

"The younger generation is pretty radicalized. . . . You can't really see them returning to a bourgeois, pro-Western outlook," says one Italian government source with long experience in Libyan affairs. "Even if they aren't all fanatic, you just don't see many young people who have grown up within the regime and are against Kadafi.

Social Framework

"A certain amount of revolutionary spirit and radical position for Libya is there to stay. This is what Kadafi has achieved."

The revolution has provided a social framework for young people in this still basically ultratraditional Muslim society, satisfying some of the needs that might be met at nightclubs or high school dances in the West.

In a society where drinking is officially banned and contacts between the sexes tightly controlled, it provides a place to meet and be with friends.

At the public rallies, young men and women trade shy glances between chants. The younger girls giggle. The guys strut a bit. Sometimes romances start that way.

Take Ibrahim and Fatia Sacher, who met in the early days of Kadafi's revolution and say they were attracted by mutual commitment and ideals. "We had something in common," she says.

Youthful Vanguard

Today, in their early 30s, they appear a model couple by revolutionary standards. Fatia, who caught Kadafi's attention at age 18 when she addressed a Socialist Union meeting, is today one of his most trusted aides. Ibrahim is working in military intelligence.

Similar ties are often found among up-and-coming Libyans.

At the Information Ministry, for example, many of its young male employees attended the same revolutionary camps, part of a youthful vanguard moving up within the government and replacing older, perhaps less ideologically zealous officials.

This young radical elite, often members of the 2,000- to 3,000-member Revolutionary Committees, appears to have made significant advances during the last decade, although Kadafi is careful to keep a cadre of older and more experienced professionals in key posts, such as those running the oil industry.

Kept in Check

And while the Libyan leader encourages the young revolutionaries on the one hand, he is skilled at playing factions against each other to keep them in check, and will often publicly upbraid Revolutionary Committees for corruption and power grabbing.

Observers say Kadafi is always attentive to potential threats from ambitious youngsters rising through the ranks. After all, Kadafi himself was just 28 when he came to power.

During four trips to Libya, numerous conversations with young people from all walks of life failed to turn up a real malcontent. However, contacts with foreigners, especially journalists, are generally rigidly controlled and most Libyans are reluctant to express any criticism, whether for fear of bringing reprisal from authorities or distrust of outsiders.

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