Libya plans to ease visa restrictions for many countries as it seeks to attract tourists and diversify its economy away from oil, said Saif al-Islam al-Qaddafi, the son of Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi.
“Right now it is very difficult to get a visa,” Qaddafi said in an address at the American University in Cairo today. “But soon, very, very soon, it will be very easy for many people around the world to visit Libya.”
The North African state in March lifted a temporary visa ban on visitors from 25 European countries that was imposed during a dispute with Switzerland, sparked by the July 2008 arrest of Qaddafi’s other son Hannibal on charges he mistreated two servants. He was released on bail, though Libya detained two Swiss businessmen. In February, one of the businessmen was freed, while Max Goeldi of ABB Ltd., the world’s biggest builder of power grids, remains in custody.
Saif al-Islam said that attracting more tourists was a way to improve the image of his country, tarnished in the 1980s and 1990s by accusations from the U.S. that it sponsored terrorism and was attempting to develop nuclear weapons.
“If we get millions of tourists to go to Libya they can see with their own eyes, so they can be good witnesses for you and for us,” Saif al-Islam said. Libya has numerous Greek and Roman ruins at sites such as Leptis Magna and Sabratha.
The country began to emerge from decades of international isolation in 2002 when the elder Qaddafi abandoned a nuclear- arms development effort, pledged to destroy stockpiles of chemical weapons and renounced terrorism.
International oil companies were drawn to Libya after international sanctions were lifted. The country must now reduce its dependence on the oil industry, enabling Libya to move from an “artificial economy” to a real one, Saif al-Islam said. Oil revenue makes up more than 70 percent of gross domestic product.
A rising number of foreign investors have been attracted to Libya’s non-oil industries in recent years. BNP Paribas of France owns 19 percent of Sahara Bank in Libya and the Arab Bank of Jordan has a similar stake in Wahda Bank.
Six lenders including HSBC Holding PLC and Standard Chartered PLC were short-listed for two banking licenses in Libya. The central bank has said that it will announce the winners in July.