Abdelhakim Amer Taweel is a nuclear engineer born, raised and based in Tripoli. His father owned a piece of land in Tripoli measuring approximately one thousand square metres, which he had bought before Gaddafi’s coup of 1969.
“Gaddafi issued law number 116 in 1972 that forced Libyans to either sell their land to the state or build on it, citing a ‘housing shortage crisis’ in Libya. Military Land Rovers came to our land and took notes. It was a surprise. Up until then, we didn’t realise Libya was under military rule.”
The people in the Land Rovers were from the Committee for Recording Governmental Property. They offered Taweel’s father six dinars per metre for land that had cost him 45 dinars per metre. Since the law related to empty land, the government offered an alternative. If people wanted to build on the land, they could take out 10-year loans.
With everyone building to maintain ownership of their land, the cost of building supplies went up and Taweel could no longer afford to finish building the four-story building on the loan he had been given. “They wouldn’t give my father the loan in full because the building was not developing as quickly as it should. So he only got half the money promised by the bank and then took out personal loans with his brothers and sold a car and a house in order to raise the extra capital to complete the building.”
A new law was issued three years later in 1975, law number 88, which forced all residential buildings built on loan to be nationalised, regardless of whether building was complete or not. Those who did not have another home would be given one apartment in the building. “Since Muslims associate communism with atheism, Gaddafi called his actions socialist.”
Taweel’s father worked at Esso. His income was supplemented by rent gained from six apartments in a building he owned elsewhere. “He was managing, so he resisted the unfair compensation being offered for the building they took from him, wanting instead to maintain his rights to the building and fight the case in future.”
Law number 4 of 1978 gave tenants the right to take ownership of the property they inhabited. “My father lost the second building and essentially went bankrupt. He had four children to care for; some of us were at university then. In 1982, without signing any contract or relinquishing his right of ownership, he accepted the government compensation.”
The compensation offered for the residential building nationalised in 1975 was significantly less than the cost or value of the property and land confiscated. It also came with strings attached. “They gave us a cheque for 100,000 dinars. It was deposited in the bank and we could withdraw a maximum of 500 dinars from it per month. “The goal of the whole charade was clearly to strike out and weaken Libyans with capital and prevent them from building anything further.”
Taweel went from having a fairly good life as a youngster with high expectations, to living poorly. “We lived both the sweet life and the bitter life.” Taweel and his siblings needed to work to help support the family. “I didn’t complete my higher education and I married late. This is what law number 88 did to us. Gaddafi named it the law of construction development. What a development in Libya’s construction!”