Fears of Qadhafi supporters making a comeback grip Libya's new rulers.

Daily wages for ordinary workers in Libya are spiraling. From $ 8 a day, during the era of the former leader Muammar Qadhafi, the costs of hiring blue collar workers have skyrocketed to $ 45. Fear of the return to power of Qadhafi's supporters among the country's western backed rulers goes a long way to explain as to why wages are going stratospheric. Apprehending that if allowed, Qadhafi supporters, disguised as workers, may enter and destabilise the country, is largely behind the rising costs. Consequently, the new paranoid regime is adopting unusually strict screening procedures, before allowing foreign workers, seeking a modest slice of the oil rich nation's petro-dollars, to enter the country.

The Libyan government's fears have acquired high visibility — in the form of long queues, of aspiring Egyptian blue collar workers — that are forming outside the Libyan embassy in Cairo's upscale Zamalek district. Most of these people are thronging the embassy, to have work visas stamped on their passports. Crowds are building up because the Libyan embassy is accumulating a mountain of passports — around 8,000 in total — without taking a decision on visa applications. Some of the applicants who are having a particularly hard time in getting their work permits cleared hail from the Egyptian Governorates of Minya and Fayoum. This is because Libyan authorities fear that people from these two areas share common bonds with some of the tribes that have supported Qadhafi. They could therefore emerge as the fifth column for pro-Qadhafi forces, should they, at some stage attempt a power grab. Many Egyptians were found in the Qadhafi-stronghold of Sirte even when fighting there was raging at its peak. Wages are also rising because many of the workers from sub-Saharan Africa, fearing for their lives, have exited the country with the strong possibility that they may never return.

Earlier, salaries were low, because workers from South Asia and China had flooded the country. The role of these expatriates in keeping the Libyan economy afloat had become evident when they fled the country, following the uprising. At Egypt's Salloum Crossing — perched on a hilltop, with a clear view of the sparkling waters of the Mediterranean Sea below — thousands, living in subhuman conditions, mainly from Bangladesh had accumulated, seeking an escape from the violence in neighbouring Libya. With the fractious new regime yet to get its act together, and the economy far from picking up momentum, it will take a long time before Libya can once again become the magnet that attracts workers from large parts of the globe. Till that time, it is unlikely that upward trajectory of wages in Libya will be broken.

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At WorkSeptember 24, 2010