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Step one block off almost any main road and the streets here are badly damaged or completely unpaved. There are problems with the schools, the health care system and the government bureaucracy, which is plagued by corruption and inefficiency. Untreated sewage is dumped right into the Mediterranean.

Libya is a police state, but the trains still do not run on time.

“The administration has failed and the state economy has failed, enough is enough,” said Col. Moammar Gadhafi in a recent speech that made no mention of his own role as the man in charge for the last 40 years.

Libya recognizes its problems and is trying to respond, after a fashion. But whatever Libya does, it must stay within the boundaries of a system created by Gadhafi, or Brother Leader, as he is called. And that is the country’s Achilles’ heel: By nearly every practical measure, the system has failed Libyans, but it is his system, so it is above reproach.

As eager as Gadhafi and Libyans are to rejoin the contemporary world, to just become a normal country, they are likely to be frustrated as long as it remains impossible to fundamentally reform the system imposed by Libya’s absolute ruler.

“It is all him, because there are no institutions in Libya to share his power or challenge his behavior,” said Attia Essawy, an Egyptian writer with expertise in Libyan affairs.

In many ways, Libya is a case study in how power tends to corrupt. Last month, Gadhafi offered a formula for fixing his hobbled state. His idea was to abolish the government altogether and give all the oil proceeds directly to each family.

Abdul Mahjeed el-Dorsi, director of Libya’s foreign media department, explained: “The government will be demolished, it will disappear. You will take your share of the wealth and you can go to private schools, universities.