Over the last several years, Libya has transformed itself from regional pariah into a country where foreign leaders are begging to pose for a grip-and-grin with Brother Leader Muammar el-Qaddafi. How did this happen?

Foreign investment in Libya's vast oil and natural gas reserves, that's how. They've got the natural resources and wealthy countries have the technical knowhow and equipment to extract them. For example, Bahrain's Gulf Finance House ponied up the $5 billion needed to start construction on Energy City Libya — a free trade zone that's being built on the Mediterranean coast to entice foreign direct investment into the country's blossoming energy sector. Widespread human rights violations by a dictator in power for four decades can be ignored as long as crude stays below $100 a barrel, right? According to a 2008 report on Energy City in Arabian Business:

"With approximately 40 billion barrels of oil, Libya boasts the largest proven oil reserves in Africa in addition to considerable gas resources, offering a multitude of commercial opportunities to the world's leading names in the energy sector."

Mmmm, can't you just taste the black gold? Two of the biggest names from the global energy sector can taste it, too: BP and ExxonMobil. No one has ever accused either company of being the good guys (except maybe the companies themselves), but when dealing with such a notoriously brutal regime, shouldn't they at least have a little bit of a conscience? That (allegedly!) didn't stop Tony Blair or BP, but still. Perhaps they're relying on promises from the government that the wealth is always distributed equally in Libya:

The head of Libya's Economic and Social Fund, Hamid El Ihtheri, said their principle goal is to nurture a project that offers tangible benefits to the people of Libya and sustainable growth within the wider economy.

"We have very high standards and any initiatives we consider supporting must be able to demonstrate a clear vision, through due diligence and achievable goals," he said.

We imagine that Energy City won't be finished anytime soon, especially after Brother Leader's son, Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, appeared on television last night to blame drugged out foreigners and tank-possessing Islamists for starting anti-regime protests in the eastern part of the country. The Qaddafis certainly have their hands full trying to crush a popular uprising. And today, BP is recalling all of its employees from the country. Not a good time to be an oil man in Libya, we'd guess.

Just as in Egypt and Tunisia and elsewhere around the world, wealthy countries are all too eager to overlook suppression of basic human rights in favor of "economic liberalization" in the countries they've invested in. So, to answer the question of who's been propping up Qaddafi the answer is simple: we have.

[Image via Getty]