Aecom, a Los Angeles-based company with employees around the world, is pulling all of its American workers out of Libya, as turmoil in the nation intensifies.
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi went on state television this morning, vowing to keep his grip on power and denouncing anti-government protesters. He shouted and pounded his fist and vowed to die a "martyr."
Aecom provides technical and management services to governments and companies in more than 100 countries.
The firm has been running a $50 billion road and bridge project in Tripoli, Libya's capital city. It is the largest infrastructure project in Africa.
"The biggest risk is the possibility that the regime will change. We're not in a democracy," Aecom's President and CEO John Dionisio told me when I visited Libya in May, 2009, with then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Gaddafi, who has ruled Libya for 40 years, also gave a 20-second speech on TV last night, saying under an umbrella that he was still in Tripoli and that those who said otherwise were dogs.
While Colonel Gaddafi is under siege right now, there is nowhere else in the world I've seen a cult of personality like Libya—and that includes Egypt and Tunisia. His picture is on every light post and giant cloth posters of him hang alongside buildings. Across from the the Libyan stock exchange, we shot video in front of one poster showing Gaddafi giving his signature double-fist pump.
Despite the dangers and the dictatorship, Dionisio said the returns justify the risk of doing business with Libya.
"Our fees are in excess of about $500 million for five years," he told me in 2009. "We don't think that's a risk that would justify not going into Libya or Egypt. It's part of doing business, quite honestly, outside the United States or outside the western countries," he added.
So far, Aecom has not commented about future plans in Libya.
The man in charge of the infrastrucure deal with Aecom is Gaddafi's confidant Abuzaid Dorda, who was by Gadaffi's side when he seized power in a 1969 coup. In the shadow of the potential tribal violence now rocking Libya, Dorda told me that he planned to build entire new cities that would force Libya's tribes to live together.
In fact, he showed me a diorama of a planned city where a Russian company was building basketball courts in central squares intended to bring tribes together. None of the cities have broken ground.
It is safe to say that Libya's stunning Roman ruins, which took my breath away, and one thousand miles of untouched Mediterrean coastline will not realize Gadaffi's plans for 12 million tourists a year for a long time, if ever. Not a single hotel is on that coast today.
There is one Marriott hotel in Tripoli, which opened February 15. The company tells us that operations have not been disturbed by the unrest.
As for oil, with 3 percent of the world's reserves, including Africa's biggest stash of the light sweet crude that America's refineries want, stability in Libya matters. Of the major oil companies, only Marathon has commented to CNBC, saying "we are unaware of any impact to production at this time."