New Libyan Prime Minister Faces Major Challenges

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Libya’s interim government gradually is taking shape.

On Monday the Transitional National Council (TNC) announced that it had elected a new Prime Minister, Abdurraheem el-Keib, who will serve until elections in June for a national assembly that will write a new constitution. El-Keib, a dual Libyan-American citizen, is a U.S.-educated engineering professor who taught for many years at the University of Alabama before joining the TNC earlier this year.

El-Keib is a technocrat who emerged as a choice acceptable to both Islamists and secular factions and is the scion of a leading family of Tripoli, which will defuse criticism that the TNC is dominated by leaders from Benghazi, a stronghold of opposition to the Qadhafi regime. He replaced Mahmoud Jibril, who resigned after the country was declared to be “liberated” on October 23.

The new Prime Minister pledged to appoint a cabinet within two weeks to address Libya’s formidable challenges: building national institutions; overcoming growing tribal, ideological, and regional tensions; disarming rival militias; repairing damaged oil infrastructure; and reviving the economy.

Another major concern is locating and securing thousands of dangerous weapons looted from Libyan military bases and storage facilities. On Wednesday, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited Libya to urge the transitional government to take swift action to recover and secure loose weapons, particularly shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles that could pose a dangerous threat to civil aviation if they fall into the hands of terrorists. Israeli officials report that some Libyan weapons have already been smuggled to Hamas in Gaza.

Libya also has at least 10 tons of mustard gas stored in bulk containers and an unknown amount of raw uranium that need to be secured as soon as possible.

Although the Obama Administration has eagerly proclaimed that its “lead from behind” policy in Libya was a major triumph, it has pried open a Pandora’s box of problems that could soon make a mockery of this claim. As Adam Garfinkle noted in a trenchant blog post for The American Interest:

A Western-aided campaign to bring down the Qaddafi regime has succeeded, but it has succeeded only in making Libya safe for civil strife, political incoherence and possibly internal warfare, which might include acts of terrorism, protracted insurgency and multiple foreign interventions both below and above the line of sight.

Although Muammar Qadhafi has been overthrown, Libya faces an uncertain future endangered by his diehard supporters, tribal rivalries, Islamist factions, ambitious militia commanders, a lack of democratic traditions, and a civil society ravaged by decades of authoritarian rule.

As Winston Churchill recognized in 1942 when British troops chased the German army through Libya, it was not the end of the war but merely the “end of the beginning.”

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