A Herculean Task

Mahmoud Jibril

Mahmoud Jibril, who has been de-facto prime minister of the country since 23 March, when the National Transitional Council (NTC) was instituted, explained from Tripoli last Thursday that despite recent military advances: "The greater challenge is still there. The first challenge is to achieve a victory over ourselves. The second challenge is to be able to be tolerant and to forgive and to go forward towards the future.”

Indeed, for Libya to achieve political stability in the near future it will first have to overcome its political divisions, and ensure that peace is maintained through a process of reconciliation. A number of recent events have demonstrated the difficulty of the NTC’s objective, from battles with Qadhafi loyalists in Bani Walid and Sirte, failed negotiations with loyalist forces, and recent demonstrations against the NTC by protestors who feel the nomination of the new administration has not been transparent enough and that too many members of the old guard are prominent in the lists issued thus far. Beyond these obstacles there is the economic damage that resulted from a halt to the country’s oil exports, and the legacy of a 40-year long dictatorship that was dependent on a patronage system and left no political institutions in place for a transitional government to inherit. Jibril—as prime minister, head of international affairs and chairman of the executive board of the NTC—is faced with the herculean task of ensuring political stability, a feat that requires the NTC to successfully address every single one of these challenges.

[inset_left]In spite of his best efforts to leave Qadhafi’s administration, Jibril was not able to do so until the revolution in Libya began.

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Jibril, however, is up to the challenge. His education, for one, seems to have predestined him for a career in transitional politics. In 1975 Jibril graduated from Cairo University with a bachelor’s degree in political science and economics. He continued his studies at the University of Pittsburgh where he received a Masters and a Doctorate in political science. His academic background focused primarily on strategic planning and decision-making, an expertise that will surely come in handy as he leads the way for Libya to establish—for the first time since Qadhafi came to power—the types of institutions that were hollowed out by the former leaders’ Green book philosophy.

Importanly, Jibril’s experience in strategic planning was not limited to the ivory tower of academia. Between 1987 and 1988 he led a team the drafted the United Arab Training manual, and administered a number of training conferences on the subject. His experience in management and administration grew further as he took over the training programs of senior management in a number of Middle Eastern countries including Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, the UAE, and Turkey.

According to Jibril he was eventually coerced into to serving Qadhafi’s government where he worked as the head of the National Economic Development Board between 2007 until his defection in 2011. His account, which is supported by a number of documents released by WikiLeaks, explains that in 2007, Saif Al-Islam, then the presumed heir to Qadhafi and perhaps one of the few voices in government supporting economic and political reforms, sent Jibril on a private jet to Libya from Cairo where he resided at the time. Upon his arrival in Libya, Saif offered Jibril the position of minister of National Planning, and asked him to join his effort to restructure the Libyan economy. According to an interview with the Telegraph, although Jibril asked for a year to consider the offer, the following day a state television report confirmed his ministerial role.

In 2009, Jibril was appointed chairman of the National Economic Development Board (NEDB) and was involved in three of the five implementing committees—budget, economy and wealth distribution.

Jibril’s work at the NEDB did indeed make strides in liberalizing the Libyan economy, although his efforts had varying degrees of success reflecting the reluctance of a number of regime insiders to give up their control over large portions of the state-dominated economy. As a result, Jibril became increasingly frustrated by the obstacles the government placed in front of his efforts to reform the economy, prompting him to submit three letters of resignation. In spite of his best efforts to leave Qadhafi’s administration, Jibril was not able to do so until the revolution in Libya began.

Since Jibril’s appointment at the NTC his efforts have been directed at three fronts. The first has been a focus on unifying Libyans. The second has been in gaining recognition from the international community for the NTC as Libya’s legitimate government. And finally, Jibril has taken important steps to revive the Libyan economy.

By focusing on unifying Libya, Jibril has set the stage for the country to establish long lasting peace. Recognizing the possibility that Libya’s recent bloodshed may have a long-term impact on how eastern and western Libyans perceive one another, Jibril has, on a number of occasions, called for fighters to respect justice mechanisms and avoid revenge killings. The Tripoli Post reported that Jibril has threatened to resign if “infighting were to erupt in the movement that toppled the former dictatorial regime.” Likewise, during his first press conference from Tripoli, Jibril warned that “some have made attempts to start a political game before reaching a common consensus on the rules," adding that the priority for the new administration was to finish the battle against Qadhafi forces.

“Once the battle is finished … the political game can start. Our biggest challenge is still ahead. There are two battles. The first battle is against Qadhafi and his regime; this will end by the capturing or the elimination of Qadhafi. However, the battle that is more difficult is against our selves. How can we achieve reconciliation and achieve peace and security and agree a constitution? We must not attack each other or push each other away.”

Though Jibril has promised to step aside once a new government is formed, he has on a number of occasions asserted his leadership in an effort to mitigate “factional squabbling between the interim government’s political leadership previously based in the country’s east and the various militias from the country’s west that seized Tripoli and drove Colonel Qadhafi into hiding” according to the Financial Times most recent analysis on his tenure.

On the diplomatic front, Jibril has been successful in obtaining for the NTC the recognition of a number of important allies including France, the UK, the US and the Arab league amongst many others.

The importance of obtaining international recognition for the NTC cannot be overstated. For one it allowed NATO to support the rebels militarily at the onset of the war, and since then recognition has permitted the NTC to receive important funds that were previously frozen. These funds will allow the NTC to pay public sector wages, while beginning other reconstruction efforts, including boosting its oil sector.

Jibril has also made significant strides in reassuring the international community of Libya’s ability to continue managing their $170 billion investment portfolio. He explained to The Financial Times that the NTC’s executive committee was committed to maintaining the same team overseeing Libya’s financial holdings for at least the next month or two. He argued that “It is not wise to appoint someone new and we are now agreeing that the previous leadership should remain as far as investments are concerned.”

In other words Jibril’s management style is practical. He has encouraged restraint in the country’s internal politics, acknowledging that transition will be a long road for Libya. At the same time he has acknowledged that to successfully manage the transition of the country, members of the former government will need to be retained in order to support the continuity of policies that were functional before, although these are mainly limited to the oil sector and the country’s investment fund.

In a late August interview with Al-Ahram, Jibril put his plans for the future succinctly. “The first priority will be to liberate territory remaining under Qadhafi loyalists and maintaining a secure and stable Libya.” If Jibril is able to continue implementing pragmatic policies, while upholding the values of the revolution, Libya will likely be able to escape prolonged political instability.


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