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Can Shokri Ghanem Step In and Should Libya Become a Federated State?


[By Alessandro Bruno and Arezki Daoud] As Libya slides down the abyss of protracted political turmoil, the main question remains who will succeed the leadership of Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi. Unlike Egypt and Tunisia, Libya has no viable institutions, including the army, able to act as a glue and pilot a transition period. Qadhafi is not the president of Libya in the same way that Ben Ali or Mubarak was in Tunisia and Egypt. Qadhafi’s official role is ‘Brother leader of the Fatah Revolution’, a role that has no possible successor.

Libya has a semblance of a parliament, the General People’s Congress (GPC), which meets annually in the style of the Chinese Communist Party, and it even has a prime minister like figure, the general secretary of the GPC; however, the prime minister is at best an administrator or a caretaker of decisions made exclusively by Qadhafi. Libya was formally granted independence in 1949 after a UN Resolution to this effect. The system of government that was adopted, after various international consultations, taking Libya’s tribal and historical legacy into consideration was Federal. The aim was for the monarchy to form gradually a more centralized government from a federal ‘launch-pad’.

Libya’s resource distribution fits this model well. Each province, Tripolitania, Fezzan and Cyrenaica has sufficient oil resources to be independent and the population is equally split between both sides. At the time of writing, the rebels in Tobruk and Benghazi, which claim to have defeated the Qadhafi forces, are in a position to control oil exports independently of the rest of the country. In this sense, a split in Libya is far more viable and practical to achieve than the one currently taking place in Sudan.

Follow us on TwitterThe Libyan state, if it can even be called a ‘State’, has no Constitution; the closest document approaching a Constitution or offering some guidance is Qadhafi’s own prescription of governance as written in the Green Book and the ‘Third Universal Theory’ (the first being Capitalism and the second Communism) that inspired it. Essentially, Qadhafi has shunned institutions to establish a horizontal system with him overseeing it. Qadhafi’s ‘unique’ system of government is buttressed by two essential elements, which may be likened to institutions: the oil sector, in the form of the National Oil Company and the Security apparatus headed by the Revolutionary Committees. If the latter group is known for its loyalty, brutality and resistance to change and reform, the former is run efficiently by some of Libya’s leading officials, chosen for their ability and efficiency rather than kinship ties or loyalty to the Leader. Qadhafi knows oil is essential to his survival and can’t take any chances. In this sense then, the NOC may serve an important purpose in producing the future leadership of Libya.

While we are witnessing the formation of new coalitions in the eastern part of the country, as of Sunday February 27, Tripoli remains under the solid control of Qadhafi, who has even been able to muster a demonstration of support. However, many people have fled to the surrounding villages and towns, and some key eastern coastal towns, important also for their oil refining and delivery functions such as Zuwarah and Zawya, have fallen to the opposition, which was brandishing the monarchic flag in defiance. Once Qadhafi is no longer in power, there is some concern that the country could explode into a civil war, as Seif Al Islam Qadhafi, long touted as the possible successor, hinted. While many Libyans dismiss the idea of a civil war, Tribal affiliations and feelings still run high. There is some truth to what they said about the risk of tribal or regional divide.

In this context, as Seif Al Islam Qadhafi has failed to overthrow or even control his father, apparently endorsing the killing spree, many say the country is doomed to split into independent regions because there is neither a constitution to help, nor institution to guarantee some continuity, nor politicians or technocrats to step in when necessary. Although it is often mentioned that there is no single figure that could act as an interim coordinator of sort, the NOC Chairman and former prime minister (replaced because his eagerness to reform alienated the security apparatus) Shokry Ghanem could emerge as a leader. He is has been relatively untainted by the Qadhafi legacy. Ghanem has shown that he had the ability to act and think independently from the system. As Chairman of the NOC, he showed a capacity for resisting the excesses of the regime, preferring to be replaced as chairman in 2009 for a six week period rather than oversee the sham of the Libyan forced purchase of the Canadian Verenex oil field at below market value. Libyans generally acknowledge that most of those running day-to-day operations are not necessarily members of the ruling regime. The American educated Ghanem has always been critical of the conservative pro-Qadhafi figures such as Prime Minister Baghdadi Mahmoudi. But even Mahmoudi and Colonel Ghaddafi considered Ghanem to be essential in running the NOC given his relationships with the oil and gas industry outside of Libya. Ghanem even managed to convince the Qadhafi to allow him to run NOC independently, such that he could shun the interests of nationalists and conservative figures. After such agreement was reached, concerns among western oil companies active in Libya eased and investments resumed.

Ghanem is very well acquainted with international power circles. His intimate knowledge of the oil powers around the world could prove to be an asset when Libya is ready to reconstruct. Born in 1942, he spent some time in Boston where he earned a PhD in international economics, then worked as a Research Director at the OPEC Secretariat in Vienna, Austria. In internal politics, Ghanem’s lack of affiliation to one single tribe is also an asset. Shokri Ghanem should be able to use his neutrality to help create a consensus among the leaders of the various tribes so as the country remains somewhat unified. In Tunisia and Egypt, the military institution stepped in to manage the transition. While the Libyan military is too weak an institution by itself to ‘repeat’ the Egyptian example, the oil sector may be the institution that would provide the support, bureaucracy and logistics needed in the immediate aftermath of the Qadhafi regime collapse. Having an oil company play such a role may not be welcomed by most, but with limited options, choices are limited. As the head of the National Oil Company, Ghanem can be that coordinating figure for a short period.

While the unity of the country also carries a big question mark, we believe those who will emerge as the next generation of leaders should consider and Federated Libya instead. If anything that would emerge from the ongoing crisis in the Arab world is the fact that centralized government in big territories, do not work. Central governments have erected massive hurdles to their people, stifling their ethnic, cultural and religious acts, taken away resources from them and dividing them to create false problems and crises. We believe the Libyans should consider a single nation with states that have a great deal of autonomy in managing their own affairs.

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