Enrichment process

Libya: The Case of the Missing Cabinet

While the press corps of some countries spend thousands of hours and millions of words speculating on minor leadership shuffles, their colleagues in Libya enjoy a slightly greater economy of scale.

This week they’ve had just to deal with the wholesale sacking of the PM and his entire cabinet, only to have that reversed as a blanket reinstatement a couple of days later.

No need to obsess over someone’s Cabcharge invoices or whether a junior minister once bought a used car from Lachlan Murdoch. No spin doctoral tweaking of key messages either. In Libya it’s more a case of “Everybody’s fired! Umm, not they’re not.”

The off and on tenure of the interim PM, Abdurrahim El-Keib, and his cabinet would be amusing if we weren’t talking about one of those Arab Spring miracles so beloved of democracy evangelists everywhere. What chance does a stable democracy have when nobody knows who’s really in charge and how long they’ll be there?

Interim PM Abdurrahim El-Keib. Now you see him… US DoD

The aborted sacking of the cabinet was down to a power struggle between the interim politicians and the Transitional National Council (TNC). The Council has become frustrated by the impotence of the would-be MPs in dealing with escalating gang violence and deepening regional and ethnic schisms. It seems as if firing the cabinet may have been intended as a threat that inadvertently went public, resulting in major confusion, much recrimination and then finally requiring a formal retraction.

The inexperience of all parties in a country that has never had any form of democracy is showing. With elections planned for June, wiping out the interim government would have been a disastrous move for the TNC and hardly one guaranteed to provide stability. Questions are also raised by the TNC’s behaviour and what intentions they have of relinquishing power in the future.

The desire to round and up and try former Gaddafi cronies is also a high priority. The job is slightly less arduous now that the Colonel’s old oil minister, Shukri Ghanem, was found floating face down in the Danube on the weekend. An ironic death for someone from a country with no rivers except the ones Gaddafi had made.

In the wider region, only Tunisia seems to have rolled its sleeves up and made a go of things following its Arab Spring revolution. The Egyptians are getting there, but recent ructions in the Presidential process and the military’s intervention cast shadows on the future. Meanwhile Syria continues its meltdown. Perhaps the cleverest leaders were those such as Algeria’s Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Morocco’s King Mohammed. They reacted quickly to protests, granting major concessions…or at least the hint of them.

Meanwhile the scribes of Libya will need to get back to work after one of the biggest, but shortest-lived stories of their fledgling careers.