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A jolt to Libya's new democracy – but some progress, too

Libya's congress tossed out the prime minister-elect yesterday, casting uncertainty over the country's progress as it gains stability and nears pre-war levels of oil output.

By Correspondent / October 8, 2012

Libya's Prime Minister Mustafa Abu Shagur attends a news conference in Tripoli September 27.

Ismail Zitouny/Reuters

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Tripoli, Libya

Libya’s nascent democracy was jolted yesterday as the national congress rejected prime minister-elect Mustafa Abu Shagur's second proposed cabinet in less than a week and then tossed him out, too – all in the name of national unity.

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A lifelong anti-Qaddafi dissident, Mr. Abu Shagur had appeared to be a strong candidate to head Libya’s first democratic government. But analysts say he failed to build political support in a country with strong regional and tribal loyalties.

His removal also points to a degree of immaturity among Libya’s new political class, says Henry Smith, a Middle East and North Africa analyst at Control Risks, a British risk analysis firm. He describes the move as “essentially holding the national political process to ransom with parochial demands for representation.”

Rough-and-tumble politics

Rough-and-tumble politics are to be expected in a country still learning democracy after four decades of one-man rule. But analysts say the costs could be high.

Until a government is in place with a democratic mandate, the hard work of developing the country will be even harder. Among key tasks are drafting a new constitution, improving public services, and reforming laws to secure civil and commercial rights – all of which could help attract more foreign investment.

“Without a cabinet in place prepared to assume sovereign authority over security, finance, and strategic development, the only outcome can be continued drift,” says John Hamilton, a contributing editor at African Energy magazine in Britain.

To be sure, Libya’s oil industry, increasing stability, and a strong public stand against violence hold out promise for the country’s future and its ability to improve the economy and build democratic institutions.

But the interim cabinet, appointed by revolutionary leaders after Muammar Qaddafi's regime was brought down last year, has struggled to assert its authority. Leaders rely largely on local militias to keep order.

While many militias have officially aligned with the government, their shortcomings are plain. One example was Libyan forces’ failure to secure the United States consulate in Benghazi against an attack last month that led to the deaths of US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three colleagues.
 
Currently, militias from the city of Misurata are threatening assault on the town of Bani Walid to avenge Omran Shaban, a Misuratan fighter who died last month from injuries his family says occurred during weeks of captivity there.

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