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The professor who became Libya's prime minister

Text by Joseph BAMAT

Latest update : 2011-11-01

Abdul Raheem al-Keeb, a little-known academic and businessman, was elected Libya’s interim prime minister by the NTC on Monday. Experts say the new leader must quickly tackle both domestic challenges and international concerns.

Academic and businessman Abdul Raheem al-Keeb was elected Libya’s new interim prime minister in a flash election by the country’s new leadership on Monday. A relatively unknown figure in Tripoli with ample experience abroad, Keeb will preside over the country’s expected transition toward a constitutional democracy.

Immediately after winning 26 of the 51 votes in the election, the new prime minister addressed western concerns over human rights and democracy in the post-Gaddafi era. “We guarantee that we are going to build a nation that respects human rights and does not accept the abuse of human rights. But we need time,” Keeb told reporters in Tripoli on Monday, adding that “within the NTC, what you see is democracy in practice. This is new for us in Libya.”

Keeb also addressed concerns closer to the hearts of Libyans, trying to reassure the men who took up arms against Gaddafi and whose future remains uncertain. “I say to [the revolutionaries] that the NTC did not and will not forget them and also the coming government will do the same,” Keeb said.

FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Libya, Matthieu Mabin, said the announcement of Keeb’s victory was well received in the country, in particular because he is not associated with any particular Libyan faction. “Here, he is seen as the prime minister of consensus, a man from Tripoli that incarnates Libya’s unity,” Mabin explained.

Libya’s interim oil chief, Ali Tarhouni, was considered the frontrunner for the position of prime minister, but only received three votes in Monday’s election. Observers said the unexpected choice of Keeb highlights the unpredictable nature of the emerging politics in the oil-rich state.

Within two weeks, the 61-year-old interim prime minister must spearhead the creation of a transitional government cabinet, which will be tasked with organising the election of a 200-member constitutional assembly within the next eight months.

From obscurity to power

An electrical engineer educated in the United States, Keeb taught at several technical universities in the US, Libya and the United Arab Emirates. On Tuesday, he was still listed as a faculty member of the Petroleum Institute in Abu Dhabi. In 2005, he founded the International Company for Energy and Technology in Libya, according to the AFP news agency.

“He’s a businessman, even if he prefers to highlight his academic credentials,” FRANCE 24’s Mabin said. “He boasts a significant network of contacts outside Libya, especially in Europe, which will be an advantage in ongoing discussions with members of the international community.”

Libyan journalist Saleh Sarrar said the new prime minister was known almost exclusively among academic circles, but was credited with providing moral and financial support to the revolution from outside the country. “Only a few have questioned his abilities as a politician. People are waiting to see what he will do,” Sarrar said.

According to Professor Khattar Abou Diab, a political scientist at Paris Sud University, national reconciliation will be the prime minister’s first priority. “There are still many people who are suffering because of their previous affiliation to Gaddafi and his regime,” Diab said.

Only once Keeb has addressed the fates of fighters on both sides of Libya’s civil war, the professor said, will he be able to turn his attention to issues more important to the international community – namely forming a competent government and ensuring the path toward democracy is transparent.

Midnight for NATO mission

Keeb’s ascension to the post of prime minister coincided with the end of NATO operations in Libya. A statement said an Airborne Early Warning and Control Aircraft used by Western powers for coordinating the air and sea mission concluded the last alliance flight on Monday at midnight Libyan time.

Paris welcomed the decision to make Keeb the new prime minister and said it would be his responsibility to build the foundations of a state that respects human rights. “I express France’s confidence, and its determined support to the Libyan people as it walks towards democracy,” foreign minister Alain Juppé said in a statement on Tuesday.

Libya’s new beginning and Keeb’s tenure promised to be fraught with challenges. The former professor faces an uphill struggle to unite the country’s competing regional leaders, as well as the task of meeting the expectations of international allies.

Date created : 2011-11-01

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