Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, a businessman-turned-politician, has been chosen as Libya’s new interim prime minister following lengthy United Nations-sponsored talks aimed at ending a decade of conflict in the North African country.
Dbeibah, along with a three-member Presidential Council, will have the crucial and difficult task of preparing the ground for fair and transparent national elections in December, as well as ensuring the safe participation of Libyans in the electoral process.
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The choice of Dbeibah on Friday came as a surprise to many, given the construction mogul’s close association with Libya’s former longtime ruler, Muammar Gaddafi.
Born in 1959 in the western city of Misrata, traditionally seen as a bastion of resistance to Gaddafi’s four-decade grip on power, Dbeibah moved to Canada early on in his career to pursue a graduate degree in engineering at the University of Toronto.
He moved back to his native city in the midst of a construction boom where he eventually caught the eye of Gaddafi’s close associates.
His expertise soon earned him the trust of Gaddafi who in 2007 charged him with the task of running the state-owned Libyan Investment and Development Company (LIDCO), responsible for some of the country’s biggest public works projects, including the construction of 1,000 housing units in the leader’s hometown of Sirte.
Gaddafi’s rule ended in 2011, when he was overthrown in a NATO-backed uprising and later killed. Since then, the oil-rich country has been mired in chaos, with two rival governments eventually emerging – the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in the west and a rival government in the east allied with renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar – and armed groups battling each other.
The latest round of diplomacy – Libya’s biggest peacemaking effort in years – gathered pace after Haftar’s forces were beaten back from their 14-month assault on the capital, Tripoli, last June.
On Friday, 75 Libyan delegates selected by the UN – ranging from regional and tribal figures to representatives of political factions – voted in Geneva to pick the interim prime minister and the three members of the presidential council – each representing one of Libya’s main regions.
Dbeibah, largely seen as an outsider compared with the other candidates, now faces an ambitious and challenging programme.
He has 21 days to form a cabinet and another three weeks to win a vote of confidence in parliament.
By March 19, at the latest, he should be ready to forge ahead with a 10-month transition aimed at preparing the country for elections on December 24.
Speaking by videoconference to the meeting in Switzerland before Friday’s vote, the 61-year-old pledged to “use education and training as a path towards stability”.
“We will work so that security organs are professional and weapons are placed under the monopoly of the state,” he said.
Dbeibah has also promised to set up a ministry of “national reconciliation” to woo back foreign investors and create jobs for the young.
He has set a target of ending “within six months at the most” the daily power cuts that have plagued Libya for years.
World powers, including the United States and Russia, welcomed the vote in Geneva, but some analysts, and Libyans themselves, remain sceptical.
“The government will have a large task at hand; it won’t be easy,” Allaedin Sheryana, a Tripoli resident, told Al Jazeera. “We hope they will be able to make some changes but because it’s such a short term, I doubt they’ll be able to do much.”
“The only thing we want from this government is to bring us elections,” Atef Alherizy, another resident of the capital, said. “We want the decision for who holds power to return to the people.”
Wolfgang Pusztai, a security and policy analyst and Austria’s former defense attache to Libya, said Dbeibah’s past may undermine his credibility.
“Dbeibah candidacy is still under debate. He was the head of the Libyan investment and development holding company under Gaddafi and he was allegedly involved in corruption, money laundering, financing of the Muslim Brotherhood, vote buying and so on,” Pusztai told Al Jazeera.
“Regardless of whether this is true or not, it’s all about perception.”