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It is unlikely that the new Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan will have any doubts about his priorities after assuming office. If he has any, they would have been dispelled by now. Because, within twenty-four hours after his election as the prime minister by the national assembly, about 120 prisoners escaped from a jail in Tripoli. The security services were on high alert to catch them and some have already been arrested. But a large number would remain on the loose making Zeidan’s work more difficult.
Libyans and governments abroad are pinning their hopes on Zeidan to rescue the country from the morass it is in. Zeidan is a career diplomat and former rebel-in-exile who played a major role in securing Western support for the successful rebellion against Muammar Gaddafi. He was elected just a week after the last prime minister, Mustafa Abushagur, was dismissed in a vote of no confidence after his choice of ministers ran into protests both from within the assembly and from outside.
Restoring security will be the biggest challenge of the new premier, a fact which he acknowledged at a news conference after being elected. He said that “all the problems that Libya suffers from stems from security issues and the government will be an emergency government to solve the crises that the country is going through.”
He is correct in his assessment and even his detractors wouldn’t disagree. But Libyans will be watching closely how he hopes to achieve his objective. The jail break yesterday shows the extent of the deterioration in security. After the overthrow of Gaddafi, Tripoli has suffered from the absence of a powerful government which can enforce its will. The security has been in a shambles, with armed gangs roaming the streets enforcing their rules and tribes rearing their heads and vying for power. The killing of American ambassador in Benghazi during a protest against an anti-Islam video was the biggest setback to security and a blemish on post-Gaddfi Libya which it will find difficult to erase. The murder of Chris Stevens has become a toxic political issue in the US presidential election campaign.
Washington has appointed a new envoy in Libya, Laurence Pope, and his priority is to bring the militants behind the murder of the envoy to justice. The new premier has to work hard to arrest the militants, and a failure to do so would erode the confidence in him.
It is commendable that Zeidan has adopted a conciliator approach and said he was ready to take into account the views of the Muslim Brotherhood in his government. He needs the support of all the parties to fulfill the onerous task of bringing security to the country.