Libya's PM chooses secularist candidates for cabinet posts


LIBYA’S PRIME minister Abdulrahman Keib opted for secularists over Islamists in choosing a new cabinet to steer the country towards democracy.

Key portfolios including the defence and interior ministries went to secularists, and a technocrat from the National Oil Corporation was chosen to head the oil ministry. There was no place for Abdul Hakim Belhaj, a prominent Islamist who heads the Tripoli Military Council. Reports emerged that he had been offered the defence ministry portfolio at the weekend, but declined.

The administration includes two Ireland-based Libyans: Fatima Hamroush, a consultant ophthalmologist in Drogheda, has been appointed minister for health; and Fathi al-Akkari, a lecturer in electronic engineering at Tallaght Institute of Technology in Dublin, has been appointed deputy minister for higher education.

Dr Hamroush will be one of two female ministers in the cabinet. “I am honoured and proud to serve my country,” she said. “It will be a difficult task but we must work together to clean up the mess left by Gadafy and build a solid foundation for our future.”

Dr Akkari said his focus would be on developing Libya’s research capacity, particularly in the IT area. “This is a good opportunity to make a difference for my country,” he added.

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Eamon Gilmore contacted the two appointees yesterday to offer his congratulations.

“The appointments are a recognition of the enormous contribution that the Libyan community in Ireland and their many supporters here have made to the new Libya,” Mr Gilmore said. “We are extremely proud of what they have achieved and we look forward to continuing our co-operation with them in their new positions.”

The Libyan cabinet will have the task of preparing for elections next June where voters will choose an assembly to write a new constitution.

Libya’s president Mustafa Abdel Jalil, who remains in his post, has already declared that the constitution will have sharia law as its base. But experts disagree on what form this will take in practice and on how strict an interpretation Libya is likely to adopt.

The choice of defence minister was something of a surprise. Osama Jweli is a commander of the Zintan brigades, one of the key rebel formations that captured Tripoli in August, but until now he has had no political profile nationally. What he has got, however, is custody of Saif-al-Islam Gadafy, the former dictator’s most notorious son who was captured by Zintan fighters last Friday.

Sources in Libya say Zintan’s administration made clear that it would not surrender Saif to Tripoli and planned to hold his war crimes trial in Zintan, unless the town gained a key cabinet post.

The other surprise was that there was no portfolio for Ali Tarhouni, who previously held the finance and oil posts.

Meanwhile, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Luis Moreno Ocampo said he would support Libya’s call for Saif, wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity, to face trial in Tripoli rather than at The Hague.