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How will Libya's new Cabinet meet the challenges ahead?

By Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
updated 11:33 AM EST, Thu November 24, 2011
Libya's interim prime minister Abdel Rahim al-Kib announces his new cabinet line-up on November 22, 2011.
Libya's interim prime minister Abdel Rahim al-Kib announces his new cabinet line-up on November 22, 2011.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Libya's interim government must draw up a constitution and prepare for elections
  • PM Abdurrahim el-Keib said its members represented all Libya
  • Islamists are the biggest losers in the allocation of Cabinet seats, one analyst says
  • The choices could exacerbate tensions between the eastern and western parts of Libya, another says

(CNN) -- Libya's newly appointed Cabinet faces a tough job. In the space of only a few months it must restore order, draft a new constitution and be ready to lead the country into democratic elections.

Announcing the names of the two dozen men who will join him on the Transitional Executive Board, acting Prime Minister Abdurrahim el-Keib said the new Cabinet represents all Libya.

Hopes for a unified Libya in the future may rest on whether that is true. So does the line-up offer all the country's factions, tribes and regions a say -- and if not, how might those excluded react?

Analysts give a mixed response to the Cabinet's makeup, which was approved by the National Transitional Council later than expected Tuesday after hours of wrangling.

Its members include as interim defense minister Col. Osama Juwaili, who is the head of the Zintan brigade that on Saturday captured Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, son of the deposed and slain strongman Moammar Gadhafi.

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El-Keib also named two deputy prime ministers, Mustafa Abushagur and Omar Abdalla Abdelkarim, while the role of finance minister went to Hassan Zeglam, and Ashoor Ben Khail becomes foreign minister.

Omar Ashour, director of Middle East studies at the University of Exeter and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, said the new government was largely made up of technocrats rather than political figures.

Its makeup suggested it would tend to accept requests made by the West, he told CNN from Egypt.

However, Libya's Islamists are the biggest losers and "have the capacity to cause some trouble," he said.

Those factions left out of the Cabinet may want to send a message that they cannot be bypassed in this way -- and to remind the government that they have support on the ground from armed militias, Ashour said.

In a country flooded with weapons, the stakes are high for the interim government to win acceptance.

Currently, regional militias hold sway, with some conflicts erupting between rival groups. The hope is that the new government can include many of the militia fighters in a unified military, while also disarming others and creating jobs for them.

Mansour El-Kikhia, an academic from the eastern city of Benghazi who is a professor and chairman of the Department of Political Science and Geography at the University of Texas, San Antonio, says factions in the east of Libya are already showing signs of unhappiness.

Much of the Cabinet is composed of people from the western part of Libya, he said, leading those in the east -- where some of the heaviest fighting against Gadhafi's forces took place in cities including Benghazi and Tobruk -- to feel left out.

As the North African nation continues to reshape itself following the end of Moammar Gadhafi's 42-year rule, those regional divisions could prove key to future stability.

"Ultimately the new government will set the constitutional framework and there's lots of pressures on them to develop a real state-wide, federal system," El-Kikhia said.

"But what I see happening is that the new Cabinet will not go in that direction because it won't serve it to go in that direction -- it will reconstitute the power (base) in Tripoli."

People in the east may accept that Tripoli, in the west, is the nation's capital but they still want to see more power shared with the rest of the country, he said.

He also warns of signs of cronyism in the new Cabinet, with some positions going to those with links to the NTC and new prime minister.

While it is too early to tell what kind of system of governance the interim government will bring in, it is likely to cooperate with Western nations because many of its members are Western-educated or have lived there, he said.

He sees Libya looking to build closer ties in future with Europe and to a lesser degree the United States, rather than with neighbors such as Chad and Niger, with whom it has a more difficult relationship.

This is particularly true in terms of the economy, El-Kikhia said. "The government is going to continue its relationship with the West, with the Europeans, because they need to sell their oil and get their economy back on track," he said.

At the same time, he said, the new government would want to turn its back on Gadhafi's system of tribalism, which destabilized the country, or the actions that turned it into a "pariah state." Rather, Libya would likely seek a period off the center-stage as it rebuilds after 40 years of turmoil, he said.

David Pollock, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and former senior adviser Middle East at the U.S. State Department, sees signs for hope in the Cabinet's composition, although he acknowledges it is still a work in progress.

"It does seem that they are trying very hard to make this inclusive," he said. That could be a double-edged sword, however, as it means they will have to find a way for rival groups to get along and work together, he added.

He views the lower profile of the more extreme Islamist figures, such as Abdul Hakim Belhaj, who seized control as the military commander of Tripoli in the summer, as a good portent.

El-Keib was picked as a technocratic figure and has formed his Cabinet in much the same mold, avoiding strong identification with a particular movement or faction, and appointing people with expertise, Pollock said.

He also sees positive signs in the fact that the Cabinet shows a balance in favor of those who have lived in Libya all or most of the time, rather than those who have returned from exile, although he too warns that the government should be wary of a regional skew towards western Libya.

"That was a major, major weakness of Gadhafi, to have alienated Benghazi and in effect to have allowed the growth of two parallel societies, one of which was really trampled underfoot," Pollock said. It will be key for the new government to spread the country's wealth, much of which is concentrated in the west, towards the east as the economy develops so that everyone feels the benefit of greater prosperity, he said.

At the same time, outside the sphere of politics, there are indications that the country is faring better than even a few weeks ago in terms of a reduction in lawlessness and factional skirmishes, Pollock said.

"In practical terms they are in better control and there are some signs that ... on the economic front they are trying to get their house in order, to appoint experienced people to deal with the oil and finance sector," he said.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, painted a similar picture, speaking to CNN from Tripoli, where he has been discussing the trial of Gadhafi's captured son, Saif al-Islam.

"There is no police system, there is no security system -- however there is no problem, there is no crime, there is no violence here, because they are so happy and proud that they are doing things that they don't know how to do," he said of the Libyans.

Reaction to the new Cabinet from world leaders was also positive Wednesday.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said its formation was "a significant step in Libya's transition to a true democracy that is inclusive and representative of all Libyans."

The United States looked forward to working with the interim government to meet challenges including protecting Libyans' rights, bringing militias under control, ensuring a functioning government and preparing for the transition to an elected government, she said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also pledged continuing support for the new Cabinet in a statement Wednesday.

He wished it "every success in addressing the numerous challenges facing Libya in this transitional period, including the crucial issues of national reconciliation, public security, human rights protection, and the resumption of basic services to the Libyan people," he said.

CNN's Raja Razek and Jomana Karadsheh in Tripoli contributed to this report.

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