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For Libya's New Prime Minister, Security Is A Top Priority

Tasbeeh Herwees |
September 14, 2012 | 4:40 p.m. PDT

Senior Staff Reporter

(Dawn Megli/Neon Tommy)
(Dawn Megli/Neon Tommy)
Last Wednesday, the morning after extremists attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, tragically killing U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens, the Libyan National Congress quietly voted in a new prime minister -- former Deputy Prime Minister of the Transitional Government Mustafa Abushagur. Abushagur's victory was claimed by a two-vote difference against his opponent, former Foreign Minister Mahmoud Jibril. 

Whether the timing of the attack on the U.S. consulate was intentional or mere accident, the tragedy will serve as the first test of Abushagur's abilities as prime minister and his commitment to keeping his campaign promises.

Abushagur's a suave politician with a keen social media presence that has allowed him to directly communicate with his Libyan constituents. An hour before the General National Congress was set to vote for his prime ministership, he'd released a statement on his official Facebook page condemning the violence and expressing condolences to the family of the dead. But he also used the opportunity to reiterate his pledge to bring national security to Libya. 

"Our revolution will be complete when our state institutions are strong, when heavy arms are in the hands of only the government and when our streets are safe to all - both to Libyans and to our honored guests," he wrote. "Our shared security is the bedrock of our freedom."

Abushagur's words were chosen carefully, touching on a deeper national sentiment that the attack on the U.S. Consulate wasn't just a threat against America. It was an assault on the peace and security of Libya itself. Ambassador Stevens was a valued member of Libyan society, and Libyans mourned his loss as they would any friend, gathering in the aftermath at the U.S. Consulate and counter-protesting the violence that happened there just hours before. 

“He really loved Benghazi,” said 21-year-old Benghazi activist Salmin Eljawhari, "He [was a] kind, friendly, man. Even now he came to Benghazi [to open] the culture center.”

There's a sense of heavy grief in Benghazi, said Eljawhari. Although extremists have been destroying holy sites and shrines for months, the destruction of the U.S. consulate indicated a larger, bolder threat to Libyan society--a threat that’s ready to claim human life in the name of violent ideology. Others like Eljawhari – young, vocal and active – who make up a large chunk of Libya’s voting population see the tragedy as a failure of Magariaf’s administration. 

“We blame government for not [giving] their time and concentration on the security and weapons issue,” said Eljawhari, “Security, law, these are priorities.”

As Abushagur takes his seat as prime minister, he’ll be held up to immense scrutiny to follow through on his promises. During his media campaign, Abushagur promised security was going to be his top priority – security and jobs, which he believes go hand-in-hand. Weapons collection is going to prove to be a tougher battle than he anticipates, however. The now-defunct National Transitional Council once promised to take weapons off the street and disband rogue militias by December 2011, but Libyans have yet to see such policies take effect. There’s no functioning security apparatus – no effective police force or unified army – that will make people feel safe enough to hand in their guns. 

But there are some signs that Abushagur is off to a strong start. This morning, Abushagur announced on CNN the arrest of at least one person in connection to the attack on the consulate, and the pursuit of three other suspects. 

"We are taking this very, very seriously,” he told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. “This is something which we clearly don’t accept, that something like this happen again in Libya.”


Reach Senior Staff Reporter Tasbeeh here.



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