Shukri Ghanem: Libyan politician who deserted the Gaddafi regime

 

Shukri Ghanem, whose body has been found floating in the River Danube, was an important figure in Libya, where he and one of Colonel Gaddafi's sons unsuccessfully tried to persuade the dictator to introduce free-market reform. Returning to Libya in 2001 after a career abroad, he quickly rose to become Prime Minister, but was demoted three years later after falling foul of the country's old guard. When the uprising which toppled the Gaddafi regime broke out he joined a number of other major figures in defecting. He did not find favour with the triumphant insurgents, however, and spent his last months in exile in Austria.

He and Gaddafi's son, Saif, did have some success in nudging the dictator towards a rapprochement with the west. An urbane and relatively reformist figure, he formed an alliance with Saif aimed at modernising a Libyan administration which had stultified during decades of Gaddafi rule. But by 2008 it had become clear that the Colonel was not about to launch radical new initiatives, and had decided that the old ways would continue.

Shukri Mohammed Ghanem was born in Tripoli in 1942, graduated in English from Benghazi University and went on to study in the US, taking master's degrees in economics, and law and diplomacy. He also held a doctorate in international economics. Specialising in energy, particularly in oil, he became director of research at Opec in Vienna. It was there that he met and befriended Saif – who, as second eldest of Gaddafi's seven sons, was to become his heir apparent.

Saif was studying in Vienna – he would later attend the London School of Economics, where he received a PhD in an episode which would cause acute embarrassment to the university. Together Ghanem and Saif agreed on the need for new approaches which included an openness to new ideas, increased international trading and political changes to steer Libya out of its economic and political stagnation.

In 2001 Saif brought Ghanem home to Libya and helped him into senior posts in economic affairs, foreign trade and the all-important oil industry. Within three years he had, under Saif's sponsorship, become secretary to the General Peoples' Committee – in effect, prime minister. Together the pair set about bringing in reforms, Saif openly advocating democracy, governmental transparency and openness. He spoke of "reinventing a country, with a new constitution, new laws and a commercial and business code."

Their agenda also encompassed rapprochement with the West. Libya had been classed as a pariah state following incidents such as the 1984 killing of PC Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan embassy in London, and the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie in Scotland, in which 270 people died. Gaddafi agreed to pay billions in compensation, though Ghanem insisted this did not amount to an admission of responsibility. When it was put to him that the payment did not mean acceptance of guilt he replied, "I agree with that, and this is why I said we bought peace."

Gaddafi also agreed to western demands for the ending of Libya's programme to develop weapons of mass destruction, opening the way to improved relations with western governments and businesses. Internally, Ghanem and Saif sought to modernise the economy through widespread privatisation and new deals with foreign oil concerns. Here they ran into trouble from what Ghanem called "diehards". He complained that reform attempts were being opposed by "those who were getting illegal fringe benefits in their jobs, and those who are afraid of the unknown."

The problem was that although Colonel Gaddafi gave Ghanem and his son a fair deal of leeway – at least by dictatorial standards – the ageing leader did not in the end buy into the new ideas. In 2006 he demoted Ghanem from the prime ministership, but Ghanem continued to make use of his political and personal skills as one of Libya's most seasoned international negotiators who mixed easily with foreign politicians, business figures and journalists, and put him in charge of oil and gas.

Saif would later announce that he was leaving politics, saying he had decided that he would no longer "intervene in state affairs." It was always a tall order to believe that Ghanem and Saif could succeed in persuading Gaddafi and the rest of the Libyan establishment that dictatorship could or should be transformed into democracy.

As oil supremo Ghanem continued to build trading links with the outside world, though at one stage it looked as though he was being removed from that post. He made little secret of his frustrations that his ideas had been blocked, and that his country was not prepared to move away from dictatorship.

Ironically Ghanem was said to have his own dictatorial tendencies. One Libyan oil figure said of him: "He was very authoritative, very strong-minded and tough with his employees. Some people were even afraid of going to his office. You would hear of people being fired if they challenged him. He was like a small Gaddafi of the oil sector."

When the Libyan uprising broke out he continued to profess loyalty to the regime, dismissing speculation that he might defect. Once he had slipped away, however, he said he had left "to join the choice made by young Libyans to fight for a democratic country."

He added: "I worked in Libya for many years, thinking I could make changes from the inside." But he said "unbearable violence" was being used by Gaddafi. "This war," he said, "is getting even worse every day and there is no end to it."

One of the most high-profile figures to desert, he fled first to Tunisia and then to Vienna but did not link up with the rebels. Since then the new regime has reportedly been examining files implicating him in corruption in the oil industry. On 29 April his body was found floating in the Danube after he went missing after going for a walk. A cause of death has yet to be established.

Shukri Mohammed Ghanem, politician: born Tripoli October 9 1942; Prime Minister of Libya 2003-2006; married (three daughters, one son); died Vienna 29 April 2012.

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Life and Style
tech

Apple has been hit by complaints about the 1.1GB download

Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Life and Style
Alexander McQueen A/W 2014
fashionPolitics aside, tartan is on-trend again this season
Arts and Entertainment
Rapper Jay Z performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2008
musicSinger sued over use of the single-syllable sample in 'Run This Town'
Sport
Joel jumps over the board...and into a giant hole
footballFrom joy to despair in a matter of seconds
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC
tv

Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason

Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me
tv

Actress to appear in second series of the hugely popular crime drama

Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife
film

Matt Smith is set to join cast of the Jane Austen classic - with a twist

Life and Style
i100

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Technical Product Marketing Specialist - London - £70,000

£50000 - £70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Cloud Product and Solutions Marketin...

Trainee Helpdesk Analyst / 1st Line Application Support Analyst

£18000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

SQL Developer - Watford/NW London - £320 - £330 p/d - 6 months

£320 - £330 per day: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have been engaged by a l...

Nursery assistants required in Cambridge

£10000 - £15000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Nursery assistants re...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week