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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Arts and Entertainment
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>
filmRobert Downey Jr named Hollywood's highest paid actor for second year running
Life and Style
Dale Bolinger arranged to meet the girl via a fetish website
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
Life and Style
The Commonwealth flag flies outside Westminster Abbey in central London
Arts and Entertainment
Struggling actors who scrape a living working in repertory theatres should get paid a 'living wage', Sir Ian McKellen has claimed
Skye McCole Bartusiak's mother said she didn't use drink or drugs
peopleActress was known for role in Mel Gibson film The Patriot
Arts and Entertainment
tvWebsite will allow you to watch all 522 shows on-demand
Arts and Entertainment
filmThe Rock to play DC character in superhero film
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# .Net Developer

£23000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: C# .Net Develop re...

Senior BI Engineer (BI/MI, Data Mining)

£60000 - £65000 per annum + Bonus & Benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior BI Enginee...

IT Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We are seeking a teacher o...

Graduate Sales Executive

17.5k + Commission (£18.5k after probation period): ESI Media: You will be res...

Day In a Page

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor