Libyans want jobs from "grey men" of government

TRIPOLI Thu Nov 3, 2011 3:28pm EDT

A man walks in a souk decorated with Kingdom of Libya flag in downtown Tripoli October 30, 2011.  REUTERS/Jamal Saidi

A man walks in a souk decorated with Kingdom of Libya flag in downtown Tripoli October 30, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Jamal Saidi

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TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Jobs, normality and democracy are high on the wish lists of Libyans questioned on the streets of their capital, but after months of civil war, meeting their expectations is a challenging assignment for the "grey men" now trying to run the country.

Few know anything about their new interim prime minister, Abdurrahim El-Keib, who before his surprise appointment to the most difficult job in post-Gaddafi Libya was an academic and electrical engineer.

As head of the interim government, he has to assert the National Transitional Council (NTC)'s control of a fractured country awash with weapons, revive the economy and introduce Libya to democracy.

"I came back to this country to take this tool in my hands," Saad Helmi, a 30-year-old revolutionary fighter, told Reuters in Tripoli's old city, holding up a machinegun with ribbons in the colors of Libya's new flag wrapped around its handle and his head.

"Now I want to put it down and replace it with a pen or a laptop. I want to stay here for a job," said Helmi, who lived in Scotland for ten years.

Jobs were regularly mentioned on Tripoli's streets, many young men saying it was unemployment that made them fight the government of Muammar Gaddafi, now dead and buried.

Libya's top two politicians, Keib and NTC Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil, have tough tasks ahead: building institutions from scratch, reviving the oil industry, disarming militias and trying to heal the scars of war in a country with regional and religious divides among its leading politicians.

On top of that, many Libyans are fired up with fresh ambition and looking to the NTC to satisfy it.

"Do you know what I was before the revolution?" said software engineer Mohammed Ashour, 23. "I was somebody without a job who watched Gaddafi's thug sons parade in my town."

"Then somebody gave me a gun and there was change. We young men gave the revolution to the older men. It was our gift -- we gifted them a country. Now we want them to pay us back."

Getting rid of the guns that brought a violent end to the old order in Libya is second on the to-do list of Keib and the interim cabinet he has promised to form within two weeks.

That cabinet will sit for eight months after which there will be elections to a national assembly that will spend a year drawing up a new constitution before a parliamentary poll.

But most people in Tripoli's streets, looking more normal every day, said that the work ahead, including disarming the militias, had to start now.

After "jobs" and "guns," "normal" was the word most used by Tripolitanians when talking about the future. "I want normal," a woman called Nabile said in English. "Normal," a friend agreed. "Normal," repeated a third.

"Like Europe," said a fourth.

GIVE BORING MEN A CHANCE

That desire is breeding growing discontent with the once worshipped NTC militiamen who still roam the streets.

"I'm tired of the fighters, really," Fatima Gdour told Reuters on a street crammed with jewelry shops.

"They're still going around at night arresting people they say are for Gaddafi. I've heard they steal cars. The NTC is promising they will take their guns, so why not yet?"

Political analysts and other Tripolitanians said the answer is that getting the country up and running after war is not the only thing they expect to occupy the NTC in the roughly 20 months before elections. They think that jostling for position may be even more important.

"They need their militias so that they can get the best government jobs. Everybody is scared that, if they disarm, they will be threatened and lose some power," teacher Ayman Abdulgader told Reuters, laughing when a heavily armed group of fighters from the city of Misrata drove past.

"So we have to put up with them."

Armed brigades from Misrata, the country's second city Benghazi, and other places, hurtled into Tripoli on the night of August 23, and Gaddafi fled. But since seizing the capital, and setting up armed checkpoints through the city center and suburbs, they have refused to leave.

They are unlikely to go until the most prominent cities and regions -- to which the armed men are allied -- decide that their place in what is often termed "new Libya" is assured.

The choice of Keib, a scion of a nationalist family from Tripoli's old city, as prime minister may be a first attempt to bridge those divides and deflect accusations that the NTC is biased in favor of Benghazi, Tripolitanians said.

"I can't see any other reason why they would have chosen him," said lawyer Hamza Mohammed, drinking tea with friends under a sign that proclaimed 'Libya united'. "He's just a nobody without (Abdel Jalil). I wonder whether these NTC men can do the job. What are they except against Gaddafi?"

His friend Mustafa chipped in, to laughter, that he should have said "boring" NTC men.

"But that's a good thing," he said. "For years the world knew us for a man nobody said was boring. He was exciting every day, it's true. Let's see if, as they say in England, the 'grey men' can do better."

(Editing by Tim Pearce)

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