Libyan leader in UAE spotlight

Libya's prime minister comes to the UAE to seek further help for putting his country back on track.

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In the same auditorium where St Petersburg's Mariinsky Ballet and the celebrity violinist Joshua Bell had performed just a few evenings earlier, Libya's prime minister faced the bright lights of the cameras.

Ali Zidan had spent the day racing between Abu Dhabi and Dubai for meetings with the highest-ranking officials of both emirates, and his meeting with the media and the expatriate community at the Emirates Palace hotel was all part of the campaign trail in a pivotal power base.

During the Libyan civil war, the UAE had served as an informal hub for the National Transitional Council, with much of the brains trust in Dubai.

Two years after the start of the revolution, support from the Emirates - both from the Government and the Libyans who live here - remains vital.

"Look, there is a fact, historically it has to be documented, that the original political support for Libya … originally came from the Gulf Cooperation Council," Mohamed Abdelaziz, the foreign minister, said in an interview during his visit with the prime minister last week.

"We would like to take advantage of the experience that the Gulf Cooperation Council has as a regional organisation or individually in order to have these lessons learnt in terms of economic development and the industrial development that happened in the Gulf."

In the days before Mr Zidan left for his GCC tour, former freedom fighters protested outside his residence, saying that he should leave office because he had once served as an ambassador under the Qaddafi government. Mr Zidan defected in 1980.

His predecessor as prime minister, the first to be elected under the new government, was forced to step down in October.

About 70 per cent of the original fighters remain "independent", the Libyan government estimates. Its strategy is to employ them in state security or send them to school, and that is where the appeal to the UAE comes in - to transfer expertise from institutions such as the Dubai Police.

"Some of them could be under the military, others could be absorbed in the interior, others could be absorbed in so-called developmental regional small-scale projects, small investments, some of them would be very much involved in continuing their education abroad," said Mr Abdelaziz.

"If we are going fast, and our international partners are prepared to provide such training in a speedy manner, I think the process will go a little smoother."

Security is also needed for oil installations, whose risks have been highlighted during the civil war and this year's attack on a gas plant in Algeria.

Analysts say hydrocarbons development also hinges on the terms of future production-sharing contracts, in which the previous government earned a reputation for terms so tough they discouraged investment, and the creation of a permanent constitution.

The lack of a fixed legal framework does not faze the current leaders, however.

"We are functioning at the moment," said Mr Abdelazziz. "The return of the investment in Libya is not confined to the idea of the right constitution or not. The business is going on."