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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 19 August 2018

Who Libya’s new prime minister-designate Fayez Al Sarraj?

A trained architect, Mr Al Sarraj had a long career in the public sector and was also a businessman, but he is a novice politician.
An image taken from the official Facebook media page of Libya’s prime minister on March 30, 2016, shows UN-backed prime Mpinister-designate, Fayez al-Sarraj being greeted by upon his arrival in Tripoli. Agence France-Presse, handout
An image taken from the official Facebook media page of Libya’s prime minister on March 30, 2016, shows UN-backed prime Mpinister-designate, Fayez al-Sarraj being greeted by upon his arrival in Tripoli. Agence France-Presse, handout

TRIPOLI // Fayez Al Sarraj, who is tasked of uniting a country ravaged by divisions, is a novice politician, but comes from a family with deep political roots.

Since arriving in Tripoli last week, Libya’s prime minister-designate, has been struggling to assert his government’s authority, suffering a setback on Wednesday as the head of a rival Tripolitan administration refused to cede power.

Described by childhood friends as warm and engaging but firm when needed, the 56-year-old was born into a wealthy and prominent family that owned a book and stationary store in central Tripoli, as well as swathes of land around the capital.

A trained architect, Mr Al Sarraj had a long career in the public sector and was also a businessman.

He worked for the social security administration, the public works department, and served as a commissioner in charge of supervising public projects.

He did not enter politics until his 50s, following in the footsteps of his father, Mostafa, who was a member of parliament and cabinet minister under Libya’s deposed King Idriss.

Mr Al Sarraj was elected to parliament in June 2014 but he and fellow lawmakers fled to Tobruk, east Libya, after an alliance of militias overran the capital and established a rival administration.

Two years later and after months of arduous negotiations, the United Nations brokered a power-sharing deal between rival Libyan politicians under which Mr Al Sarraj was designated prime minister.

The international community pressed reluctant Libyans to endorse the deal, seen as vital to stemming a conflict that has seen ISIL establish a foothold in the country.

“His political stature is still very fragile,” said Silvia Colombo, a Libya expert with the Rome-based Institute of International Affairs.

She noted, however, that Mr Al Sarraj took everyone by surprise when he travelled with cabinet ministers to Tripoli last week from self-exile in Tunis.

“He sent a very, very strong message, more than what had been expected of him, by landing in Tripoli. This was an unexpected gesture ... from a man who until then had never been a leader,” she said.

Mr Al Sarraj arrived at a naval base in Tripoli last Wednesday amid hope that his administration will end the chaos that has plagued the country since Muammar Qadaffi’s removal from power in 2011.

Friends of Mr Al Sarraj describe a charismatic figure who should be able to rally support.

“Fayez is an extremely kind man who is always willing to listen to others. He is patient and respectful, but this does not stop him from being firm and speaking his mind,” said Salim Ben Hemeda, a childhood friend, fellow architect and neighbour.

Another friend, Rida Al Gontrari, described him as “calm and level-headed”.

Mr Al Sarraj’s father was a member of the nationalist Hizb Al Motamar party and had close ties with Bashir Al Saadawi, a key figure of Libya’s 1951 independence from Italy.

The prime minister-designate is married to an architect and has three daughters.

* Agence France-Presse

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