The Businessman & The Prime Minister’s Seat
Basit Igtet, the Swiss-Libyan businessman who is running for prime minister, seemingly appeared out of nowhere. To the average Libyan, his name was relatively unknown six months ago. But in recent months, it has become clear that he has an impressive level of financial clout — the kind of wealth that has bought him the ostentatious political campaign most Libyan political candidates can’t afford. Igtet’s political ambitions have even earned him a profile on Foreign Policy and his sudden emergence onto the Libyan political scene has generated him some degree of notoriety.
Igtet first made waves when Forbes reported on his intention to run for the prime ministership back in December. According to Forbes, Igtet made claims that he had “garnered the necessary parliamentary backing to remove Zeidan in a vote of no-confidence” from the General National Congress (GNC).
The GNC, a 200-member assembly of elected representatives, formed in July 2012 to appoint a government and organize elections for a constitutional drafting committee. However, the assembly has grown polarized as political factions jostled for power and aligned themselves with various militias. Evidence of this was the passage of the important but contentious Political Isolation Law, which was a result of armed pressure through the seizure of government personnel and buildings. More recently, the GNC exhibited complete incompetence and inefficacy when attempting to manage the pirating of an oil tanker by Benghazi federalists last month. This is the precipitating event that lead to Zeidan’s no-confidence vote, though rumors of his ousting began circulating much earlier.
It is into this milieu that Basit Igtet, the well-suited and coiffed businessman with desires to take Zeidan’s seat, enters. According to his profiles, the Benghazi native fled the country under the previous regime as a political exile to Switzerland where he began his life in finance. Largely unknown to Libyans and the international community alike, Igtet has maintained a vague presence online with a Wikipedia profile dating back two years that has seen edits over time with respect to his career as a co-pilot for Emirates Air and Libyan Airlines in particular. His business ventures are not fully disclosed, and he is described as a man of many talents, including urban planning and garment design. His eclectic background makes it difficult to consider him as a serious political technocrat.
His official website launched in November and includes his ten-point ‘Plan for Libya’, a generic wish-list of sorts; it does little to impress his abilities as a game-changer. Along with an American businessman and a South African entrepreneur, he is a founding member of the Independent Libya Foundation (ILF), which claims to have contributed to the recognition of the National Transitional Council (NTC) as Libya’s official representatives during the uprising by both Panama and Columbia.
This same organization counts Adam Hock as one of its public faces, an American businessman whose most prominent Google Search result includes a high-profile brawl with a prince of Monaco at a Manhattan nightclub called Double Seven. Hock also once served as president of the US-Libya Chamber of Commerce, but has since resigned “in order to focus his time and attention on the commercial reconstruction of Libya through his private sector enterprise”. Sara Bronfman, Igtet’s wife, subsequently assumed Hock’s position.
Igtet’s appointment by the NTC as special envoy for humanitarian aid to the Americas is also included in his thin portfolio but there has been no mention of any aid secured during his post there. His profile does, however, mention that he founded a Libya-focused oil and gas exploration company in 2011 called Athal Energy. This last item, among others, might raise some questions about his plans to become prime minister.
At face value, Igtet’s track record does not set him apart. In fact, the only reason his name has begun circulating so widely is the flashy PR campaign he can afford. Igtet has commissioned former Senator Joe Lieberman on a government relations contract for $100,000 over a two month period. Recently married to Bronfman fortune heir, Sarah Bronfman, Igtet has enjoyed a boost in his public profile, making it difficult to discern whether his financial backing comes from his business success or his nuptials. Bronfman herself has not been idle – she once served as president of the U.S.-Libya Chamber of Commerce.
Apart from his aggressive political campaign to quickly develop access and influence, Igtet does not seem to be concerned about the actual issues Libya faces today or how his ideas will be received by the Libyan people. In his interview with Mary Fitzgerald for Foreign Policy, he exhibited the kind of patronizing attitude that would distance him from the very people he hopes to lead. “This is the formula for Libya: fear, greed, love, and sex,” he told her, “If you know how to solve these four, then you can solve security, economy, and social issues.”
Igtet is not alone in his lofty ambitions. Though many people have their eyes on the prime minister’s seat, only a few – including Igtet – have managed to generate noise in the international press. Among these few is well known self-made businessman Husni Bey, who is using his ties with European companies to gain the necessary backing and legitimacy from political elites for the go-ahead. While his intentions have not been circulated as widely as Igtet’s, his exclusionary style is also concerning, as his former relationship with the Gaddafi regime.
Regardless as to whether such candidates wish to fully disclose their professional backgrounds and qualifications, what has been disclosed is their approach to leadership: one part opportunity and three parts financial sway. As it is, the General National Congress has revealed itself to be quite vulnerable to co-optation, especially considering the recent expulsion of Zeidan.
Libya is now living in times of turmoil and hardship; such circumstances often galvanize individuals to come forth; leaders who are willing and able to take on responsibility and possess the courage needed to not only secure the nation now, but to secure it for future generations to come. Unfortunately, those possessing the innovation, strength, integrity, and vision required at this stage of Libya’s development have not materialized. Instead, it seems that anyone with the right material tools can present himself as a candidate overnight, employing teams from abroad to put them on the map and create a buzz. Using political campaigns geared to the elite instead of citizens and civil society sets a dangerous precedent. This is what current candidates bring to the table; little to no evidence of their capability to successfully lead a country, vague proposed strategies, and money as their ticket to the ballot box.
Basit Igtet and members of his team did not respond to requests for comment made by KifahLibya.
Tasbeeh Herwees provided additional reporting. She is the co-editor of Kifah Libya.