Several sources are reporting that Libya's oil minister, Shukri Ghanem, has defected. If it's true, Ghanem, who is a target of U.S. sanctions, would be the most senior Libyan official to abandon Muammar Qaddafi since foreign minister Moussa Koussa fled the country. Way back in March, Koussa's defection prompted some analysts to predict a wave of high-profile defections that never materialized. The Qaddafi regime, however, hasn't yet confirmed the reports, and this isn't the first time news outlets have reported Ghanem's defection, only to learn that he was still in Libya.
Arab television stations had the story first on Monday, with the Dubai-based Al Arabiya reporting that Ghanem had joined the rebels according to sources from the opposition's Transitional National Council and the Qatar-based Al Jazeera issuing a vague report about Ghanem fleeing Libya. Today, the AP is reporting that Ghanem fled to Tunisia on Monday, citing an unnamed Tunisian security official who works near the Libyan border. Néji Zairi, a spokesman for the Tunisian interior ministry, claims Ghanem fled to Tunisia on Saturday, according to The New York Times.
Libyan government spokesperson Moussa Ibrahim initially denied the reports and claimed Ghanem, a former prime minister and graduate of the Fletcher School at Tufts University, was still working in his office in Tripoli, as you can see in this video posted by Sky News. But Ibrahim now tells The Washington Post that Ghanem left Libya on Monday to go to Tunisia on "official business," and that the regime had not been able to contact the oil minister since Monday night.
In late March, in the wake of Koussa's defection, Ghanem went on state television to show he was still in Libya after an Al Jazeera report suggested he'd left the country. At the time, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Ghanem expressed concern that Qaddafi's rapid resignation could precipitate a "dangerous" power vacuum in the country but conceded that change at the top was necessary.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.