Mahmoud Jibril: Libya’s Touted Statesman

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US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (R) talks with with Libyan National Transitional Council chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil (C) and Libyan National Transitional Council Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril during a walk to the Elysee Palace in Paris. (Photo: AFP - Evan Vucci)

By: Basheer al-Baker

Published Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Until recently, Mahmoud Jibril was seen as close to the regime of Col. Muammar Gaddafi. But he gradually began to distance himself from it some two years before his emergence as a leading figure in the anti-Gaddafi revolt. At the end of last year, he declined to receive the ‘Gaddafi Recognition Prize’ for his contribution to economic and strategic studies. He cited personal reasons for turning down the regime’s most prestigious academic honor, awarded annually since 1995 to a Libyan or foreign scholar with a US$200,000 prize. The move was seen as signaling a public break by a figure who had for some years been considered loyal to the regime and a close confidant of the colonel’s son Saif al-Islam.

It was under Saif al-Islam’s auspices that Jibril in 2007 set up the National Council for Economic Development, an institution which focused its efforts on projects aimed at developing the foundations of a democratic state and promoting a new economic strategy. In a speech at the Council’s inauguration, Saif al-Islam spoke of how Libya was moving into a new era in which citizens would play a greater part in the country’s economic development, and stressed that an early priority would be to encourage small and medium-sized businesses. The government-funded council also conducted various studies of international and local social and economic trends.

But Jibril did not stay long in the post. He resigned in 2009, saying he wanted to concentrate on running his own consultancy firm in economic planning and training. He had taught strategic planning at the University of Pittsburgh in the US, where he obtained his masters degree and doctorate and published ten books on strategic planning and decision-making. He had also made his mark in the Arab world in the field, organizing a number of related pan-Arab conferences and initiatives and managing training programs for senior management in several Arab countries.

Jibril brought this expertise to his new role when he emerged as one of the first spokesmen of the Libyan uprising and was named Chairman of the Executive Board of the National Transitional Council (NTC), the de facto interim government. Since taking to the international stage in March, he has been clearer than any of the other rebel leaders in spelling out a vision of Libya’s current and future needs.

He began by detailing what it would take to defeat Gaddafi. In an article published in The New York Times, Jibril made the case for further international intervention in Libya. While “it is our fight,” he wrote, “there is also much at stake for the international community. If the Libyan revolution stalls or is defeated, a vindictive or resurgent Colonel Gaddafi and his regime will present the world with a greater danger than even Osama bin Laden. The faster the regime comes to an end, the better it will be for Libya and the safer it will be for the world.”

But Jibril was also clear that Libya needed to do more than depose Gaddafi: “When the fighting stops, we will be faced with the difficult task of healing a nation traumatized by decades of violence,” he wrote. The NTC must therefore “not only create institutions based on the rule of law, but also begin a reconciliation process to unify Libyans on both sides of this conflict.” To ensure a “free and democratic society based on a fair and transparent justice system,” the NTC would “work to ensure that the peaceful transfer of power occurs through ballot boxes and legal institutions. The bedrock of our state will be a constitution written by the Libyan people and endorsed in a public referendum.”

These ideas were put into concrete form by Jibril when he toured Western capitals on the eve of the battle for Tripoli to detail the NTC’s future plans -- in the process greatly impressing his hosts in London, Paris and Rome. Libyan sources say that Jibril himself was behind the draft constitution he presented to them. Adopted by the NTC in mid-August, it sets out the procedures and timeline for a transition to an elected government and the adoption of a new constitution.

According to the document, once “liberation” is achieved, the NTC is to move from Benghazi to the capital Tripoli and within 30 days appoint a Transitional Executive Bureau or interim government charged with running the country’s affairs on a caretaker basis. Then it will organize elections for a National Assembly within eight months of the overthrow of the regime, after which the NTC will step down. The Assembly will then act as an interim parliament. It must elect a prime minister in a month’s time and hold a vote of confidence on the new government. Within 60 days, it must choose members of a committee tasked with drafting a new constitution which, after being debated and approved by the newly elected Assembly, has to be put to a public referendum no later than a month and endorsed by a two-thirds majority. The Assembly is also supposed to agree on a new election law, as a prelude to holding “democratic and transparent” elections within six months under UN and international supervision. The Assembly is meant to ratify the results of those elections within 30 days and then invite the new elected parliament to convene the following month, thus concluding the transitional period.

Jibril also made a strong impression in Cairo where he headed the Libyan delegation at the Arab foreign ministers’ meeting lat week. He used the visit to highlight the special relationship between Libya and Egypt and the need for Egypt to play a key part in helping the Libyans run their country. He referred in particular to security, suggesting police from Arab and Islamic countries might be called in to assist, as well as holding out the prospect of economic cooperation and the return of Egyptian workers. Jibril, moreover, has a personal affinity for Egypt: he graduated from Cairo University in the 1970s and married Egyptian fellow student Salwa Shaarawi – the daughter of former president Gamal Abdel-Nasser’s interior minister Shaarawi Gumaa, who was appointed a member of Egypt’s upper house of parliament in 2004 by deposed president Hosni Mubarak.

The battle to bring down the Gaddafi regime has brought several Libyan figures to international prominence, but none more so than NTC Chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the astute former justice minister who led the revolution with courage and great patience, along with Jibril. Jalil, respected as one of the few former officials who dared quit his post under Gaddafi, played the part of unifier that is close to the people. But the new Libya also desperately needs practical hands-on statesmen to undertake the major reconstruction work needed. Despite their different backgrounds, Jibril and Jalil complement each other in this respect. The active role of both men is unlikely to end with the demise of Gaddafi.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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