Libya's new PM balances demands of ex-rebels, West

By RAMI AL-SHAHEIBI | November 1, 2011 | 7:35 AM EDT

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — A U.S.-educated engineering professor with little political experience is Libya's new prime minister, a choice that suggests the country's interim rulers may be trying to find a government leader palatable both to the West and to Libyans who distrust anyone connected to the former regime.

Abdurrahim el-Keib was chosen late Monday by Libya's National Transitional Council, with 26 of 51 votes. He is to appoint within two weeks a new interim government that will pave the way for the drafting of a constitution, as well as general elections.

He replaces outgoing interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril, who had pledged to step down after victory over Moammar Gadhafi's regime

Jibril was increasingly embattled in his last months in office, attacked by Libya's Islamists as too secular, and by others as a former Gadhafi regime adviser who spent most of the country's 8-month civil war outside Libya while revolutionary forces were fighting Gadhafi's troops on the battlefield.

Jibril has won credit, however, for his role in helping secure international support for the revolution from Western powers, such as France and Britain, who led the push to give the uprising the NATO air support that played a key role in Gadhafi's defeat.

The previous interim government was an impromptu group of activists and former regime officials who defected after the uprising against Gadhafi erupted in mid-February.

The NTC appointed an "Executive Office" that served as a de facto Cabinet. Even before the fall of the Gadhafi regime, the NTC said that after the end of the war, a more carefully selected government would oversee the upcoming eight-month transition period.

Al-Keib, an NTC member from Tripoli, is free of some of Mahmoud Jibril's main liabilities. Unlike Jibril, who was an economic advisor under the former regime, el-Keib spent most of his professional career outside Libya and appears untainted by any ties to Gadhafi.

His background might make him more palatable to rebel commanders whose hatred for Gadhafi is far more visceral than those of most NTC members, who like el-Keib are disproportionately returned exiles and who tend to be lawyers and academics.

El-Keib could also appeal to the West, at a time when some of the gloss has come off of Libya's revolution due to reports of alleged human rights abuses by revolutionary militias and by the videotaped abuse of a captured Gadhafi before his death.

Pledges by NTC chairman Mustafa Abdul-Jalil to Islamicize Libyan laws have also raised concerns in the West.

El-Keib, who now lives in Tripoli, said he would ensure that the new Libya will respect the rule of law. "We guarantee that we are after a nation that respects human rights, and does not permit abuse of human rights. But we need time," he said late Monday after being elected.

He said he would listen closely to the wishes of the Libyan people.

He holds a doctorate in electrical engineering from North Carolina State University and joined the teaching staff of the University of Alabama in 1985, according to a biography posted by a former employer, the Petroleum Institute in the United Arab Emirates. El-Keib also taught at North Carolina State, the biography said.