Meet Mahmoud Jibril

by zunguzungu

The Libyan rebels officially formed an interim government, and named Mahmoud Jibril as their interim Prime Minister. That’s him shaking hands with Sarkozy, on the right:

The Interim Transitional National Council’s website — of course they have a website; they even have a twitter feeddescribes him this way:

Born in Libya n 1952, obtained a BSc in Economics and Political Science from Cairo University in 1975. Holds a masters’ degree in Political Science from the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1980. He also obtained a Doctorate in Strategic planning and decision-making from the same university in 1984 where he worked as a professor in the same subject field for several years. So far he has published 10 books in Strategic planning and decision making. He led the team who drafted and formed the Unified Arab Training manual. He was also responsible for organising and administering the first two Training conferences in the Arab world in the years 1987 and 1988. He later took over the management and administration of many of the leaders’ training programs for senior management in Arab countries including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Libya, UAE, Kuwait, Jordan, Bahrain, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey and Britain

Unsurprisingly, they don’t make a big deal out of his time as a fairly important technocrat in the reform wing of Gaddafi’s government. But I’m sure you were wondering what it was the US State department has to say about him. And so, to the wikileaks!

On March 7, 2008:

15.(C) In addition, xxxxxxxxxxxx who works with Libya’s economic and financial sectors told EconOff March 11 that Dr. Mahmoud Jibril, head of the National Planning Commission, ally of Saif al-Islam and a leading advocate for economic reform, would play a key role on three of the five implementing committees – budget, economy and wealth distribution. Jibril, who as recently as early February was so frustrated by his inability to effect reform that he had submitted letters of resignation on three occasions, is reportedly now convinced that Qadhafi’s commitment to dramatic change is sincere enough that he has agreed to stay on – for now.

On November 26, 2008, from a description of a meeting with Jibril, “The head of Libya’s national economic planning apparatus and the effort to implement Muammar al-Qadhafi’s vision for government restructuring and privatization”:

Arguing that the U.S.-Libya relationship needs “a common frame of reference”, Jibril offered that the U.S. approaches relationships as economic and transactional, whereas Arab culture puts a premium on tribal ties in which gifts are given and expected, but not asked for or stipulated. He offered the example of Kissinger perceiving Anwar Sadat as being a “clown” because he did not ask the U.S. for anything when he expelled Soviet advisors from Egypt. Jibril stressed that as an Arab, Sadat did not feel he needed to ask for anything because the U.S. should have perceived that he had offered something and reciprocated of its own accord. Jibril argued that a new perspective, particularly from the Department, was needed that took into account more than oil. Informed by Libya’s rich culture and long history, a new generation of Libyans is emerging and there is real potential for civil society development.

Arguing that there had been “too much talk and not enough deeds” in the U.S-Libya relationship since ties were re-established in 2004, Jibril urged the U.S. to focus to a greater extent on cultivating people-to-people relationships by engaging more on health care, education, technology and training. Our globalized world is characterized by diversity (which he defined as mutual respect for the choices of others) and multiplicity of choices (economic decisions are not as politically-charged as they used to be because economic actors have more choices). A frame of reference that encompasses culture and economics is needed. Cautioning the U.S. against expecting “all or nothing” from Libya by way of political and economic choices, he stressed that developing countries are increasingly taking an ala carte (vice prix fixe) approach to political-economic choices.

February 25, 2009:

Libya’s nearly 500 local level councils — “Basic People’s Congresses” — concluded their deliberations February 23 over two radical proposals put forward by Colonel Muammar al-Qadhafi: a plan to distribute Libya’s oil wealth directly to the people, and a massive government restructuring that would eliminate most ministries. The weight of opinion is reportedly against the wealth distribution plan, with fears of inflation cited as the primary reason for opposing it. The BPCs’ recommendations will be considered by the regional and national-level congresses in the coming days. Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi, Muammar al-Qadhafi’s celebrated reform-minded son, has formed a committee of technocrats charged with formulating plans to implement any reforms that may be adopted by the national-level General People’s Congress

Despite al-Qadhafi’s public exhortations that “the people” own the oil wealth and should determine how to distribute it, high-ranking GOL officials have quietly begun to discuss how to implement the proposed reforms. Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi and the Chairman of the Economic Development Board and National Planning Council Mahmoud Jibril (who is a respected, US-educated technocrat) have established a steering committee to that end xxxxxxxxxxxx. The committee reportedly enjoys the support of Secretary of the General People’s Committee al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi (Prime Minister-equivalent).

…Muammar al-Qadhafi’s calls for wealth distribution and government restructuring are a populist message intended to distance himself from the widely-criticized corruption and inefficiency in the government and place him squarely on the side of the people. His radical reform agenda has met strong opposition from prominent technocrats as well as self-interested officials who stand to lose influence if government ministries are abolished. According to many of our contacts, the debates in the local councils are genuine (allowing al-Qadhafi to showcase his “people power” democracy to foreign journalists). The national-level General People’s Congress, on the other hand, is expected to be tightly scripted from above. Ordinary Libyans are apprehensive about their future. If al-Qadhafi’s reforms are adopted, they may be embarking on yet another era of economic uncertainty and social instability. If they had a choice in the matter, most would probably forgo the oil money in exchange for a functioning, relatively honest government that provided decent salaries, education and health care.

After a cabinet shakeup, March 11, 2009:

Reform-minded Mahmoud Jibril will retain his seat at the head of the Economic and Development Board but will lose his role on the National Planning Council that has been absorbed into the new Committee for Planning and Finance.

On May 11, 2009, describing a meeting with “Mahmoud Jibril, Chair of the National Economic Development Board (NEDB), an organization that Jibril likened to a “think tank” of multi-disciplinary experts.”:

The NEDB’s role in these projects is to “pave the way” for private sector development, and to create a strategic partnership between private companies and the government. There is a still a “gap of distrust” dividing the two. As to whether Libya has a Master Plan that includes all the 11,000 projects, Jibril admitted that in the past two years, Libya had started executing projects without such a plan. However, the NEDB has been working with experts from Ernst and Young, the Oxford Group, and lately with five consultants from UNDP to advise the prime minister on the best sequencing and pacing of the projects in order to decrease poverty and unemployment.

With a PhD in strategic planning from the University of Pittsburgh, Jibril is a serious interlocutor who “gets” the U.S. perspective. He is also not shy about sharing his views of U.S. foreign policy, for example, opining that the U.S. spoiled a golden opportunity to capitalize on its “soft power” (McDonald’s, etc.) after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989 by putting “boots on the ground” in the Middle East. At the same time, his organization has a daunting task to tackle, in terms of rationalizing 11,000 development projects in the chaotic Libyan government bureaucracy and also, to train Libyans to work in new sectors outside of the hydrocarbons industry. Jibril has stated American companies and universities are welcome to join him in this endeavor and we should take him up on his offer.

January 27, 2010:

Jibril said that the “inherited political problems” represent a “big hurdle” for the United States — both diplomatically and commercially — and were in need of “creative solutions.” The Ambassador acknowledged the difficulties, highlighting that the apparent GOL freeze on visa issuance for official American travelers to Libya is currently setting engagement back. Jibril characterized the “visa issues” as something “of the past” and noted “security” is the “overriding concern” influencing GOL policy on visa issuances for Americans. He recommended that both sides work together to implement joint-projects aimed at “building trust,” that would help to erase the historically negative images that each side has of the other. He honed in on the negative perception in Libya of U.S. intentions in the region. “Changing the U.S. image among Arabs and in the region will take consistent work by you and your colleagues who have been in the region and understand it,” he said. He noted that the “Arabs of the sixties are no longer the Arabs of today,” explaining that the leaders and people of the region no longer reject a relationship with the United States simply due to the U.S.-Israel relationship. Libya is one of the countries that wants a relationship with the United States. However, the inclusion of Libya on the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) list of countries of “special interest” has reinforced negative perceptions about the U.S. in Libya.

Jibril seemed to be a very open interlocutor — willing to engage in back-and-forth conversation and brainstorming together comfortably. His confidence in his own ability to approach Saif al-Islam with a new idea, as well as to raise the Trade Mission with GOL ministers, indicates that he is well-connected within the regime. As the head of a think-tank that reports directly to the Prime Minister-equivalent (who called him during the meeting), without the burden of an official policymaking role, he may have a unique ability to influence decision-makers without challenging their authority. In response to Jibril’s proposals, the Public Affairs Section will reach out to U.S. colleges and universities to explore potential areas for cooperation with Libyan academic institutions.

By the way, if you want to read the State Department’s “all you need to know about Libya” cable, it’s “Through a Glass Darkly: The Government of Libya Reaches Out to the New Administration,” February 11, 2009