Mahmoud Jibril: the international face of Libya's rebels

Profile of Mahmoud Jibril, a former official in Moammar Gadhafi's government who is the international face of the rebels leading the opposition to the Libyan leader.

U.S.-educated former government official in charge of foreign affairs for opposition council

Mahmoud Jibril represents the Libyan rebels' interim national council internationally and is also in charge of military affairs. The former official in Moammar Gadhafi's government came to London Tuesday to pitch the council's vision for Libya to foreign leaders meeting to discuss their intervention in the Libyan conflict. (Vincent Kessler/Reuters)

London, where the British government was hosting a meeting of foreign ministers to discuss the international intervention in Libya, was the focus of the Libyan rebels' latest diplomatic efforts on Tuesday.

Mahmoud Jibril, a former official in Moammar Gadhafi's regime, was representing the rebels' so-called interim national council at the meeting, which included U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, British Foreign Secretary William Hague and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The council was also in London to release its manifesto, dubbed "Vision of a Democratic Libya."

The rebels' efforts come in the midst of debate in Canada and other countries over what role to play in Libya, especially because so little is known about the rebels opposing Gadhafi.

That's one of the challenges for Jibril, who, along with ex-diplomat Ali al-Essawi, is responsible for the council's foreign affairs. The Boston Globe describes Jibril as "one of the opposition's most potent weapons."

The council does not represent the entire opposition to Gadhafi but is its best-known face on the international stage. After meeting with Jibril, Hague described the council as, "an important and legitimate political interlocutor" but added, "the U.K. is committed to strengthening our contacts with a wide range of members of the Libyan opposition."

Former government official, academic

Jibril is one of the council's 31 members, who claim to represent all parts of Libya. Like the council's chairman, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, Jibril served in Gadhafi's government. Jalil was the justice minister until he resigned Feb. 21. Jibril headed the national council for economic development and the national planning council.

Mahmoud Jibril, left, and his fellow council representative Ali al-Essawi speak after a meeting at the Elysée Palace in Paris on March 10. France was the first country to recognize the rebels' interim national council. (Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters)

Jibril, who was born in 1952, attended university in Cairo and then Pittsburgh. He earned a master's degree in political science in 1980 and a PhD in 1984 at the University of Pittsburgh.

He turned his dissertation into a book, Imagery and Ideology in U.S. Policy Toward Libya, 1969-1982. In the book, one of 10 he has published, he writes critically of U.S. foreign policy. (On the book's cover, his name appears as "Mahmoud G Elwarfally," and his last name is also occasionally written as Gebril.)

Jibril returned to the Middle East, teaching at Garyounis University in Benghazi, Libya, and running his own company, Gebril for Training and Consultancy, which operated across the region.

About six years ago, Gadhafi's son, Seif, persuaded Jibril to join his effort to restructure the Libyan economy.

In 2009, the U.S. ambassador to Libya at the time, Gene Cretz, wrote that Jibril "'gets' the U.S. perspective" in a cable released last year by Wikileaks.

Cretz wrote that at a meeting with Jibril  he "highlighted the need to replace the country's decrepit infrastructure and train Libyans" and requested American public and private assistance to do so. In his pitch, he told the ambassador that Libya, "has a stable regime and is 'virgin country' for investors."

Jibril must have been persuasive. The cable concludes, "we should take him up on his offer."

Tried to resign

Mazin Ramadan, a businessman in Seattle, told The Boston Globe that he had approached Jibril with a plan for starting up technology companies in Libya. Jibril was supportive but was overruled by hard-liners in the government. Ramadan claims that Jibril was frustrated in government and had tried to resign for years but Gadhafi would not let him. Jibril finally did leave the government in 2010.

The uprising in Libya began on Feb. 17, and 10 days later, the council was announced. (At the time, it was calling itself the national transitional council, which survives in its domain name,

Is al-Qaeda in Libya?

Moammar Gadhafi has frequently claimed the uprising against him is led by al-Qaeda.

Over the past few decades, Islamists have had more support in eastern Libya than in the western part of the country, but experts say there is no evidence of Gadhafi's assertion.

U.S. Admiral James Stavridis, a top NATO commander, testified before the U.S. Senate armed services committee on March 29 that he does not "have detail sufficient to say there is a significant al-Qaeda presence or any other terrorist presence" in Libya. There are only "flickers" of an insurgent presence in the intelligence, according to Stavridis.

Libyans did travel to Iraq to participate in the anti-U.S. insurgency a few years ago, U.S. officials reported. Most of them came from what are now rebel strongholds in Benghazi and Derna. In February, al-Qaeda's affiliate in North Africa issued a statement promising to do whatever it could to help the Libyan rebels.

Last week, Libyan journalist Milad Hassani told the Los Angeles Times from Derna that he and others in the region were seeing "foreign fighters, Islamists, from the Gulf and other Arab countries."

Jibril was an early member, one of seven professors and one of several members educated in the West.

As an international representative of the council, he met with France's president, Nicolas Sarkozy, on March 10. After the meeting, France became the first country to recognize the council.

Tuesday was Jibril's second meeting with Clinton. He has also met John Kerry, head of the U.S. Senate foreign relations committee.

A big challenge for Jibril's diplomatic efforts is allaying concerns that the rebels are fighting an east vs. west tribal civil war and that Islamists make up a significant part of their forces.

Rebels' vision for Libya

It was to address those concerns that the council's political and international affairs committee drafted the statement released Tuesday in London.

In it, the council writes about its desire for democracy, civil society, pluralism and a Libyan constitution that embodies those values. There are mentions of goals that will resonate with different parts of Libyan society and in the West: "a green environment," "a free private sector," eradication of poverty and unemployment, guarantees for "the rights and empowerment of women" and respect for "the sanctity of religious doctrine."

As head of the council's crisis committee, in addition to foreign affairs, Jibril is also responsible for military affairs, and that has been at least as big a challenge.

A Libyan rebel urges people to leave as shelling from Moammar Gadhafi's forces begins to land on the frontline outside of Bin Jawaad, 150 km east of Sirte, central Libya, on March 29. (Anja Niedringhaus/Associated Press)

The coalition bombing directed against Gadhafi's forces has certainly helped the rebels' military efforts but has not made up for their disorganization as a fighting force.

Last week, Ali Tarhouni, who is in charge of finance for the council, told reporters how the council initially viewed the uprising against Gadhafi.

"We were betting 24 hours, and he's gone from the country," Tarhouni explained, adding, "we're not as organized as we thought or can be."

Tarhouni was teaching economics at the University of Washington before he returned to Libya last month. When he returned, he told reporters, "There was a total vacuum [of leadership]" but also said, "We will clean it up. I promise you."