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Democratic Libya must include all groups, says top Libyan official educated in Pittsburgh

| Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Libya's attempts to build a democratic society must include every group that participated in last year's revolution, a top Libyan official educated in Pittsburgh told the Tribune-Review on Tuesday.

Even armed militias that threaten to disrupt the government must be included, said Mahmoud Jibril, president of the Libyan National Forces Alliance, a leading political group. The country cannot build stability and security by leaving anyone out, he said.

“There is a sense of collective ownership in this revolution. Excluding some of those elements or some of those actors might push them into some extreme measures. Therefore, it's not in our interest to exclude anybody.”

Jibril, who was called the prime minister of Libya's transition government, returned to Pittsburgh, where he received a master's degree in political science at the University of Pittsburgh in 1980 and a doctorate in the field five years later.

He spoke to the Trib before appearing at an event at Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland organized by the American Middle East Institute, a nonprofit think tank based in Pittsburgh. About 250 people attended.

Saudi Royal Prince Turki Al Faisal bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, a former ambassador to the United States, spoke to the group via Internet connection. The evening included a video tribute to U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, who was killed in an attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11.

Before the fall of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi in October 2011, Jibril served as the freedom fighters' intermediary with Western leaders, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The country's new prime minister, Ali Zidan, presented a coalition government Tuesday, drawn from leaders of Jibril's party as well as a political party headed by Islamists.

Jibril's visit to Pittsburgh underscores the Western influences on his perspective and is a homecoming of sorts with some of his former professors. He is scheduled to speak at a private luncheon Wednesday at Pitt.

Jibril noted that Pittsburgh has evolved from a receding industrial center when he arrived as a student in the 1970s to a thriving knowledge-based city. “It makes you feel good,” he said.

Born in Libya in 1952, Jibril lived here in a neighborhood on the border of Bloomfield and Shadyside while earning his post-graduate degrees. He went by the name Mahmoud Gebril ElWarfally at Pitt, later changing to Jibril, a more common name in the Middle East.

“He was reminiscing about how nice those days were,” said Bert Rockman, a Purdue University political science professor who taught at Pitt when Jibril was a student.

Rockman is spending a sabbatical in Pittsburgh this fall. As a student, Jibril worked as Rockman's research assistant on “The Leadership Question,” a book about the American presidency.

“He said it seemed at the time that the issues he was dealing with were very large,” Rockman said, “but that they seem very small by comparison with what he's dealing with now.”

Rockman voiced confidence in his former student: “He's got his heart in the right place, and he's got a good mind, too.”

Jibril is cautiously optimistic about Libya because it has a “fairly deep moral code” despite all of the forces threatening to pull it apart, Rockman said.

Alberta Sbragia, a Pitt vice provost who taught in the political science department when Jibril was earning his degrees, recalled he spent Christmas at her home one year.

“One hopes that the ideas and the literature that the student reads while a student have helped him form his approach to policies in a democratizing society,” Sbragia said.

Jibril's doctoral dissertation, “Imagery and Ideology in U.S. Policy Toward Libya 1969-1982,” was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 1988 and remains in circulation as a key study on his homeland.

Before the rebel fighting broke out, Jibril chaired Libya's National Economic Development Board and was encouraging U.S. economic development in Libya, including establishing ties with American universities.

It's always nice to be remembered favorably by a former student, especially one who has gone on in such a high-profile way to work at democratizing his homeland, Sbragia said.

But even more than appreciating the impact her former student has had on the world stage, Sbragia said she enjoys simply reconnecting. She chatted with Jibril on the phone briefly during the day Tuesday before seeing him in person.

“It was just like going back decades,” she said.

Andrew Conte is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7835 or

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