TRIPOLI, Libya – A US-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.
Abdel Rahim al-Keeb 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 Muammar Qadhafi'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 Qadhafi regime adviser who spent most of the country's eight-month civil war outside Libya while revolutionary forces were fighting Qadhafi'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 Qadhafi's defeat.
The previous interim government was an impromptu group of activists and former regime officials who defected after the uprising against Qadhafi erupted in mid-February.
The NTC appointed an "Executive Office" that served as a de facto cabinet. Even before the fall of the Qadhafi regime, the NTC said that after the end of the war, a more carefully selected government would oversee the upcoming eight-month transition period.
Keeb, an NTC member from Tripoli, is free of some of Mahmoud Jibril's main liabilities. Unlike Jibril, who was an economic adviser under the former regime, Keeb spent most of his professional career outside Libya and appears untainted by any ties to Qadhafi.
His background might make him more palatable to rebel commanders whose hatred for Qadhafi is far more visceral than those of most NTC members, who like Keeb are disproportionately returned exiles and who tend to be lawyers and academics.
Mohammed al-Harizi, an NTC member from Tripoli, welcomed Keeb's selection, and said he, unlike Jibril, spent the war in Libya and "knows what is happening on the ground."
"He has been around long enough to know what needs to be improved, unlike Mahmoud Jibril, who only comes to Libya as a visitor and never stays for long," Harizi said.
Keeb 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 Qadhafi before his death.
Pledges by NTC chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil to Islamicize Libyan laws have also raised concerns in the West.
Keeb, 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. Keeb also taught at North Carolina State, the biography said.