TRIPOLI, Libya – A U.S.-educated engineering professor with little political experience is Libya's new prime minister, a choice that could reassure Western nations that helped topple Muammar Qaddafi and Libyans who consider many prominent figures tainted by links to the former regime.
Abdurrahim el-Keib was chosen late Monday by Libya's National Transitional Council, winning 26 of 51 votes. He has two weeks to appoint a new interim government that will clear the way for the drafting of a constitution as well as general elections.
El-Keib, who now lives in Tripoli, said he would ensure that Libya respects 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 replaces outgoing interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril, who had pledged to step down after the fall of Qaddafi's regime.
El-Keib 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.
Jibril, also a U.S.-educated technocrat, came under attack in his last months in office by Libya's Islamists as too secular and by others as a former regime adviser who spent most of the country's 8-month civil war outside Libya.
Jibril won credit for his role in helping secure international support for the revolution, including from France and Britain, which led the push to give the uprising the NATO air support that played a key role in Qaddafi's defeat.
The previous interim government was a hastily selected group of activists and former regime officials who defected after the uprising against Qaddafi erupted in mid-February.
The NTC appointed an "Executive Office" that served as a de facto Cabinet. Even before Qaddafi's fall, the NTC said that after the war, a more carefully selected government would oversee an 8-month transition period.
El-Keib, an NTC member from Tripoli, is free of some of Mahmoud Jibril's liabilities. Unlike Jibril, who was an economic adviser under the former regime, el-Keib spent most of his professional career outside Libya and appears untainted by ties to Qaddafi.
Mohammed al-Harizi, an NTC member from Tripoli, welcomed el-Keib 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," al-Harizi said. Jibril spent much of the revolution abroad, consulting with foreign leaders and drumming up support.
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 human rights abuses by revolutionary militias and the videotaped abuse of a captured Qaddafi before his death.
Pledges by NTC chairman Mustafa Abdul-Jalil to Islamize Libyan laws have also raised concerns in the West.
Online documents show el-Keib was at the University of Alabama for 20 years, becoming involved with the Faculty Senate and serving as a speaker representing Muslims to other faith communities in the city after the 9/11 terror attacks on New York and Washington.
He spoke at a Christian church in Tuscaloosa about the beliefs of Muslims in January 2002, and longtime friend Mirza Beg said el-Keib helped raise money for a new Islamic center that opened in Tuscaloosa more than a decade ago near the university's football stadium.
"He was the leading force behind it," said Beg, a chemist with the groundwater assessment program at the Geological Survey of Alabama. "Some people have a knack for management. He collected money for it from friends, from people here, from people in the Mideast, from all over."
Beg, a native of India, said he knew el-Keib had "political abilities," but that his friend rarely discussed Libya.
"The reasons were obvious. It was a dictatorship, and it was not comfortable for him to talk about because his extended family lived there," said Beg.
The two men had little contact after el-Keib left the university in 2005. El-Keib later served as a professor and chairman of the electrical engineering department at The Petroleum Institute, according to the resume posted by the school.
He said he would listen closely to the wishes of the people.
"We are soldiers in services of the Libyan people," he said.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland praised El-Keib's selection and called on Libya to support human rights and establish a unified command for the scores of armed militias still operating in the country.