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August 24, 2011

Mustafa Abdul Jalil, head of the rebels' administration and former justice minister, is set to be a key political player in post-Gadhafi Libya. So what is known about the man who could lead the country to a new future?

Mustafa Jalil, head of the Libyan rebels' interim administration
Jalil has a reputation for integrityImage: picture alliance / dpa

As justice minister, Mustafa Abdul Jalil was sent by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to the eastern city of Benghazi in February to deal with the beginning of the uprising.

But after witnessing a bloody government crackdown in the city, he quit as minister over what he saw as the excessive use of violence against unarmed demonstrators.

Within days, the mild-mannered 59-year-old became the chairman of the rebel administration, the National Transitional Council (NTC).

"We are the same as people in other countries, and are looking for the same things," Jalil said at the time.

“We want a democratic government, a fair constitution, and we don't want to be isolated from the world anymore."

Defying the regime

Jalil's defection didn't come as a surprise to many. He had long had a reputation for defying the government.

Born in 1952 in the eastern coastal Libyan city of Bayda - the historic seat of the Sanusi dynasty and one of the first places to revolt against Gadhafi - Jalil studied law at the University of Libya. He worked as a lawyer at the public prosecutor's office in Bayda before becoming a judge in 1978.

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi gestures during a speech
Jalil was known for taking public stands against GadhafiImage: picture-alliance/dpa

As a judge, Jalil was known for his rulings against the Gadhafi regime. He is reported to have been brought into the government by Seif al-Islam, Gadhafi's son, in an effort to cast himself and the regime in a more reformist light.

But Jalil proved to be a vocal critic of Gadhafi's regime. During his term as Libya's justice minister from 2007 to early 2011, he tendered his resignation several times, reportedly after resisting high-level pressure to execute detainees he believed were innocent,

‘Independent spirit'

Human rights groups were full of praise for his efforts to reform Libya's criminal code. In 2009, he said that hundreds of people were being held without any legal basis in the high-security Abu Salim prison near the capital Tripoli.

In an unprecedented move in January 2010, he publicly defied Gadhafi in a televised speech at an annual government conference by saying he intended to resign due to his inability to overcome the "difficulties facing the judicial sector."

He cited the continued detention of over 300 political prisoners despite court rulings acquitting them, and the release of prisoners sentenced to death without the families of their victims being informed.

Though Gadhafi rejected his resignation, the speech cemented Jalil's reputation as an "independent spirit" in government circles. Despite his outspoken views, Jalil avoided open confrontation with Gadhafi.

Face of the opposition

In his new role as chairman of the rebel administration, Jalil has been busy over the past months seeking foreign support for his Benghazi-based NTC.

Jalil was a strong proponent of the UN-backed no-fly zone over Libya, urging the international community back in March to support the operation and help the Libyan rebels militarily.

A demonstration against Gadhafi in Benghazi, Libya
Jalil remains popular in eastern LibyaImage: dapd

He emerged as the public face of the rebel administration, flying around the world to lobby support for the NTC. He pulled off a diplomatic coup in March during a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy who recognized the NTC as Libya's legitimate government. Since then, more than 30 foreign governments have voiced their support for the NTC.

As fighting intensified between rebel forces and Gadhafi troops in recent months, he warned that the Libyan ruler would be absolutely ruthless in his bid to maintain control.

"He will be prepared to do anything in his last moments. He can set Tripoli on fire, he can turn cars into explosive traps, he can open his gas arsenals," Jalil said. "We are reckoning with everything and are prepared for it."

Fair trial for Gadhafi

Since the triumphant arrival of Libyan rebels in Tripoli this week, Jalil has been at pains to assert that public order must be maintained. He has also warned that the rule of law must be upheld after the fall of Gadhafi.

"We hope that we can capture Gadhafi alive so that we can put the tyrant on trial in front of the world's eyes," Jalil said earlier this week.

He also warned his followers against taking revenge against Gadhafi loyalists. Not surprisingly, Jalil has threatened to resign if his followers fail to heed his words.

Author: Matthias von Hellfeld (sp)
Editor: Rob Mudge