November 1, 2011 at 5:10 PM CDT - Updated June 25 at 7:45 PM
For 20 years, Abdurrahim el-Keib taught electrical engineering at the University of Alabama, helped lead the area's Muslim community and talked little about his home country of Libya. With Moammar Gadhafi's regime deposed, the professor now has a new role as prime minister of his native land.
El-Keib was elected to the position late Monday by Libya's National Transitional Council to replace outgoing interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril, who had promised to step down after victory over Gadhafi's dictatorship. His selection 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.
El-Keib holds a doctorate in electrical engineering from North Carolina State University, where he also taught, and moved to Alabama in 1985, according to a biography posted by a former employer, the Petroleum Institute in the United Arab Emirates.
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.
The professor 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 and el-Keib worked together on the project and became better friends after the 9/11 attacks as they served as informal liaisons between Tuscaloosa's Muslims and people of other faiths.
Beg said he knew el-Keib had "political abilities," but he said 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.
El-Keib lived in the United States for more than 30 years during Gadhafi's reign, Beg said, and the two men had little contact since el-Keib left the university in 2005. He later worked as a professor and chairman of the electrical engineering department at The Petroleum Institute, according to the resume posted by the school.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.