The strange story of two electrical engineers from U of Alabama who ran Libya for the past 11 months

The strange story of two electrical engineers from U of Alabama who ran Libya for the past 11 months

Summary: With all the strife in Libya, one story seems to have fallen through the cracks: two electrical engineers who used to teach at the University of Alabama have been in charge of the country for most of the past year.

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TOPICS: Government
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Perhaps I'm biased, because I went to engineering school, but I've always felt the world would run a lot better if it were run by engineers, rather than lawyers or accountants. Engineers are problem solvers, inventors, and builders so rather than fill the world with countless new laws and regulations, they'd simply focus on paving roads, building bridges, buildings, and rail lines.

When there's trouble and something needs to be built or rebuilt, it's the engineers that are going to get the job done.

Sadly, this theory may be a little more wishful thinking than grounded in history. The only two American presidents who were engineers -- Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter -- didn't exactly distinguish themselves during their presidency for their domestic nation-building skills.

Even so, I still contend that when there's trouble and something needs to be built or rebuilt, it's the engineers that are going to get the job done.

That's why I'm so intrigued by an interview that my Internet Press Guild colleague Steven Cherry conducted last January. He had the opportunity to interview Mustafa Abushagur, who along with Abdurrahim Abdulhafiz El-Keib -- both former University of Alabama electrical engineering professors -- ran Libya for the past 11 months.

Mustafa Abushagur's story is particularly interesting, which is why I'm spotlighting it now, especially in light of the Benghazi attacks in September. It was also in September that Abushagur became the first elected Prime Minister in the history of modern Libya after serving nine months as Deputy Prime Minister.

Unfortunately, he was not able to keep the job. Like all good engineers, he tried to assemble the parts most suited to solving the problem -- cabinet members who could help do the job of rebuilding a torn Libya. He proposed two cabinets to the General National Congress, but when they couldn't agree on his appointments, the GNC voted "no confidence" and removed him from office.

In listening to Steven's interview with Mustafa Abushagur, I'm struck with the bravery of these two men, people who ordinarily I might think of as academic colleagues, who left the comfort of the ivory tower to attempt to rebuild their homeland -- a challenging, and very, very dangerous job.

Topic: Government

About

David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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26 comments
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  • For god sake...

    Change your picture....thx
    Nsaf
    • What can I say?

      I was born this pretty.
      David Gewirtz
      • the picture

        Seriously, the picture is awesome. Don't change a thing!
        dsf3g
      • I'm sure you're aware...

        ...that you weren't born with a beard.
        John L. Ries
        • he was

          it just wasn't his beard...

          :)

          As for engineers saving the vorlt.... bwaahahhahhahhahaaaaa. Surely you jest! My experience of engineers is of folks who will stitch you up for and profit, and for career enhancement. Especially those of a religious bent (doesn't matter which one; the religion just adds an element of easy morality, and it has to be easy...) Borne of a hive mind, and not known for their 'civics' these are the dudes that enable the gadgets that makes the vorlt such a happy happy place. Zyklon-B, plastics of all sorts... you get the picture. Train engineers to be less morally bankrupt as they laser focus on 'problem solving' and the world will be a better place.
          walkerjian@...
          • well now...

            I'm an engineer, really like engineers, even their sense of humor, but have to concede that you have a point. They aren't immoral, just focused so intensely they miss the moral implications of what they are doing.

            Even so, I would much rather have an engineer in congress than the odd mix we have now. I'm not sure that preference would extend to the White House. Engineers find it hard to compromise and be generalists.
            dachba
  • Typical engineer attitude

    Were you aware that Yassar Arafat were both engineers? Engineers are neither inherently superior nor inherently inferior to anyone else.
    baggins_z
    • Yassar Arafat

      And Osama bin Laden. ZDNet really needs to bring back the edit button.
      baggins_z
    • Not only are we smarter, but cutter as well

      "And Osama bin Laden. "

      ... and Jimmy Carter. Nucular Engineer, as W would say.
      RamonFHerrera
      • As jimmy would say

        For that matter.
        fairportfan
      • "Not only are we smarter, but cutter as well"

        "Not only are we smarter, but cutter as well"

        Spelling is still up the shit tho.

        'Six munce ago I cud'n evn spill inguneer an now I are wun!
        Stuart21@...
  • Looks like more evidence...

    ...that while engineers make good problem solvers, they usually make lousy politicians.
    John L. Ries
    • That's because...

      Most people who the engineers have to cater to are irrational, illogical and think praying at the gas pump will solve the problem by magic ; ).
      Tea.Rollins
      • Part of the problem is...

        ...since engineers deal more with machines than people, their social skills tend to not be as good (even when they're not autistic). In order to be effective, politicians have to sell what they think are the proper policies to their constituents, and to find common ground with other politicians in order to make deals and get initiatives approved. Those are social skills that engineers don't usually have to cultivate until/unless they're promoted into management.
        John L. Ries
    • However...

      ...I suspect that engineers probably make fairly good parliamentary heads of state (let the Prime Minister deal with the politics; focus on devising systems that work and persuading the Government to put them in place). So, in the unlikely event that there are any constitutional monarchs reading this...
      John L. Ries
  • Did you forget Thomas Jefferson, the 3rd U.S. President?

    From the article:
    "The only two American presidents who were engineers -- Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter -- didn't exactly distinguish themselves during their presidency for their domestic nation-building skills.

    http://www.monticello.org/site/plantation-and-slavery/moldboard-plow

    He even used his knowledge of mathematics in the moldboard plow design process. And as an example for the world today, he never sought to patent the design.

    I believe that Thomas Jefferson qualified as engineer, among other things, in his time. In addition, he certainly distinguished himself during his presidency with his domestic nation-building skills. The Louisiana Purchase?
    Rabid Howler Monkey
    • Jefferson was a lawyer...

      ...who dabbled in engineering, not an engineer who dabbled in law and politics. Jefferson was also an 18th century Virginia gentleman trained almost from birth to be a leader, and had many years of experience in public office before he was elected president in 1800.

      It also helps to be a genius, which Jefferson definitely was (probably the most intelligent man ever to be President of the U.S.).
      John L. Ries
    • I never forget TJ

      Seriously, I think about him a lot (I'm geeky that way). But @John is right, he's not what today we would call an engineer. Washington was also quite the amazing inventor.
      David Gewirtz
    • Others, today, have a different view of Thomas Jefferson

      John L. Ries wrote:
      "Jefferson was a lawyer who dabbled in engineering, not an engineer who dabbled in law and politics.

      David Gewirtz wrote:
      "But @John is right, he's not what today we would call an engineer.

      Two links:

      "What did Thomas Jefferson do as a scientist?
      http://education.jlab.org/qa/historyus_01.html
      "When the American Philosophical Society made Jefferson its president, he called it "the most flattering incident" of his life, even though he had also just been elected vice president of the United States. Jefferson remained president of the American Philosophical Society for nearly two decades, including during his two terms as president of the United States. This meant he was America's political leader and its scientific leader too.

      http://podcasts.history.org/032910/ThomasJeffersonEngineer.cfm
      "Thomas Jefferson approached mechanical problems with an engineer's mind.

      One can find them in universities (e.g., Presidents, Deans, Department Chairs, etc.), U.S. government research laboratories (e.g., Los Alamos National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory), corporate research labs and elsewhere. I'm not saying that everyone in these positions are modern-day Thomas Jeffersons. However, they are among us.
      Rabid Howler Monkey
  • Just because...

    Jimmy Carter calls himself an engineer doesn't make him an engineer. His degree was from the Naval Academy. Although a fine school, the degree was considered a general degree.

    He was educated in the public school of Plains, attended Georgia Southwestern College and the Georgia Institute of Technology, and received a Bachelor of Science degree from the United States Naval Academy in 1946. In the Navy, he became a submariner, serving in both the Atlantic and Pacific fleets and rising to the rank of lieutenant. Chosen by Admiral Hyman Rickover for the nuclear submarine program, he was assigned to Schenectady, N.Y., where he took graduate work at Union College in reactor technology and nuclear physics, and served as senior officer of the pre-commissioning crew of the Seawolf, the second nuclear submarine.

    http://www.cartercenter.org/news/experts/jimmy_carter.html
    jtdavies