Former Soccer Player Leads Libyan Opposition

A former striker for Libya’s national soccer team with a passion for Italian soccer, who served until last month as Col. Moammar Gadaffi’s justice minister has emerged as the undisputed leader of the Libyan opposition.

Mustafa Abdel Jalil, a soft-spoken lawyer, who heads the opposition National Council in rebel-controlled Benghazi, has no ambition according to friends, to succeed Gadaffi. He owes his leadership to the fact that he was the only member of Gadaffi’s cabinet who dared criticize the Libyan leader publicly while in office and to his popularity as a soccer player.

Human Rights Watch last year praised Jalil for his criticism as justice minister of the security services, charging that they ignored court orders and held people in attention who had been acquitted by the courts.

Jalil brings to the task of coordinating the resistance to Gadaffi, achieving international recognition of the opposition, securing international military assistance and holding the opposition together a dogged determination not to be defeated.

Abdullah al-Mortdy, an architect and opposition activist in al-Bayda, remembers Jalil’s wild fury when he lost a football match as a boy. It was, Al-Mortdy told the Financial Times, symptomatic of a more important character trait: “He doesn’t like to be defeated.”

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