Ali Tarhouni
3:34 pm
Thu March 24, 2011

UW professor integral part of new Libyan opposition government

A longtime University of Washington economics professor has quickly found himself in a lead role with fellow Libyans fighting to defeat ruler Col. Moammar Gadhafi's forces. 

Shortly after Ali Al Tarhouni returned to Libya weeks ago, he was named finance minister for Libya's opposition movement, according to a statement Wednesday from the University of Washington press office.

This morning, NPR's Eric Westervelt reported on Tarhouni's role as part of a movement struggling to hold onto control of areas it's taken during the uprising. Westervelt's interview with him in the eastern Libya city of Benghazi (and heard on KPLU's Morning Edition) captures the professor's account the current situation with rebel forces:

(Tarhouni) admits that the provisional government's work "was and remains very chaotic...We have to get our house in order," he says. Tarhouni thinks the semi-trained soldiers who defected are already deployed out there and number only about 1,000."They don't have any airplanes. I don't think they have any heavy armaments. So whatever it is that you saw is still heavily dependent on these young people," he says.

The New York Times' Kareem Fahim reports Tarhouni expressed hopes that if another critical stronghold, the city of Ajdabiya, is taken by the opposition, it will be a significant accomplishment for his side:

“If Ajdabiya is liberated, I think the dynamics will change,” he said.

Fahim writes Tarhouni's enthusiasm for reforms in his native country started as a young man:

In the early 1970s, as a student activist, Mr. Tarhouni was kicked out of college in Libya several times as he and his fellow students called for democracy and greater freedoms.  He left the country in 1973, was stripped of his citizenship and sentenced to death in absentia a few years later, he said. He was put on a government hit list in 1981, he said.

Tarhounia began his teaching career at the UW's Foster School of Business in 1985, where he's remained since, according to a UW press statement:

“We hope Ali and his relatives are safe and not in harm’s way. We're also proud to have one of our longtime faculty members playing a significant role in Libya’s transitional government,” said James Jiambalvo, dean of the Foster School.

Tarhouni is married to Mary Li, a lawyer in the Washington Attorney General's office, according to the UW.