By Published: Sept. 15, 2016

Five years after the Arab Spring uprisings rocked the Middle East, former Libyan Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril offered University of Colorado Boulder students a front-row perspective on the protests’ genesis, their shortcomings and the lessons the world should absorb in the coming decades.

We used to create our future. Today, the future is created for us.”

Jibril, who served as interim prime minister of Libya in 2011 and spoke to an introductory international-affairs class on campus Thursday, addressed a common misconception about the impetus for the Arab Spring, which led to the toppling of leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, as well as yielded a devastating civil war in Syria.

Jibril, now head of National Forces Alliance in Libya, said the uprisings were not, as popularly perceived, a movement against dictators and for democracy. “Nobody was talking about democracy,” Jibril told students. “Everybody was talking about a better life.”

The cultural and economic influence of globalization was keenly felt in the Middle East, as elsewhere, Jibril said. Via the internet and other means, Libyans and others in the Middle East knew that other nations enjoyed greater prosperity and less political repression.Social media and cell phones helped propel the “leaderless” uprisings of the Arab Spring, but technology is no panacea, Jibril said.

While protesters used social media to effect initial change, groups that enjoyed better organization and more funding—sometimes representing repressive forces—filled the vacuum of leadership, he said.


Mahmoud Jibril, who served as interim prime minister of Libya in 2011, speaks to an introductory international-affairs class. CU Boulder Photo by Patrick Campbell.

Further, Jibril warned students of some dangers of technology.  

Today, connectivity is the “name of the game,” and the pace of technological advances is faster than humans’ ability to absorb or fully control it, he said. All over the world, he added, young people sport the same haircuts, wear the same clothing, display the same posters on their bedroom walls, showing a “new global culture” that is incompatible with the world culture formed after World War II.

People are obliged to understand this new frame of reference, he said. “The most dangerous thing would be to let technology take over our future.”

Predicting other spontaneous uprisings would occur, Jibril said the world’s educational systems must adapt to the rapidly changing world.

Knowledge is growing at an exponential rate and is accessible from any cell phone or computer, he said. But it is not the body of knowledge that presents the largest issue; rather it is the speed of change.

So much is being learned so quickly that people are “running like crazy, trying to figure out what is going on,” he said.

The implication is that education should shift its focus from the acquisition of knowledge to the management of knowledge, Jibril said. Today’s world citizens need the skills to understand complexity, diversity, civility, nuance and creativity, he said.

“We used to create our future. Today, the future is created for us,” Jibril said, adding that the new generation’s challenge is to comprehend and adapt to this reality.

Jibril, who is on a U.S. tour and will also speak at the University of Denver, adderssed about 400 people enrolled in “Global Affairs & International Issues,” taught by Professor Gregory D. Young of political science. 

On Tuesday, Young gave the students an overview lecture on the Arab Spring and focused specifically on Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. After the lecture Thursday, students lined up to ask further questions and shake the former prime minister’s hand.