Iraqi who made Greenville home continues global advocacy
By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector
Friday, February 2, 2018
An ECU graduate whose six-month assignment turned into a 14-year effort to rebuild Iraq’s diplomatic ties across the world was honored by a recently revitalized business group he champions.
The North Carolina World Trade Association, along with the East Carolina University College of Business, honored Ghanim Al-Shibli, better known locally as “Al,” for his lengthy career in public service and his advocacy for the organization at a Wednesday night event.
“We need a good strong personality to reinvigorate the coastal branch of the World Trade Association,” said N.C. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, who presented Al-Shibli with a glass globe with the inscription, “Never forget you made a difference.”
“Anything we can do to improve the economy of eastern North Carolina is very, very important,” said Marshall, who spoke before a group of about 35 business leaders, academics and students. “Sometimes it’s just a matter of publicity for some people to think, ‘Golly, maybe I could export.’”
The trade association works to promote the growth of international commerce between North Carolina and the world. It’s members include manufacturers, exporters, importers, and service providers as well as academic and governmental leaders.
The organization has active regional chapters in Charlotte and the Triad.
“Ever since Al’s been back, every time we get together he’ll say, ‘Elaine we have to do this, we’ve got to help eastern North Carolina,” said Elaine Seeman, president of the association’s Coastal Plain Chapter and chairwoman of the Management Information Systems Department of the College of Business.
“We live in a global world and we buy many things from different countries,” Seeman said. “I think our job is to expose people and the more they know the more they understand.”
Al-Shibli said it’s more important than ever for the United States to maintain its role as a leader in globalization.
“When you look at the world, people are coming together,” he said.
The Arab League has 22 nation members and the European Union 28 members. While members of the two entities publically spar over immigration, talks are ongoing about partnerships in education and business, he said. China also is working with the 16 nations that surround it to establish better trade deals.
“We need to work with the international community. There is no other option because isolation is not good,” he said. “Embracing the rest of the world (is important) because we (the United States) have the ideals of democracy and freedom.”
Al-Shibli, 77, was born in Iraq. He worked for that nation’s diplomatic corps starting in the 1970s until 1986, when he left his post with the Embassy of the Republic of Iraq in the United States and sought refuge.
Al-Shibli and his family were eventually relocated to Greenville where he began pursuing a master’s degree in public administration at ECU. After graduation he joined Eastern Carolina Vocational Center, working as an information specialist and quality inspector.
After the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, the county’s new government reached out to Al-Shibli to help re-establish its diplomatic corps.
He served first as deputy secretary-general of the Iraqi Governing Council. He later was Iraq’s ambassador to Australia, serving in that post for six years.
He was an ambassador/head of mission of the League of Arab States to Italy and the Vatican from 2012-14 and later held the same post in China until he retired in early 2016.
Last year he was a guest lecturer at Duke University.
“Notwithstanding the problems we have, like ISIL and civil terrorist attacks, Iraq is a democracy, a limping democracy but a democracy,” Al-Shibli said. “There are so many flaws in it, but we haven’t had a leader sitting on our neck for 37 years. We’ve changed presidents three times in 10 years.
Al-Shibli said he understands the frustrations the American people have with the United States’ continuing involvement in Iraq. He too is upset by the thousands of American lives lost and the billions of dollars have been lost to corruption.
“People there have seen a lot of wars, so this is the time, I believe firmly, that Americans should lend a hand,” he said.
“People are free to use the Internet, there is no limit. They can use the telephone, they can travel abroad with $10,000 in their pocket. I think this is a blessing. Before Iraq was a prison with walls around it,” he said.
Al-Shibli said he hopes Americans remain open to the world.
“The world is beautiful,” he said. “We need to get out of the same circle and breath the air.”
Contact Ginger Livingston @firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-329-9570. Follow her on Twitter @GingerLGDR.