SUBJECT: LIBYA’S SUCCESSION MUDDLED AS THE AL-QADHAFI CHILDREN
CONDUCT INTERNECINE WARFARE
REF: A) 08 TRIPOLI 564, B) 08 TRIPOLI 592, C) TRIPOLI 198, D) 08
CLASSIFIED BY: Gene A. Cretz, Ambassador, U.S. Embassy –
Tripoli, U.S. Dept of State.
REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)
1. (C) Summary: A series of events since last summer suggest that tension between various children of Muammar al-Qadhafi has increased, and that heir-apparent Saif al-Islam is arrayed against Muatassim, Aisha, Hannibal, Saadi and perhaps even his own mother. Much of the tension appears to stem from resentment of Saif al-Islam’s high-profile as the public face of the regime; however, deeper tension about contradictions between Saif al Islam’s proposed political-economic reforms, which wouldhurt his siblings’ economic interests, and the old school manner by which he has tried to monopolize the most lucrative economic sectors, also play an important role. The arrest and intimidation of a number of Saif al-Islam allies since last summer, on the one hand, and moves to circumscribe Muatassim’s
role in military equipment procurement, on the other, suggest that the current level of discord among al-Qadhafi’s children is acute. While internecine strife is nothing new for the famously fractious al-Qadhafi family, the recent escalation of tension comes during a particularly momentous period. Amid turmoil related to the 40th anniversary of the revolution, Muammar al-Qadhafi’s recent election as African Union chairman, proposed political-economic reforms and persistent rumors about al-Qadhafi’s health and the absence of a viable mechanism to orchestrate a succession, the sharp rivalry between the al-Qadhafi children could play an important, if not determinative role, in whether the family is able to hold on to power after the author of the revolution exits the political scene. End summary.
GREED AND BAD BEHAVIOR …
2. (C) As reported ref A, National Oil Corporation Chairman Shukhr Ghanem was approached by National Security Adviser Muatassim al-Qadhafi, son of Muammar al-Qadhafi, in late June 2008 with a request for USD 1.2 billion, reportedly to establish a military/security unit akin to that of his younger brother, Khamis, and to make unspecified security upgrades. In early July, Ghanem informed Muammar al-Qadhafi; however, he laughingly dismissed it. According to Ibrahim el-Meyet (strictly protect) a prominent Tripoli-based attorney and business consultant, Ghanem subsequently submitted a letter of resignation in mid-August, believing that Muatassim or his confederates would seek revenge against Ghanem and/or his family for having denied the request for funds. (Note: El-Meyet has known Ghanem for more than 40 years; the two men’s families socialize together at least once a week, usually at the families’ farms outside Tripoli. End note.)
3. (C) Ghanem’s attempt to resign roughly coincided with two other disturbances of al-Qadhafi family comity: the arrest of Hannibal al-Qadhafi, a son of Muammar al-Qadhafi, in Geneva in mid-July (ref B subsequent) and a visit to Rome by Saadi al-Qadhafi, a son of Muammar al-Qadhafi, against his father’s express wishes in early August. Hannibal and Saadi both have checkered histories of unseemly behavior and public scuffles with authorities in Europe and elsewhere. Although Muammar
al-Qadhafi was reportedly fed a carefully vetted version of the events attendant to Hannibal’s arrest to help minimize the perception that Hannibal was to blame, the elder al-Qadhafi was reportedly vexed that Libya, for reasons of protecting the first family’s pride, had to engage in a bilateral spat with Switzerland at a time when it was trying to move ahead with negotiations for a framework agreement with the European Union.
With respect to Saadi’s trip, Muammar al-Qadhafi was reportedly livid that Libyan officials had permitted him to exit the country when it was known that he was not supposed to travel.
Al-Qadhafi was particularly upset that Abdullah Sanussi, a former director of military intelligence and senior regime figure who had played a role as minder of the more troublesome al-Qadhafi offspring, had not done a better job of keeping track of Saadi. (Note: Sanussi is related by marriage to al-Qadhafi and is a trusted figure. He is usually in physical proximity to
the tent in which al-Qadhafi holds meetings with visiting foreign dignitaries and, according to members of al-Qadhafi’s protocol office, personally oversees al-Qadhafis’ close protection detail. End note.)
.. PROMPT AN AL-QADHAFI FAMILY MEETING
4. (C) The upshot of Muatassim’s solicitation of funds, Hannibal’s arrest and Saadi’s jaunt was an al-Qadhafi family meeting in mid-August. Al-Qadhafi reportedly decided to reduce Sanussi’s role as a minder for the most troublesome children (he is still a key adviser to Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi) and to instead assign his daughter, Aisha al-Qadhafi, the task of monitoring the activities of ne’er-do-wells Saadi, Hannibal and Saif al-Arab. (Note: The latter is the least publicly known of al-Qadhafi’s children; he lives in Munich, where he pursues ill-defined business interests and spends much time partying.
The German Ambassador has expressed concern to us that it is only a matter of time before there is an incident involving him. End note.) At the meeting, Saadi reportedly criticized his father for having ignored him, and specifically cited the fact that his (Saadi’s) efforts to establish an Export Free Trade Zone near the western Libyan town of Zuwara had not enjoyed the kind of support that Muatassim’s activities as National Security Adviser or Saif al-Islam’s high-profile efforts under the
Qadhafi Development Foundation and Libya Youth Forum. As reported ref C, Muammar al-Qadhafi subsequently made an unusual visit to Zuwara last September and significant work on the development project began within a few days of his visit. Although the Zuwara Free Trade Zone is an ambitious and expensive project, Muammar al-Qadhafi likely views it as a relatively small price to pay if it helps occupy the notoriously ill-behaved Saadi and lends a patina of useful engagement to his otherwise less than sterling reputation.
5. (C) Al-Meyet and Zahri Muntasser (strictly protect), a well-connected businessman whose wife socializes regularly with Aisha al-Qadhafi and Safia al-Qadhafi (wife of Muammar al-Qadhafi), have told us that Aisha played a strong role in urging a hardline Libyan position with respect to the
Swiss-Libyan contretemps over Hannibal’s arrest. Separately, the Swiss Ambassador told us that Aisha’s less than accurate rendering to her father of the events surrounding Hannibal’s arrest and treatment by Swiss authorities helped stoke Muammar al-Qadhafi’s anger, limiting the extent to which Libyan and Swiss officials could maneuver to find an acceptable compromise.
The Swiss have told us that in the most recent effort between the two sides to resolve the issue in Davos, Saif had approved an agreement that had the Swiss literally bending over backwards to assuage Libyan demands. After making a phone call (to either Aisha or the leader), Saif returned somewhat chastened after several minutes to rescind the approval. The Swiss crisis, together with other points of intra-family tension, has reportedly brought Aisha, who enjoys closer relations with Hannibal than with her other brothers, together with Hannibal, Saadi and, to a lesser extent, Saif al-Arab. Muatassim reportedly agreed with the hardline approach vis a vis the Swiss and has been closer to Aisha’s end of the spectrum than to that of Saif al-Islam, who urged a more moderate approach. Muhammad al-Qadhafi (the eldest son, but by al-Qadhafis’ first wife) and Khamis al-Qadhafi (fifth son by al-Qadhafi’s second wife and the well-respected commander of a special forces unit that effectively serves as a regime protection unit) have remained neutral. Exacerbating family tensions is the fact that Saif al-Islam and his mother, Safia, have been on the outs since Saif al-Islam declined to accept as his bride the young woman his mother picked for him some two years ago. Safia al-Qadhafi expressed frustration as recently as two months ago to Muntasser’s wife that Saif al-Islam had not only spurned her choice, but had persisted in his hard-partying, womanizing ways, a source of concern in a socially conservative country like Libya.
INCREASED TENSION BETWEEN SAIF AL-ISLAM AND MUATASSIM
6. (C) Against that backdrop of tension, competition between Saif al-Islam, whom most still regard as the heir-apparent, and Muatassim, whose viability as a potential alternative successor has risen since his appointment as National Security Adviser, has increased since last fall. Several well-informed contacts with ties to family circles have reported that Saif al-Islam and Muatassim have not spoken in over three months. Saif reportedly
bridled at the fact that Muatassim accompanied Muammar al-Qadhafi on the latter’s visit to Moscow, Minsk and Kiev last year (ref D), and played a key role in negotiating potential weapons contracts. Muatassim (who flew back early) and his older brother Muhammad greeted Muammar al-Qadhafi at the airport upon the latter’s return to Tripoli; Saif, who was in town, was pointedly absent. The Serbian Ambassador, citing conversations with National Security Council staff and members of al-Qadhafi’s entourage, recently told us that Muatassim had presented a number of proposed contracts for weapons, equipment and training to the Secretary of the Temporary Interim Defense Committee (MOD-equivalent), Abu Bakr Yunis shortly after his return from Moscow. Yunis rejected them, arguing that the terms Muatassim had negotiated were not favorable and that Libya did not need much of the equipment Muatassim had proposed buying. Muatassim interpreted Yunis’s response as an attempt to freeze him out of military procurement affairs; there was a heated meeting late last December between Muatassim and Yunis, at which there was sharp disagreement about who had the lead on military procurement. Muatassim reportedly argued that he alone should make such decisions. According to the Serbian Ambassador’s
contacts, Muammar al-Qadhafi called a rump session of the Security Committee in December to mediate the conflict. It was reportedly decided that while Muatassim would have the clear lead in non-military security equipment procurement, Yunis and the MOD-equivalent would continue to play a role in military procurement. It was further determined that Khamis al-Qadhafi would play a larger role in military procurement, since his Khamis Regiment (the 32nd Brigade) had demonstrated some success in procurement. Muatassim, whom the Serbian Ambassador described as “a bloody man” and “not terribly bright”, reportedly believed that Saif al-Islam was behind some of the pushback against his having a clear lead on military procurement, worsening the tension between them.
7. (C) Saif al-Islam’s highly-publicized visit to the U.S. last November-December exacerbated tension with his siblings, particularly Muatassim, who viewed it as grandstanding. Saif al-Islam’s high-profile role as the public face of the regime to the West has been a mixed blessing for him. While it has bolstered his image (he is probably the most publicly-recognized figure in Libya other than Muammar al-Qadhafi), many Libyans view him as self-aggrandizing and too eager to please foreigners at the expense of Libyans’ interest. His role in the denouement of the Bulgarian nurses’ case, in which he acknowledged in media interviews that the nurses had been tortured and the investigation into their alleged injection of the AIDS virus into Libyan children bungled, badly damaged his reputation. The fact that his recent visit to the U.S. came not long after his August 2008 Youth Forum address – in which he strongly criticized the existing Jamahiriya system of governance, (disingenuously) said that most of his proposed reforms had already been achieved, and declared his intention to withdraw from political life to focus solely on civil society issues (ref
E) – reportedly irritated his siblings. Senior GOL contacts have suggested to us that Muatassim’s desire to visit Washington this spring and his seemingly overweaning focus on having meetings with senior USG officials and signing a number of agreements are driven at least in part by a strong sense of competition with Saif al-Islam.
THE KNIVES COME OUT
8. (C) Recent events have fueled speculation that inter-sibling rivalries, and those of the more conservative regime elements they represent, have been increasing. In what was viewed as a warning to Saif al-Islam against pressing his reform agenda too hard, regime critic Dhaw al-Mansuri was severely beaten on the street early last summer by men variously described as members of the Revolutionary Committees or security elements. The
Executive Director of the QDF-affiliated Human Rights Society of Libya, Muhammad Tarnesh, was detained in late April in connection with an editorial he had written criticizing the government’s poorly coordinated campaign of housing and infrastructure development that featured as its primary accomplishment the seemingly random destruction of large numbers of residences and businesses. Tarnesh told us the investigation was orchestrated by Prime Minister al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi, who had taken umbrage at the column and who has been engaged in a quiet struggle with Saif al-Islam over the latter’s political-reform agenda. (Note: Al-Mahmoudi was appointed as a sop to conservative regime elements in 2006 after Shukhri Ghanem, former PM and a pro-reform protigi of Saif al-Islam, was sacked. End note.) More recently, the detention in early February of Juma’a Atiaga on charges that he was involved in a banned political organization and had a hand in the 1984 assassination of Libya’s former Ambassador to Rome, Ammar Daw, has been widely interpreted by informed observers here as a run against Saif al-Islam by conservative regime elements (ref G).
In interviews with al-Sharq al-Awsat at the time, Saif al-Islam decried the arrest as “ridiculous” and the QDF issued a statement calling for Atiaga’s release and criticizing GOL authorities for having arrested Atiaga while ignoring other cases involving allegations of human rights abuses that the QDF had brought to the attention of authorities. Reports suggest that National Security Adviser Muatassim al-Qadhafi orchestrated the arrest through the Prime Minister’s office in retaliation for Saif al-Islam’s recent encroachment on a business deal Muatassim was trying to broker.
9. (C) Perhaps most tellingly, Saif al-Islam’s longtime business partner and financial adviser, Abdulrahman Karfakh, left Tripoli under duress in January, ostensibly to study English in Australia. The shadowy Karfakh ran the National Engineering Supply and Services Company (NESSCO), a large holding company through which Saif al-Islam holds quiet partnerships in a number of foreign entities whose entry into the Libyan market he helped facilitate. Established as an oil field services companies in the late 1990’s, NESSCO now owns large stakes in over 20 major joint-venture projects and runs a profitable business in providing “facilitation” (usually visas and meetings with key GOL officials) for foreign companies seeking to enter the market. Together with Saif al-Islam’s quiet allotment of oil lifts from an offshore mooring point near the western Libyan area of al-Jurf, NESSCO represents his primary source of revenue and the principal means by which he finances his many activities. As reported ref H, we were told last May that Muatassim appeared to be moving to play a larger role in commercial contracts with foreign companies, a bailiwick that had largely been reserved to that point for Saif al-Islam. Karfakh was arrested last spring on corruption charges, supposedly at Muatassim’s behest, and was only released after an impassioned plea by Saif al-Islam to his father. Housing and Infrastructure Board Chairman Abuzeid Dorda told a contact of ours that Saif al-Islam had told Muammar al-Qadhafi that if he insisted on keeping Karfakh in prison, he might as well jail him (Saif al-Islam), too. In the latest evolution, Muatassim’s confederates approached Karfakh in late December/early January and warned him against interfering in Muatassim’s business interests, threatening to kill him if he did not. Saif al-Islam reportedly assessed that he could no longer guarantee Karfakh’s safety or protect him from arrest, and arranged for him to quietly leave Tripoli for Australia for an indeterminate period to let things settle.
10. (C) The contretemps over Karfakh coincided with a sharp denial by Saif al-Islam of (incorrect) western media reports that he had paid USD one million to pop singer Mariah Carey for a four song set she sang at a New Year’s Eve bash on the Caribbean island of St. Bart’s. Saif al-Islam was in the UAE and Thailand for New Year’s. Saif’s “Oea” newspaper hotly denied that their boss had been the financier and corrections were printed in western media noting that Muatassim, not Saif al-Islam, was the organizer of the party in question. (Note: A well-informed contact, who helped bring Lionel Richie to Libya several years ago to sing at Aicha’s al-Qadhafi’s birthday party, recently confirmed that he had helped put Muatassim’s people in touch with Carey’s manager. End note.)
11. (C) Comment: While internecine strife is nothing new for the famously fractious al-Qadhafi family, the recent escalation of tension between Saif al-Islam and Muatassim, Aisha, Hannibal and Saadi, comes during a particularly momentous period in the Jamahiriya’s history. The 40th anniversary of the revolution on September 1, 2009, together with Muammar al-Qadhafi’s recent election as Chairman of the AU (ref H), proposed political-economic reforms, consideration of a constitution, and rumored elections, have contributed to a sense that Libya is in the midst of a period of particular political turbulence. The Executive Director of the QDF recently told the DCM that a draft constitution had been finished and submitted to the General People’s Committee (cabinet-equivalent) for approval, and that it could be submitted to the General People’s Congress for ratification sometime this year. The UN Resident Representative recently told the Ambassador that Saif al-Islam had established a super-committee under the auspices of the Economic and Development Board to draw up plans to implement wealth distribution and privatization/government restructuring advocated by Muammar al-Qadhafi last March (ref I). In addition to the fact that Saif al-Islam’s public calls for political-economic reforms are seemingly at odds with the old school manner in which he has attempted to monopolize the most lucrative sectors of the economy – a source of irritation for his siblings – the changes he has called for would directly and adversely impact their economic interests and those of other conservative regime elements who have few fungible skills other than political loyalty. Saif al-Islam’s recent announcement of a regional organization that would publicly identify specific individuals who perpetrate human rights abuses and target them for sanctions has been interpreted by some local observers as a manifestation of his frustration with the slow pace of reforms and as a threat to conservative regime elements, many of whom personally played a part in the most serious transgressions of the late 1970’s and 1980’s.
12. (C) Comment (continued): Persistent rumors about Muammar al-Qadhafi’s declining health have lent particular urgency to questions about succession scenarios, throwing into stark relief the fact that, absent a constitution, there is no legal mechanism by which to orchestrate such an endeavor and seemingly increasing the stakes for the sibling rivalry. Adding to the current tension is the fact that some of al-Qadhafi’s children control military and security assets (Muatassim and Khamis – notably, Saif al-Islam does not). Harking back to the bloody feuds between members of the ruling Karamanli family during the Ottoman period, a well-informed contact recently noted that it is historically not a good thing when rival Libyan siblings have armed militias at their disposal. As Libya lurches forward with the effort to balance badly needed economic reform with the appearance of some political re-structuring – all against the backdrop of looming succession issues – the sharp rivalry between the al-Qadhafi children could play an important, if not determinative role, in whether the al-Qadhafi family is able to hold on to power after Muammar al-Qadhafi exits (one way or another) the political scene. End comment.