Reference ID: 08TRIPOLI679
Created: 2008-08-28 15:03
Released: 2011-02-05 00:12
Origin: Embassy Tripoli
OO RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHKUK RUEHROV
DE RUEHTRO #0679/01 2411512
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O P 281512Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3826
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 0899
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS PRIORITY 0583
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI 4340
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 05 TRIPOLI 000679
DEPT FOR NEA/MAG AND INR
E.O. 12958: DECL: 8/27/2018
SUBJECT: SAIF AL-ISLAM AL-QADHAFI CALLS FOR FURTHER REFORM, THREATENS TO WITHDRAW FROM POLITICS
REF: A) TRIPOLI 666, B) 07 TRIPOLI 759, C) TRIPOLI 227 TRIPOLI 00000679 001.2 OF 005 CLASSIFIED BY: Chris Stevens, CDA, U.S. Embassy – Tripoli, Dept of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)
1. (C) Summary: In a lengthy, much-anticipated speech at an annual youth forum gathering, Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi, son of Muammar al-Qadhafi, implicitly criticized past decisions of his father’s regime, called for dramatic changes to Libya’s system of governance, claimed that much of his program of social, political and economic reform had been achieved, and said he intended to withdraw from politics to focus instead on civil society and development work. Conceding that Libya had suffered from “stagnation” during the sanctions period, he focused on the government’s ambitious development program. The decentralized Jamahiriya system instituted by his father was confusing and had not delivered results, and Libya needed a constitution to underpin a more transparent government structure and more predictable decisionmaking processes. Drawing a line between proposed government restructuring and greater participation by Libyans in their own governance, he called for a more robust civil society, judicial reform, greater respect for human rights, and more press freedoms. Describing Muammar al-Qadhafi as a historically unique figure whose powers and prerogatives could not be inherited, he criticized Arab regimes in which sons succeed their fathers and flatly rejected the idea that he would automatically assume a position of leadership by dint of being his father’s son. In the most controversial portion of his remarks, Saif al-Islam claimed that the major foreign policy issues and reform agenda items had been resolved, and that he intended to withdraw from politics. Expected to be a speech in which he previewed his father’s upcoming Revolution Day address and clarified reform efforts and perhaps his own role within the government, Saif al-Islam’s speech has instead confused Libyans and raised more questions than it answered. There have already been a series of highly-publicized meetings and press articles calling for him to “return” to politics, suggesting that his announced intention to “disappear for awhile” may have been a ploy to engender statements of popular support, possibly to help buttress him against critcism from conservative regime elements unhappy with his reform agenda. Regardless of his intent, the speech has raised doubts about the long-term viability of the reform agenda and called into question whether Saif al-Islam is ready for a formal leadership role. End summary.
LIBYA’S FOREIGN POLICY ISSUES HAVE BEEN RESOLVED …
2. (C) At at the third annual Libya Youth Forum near the southern city of Sabha on August 20, Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi framed his remarks by saying that Libyan had resolved its major foreign policy issues and no longer faced external threats. (Note: The head of the Federal Express franchise in Libya, who bid on a contract to deliver equipment and supplies to the venue, said the remote site had been selected largely to facilitate better crowd control and security. Demonstrations, which were violently suppressed, broke out at last year’s Youth Forum gathering in Benghazi, prompting state media to cut the television feed. End note.) Speaking at a desert venue by the Oubari Lakes, Saif al-Islam referred to the U.S.-Libya comprehensive claims settlement agreement signed by NEA A/S Welch in Tripoli on August 14 (ref A) and noted that embargoes and sanctions were now a thing of the past. The U.S. and other states were now contemplating selling arms to Libya, which had been “just a dream” a few short months ago. Saif’s reference to the U.S.-Libya claims agreement drew loud, sustained applause from the crowd of young Libyans. In an implicit criticism of Libya’s past foreign policy adventures, Saif al-Islam said that many of Libya’s issues with the West had been “unnecessary battles in the first place”. …
LEAVING IT TO FOCUS ON REMEDYING INTERNAL “STAGNATION”
¶3. (SBU) Saying Libya had been “in stagnation for decades” because of international sanctions, Saif al-Islam conceded that Libya was “also at fault” for its period of isolation. He cautioned that while there were many reasons for Libya’s past foreign policy decisions, “now is not the time to talk about that”. He instead focused on Libya’s ambitious program of infrastructure development, much of which is designed to demonstrate tangible benefits of the Fatah Revolution in the run-up to the upcoming 40th anniversary of the September 1, 1969 coup that brought Muammar al-Qadhafi to power. Conceding that infrastructure, housing and development had been neglected for too long, he also tacitly conceded that the current sudden spending spree had occasioned its own problems, saying that the rush to disburse 130 billion Libyan dinar (about USD 108 billion) worth of infrastructure contracts in the past year had led to “confusion and hysteria”. In a nod to two key popular TRIPOLI 00000679 002.2 OF 005 concerns, he specifically mentioned large investments in education and health care, claiming that foreign universities and foreign hospitals were being established in Libya.
JAMAHIRIYA SYSTEM HASN’T DELIVERED; NEW GOVERNMENT STRUCTURE & CONSTITUTION NEEDED
4. (SBU) Turning to governance, Saif al-Islam resurrected his call for a constitution, something he explicitly advocated in his 2006 Youth Forum speech in Sirte, which drew harsh criticism at the time from the Revolutionary Committees and other conservative regime elements. Reacting to that, Saif al-Islam had softened his language in his 2007 speech in Benghazi (ref B), using the term “social contract”. In Sabha this year, he adopted slightly more forward leaning language, saying Libya “needs something, which is perhaps called a constitution – let’s say a popular pact similar to the social pact or a pact of the mass of the people”. Such a contract should stem from the popular authority of the people, he said, but stressed that a formal document of some kind was needed to enshrine and protect the will of the people against unconstitutional attempts to usurp power as in the recent coup in Mauritania.
5. (SBU) Criticizing the inchoate nature of the decentralized Jamahiriya system, he said Libyans are frustrated with the the existing system’s failure to deliver basic services such as trash collection, pest control, water and electricity, and now want a clearly articulated system of rules that govern personal conduct, economic affairs and governance. Describing the bedrock of good governance as effective local government, he stressed that despite the rhetoric about popular local committees, the Jamahiriya system of his father had not delivered on that front. Describing the decision to dismantle formal decisionmaking structures and to effectively decouple the local and central governments as “a mistake”, he called for a “new administrative structure” that would better integrate local municipalities and districts with the central government.
6. (SBU) Referring to Muammar al-Qadhafi’s March 2 address to the General People’s Congress, in which he called for government restructuring and radical privatization (ref C), Saif al-Islam conceded that he had been personally involved in the work of the committees tasked with implementing his father’s vision. He emphasized that plans for restructuring the government are underway, and will involve reshaped local institutions and greater privatization. Arguing for aggressive privatization, he said “the state will not own anything” and “everything should be done by the private sector”. (Note: As reported ref C, five committees were established to formulate plans for implementing Muammar al-Qadhafi’s March 2 vision. Contacts have told us Saif al-Islam established shadow committees staffed by personnel from the Economic Development Board (EDB) and National Planning Council (NPC); the final recommendations for implementing al-Qadhafi’s vision reflected heavy input from the shadow committees. End note.) Referring obliquely to reports of fierce infighting over recommendations about restructuring and privatization, Saif al-Islam noted that “many things that were not nice” had happened in the course of recent intra-government debates, but stressed that those issues had been resolved.
CIVIL SOCIETY, JUDICIAL REFORM, HUMAN RIGHTS & PRESS FREEDOMS NECESSARY
7. (SBU) Drawing a line between proposed government restructuring and greater direct participation by Libyans in their own governance, Saif al-Islam explicitly called for a more robust civil society, judicial reform, greater respect for human rights, and more press freedoms. Stressing that the best guarantee of “democracy, liberty and human rights” was “a strong, independent, enduring civil society” akin to that in the U.S., he argued that Libya urgently needs a more robust civil society if it is to develop further. Noting his personal involvement in sending an estimated 12,000 Libyan students abroad to Europe, Australia and the U.S. to study, he predicted that great strides would be made when those students returned to work in Libya, and called on Libyan youth to establish civic associations to help ensure government accountability. 8. (SBU) Citing corrupt judicial systems in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere in the Middle East, Saif al-Islam called for a fair judicial system and rule of law, without which “all the things (reforms) that we do will be undermined … and disappear”. In a swipe at Muammar al-Qadhafi’s famously TRIPOLI 00000679 003.2 OF 005 mercurial style of leadership, Saif al-Islam linked human rights progress to a stable, clearly articulated political and judicial system, noting that “we want to have an administrative, legal and constitutional system once and for all, rather than change … every year”. In a line that drew sustained applause and wide press coverage, he noted that a new draft legal code was currently being reviewed by the government and said ” … the count-down towards building a state of institutions, constitutions, rule of law, and modern management has started with a set of new laws which is being presented to the people everywhere, incuding the new administrative structure of the country”.
9. (SBU) The new legal code, he argued, was critical if Libya was to enshrine essential civil society concepts such as expanded respect for human rights and press freedoms. Conceding that “anybody could have violated your rights” in Libya before, he claimed those days were over. Softening his criticism of past abuses, he said Libya had not been in a position to simultaneously address development and human rights needs. With progress on the development front, respect for human rights was now necessary, in part to help sustain development efforts: “Libyans cannot build the Libya of tomorrow when they are scared and frightened of internal, external security apparatuses, the police and so on”. (Note: The Qadhafi Development Foundation, headed by Saif al-Islam, announced an initiative the week before his speech to compensate families of prisoners killed during the government’s suppression of a riot at the notorious Abu Salim Prison in 1995. End note.) He called for greater press freedom as a means to help ensure government accountabilitym noting that a more independent press would reveal “where the secret deals are taking place, where the problems lie, and where the conspiracies are being planned”.
NO ONE CAN INHERIT MUAMMAR AL-QADHAFI’S POWERS & PREROGATIVES
10. (SBU) Criticizing the “forest of dictatorships” in the Middle East, he said modern Arab regimes were characterized by hereditary, dictatorial executives, “fanciful, ineffective parliaments” and human rights violations. Disparaging Arab governance, he complimented the state of Israel, in which a president could be forced from office on sexual harassment charges, and a prime minister on corruption charges. Reprising nomenclature he used in his 2007 Youth Forum address in Benghazi (ref B), Saif al-Islam nonetheless described Muammar al-Qadhafi’s role as a “redline” that was beyond criticism and not subject to other government restructuring efforts. Likening his father’s position in modern Libya to that of George Washington, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and the Ayatollah Khomeini, he stressed that Muammar al-Qadhafi’s role was historically unique and that neither he nor anyone else was entitled to inherit that mantle. He flatly rejected the proposition that he would automatically assume the position and prerogatives of his father by dint of blood relation. “This is not a private farm to be inherited”, he said. For Libya to experience hereditary succession would put the country “at square one again” in terms of political development.
SAIF SAYS HE’LL WITHDRAW FROM POLITICS …
11. (SBU) In the most publicized and controversial part of his address, Saif al-Islam said he would recuse himself from politics and instead focus on civil society and development work. Claiming that “the time of major battles has ended” – he referred to the U.S. claims agreement and foreign policy contretemps such as the Lockerbie bombing and the Bulgarian medics case – Saif al-Islam said “I have no more major battles and my position has become embarrassing”. Justifying his prominent role in sensitive affairs of state, he admitted freely that he had intervened extensively in foreign affairs, government restructuring and development ” … because there were ” … no presently-functioning institutions and no administrative system (in Libya) which were capable of doing these jobs”. Claiming that much of his program of resolving key foreign policy challenges, initiating government restructuring and development, and human rights reforms had been accomplished and that the rest was “on track”, he said his central role was no longer needed or appropriate. Referring to George Orwell’s novel “The Animal Farm” as a cautionary tale against the danger of would-be revolutionary leaders recapitulating the errors of the systems they had overthrown, he cautioned that it would be problematic if he were to continue his involvement in political issues. Noting that some regime elements “hated” his reform efforts, he stressed that Libya’s future lies with clearly TRIPOLI 00000679 004.2 OF 005 organized institutions and a robust civil society, rather than charismatic personalities. Addressing his future, Saif al-Islam claimed he would withdraw from affairs of state, perhaps “disappear for awhile” and focus on civil society and development efforts. Discounting the possibility that he would be lured back into politics, he stressed that he did not intend to return and said he would rightly be considered “a liar” if he did.
.. BUT THE MASSES SAY HE MUST “CONTINUE HIS REVOLUTIONARY JOURNEY”
12. (SBU) Reaction to Saif al-Islam’s stated intention to withdraw from politics has been swift and well-coordinated. In a series of meetings held on August 24 at the People’s Hall in Tripoli, members of the Revolutionary Committees, various youth organizations, professional associations, and local government committees issued strongly worded calls for Saif al-Islam to “return” to politics. The crowd at the People’s Hall frequently broke into chants of “Keep up the journey, oh son of the brave man!” The dean of the lawyers’ association, Bashir al-Tawir, said Saif al-Islam was “a revolutionary man who should continue his revolutionary journey”. Striking a populist note, Muhammad Aribi, the People’s Leadership Coordinator in Tripoli, claimed that “only America and Zionism” would benefit from Saif al-Islam’s withdrawal from politics. Similar calls were issued at gatherings of youth organizations around the country that began the day after his speech, and a larger youth event – designed to lure Saif al-Islam back – is scheduled to take place in Benghazi shortly before Muammar al-Qadhafi’s Revolution Day speech on September 1. The leadership of the national youth organization and Saif al-Islam’s Libya al-Ghad (Libya of Tomorrow) organization reportedly threatened to resign en masse unless he continued in his political role. Unusually, the proceedings at the People’s Hall were not covered by state radio or television, but were heavily covered by the Libya Fada’iya satellite channel and Ouea newspaper, both owned by Saif al-Islams 1/09 media group. COMMENT
13. (C) Saif al-Islam’s Youth Day speeches are closely followed as a barometer of reform efforts and a harbinger of policy initiatives. Embassy contacts, who expected Saif al-Islam’s remarks to clarify expectations about Muammar al-Qadhafi’s Revolution Day speech early next week, were instead left confused about the state of the reform agenda and government restructuring, as well as Saif’s own political future. Several noted that Saif al-Islam did himself a disservice by clearly departing from his prepared remarks in an attempt at a more improvised delivery. The halting, rambling speech exacerbated the perception that the typically charismatic Saif al-Islam was nervous. Key advisers Omran Bukhres and Dr. Yusuf Sawani were reportedly “beside themselves” that he had departed from the carefully crafted text they helped prepare. Several contacts also noted that there were junctures at which Saif al-Islam appeared to be restraining himself from going further in his remarks, particularly with respect to intra-governmental squabbling about restructuring and rumors that he was hated by conservative regime elements.
14. (C) Few take seriously Saif al-Islam’s claim that he intends to withdraw from politics entirely, but there is confusion about what he intended to achieve by threatening to do so. The swift calls for him to “return” suggest a scripted plot to garner political credibility for him as a genuinely populist figure, possibly as a prelude to announcement of a more formal role for him during the upcoming Revolution Day speech. There have been reports on websites that the government restructuring could include a Social Leadership Council, to be headed by a senior figure. Some observers have speculated that his remarks on hereditary Arab regimes and Muammar al-Qadhafi’s historically unique role were intended as a subtle warning to his own siblings, some of whom have recently become more naked in their ambitions. A contact with regular access to the family believes that Saif al-Islam intended to signal to his father dissatisfaction that he, Saif, has undertaken the most sensitive, labor-intensive work in the government without benefit of formal position, by contrast with his brother, Muatassim, who was named National Security Adviser last year.
15. (C) Saif al-Islam’s claim that work on human rights, personal liberties and development was in “its last round” is broadly seen to be premature. The consensus among Libyans is TRIPOLI 00000679 005.2 OF 005 that while Saif al-Islam has helped contribute to the beginnings of reform in some areas, much remains to be done. A line of thinking we’ve heard from some of our savvier contacts is that references to accomplishments and intra-government bickering were a tacit admission that he had not yet achieved all he hoped to, in part because of resistance from truculent conservative regime elements. The corollary to that interpretation is that he is still needed to keep those efforts in train. His remarks about closing the books on past mistakes have been interpreted by a number of contacts as a subtle signal to the Revolutionary Committees and other old guard regime elements that he is willing to put aside old grievances. The commonly-held view is that while Libya has made some strides in the right direction since Saif al-Islam’s coming out party in 2003, when he previewed a reformist agenda in his first major public address, the gains that have been made to date are modest and not likely to endure absent the active advocacy and protection of a politically well-connected patron. Whether he was sincere in stating his intent to withdraw from politics or meant it as a coy means by which to engender popular support, the effect of Saif al-Islam’s speech has been to raise doubts about the long-term viability of the reform agenda (if he in fact exits the scene) and to call into question whether he is really ready for a formal leadership role (if this is all part of an elaborate act of kabuki theater). All eyes are now on Muammar al-Qadhafi and his Revolution Day address on or about September 1. End comment.