An address from Muammar al-Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, was aired on television in Libya early on February 21. Saif al-Islam told Libyans he had come without a prepared speech and was going to speak from his heart and mind.
The address (which can be read here) was given as Tripoli was turning into more of a battlefield. Snipers were firing in Saha Al Khadra. His father’s “thugs” were allegedly going into hospitals and killing Libyans who had been out in the streets and been wounded.
Rumors are circulating that Saif al-Islam was shot. Some of the unconfirmed reports say Saif al-Islam is dead and his father and some from the Gaddafi family has fled. Muammar has gone to Venezuela, some reports allege.
The death of Saif al-Islam is possible, but until there are reports which go beyond unconfirmed, this is largely a distracting story. What Saif al-Islam said in the recorded address that aired on February 20 is much more important.
Saif’s Address to Libya
In his rambling address, Saif al-Islam manages to outline what he thinks are key aspects of what is happening in Libya. First, there are political activists whom Libya should work with, who likely have valid grievances and demands worth considering. Two, in Bayda, where he is from and where his mother lives, “Islamic elements” have stolen weapons, killed soldiers, and would like to establish “an Islamic Emirate in Bayda.” And, third, “children” out protesting managed to take drugs and then were “used.” (The last part is interesting given the fact that since Libyans’ “Day of Rage” on February 17 there have been little reports, if any, on Libyans finding people are getting doped up and causing problems.)
If one looks through the entire address and then sifts through the many cables from Libya that have been released by WikiLeaks and leaked to newspapers by WikiLeaks, it is possible to pull out threads to illuminate what might happen from this point forward.
Saif al-Islam emphasizes oil in Libyan society at one point saying, “American Oil Companies played a big part in unifying Libya.” He indicates his fear of an Islamic Emirate being established in Bayda saying, “The British FM called me. Be ready for a new colonial period from American and Britain. ou think they will accept an Islamic Emirate here, 30 minutes from Crete? The West will come and occupy you. Europe & the West will not agree to chaos in Libya, to export chaos and drugs so they will occupy us.”
In a call for Libyans to lay down arms and not become enmeshed in conflict, he says, “Before we let weapons come between us, from tomorrow, in 48 hours, we will call or a new conference for new laws. We will call for new media laws, civil rights, lift the stupid punishments, we will have a constitution.” He says even his father, “Leader Gaddafi,” wants a constitution.
Saif’s Quixotic Bid for a Libyan Constiution
Saif has been one of the few leaders in Libya to push for Libya to develop a constitution. He is often regarded as a leader who owes his popularity to backers who are “reformists.” In a cable from November 19, 2009, on who which Qadhafi son will succeed Muammar, Mutassim is seen as a brother who stands with “conservatives” in Libya. The cable mentions in March 2009 he drafted a constitution but it was dropped from the General People’s Congress agenda.
In August 2008, Saif spoke at a youth forum, where he said he would be withdrawing from politics entirely to work with civil society organizations in Libya. He pushed for reforms and spoke explicitly about passing a constitution because, to him, the Jamahiriya system had failed. 08TRIPOLI679 details”:
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.
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.
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.
Muammar initiated a process for adopting a constitution quietly in mid-November of 2008. 08TRIPOLI936 shows Muammar allegedly kept it quiet so his son, Saif, could be involved in the process.
The cable notes, however that the “secretive nature of the project has prompted concern among constitution committee members,” who fear Muammar could change his mind. A small circle of Libyans involved in the process are also keenly aware that “secretly developing a constitution reflects the failure of al-Qadhafi t orealize the importance of robust processes (a key weakness of the Jamahiriya system) as a precursor of durable political results.” Muammar is described as “taking the politically expedient route” instead of “investing in a more transparent and slower (but more credible) process.”
Is Saif Afraid Army of “John McClanes” Will Bring Libya to Utter Ruin?
Given the role of Islamic extremists in the continued global war on terrorism, it is no surprise that US diplomats have kept tabs on Islamists in Libya, especially ones believed to be engaged in terrorism. The fear Saif expresses in his address to Libyans appears to reflect a knowledge of how fixated US and European officials have been on what has been happening in Egypt and whether democracy will lead to an Islamist state run by the Muslim Brotherhood or some other group that the US might consider to be similar.
The city of Derna, which is ninety-three and a half kilometers east of Bayda, is described in one cable as a wellspring for foreign fighters who are heading off to fight coalition forces in Iraq. Gaddafi’s link to the US is alleged to be fueling the radicalization of young Libyans in the area. The cable quotes a Libyan “interlocutor,” who likens the young men in Derna to “Bruce Willis’ character in the action picture “Die Hard’” because, for them, “resistance against coalition forces in Iraq is an important act of ‘jihad’ and a last act of defiance against the Qadhafi regime.” The interlocutor suggests many of them refuse to die quietly.
Derna is compared to Bayda and other cities like Benghazi:
Benghazi and other parts of eastern Libya had benefited in the last several years from increased government patronage, Derna continued to “suffer from neglect”. Citing an indeterminate grudge between Libya’s former monarch, King Idriss al-Sanussi, and leading citizens of Derna, xxxxxxxxxxxx claimed that Derna had long been the victim of a deliberate government campaign to keep it poor. He compared Derna’s plight to the fortunes of another conservative eastern Libyan town, Bayda. While Bayda had been the summer retreat for King Idriss and was initially shunned in the early years of Qadhafi’s rule, its fortunes changed after Qadhafi married Sadia Farkhis, daughter of a prominent citizen of the town. The government subsequently established the Omar al-Mukhtar University in what had been the royal palace and sited a number of government-owned enterprises there. By contrast, Derna had not benefited from any such measures.
The neighborhood of Baab al-Shiha, a “district from which a large number of the Libyan foreign fighters identified in documents captured during September’s Objective Massey operation in Iraq had hailed,” is described. Of interest in the “lower-middle class neighborhood” is the “number of small, discrete mosques tucked away in side alleys,” which are part of a “profusion of “popular mosques’” that has “complicated effective monitoring by security forces.”
Just how closely Libya likes to monitor cities comes through in this section of the cable:
4. (C) A number of residents were on the streets; however, they were visibly more wary and less friendly than in other Libyan towns. xxxxxxxxxxxx later noted that some residents were closely questioned by security officials after speaking with a visiting Newsweek reporter in April. Told P/E Chief was an American, xxxxxxxxxxxx jokingly swore and said “there goes my evening”. Clarifying, he said he had plans that night, but would likely be detained and questioned by security officials about his interactions with an Emboff. While P/E Chief had not obviously been followed, word would doubtless reach security officials’ ears that foreigners had visited and inquiries would be made. He dismissed the idea of parting company to avoid creating problems for him, saying it was important that he, as a son of Derna, not bow down to the central government’s authority. “They may have their boot on our throat, but it’s important that they know that we are still breathing and kicking”, he said.
In 08TRIPOLI120, which appears to be a cable that immensely influenced the aforementioned cable, US diplomat Chris Stevens comments, “[The] ability of radical imams to propagate messages urging support for and participation in jihad despite GOL security organizations’ efforts suggests that claims by senior GOL officials that the east is under control may be overstated.”
It describes the frequent references to “martyrdom” in the mosques in Benghazi and Derna:
(S/NF) xxxxxxxxxxxx partly attributed the fierce mindset in Benghazi and Derna to the message preached by imams in eastern Libyan mosques, which he said is markedly more radical than that heard in other parts of the country. xxxxxxxxxxxx makes a point of frequenting mosques whenever he visits Libya as a means to connect with neighbors and relatives and take the political pulse. Sermons in eastern mosques, particularly the Friday ‘khutba’, are laced with “coded phrases” urging worshippers to support jihad in Iraq and elsewhere through direct participation or financial contributions. The language is often ambiguous enough to be plausibly denied, he said, but for devout Muslims it is clear, incendiary and unambiguously supportive of jihad. Direct and indirect references to “martyrdom operations” were not uncommon. By contrast with mosques in Tripoli and elsewhere in the country, where references to jihad are extremely rare, in Benghazi and Derna they are fairly frequent subjects.
The contents of the mentioned cables suggest that in Libya violent revolution is much more possible than it was in Egypt. The area of eastern Libya is filled with Libyans who may seize this moment as opportunity to finally throw off the chains of tyranny that have bound them for over four decades. That they have been repressed for so many years by Gaddafi’s regime will likely fuel desires to wage guerrilla warfare for freedom.
Libya’s Privatization of State Enterprises Increasing U.S. Oil’s Influence?
Saif’s nod to “American oil companies” either signals the growing instability worries Saif because it might have a negative impact on his ability to accumulate more wealth from oil operations in Libya or it points to how successful US oil companies have been at convincing the Gaddafi regime to open up its doors in the past few years.
Prospects for U.S. oil companies appear to be relatively good on February 11, 2010. 10TRIPOLI116 features Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) Shokri Ghanem expressing “support for improved Libya-U.S. relations.” He explains near-term goals for the NOC that include “plans for increasing oil and gas exploration and production” and “developing a cadre of Libyan experts to replace the expatriate workforce.”
Ghanem tells Ambassador Gene Cretz “76 percent of the positions in the oil and gas industry in Libya were occupied by “foreigners.” Many of the positions are jobs he thinks Libyans could be doing (although jobs requiring “experience with new technologies” would still require “expatriates”).
A Libyan privatization board was set up recently and welcomed US companies” in February 2010. And, in a cable titled, “U.S. Foreign Commercial Service Opens For Business in Libya,” suggests that over the course of the past years Libya has become more and more open to US corporations, particularly energy, telecommunications and construction companies. The cable describes Libya’s efforts “to diversify its economy and to privatize government enterprises.” Department of Commerce Assistant Secretary and Director General of the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service Israel Hernandez, who has just opened up a “new Foreign Commercial Service office at the Embassy and discussed commercial opportunities with U.S. and Libyan business leaders and cooperation with senior Libyan government officials,” talks about Libya as “one of the fastest growing markets for U.S. trade.”
However, months ago, in June 2008, a cable is sent out lamenting how soaring oil prices are making it possible for Libya to push for “more stringent long-term contracts with foreign oil and gas producers.” The cable describes a Libyan national oil company ratifying a twenty-five year extension for a contract with Italian firm Eni North Africa BV. The outcome is seen as something that may lead international oil companies (IOCs) to abandon “production efforts” in Libya (this in spite of the fact that Libya is “widely perceived to be one of the relatively few places in the world with significant unproven reserves of sweet, light crude and natural gas”).
Several other major extensions are anticipated in the coming months, including those involving U.S. firm Occidental Petroleum (along with Austrian partner OMV) and Petro-Canada. Those agreements were signed with the NOC in late 2007, but still require GPC [General People's Congress] ratification. It is possible the NOC will seek further concessions in light of its deal with Eni. Spain’s Repsol and the NOC are renegotiating along the EPSA IV contractual model. The initial deal between Repsol YPF and NOC stipulated a 50-50 split of production; however, the NOC is now seeking a minimum production share of 72 percent.
“The NOC has approached numerous other IOCs about extensions, raising the possibility that it will reopen deals that were only concluded a few years ago. Even the U.S. Oasis Group (comprising Amerada-Hess, Marathon and ConocoPhillips), which paid $1.8 billion in December 2005 to return to acreage in Libya’s Sirte Basin that it held before the suspension of U.S.-Libyan diplomatic ties and the imposition of U.S. and UN sanctions, may be affected. Libya’s relatively modest 59.2 percent production share in that deal has generated preliminary probing by the NOC as to whether the Oasis Group would consider renegotiating, which it has so far successfully opposed” [emphasis added]
The diplomat authoring the cable comments:
Libya and the IOC’s have been here before: a spate of renegotiations and extensions occurred in the late-1960s and early 1970s, driven in part by the then-new al-Qadhafi regime to demonstrate to its people that it was a better steward of Libya’s hydrocarbon resources than the Sanussi monarchy had been. As during that period, the current penchant for shifting the goalposts has not been well-received by the IOCs. Despite Libya’s relatively unique position in terms of unproven reserves, high quality oil and low recovery costs, observers here expect that some IOCs facing potentially long renegotiation periods (and associated costs of idle personnel and materiel) and diminished production returns may choose to abandon altogether their production efforts in Libya.
How Saif benefits from Libyan oil business is detailed in the cable, “Qadhafi Incorporated,” from May 10, 2006, which details how Muammar al-Gaddafi’s children supposedly have “income streams from the National Oil Company and oil service subsidiaries.” Saif is believed to be “involved in oil services through One-Nine Petroleum and other Qadhafi family members and associates are believed to have large financial stakes in the Libyan Tamoil oil marketing company based in Europe and Oil Invest.” And notes, it is “believed that millions of dollars are distributed to politically connected Libyans and Libyan expatriates.”
Several cables mention Muammar’s plan to redistribute the country’s oil wealth to Libyans through a privatization scheme. That aspect of Libya’s recent history is worth exploring further as it seems like it is much more likely to have been a ploy to open up Libya to more foreign investment. US cables show the Libyan government has typically not wanted to up the standard of living for Libyans because it might lead to political instability. (Of course, they didn’t expect neighboring countries to inspire Libyans to revolt so the fear of raising Libyans to a better standard economically is no longer likely a chief concern for leaders at this moment.)
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