- By Charles HomansCharles Homans is a special correspondent for the New Republic and the former features editor of Foreign Policy.
As Libya spiraled further out of control today, WikiLeaks posted two new cables from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli detailing the family squabbles of strongman Muammar al-Qaddafi’s family. Both are from March 2009, and both are signed by U.S. Ambassador Gene Cretz, the United States’ first ambassador in Libya since 1972, who lost his job last month following the release of the infamous “voluptuous blonde” cable (and/or other more serious dispatches) he had signed.
The cables date from an eventful period in the life of the Qaddafi family. The previous July, Hannibal al-Qaddafi, the Qaddafi son best known for getting in trouble in Europe on a semi-regular basis, had been arrested in Switzerland for beating his servants at a Geneva hotel. Meanwhile, Saif al-Islam, Muammar’s heir-apparent and the best-regarded Qaddafi outside of Libya, was fuming over the growing closeness between his father and his brother Muatassim (above, with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in April 2009), the elder Qaddafi’s national security adviser and Saif’s only real competition for the family business. According to the cable, “Saif reportedly bridled at the fact that Muatassim accompanied Muammar al-Qadhafi on the latter’s visit to Moscow, Minsk and Kiev last year…, and played a key role in negotiating potential weapons contracts.”
All of this, plus a verboten trip to Rome by Qaddafi son Saadi, prompted a family meeting in August, at which the siblings aired their grievances:
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.
The cable relates that Qaddafi assigned his daughter Aisha “the task of monitoring the activities of ne’er-do-wells” in the family: Saadi, Hannibal, and the less notorious Saif al-Arab. But interestingly, the cable suggests that Aisha may have been part of the problem in the case of Hannibal’s arrest, which blew up into an international incident when the irate Qaddafi pere threw Swiss diplomats out of his country in retaliation. According to the cable:
XXXXXXXXXXXX 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 aproval.
Meanwhile, back in the present, Saif seems to have embraced his family tradition of giving long, weird, paranoid speeches, and it seems clear that, whatever his Davos and LSE credentials, the Qaddafi apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.