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Leaked cables reveal anger at regime may make Libya the next Arab domino to fall

February 7, 2011

THE violence and corruption of members of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s family have made Libya a gangster state with a worse record of governance than Egypt or Tunisia, according to leaked US diplomatic cables.

The documents reveal previously undisclosed details of how family greed, rivalry and extremism have complicated British and US efforts to normalize relations with Libya since it decided to abandon nuclear weapons and renounce terrorism. Gaddafi’s children plunder the country’s oil revenues, run a kleptocracy and operate a reign of terror that has created simmering hatred and resentment among the people, according to the cables released by WikiLeaks.

In the light of the upheavals in the Arab world, the diplomatic traffic also shows that far from being stable, Libya could be another corrupt authoritarian domino poised to fall.

One intriguing sequence of cables tells how Switzerland faced down threats after Swiss police arrested Hannibal Gaddafi, a younger son, and his wife for allegedly abusing two of their domestic staff.

Swiss police officers drew their guns and fought to disarm two of Hannibal’s bodyguards, who were illegally carrying pistols and attacked them when they entered his suite at the five-star President Wilson hotel in Geneva. The police found Hannibal hiding in a bedroom with six bodyguards.

He was taken away in an armored Mercedes.

Aisha, Gaddafi’s fiery daughter, then flew into Geneva to raise the stakes. The Libyans threatened to withdraw billions of dollars from Swiss banks and cut off oil supplies – threats that were never carried out in full.

After petty reprisals against Swiss companies and citizens, the affair died down. Hannibal paid compensation to the employees – a Moroccan and a Tunisian – to settle the case and flew back to Libya with Aisha in a private jet.

The lesson of the 2008 case, for the Americans, was that there is a gap between average Libyans and “a hidebound regime that sees the state as an extension of the Gaddafi family empire”.

Hannibal wields vast financial power in Libya, thanks to his influence over two dominant oil drilling and shipping firms. A cable calls this “another example of the kleptocratic nature of Colonel Gaddafi’s regime”.

Since seizing power in a 1969 coup, Gaddafi has claimed to run an egalitarian “state of the masses”, using the oil and gas revenues that account for 95 per cent of Libya’s economy. “The reality is that the Gaddafi family and its political loyalists own outright or have a considerable stake in most things worth owning, buying or selling in Libya,” the US embassy told Washington.

Hannibal is a minor player compared with the two Gaddafi sons most often identified as potential successors.

Gaddafi, now aged 68, may have had a series of small strokes in 2007 that left him unable to turn his head and may have made his erratic behavior even more capricious, the cables report.

The Libyan strongman refuses to fly more than eight hours at a time, is too scared to ride in a lift and will not stay above the first floor of a hotel with a maximum of 35 steps, evidently for health reasons. So the rivalry between his sons, Mutassim and Saif al-Islam, preoccupies foreign governments. Mutassim, the third son of Gaddafi’s second wife, is the Libyan national security adviser and is identified with the “hard power” faction in the regime.

He is said to have demanded $US1.2 billion in cash or oil shipments for his personal use from the head of Libya’s National Oil Corporation, a trusted regime figure named Shukri Ghanem.

The cable quotes friends of Ghanem saying Gaddafi’s sons were “undisciplined thugs” whom “no one could cross”.

“Gaddafi is focused on the appearance of reform,” a cable said, but Ghanem believed there would be “no meaningful reform possible” in the leader’s lifetime.

The cables describe how even the family’s supposed reformer, Saif, the eldest son of the second wife, depends on some of the regime’s most tainted figures. Saif won attention by making a suave debut on the Western social scene and running a broadcasting network that was slightly more liberal than the totalitarian norm until hardliners shut it down.

His adviser, Abdullah Senussi, however, is known to the US embassy as a former head of military intelligence who personally took a “very tough” line against releasing dissidents or improving human rights.

Saif has also played to the hardliners by delivering a speech in which he said: “We will not tolerate a foreign company to make a profit at the expense of a Libyan citizen.”

In reality, the Gaddafi regime appears divided between compromises and extremists united only in their enjoyment of power and money and their connections to Gaddafi’s tribal clan from the city of Sirte.

Libya has been keen to co-operate with the West against the radical Islamists who threaten its regime.

It is also slowly fulfilling its pledge to dismantle all its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons facilities, although the cables chronicle endless obstructions and delays.

The cables portray the country as wholly corrupt, inefficient and so poor at governing that, despite billions in oil money, the city of Tripoli dumps more than 200,000 gallons of untreated sewage into the Mediterranean every day.

Resentment is also said to be festering there.

The West may be thinking again about placing its bets on the stability of the Gaddafi regime.

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