US embassy cable - 09TRIPOLI924 (original version)

LIBYAN SUCCESSION: QADHAFI ORCHESTRATING THE BOYS' HIGH WIRE ACT? (original version)

Identifier: 09TRIPOLI924
Wikileaks: View 09TRIPOLI924 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Tripoli
Created: 2009-11-19 15:52:00
Classification: SECRET//NOFORN
Tags: PGOV PREL PINR LY
Redacted: This cable was redacted by Wikileaks. [Show redacted version] [Compare redacted and unredacted version]
VZCZCXRO5186
OO RUEHWEB
DE RUEHTRO #0924/01 3231552
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
O P 191552Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5487
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RHMFISS/CDR USAFRICOM STUTTGART GE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI 6036
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 TRIPOLI 000924 
 
NOFORN 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT FOR NEA/MAG 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL:  11/19/2019 
TAGS: PGOV, PREL, PINR, LY 
SUBJECT: LIBYAN SUCCESSION: QADHAFI ORCHESTRATING THE BOYS' HIGH WIRE 
ACT? 
 
REF: A) TRIPOLI 883; B) TRIPOLI 685; C) TRIPOLI 212; D) 08 TRIPOLI 699; E) TRIP 
OLI 487; F) 08 TRIPOLI 870; G) STATE 43049; H) TRIPOLI 661; I) TRIPOLI 208; J) 
 
TRIPOLI 899 
 
CLASSIFIED BY: Gene A. Cretz, Ambassador, U.S. Embassy Tripoli, 
Department of State. 
REASON: 1.4 (b), (d) 
1. (S/NF) Summary:  Muammar al-Qadhafi's recent appointment of 
his son Saif al-Islam as "General Coordinator" and attendant 
indications of a succession plan have stirred up old rumors of 
rivalry between seeming frontrunners for the throne, Saif 
al-Islam and his brother, National Security Advisor, Mutassim 
al-Qadhafi.  Saif al-Islam's return from a 12-month self-imposed 
absence from Libyan politics and his recent new appointment 
clearly indicate that his star is on the rise in the 
constellation of Libyan succession contenders.  Qadhafi pere was 
reportedly disappointed in Mutassim's management of September 1 
Revolution Day anniversary events and his late September travel 
to UNGA.  Nevertheless, Mutassim's continued engagement on the 
U.S. file  and continuing efforts to coordinate a meeting 
between his father and POTUS -- demonstrate that he may see this 
portfolio as his ticket to continue playing in the succession 
game (Ref A).  Contacts assert that Saif al-Islam may be the 
"face of reform," due to his high-profile, public status, and 
the current favorite to succeed his father, but that Mutassim 
should not be counted out of the succession game, particularly 
given his backing by conservatives in the regime, such as 
PM-equivalent Al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi, and his rumored ability 
as National Security Advisor to access significant military and 
security elements, including brother Khamis's elite 32nd Brigade 
force.  End Summary. 
 
SAIF'S RETURN FROM THE COLD 
 
2. (S/NF) Muammar al-Qadhafi's October 6 speech to Revolutionary 
Committee members in Sebha marked the peak of a remarkably 
resurgent six weeks for Saif al-Islam, which began with the 
latter's high-profile return to Libya on August 20 with 
convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi (Ref B). 
Saif has also recently begun to re-engage international media, 
with profiles in two CNN feature reports on his efforts to 
"rehabilitate" former Libyan Islamic Fighting Group members 
(septel).  He has also been involved in attempting to settle the 
ongoing contretemps between the GOL and Canada (septel).  Saif's 
reentry onto the public scene signaled the end of his August 
2008 self-announced retreat from politics, and comes after some 
significant setbacks for him over the past year at the hands of 
regime conservatives.  In March, the draft constitution (a 
Saif-initiative that was to include a position for him as head 
of a 100-member council of deputies) was dropped from the agenda 
of the annual General People's Congress (Ref C).  During the 
same meeting, the Congress installed or kept ministers 
historically opposed to Saif's reform agenda, such as 
PM-equivalent Al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi (who kept his position 
after Muammar al-Qadhafi publicly called him a corrupt thief 
just six months earlier) (Ref D).  Late April witnessed the 
sudden nationalization of Saif's quasi-independent media 
company, which included the take over of his al-Libia satellite 
channel mid-broadcast by the state-run Jamahiriya News Agency 
(Ref E) on reported grounds that Saif was overreaching in 
expanding media freedom. 
 
3. (S/NF) Saif's slide was juxtaposed with younger brother 
Mutassim's rise, with the latter completing a state visit to 
Russia in October 2008 (Ref F), meeting the Secretary of State 
in Washington in March 2009 (Ref G), accompanying Qadhafi on the 
historic visit to Italy in June, welcoming CODEL McCain in 
August (Ref H) , and accompanying his father to New York for the 
UN General Assembly.  Mutassim was very visible at his father's 
side throughout these high level visits.  Additionally, 
Al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi's ability to maintain the PM-equivalent 
position proved to be positive for Mutassim, who is reportedly 
close to the conservative PM and, in the past, has orchestrated 
reactions against Saif's interests through the PM's office (Ref 
I).  Regime insiders also tell us that Mutassim remains the only 
one who can actually challenge his father. 
 
WHAT SAIF'S RETURN MEANS FOR MUTASSIM 
 
4. (S/NF) As Saif's star rises again, local observers are 
turning their eyes toward Mutassim for a reaction.  Mutassim has 
time and time again evinced his aversion to the spotlight via 
media encounters or public events.  Evidence of the elder 
Qadhafi's disappointment in Mutassim's management of September 1 
Revolution Day anniversary events, as well as specific missteps 
in New York (i.e., Mutassim's inability to get necessary 
permissions for a tent to be pitched for the Libyan leader) have 
surfaced (Ref A).  Saif is rumored to have trumped Mutassim 
during a recent order for all expatriate residents of the 
National Oil Company housing compound to vacate their houses. 
The residents report that while Mutassim originally gave the 
 
TRIPOLI 00000924  002 OF 002 
 
 
order for everyone to move immediately, Saif intervened to block 
the demand in order to give the occupants more time to pack up 
and move.  [Note: The reason for the demolition of the housing 
compound is rumored to be to clear a way for Aisha al-Qadhafi 
(known to have disagreements with Saif) to build a home adjacent 
to a park near the location. End note.] 
 
5. (S/NF) Simultaneous with Saif's apparent ascendancy, Mutassim 
has moved in an uncharacteristically quick manner to reengage on 
the U.S. file.  On November 8, he approved the 505 agreement, 
which had previously languished in his office for nearly six 
months (Ref J).  A few days before, on November 5, he personally 
engaged the Ambassador on the treatment of Libyan ships at U.S. 
ports and Libyan diplomtas by U.S. border authorities. 
Additionally, Mutassim renewed his desire to coordinate a 
meeting between the Libyan leader and POTUS (Ref A).  According 
to the Egyptian Embassy here, Mutassim was also expected to meet 
Egypt's Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman during a November visit 
to Tripoli (septel), and his staff advised us that he will meet 
the Turkish PM during the latter's historic upcoming visit. 
 
THE SUCCESSION QUESTION - WILL IT BE SAIF OR MUTASSIM? 
 
6. (S/NF) Contacts suggest that although Mutassim is not as 
skilled in public relations as his older brother Saif, he wields 
significant power from behind the scenes.  As National Security 
Advisor (NSA), Mutassim directs at least some of Libya's 
national security policy decisions, including purchases of 
equipment, and he reportedly plays on issues regarding  the 
military purse.  Contacts also report that younger brother 
Khamis al-Qadhafi, Commander of the 32nd "Khamis" Brigade 
(widely known to be the most well-trained and well-equipped 
force in the Libyan military), is closer to Mutassim than to 
Saif.  [Note:  At least one contact has commented that Khamis 
could come out as a dark horse in the succession race. End 
note.]  Mutassim's role as NSA and his reported closeness to 
Khamis would give Mutassim access to some of the most important 
military and security elements of the regime.  Nevertheless, the 
ultimate authority over the regime's security apparatus remains 
in question.  Independent website Libya al-Youm reported 
November 4 that the Minister-equivalent of Defense, Major 
General Abu Baker Younis Jaber, recently called on his officers 
to swear allegiance to Saif in his new post, making it unclear 
whether the military establishment will report to Mutassim or 
Saif -- or both -- in the future.  [Note:  Muammar al-Qadhafi 
reportedly mediated a conflict between Mutassim and Younis Jaber 
earlier this year involving their respective roles in military 
procurement. (Ref I). End Note.] 
 
COMMENT 
 
7. (S/NF) As Libya undergoes this latest round of Qadhafi's 
political restructuring, without a constitution or clarified 
succession plan, burgeoning sibling rivalry among Qadhafi's 
progeny is near inevitable.  Qadhafi has placed his sons 
(daughter Aisha is considered by some shrewder and smarter than 
her brothers but does not seem to be playing a visible role in 
the succession struggle) on a succession high wire act, 
perpetually thrown off balance, in what might be a calculated 
effort by the aging leader to prevent any one of them from 
authoritatively gaining the prize.  It is also difficult to 
precisely gauge Mutassim's depth of ambition for the leadership 
role since those around him do not freely engage on the topic. 
The rivalry is likely to play out publicly over the next few 
months in a continued realignment of political and business 
interests, as reformists ("Saif backers") and conservatives 
("Mutassim backers") continue to vie for the elder Qadhafi's 
attention.  Mutassim appears to believe that progress in the 
U.S. relationship could prove key to keeping him in the game if 
he does indeed aspire to play a crucial role in the post-Leader 
era.  Whichever of the Qadhafi children wins the "prize," there 
is a high level of anxiety among our Libyan contacts, given the 
potential for chaos in the absence of the traditionally "guiding 
hand" of the Leader and given the absence of viable state 
institutions to insure stability.  They see a best possible 
outcome as a division of the spoils, with Saif handling the 
domestic side of the house and Mutassim handling the security 
and possible foreign relations part.  A second possibility is a 
"trinity," whereby Saif would be the political face of the 
regime, Mutassim the national security face, and Khamis the 
military/security face.  End Comm. 
CRETZ 

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