Cablegate: Libyan Parliament Convenes, Cabinet Changes Expected

DE RUEHTRO #0166/01 0630808
P 030808Z MAR 08




E.O. 12958: DECL: 3/3/2018

REF: A) 07 TRIPOLI 0071, B) 07 Tripoli 1033, C) Tripoli 106, D) 07 TRIPOLI 1053 TRIPOLI 00000166 001.2 OF 004 CLASSIFIED BY: Chris Stevens, CDA, Embassy Tripoli, Department of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)

1.(C) Summary: The results of this year's General People's Congress (Parliament-equivalent), which commenced in Sirte on March 2, will be closely watched for signs that the Libyan leadership remains committed to economic reform and reengagement with the international community. Observers will also carefully weigh the expected new government's composition to gauge the relative positions of Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi and his recently ascendant brother, Muatassim al-Qadhafi, the two sons of Leader Muammar al-Qadhafi who are widely considered to be rivals to succeed their father. Among the cabinet officers rumored to be candidates for replacement are the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, and several ministers in charge of domestic portfolios. End summary.

2.(C) Public media reports and private speculation among observers in Tripoli have focused considerable attention on the annual session of the General People's Congress (GPC - Parliament-equivalent), which commenced in Sirte on March 2, and the cabinet change expected to be announced at the event's conclusion. Leader Muammar al-Qadhafi launched this year's session with a lengthy speech in which he directed strong criticism at the government for failing to address the needs of the people. The last cabinet change, in January 2007 (ref A), was the second such shuffle in less than a year and was perceived to have shifted reform-minded individuals into key positions.


3.(C) While changes of government are common, the expected upcoming shuffle will be parsed closely for two principal reasons. First, it will be viewed as a sign of senior GOL leaders' commitment to economic and limited attendant political reform. Appointment of a cabinet perceived to be "reformist" (in the Libyan context) would be seen as an important signal that the leadership intends to support a program of reform and further reintegrating of Libya into the international community after two-plus decades of relative isolation. Second, the shape of the new government may help define the relative influence and position of two of Leader Muammar al-Qadhafi's sons - putative heir-apparent Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi and recently appointed National Security Advisor Muatassim al-Qadhafi - whom press reports and some contacts have argued are in de facto competition to succeed their father.


4.(C) This year's annual GPC session comes at an important juncture. Initial announcements of economic initiatives and reform that followed Libya's December 2003 decision to abandon its WMD program and renounce terrorism have given way to the hard reality that considerable economic and administrative work remains to be done if Libya is to realize its development aspirations. A local business contact noted that the GOL has "already picked the low-hanging fruit" in terms of easy reform by allowing importation of more consumer products, privatizing banks, easing enforcement of draconian currency regulations and creating a legal framework (of sorts) for partnership with foreign investors and commercial entities.


5.(C) Recent developments like the imprisonment of well-connected businessmen last year, changes in commercial codes that effectively rolled back key reforms, and the increasingly apparent disconnect between the GOL's anti-corruption message and the business practices of senior apparatchiks have underscored the dissonance between the GOL's message and the reality on the ground. xxxxxxxxxxxx(strictly protect), scion of a leading business family, characterized the prevailing "confusion" among senior GOL officials about the country's direction as "a crisis" for the business community. The lack of clear commitment to and, critically, implementation of, announced reform measures were "killing" new projects while investors waited to see how the perceived reform struggle plays out.


6.(C) Much of the debate centers on the role of the reformist camp's public face and purported champion, Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi. xxxxxxxxxxxx(strictly protect), xxxxxxxxxxxx, told P/E Chief in early January that events in the second half of 2007 had "seriously eroded" the business TRIPOLI 00000166 002.2 OF 004 community's confidence in Saif as a serious proponent of reform, and had raised questions about the real extent of his influence.


7.(C) In addition, senior officials brought in by Saif al-Islam to help implement reform measures have encountered serious opposition from regime figures skeptical about the strategic decision to re-engage with the West (and particularly the U.S.) and concerned that their livelihoods, which depend on the old, kleptocratic way of doing business, will be directly threatened by reform. Dr. Mahmud Jibril, Chairman of the National Planning Council and head of the affiliated Economic Development Board, was personally wooed back to Libya by Saif al-Islam to help implement reforms recommended in a Monitor Group report developed under the direction of Harvard University's Dr. Michael Porter. (Note: Jibril holds a PhD from the University of Pittsburgh and owns a successful business consultancy firm with offices in Cairo and London. End note.) xxxxxxxxxxxx(strictly protect), a U.S.-based, businessman with dual U.S.-Libyan nationality, told P/E Chief in early February that Jibril was "profoundly disappointed" by his limited ability to effect change and had submitted letters of resignation three times in the second half of 2007, but had been dissuaded from leaving.


8.(C) As important as economic and reform equities is the political import of the expected cabinet shuffle. Media reports and local observers have dwelled in the past eight months on whether the perceived recent rise of Muatassim al-Qadhafi, Muammar al-Qadhafi's third son by his second wife, represents a threat to Saif al-Islam's previously uncontested role as heir-apparent. (Note: Saif al-Islam is Qadhafi's eldest son by his second wife. End note.) Citing conversations with unspecified members of Qadhafi's family, France's former Ambassador to Tripoli, Jean-Jacques Beaussou, told the CDA and P/E Chief in early December that Muammar al-Qadhafi suffered a series of strokes in May 2007, calling into question how much longer the Leader would be able to rule and focusing attention on the critical issue of succession (see ref B for further reporting on complications related to Qadhafi's reported stroke).


9.(C) xxxxxxxxxxxx(strictly protect), head of a wealthy, well-known family, told P/E Chief in early February that Qadhafi deliberately tapped Muatassim as National Security Adviser to create an alternate locus of power to Saif al-Islam and to "strategically stir the political pot". Muatassim can act as an ally to Saif al-Islam or, if he demonstrates sufficient capability, could emerge as a viable alternative successor.


10.(C) Saif al-Islam's publicly reformist message endears him to Western observers and would-be Libyan reformists, said xxxxxxxxxxxx, while Muatassim is perceived to be a more traditional figure who appeals to important military and tribal leaders. By advancing both simultaneously and perpetuating ambiguity about their places in the pecking order, al-Qadhafi is able to better balance two key constituencies - pro-Western reformists and traditional old guard elements - while the struggle over reform and change plays out. The problem, xxxxxxxxxxxx noted, is that al-Qadhafi's approach is fundamentally tactical and not strategic; in typical fashion, al-Qadhafi has effectively hedged his December 2003 "strategic bet" to give up WMD and terrorism by fostering the perception that a traditional "strong man" (Muatassim) may take the reins of power. Two influential, longtime members of the Revolutionary Committees - xxxxxxxxxxxx and xxxxxxxxxxxx - who are peers of Muammar al-Qadhafi, recently told xxxxxxxxxxxx they had been "extremely dissatisfied" with reforms attributed to Saif al-Islam, but were cautiously optimistic that Muatassim could become a leader they could live with.


11.(C) Among the cabinet officers, the Prime Minister-equivalent, Foreign Minister-equivalent, Secretary for Education, Secretary for Public Security (MinInterior-equivalent), Secretary for Economy, Trade and Investment and the Secretary for Manpower, Training and Employment are widely rumored as candidates for replacement. As reported ref C, a considerable portion of the GPC will be devoted to televised interrogation of cabinet officers by GPC members, who will ostensibly determine whether cabinet members have faithfully carried out the GPC's policies and effectively served the interest of the Jamahuriya. Recalling his experience as Prime Minister in 1979-1981, MFA Secretary for European Affairs Abdulati Obeidi told the CDA and P/E Chief on February 24 that the GPC usually "closely consulted" Leader Muammar al-Qadhafi about any proposed cabinet changes. Qadhafi -- ever Delphic -- sometimes, but not always, offered opinions about the proposals. Post notes that cabinet changes have in the past transpired in stages, with some positions left unencumbered and new appointments made in subsequent tranches.


12.(C) There is wide consensus that al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi, Secretary of the GPC (Prime Minister-equivalent), will be SIPDIS removed. Speculation centers on three candidates to succeed him: AbuzaidDorda, Chairman of the Housing and Infrastructure Board; Dr. Mahmud Jibril, Chairman of the National Planning Council; and Dr. Muhammad Siala, Deputy Foreign Minister.

13.(C) A number of well-place contacts say Dorda is the leading candidate for the job. Dorda has been the very public face of Libya's massive infrastructure development program, barnstorming provinces to announce housing and infrastructure programs. He is genuinely popular, so much so that Qadhafi - concerned that Dorda was becoming "too popular" - allegedly started rumors in December 2007 that he would lose his HIB position in the upcoming cabinet shuffle. A schoolteacher by training, Dorda is a longtime apparatchik who has ridden a reputation as an anti-corruption crusader up the ranks (see ref D for his remarks at a recent contract signing). Contact xxxxxxxxxxxx, who considers him a friend, described him as "an unreconstructed socialist" who is "intrinsically suspicious" of capitalism. Former U.K. Commercial Counselor Trevor Hines characterized Dorda as being "among the worst" regime figures because he "claims to be supportive of economic reform and is forever announcing new reform measures, but in the end is as obstructionist as any of them". Confident, popular and given to sanctimony, Dorda could be a difficult interlocutor for the U.S.

14.(C) Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi reportedly asked Dr. Mahmud Jibril in mid-December whether he would accept the position. Jibril, citing former PM and fellow would-be reformer Shukri Ghanem's disappointing experience as a cautionary tale, told xxxxxxxxxxxx that he does not want the job; however, rumors persist that he'll be tapped as "window dressing" for the reformist camp. Explaining his reluctance, Jibril described the job as more titular than functional, and said the higher profile only brings greater risk. xxxxxxxxxxxx dismissed the likelihood that Jibril would be named PM, saying it is understood that he "does not want it" and "is not committed enough" to do the job. Nonetheless, xxxxxxxxxxxx told the CDA on February 28 that Jibril would/would be tapped as next PM. Smart, cosmopolitan and one of the most strategic thinkers among Post's interlocutors, Jibril would be pro-reform and would likely favor continued re-engagement with the U.S.

15.(C) The names of Deputy Foreign Minister Muhammad Siala and Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi have also been connected with the PM's post. xxxxxxxxxxxx describes Siala, as "a good man" and "an able technocrat", but says he is widely perceived as being "not strong enough" for the job. Rumors that Saif al-Islam could be tapped peaked late last year, but recent consensus has it that it would be "too early" for him and that he may be tapped to encumber a new, non-Cabinet level, economic development coordinator position.


16.(C) Foreign Minister-equivalent Abdulrahman Shalgham has been widely rumored to be on the way out since last summer's TRIPOLI 00000166 004.2 OF 004 denouement of the long-running Bulgarian medics' case. There were reports after his early January visit to Washington that he had fallen further out of favor over the perception that he had been sufficiently tough in arguing Libya's position in his dealings with USG officials. Shalgham's departure could mean the departure of his pro-U.S. Secretary for the Americas, Dr. Ahmed Fituri. Fituri told the CDA recently that if Shalgham goes, he will, too. MFA Americas Desk Director Muhammad Matari told P/E Chief February 20 that perceptions of Shalgham's Washington trip were "mixed", but nonetheless argued that there was "a 90 percent chance" that Shalgham would remain as FM. Stressing the importance of the U.S. account, he said that if Secretary Rice had visited Libya before the GPC, as had been SIPDIS originally planned, it would be a certainty that Shalgham would keep his job.

17. (C) If Shalgham goes, the consensus in most quarters is that Deputy FM Muhammad Siala would move up to take the FM post. Siala is a smart, cosmopolitan, technocrat who understands and appears to be genuinely committed to economic reform; he also favors reengagement with the U.S. and the West. Although not the politician that Shalgham is, he is in some respects more thoughtful and would likely be a capable and sympathetic interlocutor. xxxxxxxxxxxx told P/E chief in late December/early January that he had heard reports from unspecified senior RevComm members that External Security Organization Chief Musa Kusa could be moved up to become FM; however, more recently he said the idea seemed to have died and that Kusa could be sent abroad as ambassador to a large western country. AND ROUNDING OUT THE FIELD ...

18. (C) On other portfolios, xxxxxxxxxxxx told P/E Chief that if an associate of Saif al-Islam is tapped to be PM, Muatassim's camp could be given the position of Speaker of the Parliament, with RevComm figure Abdallah Othman replacing Ahmed Ibrahim. To balance out the RecComm cadres' influence, Secretary for Education Dr. Abd al-Kader al-Baghdadi, a RevComm fixture, would lose his seat. The Minister for Public Security, Brigadier General Salleh Muhammad Rajub al-Messmari, will almost certainly lose his seat thanks to the behavior of his adult son. He will likely be replaced by his deputy, Omran Hmeid, who has effectively been the acting Minister since al-Messmari fell from grace late last summer. Minister for Manpower, Training and Employment Matuq Matuq, a regime fixture who has held numerous cabinet positions and who has been the bane of international oil and gas companies - one contact described him as "a troglodyte" - may be pushed to the Housing and Infrastructure Board - technically a non-cabinet post - if Abuzaid Dorda moves up to become PM. Secretary for Economy, Trade and Investment Dr. Ali al-Essawi has been mentioned as being on the way out; however, reviews of his performance are mixed and we've heard no informed speculation as to who might replace him.
STEVENS 0 03/03/2008

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