Cablegate: Mfa Discourages Idea of Soft Power Programming in Eastern Libya
OO RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHKUK RUEHROV
DE RUEHTRO #0307/01 1011344
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O P 101344Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3338
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI 3836
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TRIPOLI 000307
DEPT FOR NEA/MAG AND S/CT E.O. 12958: DECL: 4/7/2018
TAGS: PGOV PREL PTER PINR SOCI KISL
SUBJECT: MFA DISCOURAGES IDEA OF SOFT POWER PROGRAMMING IN EASTERN LIBYA REF: A) TRIPOLI 120, B) TRIPOLI 278 TRIPOLI 00000307 001.2 OF 002
CLASSIFIED BY: Chris Stevens, CDA, Embassy Tripoli, Dept of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)
1.(C) Summary: A key MFA interlocutor discouraged the idea of U.S.-Libya cooperation on counter-ideological or "soft power" efforts to blunt the appeal of the extremist message in eastern Libya, arguing such efforts would be counterproductive. The GOL had recently undergone "an awakening" to the fact that there was a real problem with extremism in the east and was now making serious efforts to counter the threat; the best course for the U.S. would be to publicly "ignore" extremism in eastern Libya. The GOL's strategy appears to combine reliance on traditional efforts by security organizations to monitor and disrupt extremists' activities while engaging in significant development programs to improve socio-economic conditions enough to blunt the appeal of the extremist message. Absent agreement by the GOL to cooperate on counter-ideological or soft power programming, post's efforts have focused on expanding host government capacity through State, DHS and Treasury training and assistance programs, which are expected to bolster counter-terrorism efforts. End summary.
2.(C) In a pair of recent meetings on other issues, P/E Chief engaged with MFA Americas Desk Director Muhammad Matari in a discussion on the possibility of "soft power" programming in eastern Libya to help blunt the appeal of extremist messages and reduce the number of young men volunteering from the area to travel to Iraq to undertake operations against U.S. and coalition forces. Conceding that poor socio-economic conditions in the east, including poor public education and limited social outlets for young people, helped fuel the appeal of more extreme iterations of Islam used to justify jihad operations, Matari nonetheless threw cold water on the idea of soft power programming under the auspices of the USG or any other external entity. The GOL had recently undergone "an awakening" to the fact that there was a real problem with extremism in the east, and was now making "serious efforts" to counter that threat.
3.(C) Asked whether there was any possibility for U.S.-Libya cooperation on counter-ideological or soft power efforts, Matari counseled that the best course of action regarding eastern Libya was to "ignore it", claiming it would "go away". He strongly advocated against USG counter-ideological public diplomacy or soft power development efforts, arguing they could further legitimize extremism by: 1) showing the extremist message was successful enough that it merited public counter-action; 2) tacitly acknowledging that the GOL is unable to blunt the threat through "traditional, quiet" channels (i.e., through its security apparatus), and; 3) suggesting the GOL facilitated interference by the U.S. and others in what is widely regarded as an internal Libyan matter. On the latter point, Matari noted Libya's difficult experience under Ottoman and Italian colonial occupation, stressing that soft power programming could easily be equated with latter-day imperialist manipulation by extremists, and could prompt Libyans not otherwise inclined towards more extreme iterations of Islam to embrace extremism as a form of viable resistance to foreign meddling.
4.(C) Attributing much of the problem in eastern Libya to the unhelpful influence of extremists from Algeria and Egypt, Matari emphasized that cross-border influence from Egypt is particularly dangerous. Citing previous visits to Algiers and Cairo, Matari claimed part of the problem is the dearth of moderate literature compared to more readily available texts advocating more extreme iterations of Islam. An infusion of moderate literature, such as the writings of Jamal al-Banna, a comparatively moderate Egyptian theologian and younger brother of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, would help. (Note: Jamal al-Banna, a consistent advocate of Islamic reform, has publicly disputed traditional Islamic teachings on treatment of women and jihad, and created the "Committee for the Defense of Victims of Terror Fatwas". End note.) But this was something for the GOL to do; it was "highly unlikely" that the GOL would sanction any USG-supported effort in counter-ideological programming. Referencing the Italian colonial occupation, he stressed that anything related to curriculum and political/religious messages is deemed to be "for the government (of Libya) alone to manage".
5.(C) As an alternative to counter-ideological programming, P/E Chief suggested the possibility of micro-enterprise and other targeted development, possibly to be implemented by quasi-governmental NGO's such as the Qadhafi Development Foundation. Matari underscored the GOL's sensitivity concerning anything that appeared to be foreign assistance, suggesting "as a friend" that the U.S. recall that Libya's official position is that it is an oil-rich state that provides assistance to others not blessed with oil, particularly sub-Saharan African states. (Note: Several international oil companies tried soon after TRIPOLI 00000307 002.2 OF 002 re-starting operations in 2004 to engage in targeted development under the auspices of their corporate outreach programs - soccer leagues, tutoring programs, micro-loan and micro-enterprise projects. The GOL categorically declined the oil companies' offer, telling them instead that they could pay for school construction or provide money to the GOL to implement programs. End note.) Unbidden, Matari offered that USAID would, for example, almost certainly not be welcome to undertake programming in the east or elsewhere in Libya.
6.(C) Comment: Matari, who holds a PhD from the University of Oregon, is one of our most sophisticated and sympathetic interlocutors. His remarks underscore continuing GOL neuralgia about any programming that implies the GOL is unable or unwilling to provide for its people. The GOL's "traditional, quiet" channels for dealing with extremism comprise security organizations and, more recently, an increase in macro-economic development projects in eastern Libya. The latter appears to reflect a belated realization that the policy of deliberately impoverishing the east to ensure political quiescence has not worked. The GOL's strategy appears to be to rely on security organizations to monitor eastern communities and mosques to contain the threat while engaging in significant infrastructure upgrades (Benghazi port renovation, Benghazi and Derna water and power upgrades) and development projects (the Green Mountain Eco-tourism project) to improve socio-economic conditions enough to blunt the appeal of extremist messages. As reported ref D, while senior regime figures appear to have recognized that the east merits more attention and investment, the reported ability of radical imams to propagate messages urging support for and participation in jihad despite security organizations' efforts suggests that claims by senior GOL officials that the east is under control may be overstated.
7.(C) Comment (continued): Post's efforts have focused on expanding host government CT capacity through State, DHS and Treasury programing in areas other than counter-ideology. These programs, in our view, hold more promise for gaining Libyan cooperation. It is expected that a successful recent Diplomatic Security/Anti-Terrorism Assistance (DS/ATA) visit (ref E) will presage a robust program of anti-terrorism, law enforcement and judicial training that will bolster counter-terrorism efforts. Continued customs and border security training akin to a port security program the Embassy recently facilitated will contribute to the GOL's ability to better control its borders and monitor travelers, directly benefitting efforts to control foreign fighter flows. End comment.