Cablegate: Muammar Al-Qadhafi Quietly Involved in Process to Adopt a Libyan Constitution
OO RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHKUK RUEHROV
DE RUEHTRO #0936/01 3401315
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O P 051315Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4213
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 0956
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS PRIORITY 0643
RUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI 4735
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TRIPOLI 000936
DEPT FOR NEA/MAG (NARDI, JOHNSON) AND INR/NESA (HOFSTATTER, SWEET)
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/5/2018
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM LY
SUBJECT: MUAMMAR AL-QADHAFI QUIETLY INVOLVED IN PROCESS TO ADOPT A LIBYAN CONSTITUTION REF: A) 07 TRIPOLI 759, B) TRIPOLI 679 TRIPOLI 00000936 001.2 OF 003
CLASSIFIED BY: Chris Stevens, CDA, Embassy Tripoli, Department of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)
1. (C) Summary: A new draft was circulated in mid-November to members of a 20-person committee tasked with formulating a Libyan constitution, with the idea that it could be adopted before the September 1, 2009 anniversary of the military coup that brought Muammar al-Qadhafi to power. A well-connected contact has told us that Muammar al-Qadhafi quietly supports the project and personally selected about half of the members of the committee working on it. He reportedly has kept his role quiet to allow his son, Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi, to play a leading role in what could be a popular reform initiative and to afford himself maximum latitude to cajole reluctant old guard members into accepting it. The secretive nature of the project has prompted concern among constitution committee members that it could be abandoned altogether if Muammar al-Qadhafi changes his mind. They are also worried that the process by which the project has developed reflects a broader failure by Muammar al-Qadhafi and even Saif al-Islam to realize the connnection between robust processes (a key weakness of the Jamahiriya system) and durable political results. End summary.
NEW DRAFT CONSTITUTION DRAFT CIRCULATED TO COMMITTEE MEMBERS
2. (C) xxxxxxxxxxxx, told P/E Chief on November 26 that a revised iteration of a draft constitution for Libya had been circulated in mid-November for review. (Note: Post obtained a copy of an earlier draft, posted on Libyan opposition websites, in March. End note.) The draft had been circulated to 20 members of a special committee tasked with formulating a constitution, and to key General People's Committee secretaries (minister-equivalents). Conceding that work on the draft had "gone slowly", xxxxxxxxxxxx said it was expected that the revised text would be circulated in early 2009 to the Basic People's Committees for review. After that, suggested changes would be reviewed and the draft constitution could be submitted to the General People's Congress (which typically convenes in March) for consideration and potential ratification. The hope and expectation was that the constitution would be accepted and ratified before September 1, 2009, the 40th anniversary of the military coup that brought Muammar al-Qadhafi to power.
3. (C) xxxxxxxxxxxx said a committee of 20 individuals had been formed in 2007, with a mandate to formulate a draft constitution that would eventually be submitted to the General People's Congress (GPC) for consideration. The committee consists of Libyan intellectuals, political scientists and experts in constitutional and international law, as well as a half-dozen foreign academics, including professors from the Sorbonne and Cairo University. The National Democratic Institute (NDI) has consulted with and provided input to the committee; however, it was not clear to xxxxxxxxxxxx whether NDI representatives were considered part of it. The committee has met in Tripoli a number of times and its members are in regular contact via e-mail. xxxxxxxxxxxx knows several of the Libyan members well and has personally participated in several rump sessions of the committee as an ad hoc adviser.
MUAMMAR AL-QADHAFI QUIETLY SUPPORTS DEVELOPMENT OF A CONSTITUTION ...
4. (C) xxxxxxxxxxxx said Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi, son of Muammar al-Qadhafi and Chairman of the Qadhafi Development Foundation, had first approached his father in late 2004/early 2005 to argue that a constitution be adopted to codify the relationship between Libyans and their government and clarify the government's structure. Muammar al-Qadhafi's Jamahiriya ("state of the masses") system of governance, premised on the Third Universal Theory articulated in his Green Book, calls for direct, popular rule through a pyramid system of committees. Hostile to formal decisionmaking structures, al-Qadhafi has long maintained that a constitution would represent an unneeded, redundant barrier between the "masses" of the Jamahiriya and the popular committees that represent it. (Note: As reported previously, GOL officials have underscored to us that "we don't have a government here [in Libya]- we have something else [the Jamahiriya system]. End note.)
5. (C) According to xxxxxxxxxxxx, Muammar al-Qadhafi was initially opposed to adopting a constitution, in part because it constituted an implicit criticism of the Jamahiriya system of which he was the original author; however, over time he responded to the argument that some political adjustments were necessary to underpin badly needed economic reform. xxxxxxxxxxxx said al-Qadhafi played a personal role in selecting members of TRIPOLI 00000936 002.2 OF 003 the constitutional committee, reviewing with Saif al-Islam a list of prospective candidates and personally selecting about ten of them. Al-Qadhafi also endorsed a key early decision to not/not include Revolutionary Committee (RevComm) members and former ministers, and to instead enlist "independent personalities" such as academics and private lawyers. The goal was to foster a better product and to mitigate potential criticism that the constitution was just another political ploy to give the existing Jamahiriya system a face-lift. Using nominally independent actors was critical if the project was to enjoy any credibility. ...
BUT KEEPS ROLE QUIET TO LET SAIF AL-ISLAM TAKE THE LEAD AND MAINTAIN ROOM FOR MANEUVER
6. (C) Responding to the comment that al-Qadhafi's view of and role in the constitution drafting process had been unclear, xxxxxxxxxxxx said that was deliberate. Citing conversations with committee members and Saif al-Islam, he said Muammar al-Qadhafi had, in typical fashion, obscured his role in forming the committee and his support for the project to:
1) allow Saif al-Islam to play a leading role in what could be a popular reform initiative, and;
2) afford himself maximum room for maneuver to cajole reluctant old guard members into accepting a constitution. Insisting that al-Qadhafi supported the constitution project, xxxxxxxxxxxx noted that "nothing as politically significant as that could continue for as long as it has without the Leader's support, even if Saif al-Islam wants it". To preserve the appearance of political propriety, the document authorizing the constitutional committee and appointing its members was signed by Muftah Kaiba, Secretary of the General People's Congress (Speaker of the Parliament-equivalent and formally the head of state). Kaiba played a nominal role in selecting the members of the committee; however, almost all were chosen by Muammar and Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi.
DEBATE ABOUT EXTENT OF AL-QADHAFI'S SUPPORT FOR CONSTITUTION & SAIF'S ROLE
7. (C) The alleged support of Muammar al-Qadhafi for the project to adopt a constitution squarely contradicts earlier reports from other contacts. Ibrahim Leghwell, a lawyer and intellectual who has authored a number of books on Jamahiriya political theory, told P/E Chief as recently as a month ago that a constitution was "unnecessary and inappropriate", and that al-Qadhafi would not allow one to be promulgated in his lifetime. (Note: Leghwell, who was once described by al-Qadhafi as the "sheikh of all Libyan lawyers", is considered a keeper of the revolutionary flame. He enjoys periodic access to al-Qadhafi and is close to senior Revolutionary Committee members and the dwindling number of Free Officers who staged the 1969 coup. End note.) Debate about a constitution has become a bellwether for broader political and economic reform efforts, and a lightning rod for conflict between would-be reformers and old guard elements resistant to change. Saif al-Islam explicitly called for a constitution and abandoning the people's congress system of his father in his August 2006 Youth Forum address, prompting harsh criticism from the Revolutionary Committees and other conservatives. He moderated his language at the 2007 Youth Forum, calling instead for a "social contact". In his 2008 address, he advocated " ... something which is perhaps called a constitution - let's say a popular pact similar to the social pact or a pact of the mass of the people". (Note: An adviser to Saif al-Islam, Dr. Yusuf Sawani, told us the conflation of reform-speak - "constitution" and "social pact" - and Jamahiriya-speak - "pact of the mass of the people" - had been deliberate. End note.)
8. (C) Comment: Whether Muammar al-Qadhafi will ultimately support the adoption of a constitution, we are inclined to agree with xxxxxxxxxxxx that a project as sensitive as this could not have continued for as long as it has without at least his tacit support. Should the project stall, it would not be the first time that al-Qadhafi had quietly floated a policy balloon as a means by which to determine the extent of support among senior regime figures, particularly the increasingly elderly - but still politically important - old guard. Some contacts have noted that developing a constitution more openly would have enabled old guard elements to quickly kill it. Regardless, the secretive nature of the project has prompted concern among constitution committee members that it could be abandoned altogether if Muammar al-Qadhafi changes his mind, despite the extensive personal involvement of Saif al-Islam. There is grumbling among the committee members and the small circle of Libyans aware of their work that secretly developing a TRIPOLI 00000936 003.2 OF 003 constitution reflects the failure of al-Qadhafi to realize the importance of robust processes (a key weakness of the Jamahiriya system) as a precursor of durable political results. There is concern that in their haste to remedy a raft of problems after nearly 40 years of neglect, Muammar al-Qadhafi and perhaps even Saif al-Islam - on whom reformers have pinned much hope - are taking the most politically expedient route, rather than investing in a more transparent and slower (but more credible) process. Some of our more sophisticated contacts have drawn a line between that perception and the broader problem of an overly paternalistic structure, which, despite decades of populist rhetoric, does not really believe that Libyans are up to the task of governing themselves. End comment.