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Cablegate: Libyan Reaction to Aq-Lifg Merger

VZCZCXRO0530
OO RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHKUK RUEHROV
DE RUEHTRO #0945/01 3111615
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
O 071615Z NOV 07
FM AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2810
INFO RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
RUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI 3231

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 TRIPOLI 000945

SIPDIS

NOFORN
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/7/2017
TAGS: KISL PTER PREL PGOV LY
SUBJECT: LIBYAN REACTION TO AQ-LIFG MERGER

TRIPOLI 00000945 001.2 OF 002


CLASSIFIED BY: Chris Stevens, DCM, Embassy Tripoli, State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)

1.(C) Summary: Reaction to the November 3 announcement by al-Qaeda's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahri, that the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) had joined forces with al-Qaeda (AQ) and was calling for the overthrow of Qadhafi's regime has been relatively muted. The GOL has not yet issued a public statement and its leadership is reportedly divided over the wisdom of doing so. Regime insiders are concerned that the LIFG/AQ announcement could presage a period of political violence that could hurt their personal economic interests, while the reaction of average Libyans has ranged from concern about instability and adverse economic consequences to enthusiasm for the merger. End summary.

GOL: NO PUBLIC REACTION (YET)

2.(C) In a conversation with P/E Chief November 4, MFA Secretary for the Americas Dr. Ahmed Fituri characterized the SIPDIS announcement as "a serious threat". He indicated that senior levels of the GOL's leadership, including FM Shalgham, ESO Chief Musa Kusa and Prime Minister Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi, were discussing whether the GOL should issue a public statement reacting to the announcement. He suggested that there was disagreement within the GOL as to whether it was prudent to react publicly, saying some favored a statement while others feared it would lend further credibility to AQ-LIFG in the eyes of the Libyan people. Fituri expressed the belief that the GOL would ultimately issue a statement of some kind, but cautioned that it might not occur "right away".

ELITES CONCERNED ...

3.(S/NF) xxxxxxxxxxxx(strictly protect), xxxxxxxxxxxx and a well-connected insider from a prominent Benghazi tribe (xxxxxxxxxxxx), told P/E Chief November 5 that Libyans' reactions to the announcement varied depending on their socioeconomic status. The elite, he said, remember the LIFG's insurgency in the 1990's and its attempts to assassinate Moammar al-Qadhafi, and are concerned that a call to topple the regime premised on an explicitly religious message akin to that of Zawahri and LIFG leader Abu Laith al-Libi, would find a receptive audience among the many Libyans who have not benefited from recent economic liberalization and development, regardless of whether they share al-Qaeda and the LIFG's stated desire for an Islamic caliphate.

4.(S/NF) The elites' principal concern, according to xxxxxxxxxxxx, is to protect the sanctity of their personal economic fiefdoms in the event the LIFG makes a serious run at toppling al-Qadhafi's regime. Mentioning that he had been at a dinner party with Qadhafi's wife, Safia Farkash, xxxxxxxxxxxx, he said she was "concerned" that economic reforms championed by her son and heir apparent, Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi, had exacerbated resentment of the Qadhafi family and other elites who had profited disproportionately from recent initiatives to open Libya's economy. Much of the dinner conversation apparently centered on how to balance calls for economic reform against the fact that attendant inflation and increased living costs were hurting average Libyans, many of whom depend on static state salaries.

... BROADER REACTION MORE VARIED

5.(S/NF) By contrast with the elite, who viewed news of the merger with concern, xxxxxxxxxxxx said "a significant number" of Libyans welcomed the announcement. He cautioned against interpreting such support as a sign that most Libyans are fundamentalist Muslims or are sympathetic to the idea of establishing an Islamic caliphate, although he conceded that more conservative iterations of Islam were enjoying a resurgence in Libya. Rather, the level of dissatisfaction with Qadhafi's family and regime is such that some Libyans are willing to support any alternative perceived to be viable in the hope that the next regime will be less oppressive.

6.(C) A sampling of non-elite Libyans revealed a variety of opinions. A hotel employee expressed concern that political violence would adversely affect Libya's oil and gas industry, impacting government revenues and the state's ability to pay its many public sector employees, and then whispered that Qadhafi's TRIPOLI 00000945 002.2 OF 002 government was "terrible". A bus driver who plies inter-city routes and the Tripoli-Tunis run noted that while Qadhafi's regime had been the cause of "deprivation" for many Libyans for a long time, the economic situation -- particularly with respect to the availability of consumer goods -- had recently begun to improve. He expressed concern that an Islamist government under AQ-LIFG auspices would roll back recent economic changes, saying that while the (political) reasons would be different, the effect would be to drag Libya back to the stagnation of the sanctions era. The assistant imam at the xxxxxxxxxxxx, who declined to give his name, told P/E chief November 6 that the announced merger had been the subject of much discussion on the margins of prayer times. He would not offer his personal views on the news, but conceded that "some" (NFI) congregants had received word of the announcement "with enthusiasm".

7.(C) Comment: Like many things in Libya, reaction to news of the AQ-LIFG merger has been an exercise in slow-motion. While regime insiders are predictably concerned, the more varied reaction of average Libyans underscores the existence of a certain degree of support for AQ-LIFG. The more difficult question is the extent to which that support derives from genuine affinity for an Islamist agenda as opposed to a desire to be rid of Qadhafi's regime, whatever the cost. End comment. MILAM 0 11/07/2007 6212 KISL,PTER,PREL,PGOV,LY LIBYAN REACTION TO AQ-LIFG MERGER TRIPOLI 00000945 001.2 OF 002 Reaction to the November 3 announcement by al-Qaeda's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahri, that the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) had joined forces with al-Qaeda (AQ) and was calling for the overthrow of Qadhafi's regime has been relatively muted. The GOL has not yet issued a public statement and its leadership is reportedly divided over the wisdom of doing so. Regime insiders are concerned that the LIFG/AQ announcement could presage a period of political violence that could hurt their personal economic interests, while the reaction of average Libyans has ranged from concern about instability and adverse economic consequences to enthusiasm for the merger..

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