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Cablegate: "We Are Here": Domestic Reaction to Qadhafi at Unga Tripoli 00000762 001.2 of 002

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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TRIPOLI 000762

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DEPT FOR NEA/MAG AND NEA/PPD. E.O. 12958: DECL: 9/24/2019 TAGS: PREL UNGA KPAO LY

SUBJECT: "WE ARE HERE": DOMESTIC REACTION TO QADHAFI AT UNGA TRIPOLI 00000762 001.2 OF 002

CLASSIFIED BY: Gene A. Cretz, Ambassador, U.S. Embassy Tripoli, Department of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)

1.(C) Summary: Muammar al-Qadhafi's speech at UNGA, and TV footage of him scribbling "We are here" on a piece of paper while seated at Libya's chair at an empty UNSC chamber during a private tour, are on regular repeat in Libyan press today. Official accounts highlighted the historic importance of Qadhafi's trip to New York after 40 years in power - and 30 in isolation. Several contacts, however, worried that the 100-minute speech and accompanying theater endangered both his objective (UN reform) and Libya's international stature. Proponents of Libya's re-engagement with the international community were left worrying that the speech would stunt progress with the West. Locals reported that chatter among normal Libyans focused on Qadhafi's antics and his re-asserting his supremacy over Libyan politics after months of succession rumors. End summary. OFFICIAL REACTION FOCUSED ON HISTORIC MOMENT

2.(C) Muammar al-Qadhafi's trip to the UN and his September 23 speech at the UN General Assembly General Debate were covered in a media blitz on state-run outlets. All satellite television stations interrupted normal broadcasts to carry the September 23 speeches, starting with UNGA President and veteran Libyan diplomat Ali Treiki, POTUS, and Libyan leader al-Qadhafi's 100-minute speech. All returned to normal programming before Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni took the dais. Twenty-four hours later, excerpts from the speech, along with footage of Qadhafi at Libya's seat at an empty UNSC chamber writing "We are here" on a piece of paper, ran at regular intervals on state-run media, accompanied by commentary highlighting the historic nature of the Libyan Leader's inaugural trip to the United States after 40 years in power. Radio stations have replayed the speech several times, and the official Jamahiriya News Agency has what it purports is the full text of the speech, parsed over 20 different pages of its website.

3.(C) Both state-run and quasi-independent media outlets expressed the view that Qadhafi's trip was a milestone in his efforts to achieve a more just international order and applauded the "wisdom" he demonstrated during the unprecedented event. Following the speech, Libyan mobile phone provider Al Madar (owned by Qadhafi's eldest son Muhammed) sent a text message to select subscribers proclaiming "Muammar al-Qadhafi: Conscience of the World." xxxxxxxxxxxx Arab-language blogs made reference to Qadhafi's assuming the mantle of Gamal Abdel Nasser due to his candor and comportment while championing the rights of smaller states.

MOST CONTACTS PRIVATELY DISAPPOINTED, EMBARRASED

4.(C) For many Libyans, Qadhafi's UNGA address marks the culmination of Libya's decade-long re-engagement with the West. Some ordinary citizens seemed excited and proud that Qadhafi's first visit to the UN and the U.S. would mark Libya's full return to the international community. Others seemed to recognize that New York represented a personal triumph vice a broader Libyan one.

5.(C) The Leader's lengthy speech, however, engendered embarrassment and concern among embassy contacts. xxxxxxxxxxxx While several contacts supported Qadhafi's argument for UN reform, a self-described "proud nationalist" xxxxxxxxxxxx worried that the manner in which the points were delivered would undercut Qadhafi's objectives. Others seemed disappointed at Qadhafi's lost opportunity to start a substantive discussion on what they see as genuine concerns with the UN's structure, and seemed shamed by Qadhafi's antics in New York. xxxxxxxxxxxx Several foreign-educated Libyans worried that the speech could have a negative impact on Libya's relationship with the U.S. xxxxxxxxxxxx

6.(C) Diplomatic contacts commented that the performance was vintage Qadhafi and entirely expected. While Qadhafi was more energetic and animated than he has been at recent Summits, he TRIPOLI 00000762 002.2 OF 002 was clearly tired from travel and "waking up at four in the morning." [Note: Qadhafi prefers evenings and is prone to unpredictable behavior when tired; an Egyptian diplomat wrote-off Qadhafi's recent tiff with Sudan over partition to his lack of sleep around the September 1 holiday. End note.] While Qadhafi employed an improvisational style - clearly speaking beyond the content of the handwritten notes - all of his central themes (and several rhetorical flourishes) had been previewed in remarks over the past several years.

I AM (STILL) HERE: ORDINARY LIBYANS SEE SUCCESSION MESSAGE

7.(C) Local contacts report that Qadhafi's speech set Tripoli abuzz with conversation. While many educated Libyans are cynical regarding Qadhafi's leadership, they also appreciate the importance of his role to ensure continued engagement with the outside world. Qadhafi's comments suggesting that the UN headquarters move to China, India, or a "middle hemisphere" and add seats to the Security Council for multinational alliances, such as the Non-aligned Movement and the African Union (of which Qadhafi is the chair), added fuel to a persistent local rumor that, in the near future, the Leader would assume a more international role and hand off authority to his second son, Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi. [Note: Saif's brother and potential rival, National Security Advisor Muatassim al-Qadhafi, along with FM Musa Kusa and Protocol Chief Nuri Mismari, accompanied the Leader to UNGA. End note.] Diplomats and Libyans both commented that Qadhafi's major success in New York was in his mere presence - reminding the world, and specifically the Libyan people, that he was the undisputed leader of his country.

8.(C) Comment: The Leader's speech was classic Qadhafi and undoubtedly won him global attention. During the speech, two spelling variants of his name breached the top ten trending items on Twitter at the same time (suggesting he was the most-tweeted topic), and international outlets that had passed on UNSG Ban Ki-Moon's address made a special point to broadcast most of Qadhafi's remarks live. However, his likely extemporaneous remarks and apparent disregard for protocol played into the narratives of critics and foreign media on the most prominent stage Qadhafi has yet graced. While he avoided fanning flames on bilateral topics (mention of the Megrahi affair was notably absent), his performance proves that he has not yet been chastened by international complaints on his Summit pontifications. We expect Qadhafi and his entourage will find a way to be most pleased with what they will surely term the Leader's long-awaited "apotheosis." End Comment. CRETZ

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