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Cablegate: Libyan Succession: Qadhafi Orchestrating the Boys' High Wire Act?

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FM AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5487
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
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S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 TRIPOLI 000924

NOFORN SIPDIS

DEPT FOR NEA/MAG E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/19/2019

TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR LY

SUBJECT: LIBYAN SUCCESSION: QADHAFI ORCHESTRATING THE BOYS' HIGH WIRE ACT? REF: A) TRIPOLI 883; B) TRIPOLI 685; C) TRIPOLI 212; D) 08 TRIPOLI 699; E) TRIP OLI 487; F) 08 TRIPOLI 870; G) STATE 43049; H) TRIPOLI 661; I) TRIPOLI 208; J) TRIPOLI 899

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

1.(S/NF) Summary: Muammar al-Qadhafi's recent appointment of his son Saif al-Islam as "General Coordinator" and attendant indications of a succession plan have stirred up old rumors of rivalry between seeming frontrunners for the throne, Saif al-Islam and his brother, National Security Advisor, Mutassim al-Qadhafi. Saif al-Islam's return from a 12-month self-imposed absence from Libyan politics and his recent new appointment clearly indicate that his star is on the rise in the constellation of Libyan succession contenders. Qadhafi pere was reportedly disappointed in Mutassim's management of September 1 Revolution Day anniversary events and his late September travel to UNGA. Nevertheless, Mutassim's continued engagement on the U.S. file and continuing efforts to coordinate a meeting between his father and POTUS -- demonstrate that he may see this portfolio as his ticket to continue playing in the succession game (Ref A). Contacts assert that Saif al-Islam may be the "face of reform," due to his high-profile, public status, and the current favorite to succeed his father, but that Mutassim should not be counted out of the succession game, particularly given his backing by conservatives in the regime, such as PM-equivalent Al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi, and his rumored ability as National Security Advisor to access significant military and security elements, including brother Khamis's elite 32nd Brigade force. End Summary.

SAIF'S RETURN FROM THE COLD

2.(S/NF) Muammar al-Qadhafi's October 6 speech to Revolutionary Committee members in Sebha marked the peak of a remarkably resurgent six weeks for Saif al-Islam, which began with the latter's high-profile return to Libya on August 20 with convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi (Ref B). Saif has also recently begun to re-engage international media, with profiles in two CNN feature reports on his efforts to "rehabilitate" former Libyan Islamic Fighting Group members (septel). He has also been involved in attempting to settle the ongoing contretemps between the GOL and Canada (septel). Saif's reentry onto the public scene signaled the end of his August 2008 self-announced retreat from politics, and comes after some significant setbacks for him over the past year at the hands of regime conservatives. In March, the draft constitution (a Saif-initiative that was to include a position for him as head of a 100-member council of deputies) was dropped from the agenda of the annual General People's Congress (Ref C). During the same meeting, the Congress installed or kept ministers historically opposed to Saif's reform agenda, such as PM-equivalent Al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi (who kept his position after Muammar al-Qadhafi publicly called him a corrupt thief just six months earlier) (Ref D). Late April witnessed the sudden nationalization of Saif's quasi-independent media company, which included the take over of his al-Libia satellite channel mid-broadcast by the state-run Jamahiriya News Agency (Ref E) on reported grounds that Saif was overreaching in expanding media freedom.

3.(S/NF) Saif's slide was juxtaposed with younger brother Mutassim's rise, with the latter completing a state visit to Russia in October 2008 (Ref F), meeting the Secretary of State in Washington in March 2009 (Ref G), accompanying Qadhafi on the historic visit to Italy in June, welcoming CODEL McCain in August (Ref H) , and accompanying his father to New York for the UN General Assembly. Mutassim was very visible at his father's side throughout these high level visits. Additionally, Al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi's ability to maintain the PM-equivalent position proved to be positive for Mutassim, who is reportedly close to the conservative PM and, in the past, has orchestrated reactions against Saif's interests through the PM's office (Ref I). Regime insiders also tell us that Mutassim remains the only one who can actually challenge his father.

WHAT SAIF'S RETURN MEANS FOR MUTASSIM

4.(S/NF) As Saif's star rises again, local observers are turning their eyes toward Mutassim for a reaction. Mutassim has time and time again evinced his aversion to the spotlight via media encounters or public events. Evidence of the elder Qadhafi's disappointment in Mutassim's management of September 1 Revolution Day anniversary events, as well as specific missteps in New York (i.e., Mutassim's inability to get necessary permissions for a tent to be pitched for the Libyan leader) have surfaced (Ref A). Saif is rumored to have trumped Mutassim during a recent order for all expatriate residents of the National Oil Company housing compound to vacate their houses. The residents report that while Mutassim originally gave the TRIPOLI 00000924 002 OF 002 order for everyone to move immediately, Saif intervened to block the demand in order to give the occupants more time to pack up and move. [Note: The reason for the demolition of the housing compound is rumored to be to clear a way for Aisha al-Qadhafi (known to have disagreements with Saif) to build a home adjacent to a park near the location. End note.]

5.(S/NF) Simultaneous with Saif's apparent ascendancy, Mutassim has moved in an uncharacteristically quick manner to reengage on the U.S. file. On November 8, he approved the 505 agreement, which had previously languished in his office for nearly six months (Ref J). A few days before, on November 5, he personally engaged the Ambassador on the treatment of Libyan ships at U.S. ports and Libyan diplomtas by U.S. border authorities. Additionally, Mutassim renewed his desire to coordinate a meeting between the Libyan leader and POTUS (Ref A). According to the Egyptian Embassy here, Mutassim was also expected to meet Egypt's Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman during a November visit to Tripoli (septel), and his staff advised us that he will meet the Turkish PM during the latter's historic upcoming visit.

THE SUCCESSION QUESTION - WILL IT BE SAIF OR MUTASSIM?

6.(S/NF) Contacts suggest that although Mutassim is not as skilled in public relations as his older brother Saif, he wields significant power from behind the scenes. As National Security Advisor (NSA), Mutassim directs at least some of Libya's national security policy decisions, including purchases of equipment, and he reportedly plays on issues regarding the military purse. Contacts also report that younger brother Khamis al-Qadhafi, Commander of the 32nd "Khamis" Brigade (widely known to be the most well-trained and well-equipped force in the Libyan military), is closer to Mutassim than to Saif. [Note: At least one contact has commented that Khamis could come out as a dark horse in the succession race. End note.] Mutassim's role as NSA and his reported closeness to Khamis would give Mutassim access to some of the most important military and security elements of the regime. Nevertheless, the ultimate authority over the regime's security apparatus remains in question. Independent website Libya al-Youm reported November 4 that the Minister-equivalent of Defense, Major General Abu Baker Younis Jaber, recently called on his officers to swear allegiance to Saif in his new post, making it unclear whether the military establishment will report to Mutassim or Saif -- or both -- in the future. [Note: Muammar al-Qadhafi reportedly mediated a conflict between Mutassim and Younis Jaber earlier this year involving their respective roles in military procurement. (Ref I). End Note.]

COMMENT

7.(S/NF) As Libya undergoes this latest round of Qadhafi's political restructuring, without a constitution or clarified succession plan, burgeoning sibling rivalry among Qadhafi's progeny is near inevitable. Qadhafi has placed his sons (daughter Aisha is considered by some shrewder and smarter than her brothers but does not seem to be playing a visible role in the succession struggle) on a succession high wire act, perpetually thrown off balance, in what might be a calculated effort by the aging leader to prevent any one of them from authoritatively gaining the prize. It is also difficult to precisely gauge Mutassim's depth of ambition for the leadership role since those around him do not freely engage on the topic. The rivalry is likely to play out publicly over the next few months in a continued realignment of political and business interests, as reformists ("Saif backers") and conservatives ("Mutassim backers") continue to vie for the elder Qadhafi's attention. Mutassim appears to believe that progress in the U.S. relationship could prove key to keeping him in the game if he does indeed aspire to play a crucial role in the post-Leader era. Whichever of the Qadhafi children wins the "prize," there is a high level of anxiety among our Libyan contacts, given the potential for chaos in the absence of the traditionally "guiding hand" of the Leader and given the absence of viable state institutions to insure stability. They see a best possible outcome as a division of the spoils, with Saif handling the domestic side of the house and Mutassim handling the security and possible foreign relations part. A second possibility is a "trinity," whereby Saif would be the political face of the regime, Mutassim the national security face, and Khamis the military/security face. End Comm. CRETZ

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