The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged qadhafi
Sharks weren't the only predators the Qadhafis took a shine to

Bad toys for bad boys

Straight-up Bond villain extravagances via Hannibal Qadhafi, reports the Financial Times. The dictator’s son was building himself a cruise ship with a shark tank:

Replete with marble columns, gold-framed mirrors and huge statues, the Phoenicia was to have included a 120-tonne tank of seawater for two sand tiger sharks, two white sharks and two blacktip reef sharks. Four resident biologists would have tended to the animals. The sharks’ nutritional needs mandated a dedicated food store.

No word on how much the liner cost Libyans – Hannibal skimmed off the top of the country’s port incomes – but the Phoenicia is being refitted by Swiss maritime conglomerate MSC for regular passenger duty at a cost of over US$720 million. Apparently Hannibal had extremely tacky taste and interior renovations have been rather involved. Sadly for passengers and Roger Moore enthusiasts, the shark tank will go – though that’s at least good news for the sharks.

The new Libyan government is having better luck confiscating money and properties from other Qadhafi family members, though: the UAE is freezing the accounts of the late Colonel’s wife, Safia Farkash Al Barassi, and gaining ownership of Saadi Qadhafi’s £10 million London estate that was improperly purchased using Libyan Investment Authority funds. The NTC is also looking to bring Saadi himself, living in exile in Niger, back to Libya to face trial, a proposition that, like most NTC governance efforts, is proving to be an extremely challenging task to enforce.

For their part, some African Union leaders now miss Qadhafi’s largesse in terms of foreign investments as countries are unfreezing and returning Libyan Investment Authority assets to the NTC. They’re in “good” company in the EU and the U.S.

It’s a parable for the Qadhafi era, really, that despite the presence of sharks onboard, there was a willingness to do much business with the sharks’ wealthy owners.

UPDATE: Nicholas Sarkozy, who was perhaps the most gung-ho EU leader on intervening in Libya last year, seems determined not to let reports of his campaign taking US$66 million from Colonel Qadhafi turn into a new “Bokassa’s Diamonds” episode in French politics. First Berlusconi’s Libyan investment gymnastics, and now Sarko’s alleged blood money. At least for Sarko’s peace of mind he hasn’t been accused of corruption and abetting mass killings like Francois Mitterrand was.

Did Qadhafi finance Sarkozy's election campaign?

Bad investment

Back in the early days of Libya war, the reasons for France's rapid intervention were the subject of much discussion. One of the rumors that was floating was that Nicolas Sarkozy, France's president, was eager to cover up the Qaddafi regime's close ties with his own party and business networks including the financing of Sarkozy's presidential campaign in 2007.

The rumor has now come back with a vengeance and possibly, proof. The quality (anti-Sarkozy) website mediapart.fr has published an incendiary document suggesting that the campaign was financed through Saif Islam al-Qadhafi to the tune of €50 million. The document, which was leaked by government sources and had previously been part of the evidence in a case involving the relationship between Sarkozy's party and the arms dealer Ziad Takieddin, suggests an elaborate setup negotiated between the Qadhafis and Sarkozy's advisors. The money was laundered through a Panama-based shell company and the Swiss bank accounts of the sister of a prominent right-wing politician also close to Sarkozy, according to mediapart. Takieddin was also known to be a troubleshooter and fixer for the French Interior Ministry in seeking contracts for French companies that provide security services, including for Saudi Arabia.

In March 2011, just a few days before French jets struck Libyan army vehicles moving towards Benghazi, Saif al Islam gave an interview in which he demanded that France return the money used in the presidential campaign, threatening that he had details of bank accounts that could incriminate Sarkozy. This was ignored at the time, and dismissed as an attempt to embarrass the French. What is beyond dispute, though, is that the Sarkozy administration had close an fruitful ties with the Qaddafi regime, both formally and through back channels.

Although this remains to be confirmed, it appears consistent with widespread rumors going back to at least the 1970s of illicit financing of right-wing little parties and candidates by Arab and African dictators. Jacques Chirac for instance was commonly said to have received campaign baksheesh from Lebanon's Rafiq Hariri and Morocco's Hassan II. This latest affair is part of a growing scandal dossier involving Sarkozy party and his entourage — one that could become a major reason he loses his reelection bid in May.

Various tidbits

I’ve been traveling for 10 days or so now — after a week in Tunis, I am now in Istanbul — and I therefore missed some of the big regional stories. Some readers wrote asking me to weigh on various issues, which I will do quickly below.

Qadhafi’s death

Frankly, I did not want to comment on this one. I thought the videos circulating of Qadhafi, notably the one in which he is sodomized by his captors with a stick, were extremely distasteful. I totally understand that he was killed (he deserved nothing else) and had I been Libyan I would have done the same. But the manner in which this was done was tasteless, and does lead one to worry about the well-armed, adrenaline pumped youth who now rule the streets of much of Libya. It does not really inspire confidence for rule of law in Libya. And for me, the big event was the fall of Tripoli, since only small areas were still under the control of the old regime.

We’ll see how it turns out in Libya — which, it seems obvious, will be torn between the centralizing effect of getting most of the country’s income from oil exports and the strong regionalisms that dominate in the country. This has been a permanent fixture of Libya politics since the state’s creation. I hope they are able to find a stable political model to integrate the reality of strong locally-based politics with the need for central planning for the country’s development, and that the rivalties between the people of Nafusa, Tripoli, Misrata and Benghazi (among others) can find a peaceful conduit.

Prince Sultan and Saudi succession

I don’t follow Saudi Arabia much, except that one has to to some extent to understand Saudi foreign policy and its regional impact. But I think this picture of the leading Saudi royals is telling: two are in a wheelchair, one cannot feed himself, and another is so fat he can barely move. They’re all super-old yet all their hair is jet-black. Yet, they are masters of the universe, among the most powerful men in the region and perhaps the planet. But they should really think about skipping a generation (not that I wish their regime well, of course.)

Egypt’s syndicates

There’s been much talk lately about how well or not well the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is doing in various syndicate elections. I haven’t followed all of these, but it seems they are over-selling how well they did in the Doctors’ Syndicate (where they won nationally but only have a slim majority in governorate-level syndicates). They lost big in Alexandria, which is a surprise as this is a stronghold for them. What’s interesting is that the MB tried to portray this as a big victory, which their enemies protested was an ploy ahead of the parliamentary elections. I think they did well, but not that well (no need to exaggerate the other way either). If you read French, Alain Gresh’s post on the matter is good.

The guy they supported (but who is not a member) just won the Journalists’ Syndicate election, but just barely (and the number of spoilt votes in the election is enough to to make the difference). The MB did poorly in the Cairo student elections earlier this year. I think the lesson is the MB, for all its organizational force, is not a hegemonic force among professionals and probably not nationally either. Which is good, not just because I’m not very fond of the MB, but also because Egypt needs pluralism more than anything right now. But I also think there is a tendency in the academic literature on Egypt to oversell the importance of syndicate elections to national politics. By definition, professional syndicates are a middle class battleground that is of little concern to over 60% of the population, after all.

The past two weeks have also seen major protests by police officers, as well as huge battle between the Lawyers’ Syndicate and the Judges’ Club over a judicial decree allowing judges to detain lawyers who disturb court proceedings. (I side with the lawyers because I’m not fond of judges, although in most countries a judge can declare anyone in contempt of court. But that being said I have not looked into it in detail.)

I see this as much pent-up frustration and unresolved differences sorting themselves out after the immobilism of the Mubarak era. It will be messy, and it’s necessary. Part of the difficulty of course is that few are 100% clean of working with the regime (including the MB) and that change is seen as disruptive and dangerous by many.

In Italy, Eulogies for Qadhafi's Wealth Mismanagement Fund

"Want to bunga-bunga or should we just zenga-zenga?"

An item in the Wall Street Journal reminds us that the ties between Libya and Italy's elites are very, very deep, and, as benefiting the lives of the rich and famous, sometimes produce strange little stories that illustrate much larger forces at work - in this case, the economic future of Libya following the National Transitional Council (NTC) and NATO's military successes: 

ANTRODOCO, Italy - Maurizio Faina, mayor of this small Italian town, has for three years been planning the construction of a lavish spa here thanks to one deep-pocketed financial backer: Col. Moammar Gadhafi.

Now that Col. Gadhafi is being ousted from power by his own people, "the whole plan is over, and it's sad," says the mayor, who had hoped to employ hundreds of people thanks to the €16 million ($22 million) resort.

Antrodroco's longing for Col. Gadhafi's largesse is a small, but significant, window into the vast economic ties between Italy and its former colony - a network that generated about $17 billion in annual trade before the conflict broke out.

Significantly, the spa deal began with a personal effort by Colonel Qadhafi (conduced alongside the Italian PM, Silvio Berlusconi, who has cultivated close ties with the deposed leader) and was, according to Italian sources, being managed by the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA), whose multibillion dollar assets were frozen several months ago. These assets include stakes in UniCredit, Italy’s largest bank (who largest foreign owner was, until recently, the Libyan government); Eni, the state energy company that produces the lion’s share (60%) of Libya’s oil exports; and Finmeccanica, a partly government-owned conglomerate with interests in Libya ranging from infrastructure to defense. The regime also had smaller stakes in various Italian sports, automotive, media and telecom interests – and was reported to be eying another, even larger, resort project in the Italian spa town of Fiuggi (so the Colonel would have a choice of resorts, presumably).

Faina is quoted in the Journal as being bitterly disappointed with NATO’s actions in Libya, reflecting divisions within Italy over the effort to remove Qadhafi. Although Italy accquiesced to the NATO intervention, the government was very reluctant to become too deeply involved with the campaign, though it did come to support the NTC. 

Tangled colonial and WWII history have something to do with this reluctance to intervene, of course, but so too do the awkward TV images showing destroyed military hardware that Italian firms sold to Qadhafi in the 1980s. Italy’s defense ties with Colonel Qadhafi – stalled during the 1990s because of an arms embargo – revived after 2004, as did those of other EU defense firms. Those ties are sure to resume, along with a bevy of other financial and political ties, as the NTC settles into Tripoli and tens of billions of dollars in assets held by the LIA are unfrozen by Western nations.

The spa deal is indicative of the connections between the Qadhafi regime and Western politicians and corporate executives. Qadhafi’s discovery of Antrodoco may have been accidental –he is said to have serendipitously stopped at the town on a state visit to Italy – but his further association with the town after that was anything but serendipitous. Colonel Qadhafi flew Antrodoco notables to Tripoli to discuss the venture, and the LIA was negotiating contracts with the town’s officials up until April 2011. Faina says that in the process, he got to rub elbows with Italian political heavyweights like the former chief executive of UniCredit, Alessandro Profumo, whose bank is now inextricably associated with the LIA’s wealth mismanagement.

Profumo left Unicredit in September 2010 partly because of controversy surrounding the LIA. At that time, the LIA had purchased a 2.6% stake in UniCredit, alongside the purchase of a 5% stake by the Libyan Central Bank, making the Libyan government, through these agencies, UniCredit’s largest stakeholder. According to the Financial Times, Profumo’s decision to not announce this to shareholders “triggered” his removal, especially because some of Berlusconi’s political allies in the ultranationalist Northern League objected to “Arab” investment in Italy on (xenophobic) principle. UniCredit did not reneg on the deal with the Libyan Central Bank and LIA, but did freeze their assets at UniCredit several months ago. Now the Italian government (in addition to most EU governments) are pressing for the funds to be unfrozen and given to the NTC for reconstruction purposes.

But, despite the airing of dirty laundry in public (including the revelation that Berlusconi himself has business ties to the LIA through a French telecom called Quinta Communications and Tunisia’s Bourguiba family), the awkward recent past will likely be overcome as Italy and the NTC seek a modus operandi, which will be fueled by petroulem products.

Eni, the biggest oil major in Libya, draws 13% of its total revenue from its Libyan operations and has been moving quickly to restart and shore up its operations in Libya, which were halted in February 2011. Despite its formerly close ties with Qadhafi, it moved to establish ties with the NTC as the fighting intensified. The NTC has, in turn, signaled it willingness to adhere to preexisting export agreements with Italy (the revenues from those agreements make up 95% of Libya’s foreign revenue receipts), and is now depending on Eni, and the French firm Total SA, to get oil production up and running again. As Italy’s Foreign Minister put it, “the rebels in Benghazi immediately understood that Eni would have been a reliable partner in a post-Gadhafi Libya.”

Some Italian papers are already editorializing that the Italy must seize the initiative to regain clout in Libya over Eu interlopers. From the center-right daily La Stampa comes a call-to-arms for all able-bodies men with suits and briefcases to preserve Italy's sphere of inlfuence. It is certainly forthright and accurate in its description of Italian, and, by extension, EU motives in postwar Libya:

"The factor on which the North African Great Game (a term given capital letters by historians of colonial rivalry) still pivots is the instability of a Libya which, while devastated, still owns immense energy assets and has a heritage of economic ties with several wealthy countries in the world. It is basically a huge resource market open - indeed more open than ever, amid its smoking wreckage - to the craftiest and, at the same time, the firmest bidder and protector."

[Snip]

"No more squadrons of [French] Mirages or of Rafales, no more nuclear aircraft carriers like the Charles De Gaulle, but engineers, technicians, geologists, and managers hunting for crude oil in the deserts, and fighting a cold war to prevent Italian companies from winning back their priority positions in the network of oil wells nurtured and fitted out by [ENI founder Enrico] Mattei's heirs. We should not forget that the "Libya game" was worth a turnover of at least 12 billion [euros] a year to Italy."

The editorial shows that the NTC can count on a somewhat sympathetic voice in the EU (Italy, like France, will object to just about any Anglo-American move in its postcolonial African spheres of influence). Meanwhile, a shrewd NTC leadership can look to manipulate potential foreign investors as firms rush to participate in postwar reconstruction efforts.

And despite the hiccups in the Italian economy that the war caused, so far, the NTC victory bodes well for Italian businesses. Although plunging over the summer because of the fighting in Libya, the stock values of Italian firms in Libya – especially those with infrastructure and energy portfolios – rallied when the NTC seized Tripoli, which prompted audible signs of relief from these firms. The Italian government (in addition to most EU governments) are pressing hard for the funds to be unfrozen and given to the NTC for reconstruction purposes. 

Italy may have lost a spa, but it may yet gain an even better luxury package from the NTC in return for political and economic support. But like the abortive spa, it remains to be seen what – if any – tangible benefits Libya’s populace will gain from these dealings.

You say Gathafi, I say Qadhafi

"Whatchoo talkin' 'bout, Willis?"Running into this Moor Next Door post on the spelling of Qadhafi's name, and this Atlantic report that his passport spells it "Kathafi", reminded me of a meeting I a few months ago. I was meeting with a bunch of business people who know no Arabic and little about the Middle East. The conversation turned to Libya and one of them turned to me and asked why there were so many spellings of Qadhafi's name. What follows is what I said, which is very much what Kal of TMND argues, except I put it in laymen's terms, without the phonetics.

In Arabic, Qadhafi's name is spelled القذافي which if you drop the article, means
ق - ذ - ا - ف - ي or q - dh - a - f - i. The "q" letter is almost unique to Arabic (sometimes called "the language of the qaf" — sorry, it's the language of the dhad, not qaf!) and often transliterated as a "k", since its pronounciation can be difficult for non-Arabic speakers. It is standard in classical Arabic and places like Fes in northern Morocco, but northern Egyptians, urban Syrians and others often pronounce this letter as a glottal stop, while southern Egyptians and Bedouins most often pronounce as a "g", as in "go". (This is why in Syria upscale Damascenes call the regime "the government of the Qaf", because pronouncing the letter is a country bumpkin thing to do, and Eastern Sunnis and Alawites — long dominant in the regime — often do it). Hence you see Qadhafi, Kadhafi or Gadhafi. The "dh" sound also has no equivalent in many languages as a standalone letter, and to top it off is made emphatic by a shedda — a kind of accent that indicates the letter should be doubled, which is why academics use the unwieldy "Qadhdhafi." And the "dh" is often not pronounced as such — in most colloquial Arabics, it is pronounced "d". I'm not sure why it might be pronounced "th", but perhaps this was used in Qadhafi's passport because it is close to the English sound in "the", which sounds very much like "dh".

I always write Qadhafi because it's simple and faithful enough without being completely anal, like Qadhdhafi. 

An anecdote about Khamis Qadhafi

Khamis Qadhafi

As I write these lines, Khamis al-Qadhafi, the most militarily-connected of Muammar al-Qadhafi's sons, is said to be leading his Khamis Brigade to the center of Tripoli in what may very well turn out to be his last stand. Khamis, the seventh and youngest son of the Brother Leader, operated discreetly at the repressive core of his father's regime for years, the military counterpart to his brother Seif's diplomatic role, tasked with protecting the family.

Several months ago, I heard a chilling story about Khamis. It came from an Egyptian acquaintance of mine who has done business in Libya for many years and was well-introduced with regime figures. The Egyptian's company, involved in construction and various state-financed projects, operated in Libya the way most foreigners did. They had regime-connected figures on the payroll, whose role was to smoooth out any problems with the government and make sure hurdles could be removed. It was just the cost of doing business in Libya, where the government could often prove unwilling to honor agreements and everyone needed a little help from a part of the mafia state the Qadhafis ran. 

The key sponsor the Egyptian company had was a man in his late 60s who had long been a companion of Muammar Qadhafi. "He was a nice guy, a family guy, often very funny," my acquaintance said of him, adding shortly thereafter that his sponsor had been a figure in the Revolutionary Guards' repression of student uprisings in the 1970s, when several students in Benghazi ended up being hanged from lamp-posts. The sponsor, whom I'll call Saeed, used his proximity to Qadhafi to cut through red tape, help get contracts, expedite customs issues and more. He was not a politically powerful person in the Libyan government, but his personal friendship with Qadhafi and record in the regime provided him enough clout to get business done.

One day in February, just has the February 17 movement was getting started in Benghazi, Saeed decided to go visit Qadhafi. The official pretext was that his son had recently gotten married, and he wanted to introduce him and his new wife to the Leader in person. The three went to one of Qadhafi's house, received his blessing for the marriage, and stayed to have a talk. Khamis was there too, as other members of his father's entourage.

Saeed, because he had known Qadhafi back in the days of the Free Officers, broached the topic of the Arab uprisings and the trouble brewing in Benghazi. He began to give his opinion that, the regional environment being what it is, the regime should be cautious about repressing what were still relatively minor protests in Benghazi. Instead, he argued, it should engage the protestors and be cautious about the potential for the movement to get much bigger, as it did in Tunisia and Egypt so recently.

This enraged Khamis. He stood up and shouted at Saeed, accusing him of being a traitor and a weakling, and said his father would never have to give in to the vermin in Benghazi. Saeed respectfully stated he was just giving his advice, in light of what was happening elsewhere in the Arab world — just being cautious. But this only further incensed Khamis (who may have been on some kind of drugs), and the argument kept escalating.

Finally, Khamis lost it. He pulled out his sidearm and shot Saeed, killing him instantly. Saeed's son jumped towards his father, and the son's wife wailed. Khamis turned out and emptied his gun into them, killing them both. All of this right in front of his father and his entourage.

The incident was covered up, and not reported much, but rumors about it spread in Libya. Saeed's other sons began to make plans to leave the country, and the Egyptian company, having lost its protector, hastened plans already underway to stop their activities. No doubt, within regime circles, that Khamis' murder of Saeed and the newlywed couple sent a chilling warning: show total loyalty to the regime and never doubt my father's choices, or else.

The Qadhafis chose to live in denial of reality to the very end.

Libya after Qadhafi

Following the entry of Libya’s rebels1 into Tripoli last night was exhilarating. A civil war2 that had lasted much longer than initially expected seems to be finally nearing an end, even if Tripoli is still not fully controlled and other parts of the country remain in the hands of Qadhafi loyalists. Whether or not you supported NATO intervention in Libya, it’s a magnificent moment to see another dictator fall, especially one like Qadhafi who for 42 years ran one of the most brutal regimes in the region. Libyans have never really had a chance at defining their own identity and forging their own future — not under the monarchy, and certainly not under Qadhafi — and like in Tunisia or Egypt, the most amazing thing is that this is now more possible than it ever was.

Taking early stock of the Libyan civil war of 2011 (hoping it will soon be over), the first priority is how to carry out this transition. The TNC has the advantage of having been formed over six months ago, incorporating former members of the regime and figures from across the country, and having planned for this moment for some extent. It has diplomatic recognition, and enough credibility to secure aid, cash, weapons and other help foreign partners. In the eyes of the oil companies that are likely to be key in financing Libya’s post-war reconstruction, it also has enough credibility to be seen as an entity one can do business with.

There is already much hand-wringing about how this transition might take place. The truth is the rebels, once they had secured Western backing, never had any incentive to negotiate with the Qadhafi regime. There were multiple diplomatic attempts at doing so, but they were scuttled by the rebels and key Western powers much more than by Qadhafi. We can leave it to historians to argue whether this might have saved lives or provided a better blueprint for a Libyan transition to a post-Qadhafi regime. But the question of negotiating with the regime’s remnants now becomes more crucial. TNC officials have given some signs that they were not interested in revanchisme, although it’s hard to know how much control they can really exert over what amounts to a large, diffuse coalition of anti-Qadhafi forces that — once the Brother Leader is killed, exiled or arrested — may have less common cause. There are a lot of light weapons in the hands of volunteer fighters in Libya, and like in any conflict, it’s hard to predict what they might end up doing with them in the coming transition.3

Libyans will decide the fate of their country once the dust settles. In the meantime, the wider debate about what role outsiders should have in the Libyan civil war continues. For those who opposed NATO intervention4, the fall of Qadhafi can still be celebrated, and I was aghast to still see some who condemned what was happening last night, either defending Qadhafi’s record or muttering about oil interests. If the rebels had succeeded in bringing down Qadhafi without external intervention, would they still be saying the same thing? Yet, likewise, principled opposition to NATO intervention and that last night’s events might not have taken place were it not for NATO’s air cover does not mean the critics were wrong. In the last few days in particular, NATO’s actions went far beyond the remit of UNSC 1973 and were clearly in breach of international law. Whether anyone will really care about now will depend largely whether the Qadhafi regime’s claims of mass casualities yesterday (over 1300 according to Musa Ibrahim) are borne out by the independent testimony of organizations like the ICRC.

Personally, as happy as I am about last night’s developments, I fear that the fall of Qadhafi is already being spun to sanctify the principle of humanitarian interventionism, which I am against, after its misuse in Iraq. The case might be made that the principle of Responsibility To Protect (R2P) will get a boost out of the Libya case, and perhaps the case can be made that no-fly zones have proven their effectiveness. NATO went further than that, though, and that troubles me — because that’s not what the citizens of NATO countries were told would happen, and it’s not what the UN sanctioned.

The usual blowhard neo-con commentators are now using this not only to defend the idea of humanitarian interventionism, but to bash Obama for not committing greater resources (and presumably more aggressive tactics) to NATO because it might have ended the civil war more quickly. That’s impossible to know, though, and to me remains as dubious as the argument that not intervening at all would have spared us six months of civil war and a Libya that might be destabilized in the long-term.

More worrying are the calls by the likes of Max Boot for a “stabilization force”:

If Libya is to arrive at the destination we would all like to see–if it is to emerge as a liberal, Western-style democracy–much hard work lies ahead. As I have been arguing for awhile, it is vitally important NATO be ready to help stabilize the situation, to prevent Qaddafi’s supporters from mounting an insurgency, to keep potent weapons from slipping out of governmental control–in short to ensure Libya does not suffer the fate of Iraq or Afghanistan, which descended into chaos after the collapse of their regimes. That will probably require the deployment of a stabilization force to work with the Transitional National Council and buttress its shaky authority.

Considering the Libyan rebels have done all the ground work by themselves, one wonders whether they either want or need foreign troops to help them out. More importantly for outsiders, I don’t think Americans or Europeans need to finance one or get into yet another difficult deployment abroad. Has this man ever seen an occupation he didn’t like? I’m not sure whether the TNC has raised the possbility of a “stabilization force”, but I certainly hope it does not ask for one.

Unfortunately, it’s not just the likes of Boot making the argument. CFR grandee Richard Haass, as establishment a figure in American foreign policy as you can get, is making the same kind of arguments:

What is also all but certain is that the Libyans will not be able to manage the situation about to emerge on their own. Col Gaddafi did his best to ensure that there would be no national institution in a position to challenge him; despite the efforts of regime opponents to forge a common front, the result is that there is no national institution ready and able to take over from him.

All of this poses serious challenges to the outside world. Nato’s airplanes helped bring about the rebel victory. The “humanitarian” intervention introduced to save lives believed to be threatened was in fact a political intervention introduced to bring about regime change.

Now Nato has to deal with its own success. Some sort of international assistance, and most likely an international force, is likely to be needed for some time to restore and maintain order. Looting must be prevented. Die-hard regime supporters will have to be defeated. Tribal war must be averted. Justice and not revenge need to be the order of the day if Libya is not to come to resemble the civil war of post-Saddam Iraq in the first instance, or the chaos (and terrorism) of Somalia and Yemen down the road.

It is up to Nato, the European Union and the UN, working with the Libyan opposition, the African Union, and the Arab League, to put together a response to the new Libyan reality – a reality that includes 1m refugees, several hundred thousand internally displaced civilians, and a country capable of producing some 2bn barrels of oil a day.

Most importantly, US president Barack Obama may need to reconsider his assertion that there would not be any American boots on the ground; leadership is hard to assert absent participation. But whatever the international response, speed is essential. The passage of time is unlikely to make the options any easier or more appealing.

I find it simply astonishing that Haass puts the idea of foreign deployment in Libya ahead of finally giving backing to diplomatic initiatives. I would advocate instead that the TNC be cut off (from military and financial help) if it does not engage in serious peacemaking as soon as Qadhafi is out of the way. But idea of foreign troops in Libya at this stage, when Libyans are taking ownership of their country, is mind-boggling. The truth is that the TNC is close to a position where it can do what it wants. It has the ability to raise funds quickly as soon as it establishes control over Libya’s oil infrastructure (no doubt oil companies are already lining up to give it advances in exchange for future production and contracts). It will soon no longer need NATO. It is up to it to decide what kind of transition it wants in Libya, and how to enforce it.

But at least Haass is honest that this was no humanitarian intervention, but rather a political one. I think it has multiple causes (and different ones for, say, Sarkozy, Cameron, Berlusconi or Obama) but ultimately will be driven by energy concerns. Libya will need Western oil majors for the development of its petroleum infrastructure (just as Qadhafi needed them before) and the next Libyan government will figure out what kind of relationship to have with them. It may understandably have gratitude towards NATO members. But it need not have their troops on the ground while negotiating this.


  1. I know their supporters on Twitter prefer “Freedom Fighters”, but I like rebels and don’t see it as pejorative. ↩

  2. Another term some don’t like, but that may remain appropriate until hostilities die down and a peace and reconciliation process is underway. ↩

  3. There was a telling report last night that, in some parts of Tripoli, some rebels were already beginning to disarm volunteer fighters. ↩

  4. For the record I was and remain very ambivalent. ↩

The Qadhafi social network

This is a first attempt at mapping the social and power networks around Muammar al-Qadhafi using existing reporting, Wikileaks cables from Tripoli, and a few academic sources. Any complementary information and corrections are appreciated. Please do not use this for any commercial or reporting purposes without contacting me first.

Large PDF version for download here.

UPDATE: Your feedback on this is invaluable. There are some errors in the chart above, and thanks to those who wrote in to point them out. This will be an update to the chart by Sunday, leaving time for more info to get in. For those who asked, the software I use for this is MindNode Pro, which is very simple to use. For more complicated projects I use OmniGraffle.

Links for 11.16.09 to 11.18.09
ضغوط أمريكية لزيادة الغاز المصري لإسرائيل وخفض أسعاره - بوابة الشروق | al-Shurouk reports that US is asking Egypt to increase gas deliveries to Israel, and at cheaper price.
US rebukes Israel on settlement plans - Yahoo! News | ... but will do nothing about it.
Nubian fury at 'monkey' lyric of Arab pop star Haifa Wehbe | World news | The Guardian | The Haifa Wehbe / Nubian scandal.
The Obama admin is selling the peace process, but the press is not buying it. | Phil Weiss has surreal transcript from State Dept. over new settlements.
Readability - An Arc90 Lab Experiment | Very nice bookmarklet for reading long articles.
Palestinians say they will ask UN to recognise state - Yahoo! News | Doesn't the UN already accept previous resolutions with the 1967 line? Regarding my previous comment on US senators' call for a veto, the Palestinians do appear to want to take it to UNSC, not UNGA.
Le Figaro - Conjoncture : Le grand Monopoly mondial des terres agricoles | Nice chart accompanying this article on the sale of arable land to food importing nations.
U.S. "would veto" Palestinian state move: Senators - Yahoo! News | I suspect recognition by the UN would take place by the General Assembly, not the Security Council, so that turncoat Lieberman can take his veto and shove it...
The pro-Israel lobby in Britain: full text | openDemocracy | Report on UK Israel lobby by documentary filmmaker Peter Oborne.
FT.com - Inflation rears its head again in Egypt | Mostly affecting food prices ahead of Eid.
Egyptian Blogger Beaten | "During the mayhem of a major soccer match, Egyptian blogger Kareem el-Shae’r was kidnapped and beaten. El-Shae’r moderates the Free Egypt blog and is a member of Ayman Nour’s el-Ghad party and the April 6 Youth movement. For his activism, el-Shae’r has been arrested several times and beaten before. The Egyptian interior ministry refused to comment on the incident."
Gaddafi hires 200 young Italian women – to convert them to Islam | And tries to convert them to Islam.
Israel must end Gaza blockade, evictions, alleged abuse of Palestinian children - Ban | "Israel should end the blockade of Gaza, cease evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes, and ensure that the rights of children are respected and that all allegations of torture and ill-treatment are promptly investigated and perpetrators prosecuted, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in an annual report released today."
Yemen Finds Dreamland of Architecture - NYTimes.com | On Yemen's traditional architecture.
The Arabs by Eugene Rogan | Book review | The Guardian | Robert Irwin reviews this book, which I am currently reading.

CNN on Libya's Islamists


[Note: if you can't see the above video, go here.]

CNN's Nic Robertson has really outdone himself in sycophancy and breathlessness - and he has quite a track record. In this special facilitated by Seif al-Islam al-Qadhafi, who gave CNN access to prisons as well as himself, Robertson does PR for Seif's efforts to reconcile his father's regime with one of the main opposition groups in Libya. This story is interesting, as is the recantations of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), but what CNN presents here is a simplistic "Seif has converted Islamists away from jihadi violence" story along with Dan Browneseque "Jihadi code" nonsense, complete with pained, serious look at Robertson reads the Arabic manuscript of these ideological revisions (I don't know for sure, but my guess he probably does not read Arabic at all.) It is pure self-inflating propaganda, and CNN fails in two major ways here.

Firstly, it does not really question the history of the LIFG and its relationship with the regime, or the regime's policies towards the opposition. The attempts to portray Libya as vibrant and dynamic (shots of the city at dusk, emphasis on the modern, etc.) are risible and the Seif-Benotman buddy narrative slightly sick.

Secondly, everyone knows that in one of the rare findings about al-Qaeda in Iraq it was found that Libya and the LIFG was a major source of foreign fighters. There have been allegations that the regime has facilitated jihad abroad to get rid of the domestic threat. None of this is covered, as it would not make Seif look very good.

The LIFG story is interesting - see Hugh Miles' recent LRB blog post - but it deserves a lot better than Nic Robertson's antics and CNN kowtowing to the Qadhafis.
Seif Qadhafi's Comeback
qadhafi-mural.jpg

From Flickr user Miles_78.

Al Sharq al-Awsat brings some clarification about the recent nomination of Seif al-Islam Qadhafi to a post that would bring him, legally at least, much control over Libya's institutions - Saif al-Islam to Decide on Nomination Soon:



"Saif-al-Islam withdrew suddenly from the political and public life in Libya last year in what appeared to be a setback for his plan to bring about radical changes in the Libyan state at the political and economic levels. Col. Al-Qadhafi proposed to the institutions in Libya in an official speech last week, which the official media did not report, to enable his son to occupy an official post so that he can continue and implement his reform program and the social leaderships immediately nominated his son as their chairman.


Seif's appointment, should he accept it (I can't imagine he won't), contrasts with the public visibility of his brother Muatassim over the last year. Ever since it was leaked that Muatassim has been getting help from American lobbying firms in not only reaching the ears of prominent Western politicians and academics, but also in setting up the National Security Council that he allegedly runs. The leaks revealed Muatassim was hardly impressive, requiring much coaching, although his money and lobbyists did buy him a photo-op with Hillary Clinton. Should we read into this that Seif, who had earlier overreached, is back as designated successor after his eclipse over the past year? Was it his brother's disgrace alone that did the trick, or did Seif have something to do with the liberation of Abdel Basset al-Meghrahi which so overjoyed his father? If any readers have a theory about this, do let us know.



Do read the rest of the article, which speculates that Seif's return aux affaires may give a boost to the ongoing reconciliation with Libya's Salafists.
Links for 10.14.09 to 10.18.09
Is Obama giving up on democracy in Iran? | Because Haaretz really, really cares.
'Delegitimization of Israel must be delegitimized' | Great pic on this FLC post.
Al Jazeera English - Focus - Leadership 'let down' Palestinians | As`ad AbuKhalil.
ANALYSIS / U.S. using Goldstone report to punish Netanyahu - Haaretz - Israel News | Ridiculous argument.
Egypt: 29 years between a president and his heir | Bikya Masr | Ayman Nour on Mubarak's Egypt.
Nationalism in the Gulf State | A LSE paper on GCC nationalism by Neil Partrick.
In Morocco, editor imprisoned, court shutters paper - Committee to Protect Journalists | al-Michaal newspaper closed over articles on king's health. Also rumors of closing down of Le Journal, TBC.
ei: EI exclusive video: Protesters shout down Ehud Olmert in Chicago | "The demonstration was mobilized last week after organizers learned of the lecture, paid for by a grant provided by Jordan's King Abdullah II."
FT.com / UK - Storm over Egypt's Israeli links | On the Hala Mustafa / normalization debate.
Citing Work Of Right-Wing Intern Spy, GOP Accuses Muslim Group Of Infiltrating Hill With Intern 'Spies' | TPMMuckraker | "Four House Republicans are charging that the Council on American Islamic Relations is infiltrating Capitol Hill with undercover interns, and they're basing the charge on a WND-published book that itself is based on the work of a man who posed as a Muslim to infiltrate CAIR as ... an intern!"
Confessions of an AIPAC Veteran | Helena Cobban profiles Israel operative Tom Dine.
Brian Whitaker's blog | The son also rises | Seif Qadhafi gets put in charge of, well, almost everything.
First Egyptian School Closes For Swine Flu - Daily News | Mere de Dieu girls' school -- a stone's throw from Arabist HQ -- closed.
U.S. Iran plan is a bunker-busting bomb - thestar.com | That's not very nice.
Links for 09.25.09
Israel and Palestine without peace: Distilled history | The Economist | Review of Avi Shlaim's new book.
: Irving Kristol | The Economist | Obituary of the late neocon.
Israel and its West Bank settlements: Off the hook, for now | The Economist | "THE Israeli right, led by Binyamin Netanyahu, the country’s ebullient prime minister, is celebrating the end of a settlement freeze that never began."
Translator collapsed during Khadafy's rambling diatribe | Poor guy.
Robert Fisk’s World: The curious case of the missing Egyptian and the Swiss police - Robert Fisk, Commentators - The Independent | Fisk may be going senile.
King Mohammed VI of Morocco flies his Aston 1,300 miles to fix it | The Sun |News | The Sun on "Car-Mad King" M6. h/t al-bab.com.