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Date: Sat, 12 Sep 98 11:31:27 CDT
From: MichaelP <papadop@peak.org>
Subject: Lybia’s Gadafy
Article: 43026
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.19155.19980913181546@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

Desert colonel still going strong

By Ian Black, Guardian (London), Friday 11 September 1998

Muammar Gadafy has been busy over the last few days, embracing African leaders as they have flown in for the lavish celebrations, held each year, of the coup that brought him to power in 1969. Without his customary comic-opera, epaulette-heavy uniform and despite being confined to a wheelchair after breaking his hip, his ageing rock star features have seemed calm. Rambling as ever, what he has had to say about the latest dramatic twist in the Lockerbie bombing affair, has been lucid. He is on top of things.

Starting his 30th year in office, the Brother Leader of the Libyan Revolution looks in good shape. Problems he certainly has, but the economy of his Jamahiriya—the Arabic neologism for his unique, often bizarre state of the masses—is still based firmly on oil and European companies are still queueing up to extract. And for his (few) friends and (many) enemies alike, he is at least the devil they know.

Gadafy lives in a tough neighbourhood. To his west the Algerian regime is keeping the lid on a bloody Islamist insurrection. In Tunisia, anxious to forge links with the European Union, President Ben Ali has no qualms about repressing his opponents. Egypt’s Islamist militants have been largely contained. Gadafy’s relations with its president, Husni Mubarak, the largest recipient outside Israel of American aid, are warm. South of the Maghreb, the Libyan leader is enjoying a honeymoon period with his African neighbours. In the impoverished Sahel region, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mali are all in his orbit. Its presidents all paid their respects by demonstratively flying to Tripoli in defiance of the United Nations’ air embargo—in force since 1992 because of Gadafy’s refusal to hand over the Lockerbie suspects. Pressure from the Organisation of African Unity, and especially Nelson Mandela, played a vital role in persuading Britain and an even more reluctant United States to offer a trial under Scottish law in The Hague. Regionally, Gadafy is behaving with more maturity these days, say Arab observers, making calculated investments, not taking uncalculated risks(1).

Not everything in Gadafy’s arid garden is lovely. Libya’s economic fundamentals are sound though nearly all its export earnings and a third of GDP depend on oil. UN sanctions have not had a major impact because oil even when its price has been declining has generated sufficient to sustain imports of food, consumer goods and spare parts for the extraction industry. But growth is sluggish and long-term planning an oxymoron. A study commissioned by Gadafy from Gar-Yunis University and smuggled out of the country argues that despite an $80 billion development programme between 1970 and 1990, the economy suffers serious infrastructural defects(2). While other Mediterranean littoral countries desalinate sea-water, Gadafy’s prestigious Great Man-Made River Project plans to extract water from beneath the desert, though most will be lost to evaporation. Among young people unemployment is estimated at 30 per cent. Middle-class frustrations focus on the difficulty of travel because of the air embargo. But inevitably it is the poorest in a country of 5.5 million who have been hit the hardest. Hundreds of children are said to have died because they were unable to get medical treatment abroad(3).

Gadafy’s own whimsical decision-making compounds these difficulties. Sudden orders to transfer government offices or army headquarters to his home area of Sirte have caused chaos; wrangles between ministries have brought paralysis. One day they get a certain set of instructions and the next something completely different, says one well-placed exile. Gadafy uses ministers against one another. The constant formation of new committees is used to attack inefficiency and corruption and defuse opposition.

On the face of it his position seems secure. His three sons have public roles, which indicates the beginnings of the sort of dynastic succession now taking root in Iraq. Tribal loyalties still matter hugely for all Libya’s pan-Arab and socialist rhetoric and there were signs after a coup attempt in the early nineties that Gadafy’s ability to balance them was weakening.

One serious recent blow was the death, officially in a riding accident, of one of his most trusted aides, Abdulsalam Zadmeh, a veteran of the revolutionary committees. Some claim this was when Gadafy suffered his hip injury. The attack, claimed by the Fighting Islamic Group—the same outfit at the centre of allegations by the renegade MI5 officer, David Shayler—seems to have failed, for Gadafy, ever mercurial, was not there, having decided not to go ahead with a meeting with Mubarak(4). Disinformation compounds the difficulties of understanding this impenetrable country. Exiles, complains one former official now living abroad, exaggerate and indulge in wishful thinking. And governments have their agendas too: recent stories, with the whiff of official plants, have reported a secret Libyan deal with South Africa to swap oil for weapons and a eeting with the Real IRA before the Omagh bombing. Neither was true.

But the existence of an Islamist opposition is no-one’s invention. Half-a-dozen different organisations face an uphill struggle against a leader who has always judiciously appropriated the symbols of Islam - with his green book and idiosyncratic third international theory positing an Islamic middle path between atheistic communism and materialistic capitalism. But his most radical enemies still call him al-Taghout, the Muslim equivalent of the anti-Christ. Gadafy’s recent adoption of sharia punishments such as amputation of hands for theft is designed to bolster his religious credentials.

Western countries used to portray Gadafy as a terrorist godfather who sent agents to kill his own enemies and supported an eclectic cast of extremists ranging from the Palestinian Abu Nidal, through the Baader-Meinhof gang. Today his own security forces cooperate with wider Arab anti-terrorism efforts; Islamists have been handed over from Saudi Arabia, especially the worrying variety with anti-Soviet service in Afghanistan behind them.

Haunted by the spectre of Algeria, Gadafy has cracked down hard. Monitoring of ordinary people is carried out by purification committees independent of and often in competition with the police and state security organisations. In March the General People’s Congress approved laws allowing for collective punishment.

Nasty, but fundamentally stable is the conclusion of the many governments and companies which want Libya to emerge from the cold. Europeans have been quick to fill the gap left by the United States - its 1986 bombing marked a low point in relations with a country which has often seemed an obsession for Washington since Jimmy Carter first imposed unilateral sanctions. The EU’s defeat of the Iran part of the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, forcing Bill Clinton to waive penalties for non-American companies dealing with what Congress determined were pariah states, has emboldened many to believe that Libya will eventually be a safe investment, vital for companies like the Italian energy group ENI, desperate to push ahead with a $3.8 billion oil pipeline in a joint-venture with Libya’s National Oil Company. For many international companies, the post-sanctions period has already arrived, marked by fierce competition among European banks to finance trade transactions, says one specialist publication(5).

Recent discussion of the sale of Airbus aircraft to replenish the ruined Libyan Arab Airlines fleet is part of this hard-nosed, business-driven story. It goes without saying, said one oil executive, that Colonel Gadafy is an excellent guarantor of contracts. Publicly, Britain and the United States invoke the need for justice as they urge Gadafy to surrender Abdel Basset Ali Mohamed al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, accused of killing 270 innocents when they blew Pan Am 103 out of the sky in December 1988.

But privately he is being told, through Egyptian and African interlocutors, that the arrival of these two in The Hague is the beginning of Libya’s return to the civilised world. Libya must be returned to the international community, Italy’s foreign minister, Lamberto Dini, said this week. Opinion is divided as to whether Gadafy would have internal difficulties in handing them over. Both are small fry, but also members of the important southern Megarha tribe. But both, on the other hand, would leave behind their families to guarantee that exposure of high-level involvement in Lockerbie would be kept to a minimum.

Men like Izzedin al-Hinshiri, now minister of transport and then a senior official in Libya’s external security organisation, and Abdullah Senussi, Gadafy’s brother-in-law and the ESO’s chief, would not relish a forced journey to Holland. Part of the Anglo-American message is that individuals, not a regime, must answer for the crime. British diplomats point to the example of Iran, rehabilitated swiftly after senior figures were named in the Berlin trial of intelligence agents who murdered Kurdish dissidents.

At 56, Gadafy remains as unpredictable as he was when he took power as a young army officer who worshipped Egypt’s President Nasser. But the enfant terrible of the Maghreb has mellowed since then, and some believe he could now be ready to neutralise one set of enemies in the West, the better to deal with another, closer to home.