Pre­par­ing for life af­ter Gad­hafi: Suc­ces­sion be­dev­ils Tripoli

The Washington Times Weekly - - International Perspective - BY JOHN PHILLIPS

TRIPOLI, Libya | Many Libyans re­joiced af­ter Sec­re­tary of State Con­doleezza Rice’s land­mark meet­ing with Libyan leader Moam­mar Gad­hafi two weeks ago, but a power strug­gle among the strong­man’s sons could plunge the oil-rich na­tion into chaos if the 66-year-old leader died sud­denly.

Tripoli, the cap­i­tal, has come a long way since United Na­tions sanc­tions were lifted in 1999, fol­low­ing Libya’s sur­ren­der of sus­pects in the 1988 bomb­ing of Pan Am Flight 103. In 2003, Libya agreed to com­pen­sate rel­a­tives of the vic­tims and agreed to give up a fledg­ling nu­clear pro­gram. The fol­low­ing year, the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion ended a trade em­bargo in ef­fect since 1986.

A once-drab cap­i­tal has been trans­formed. Stores around Green Square — where Libya used to stage anti-Amer­i­can demon­stra­tions in the 1980s — are packed with elec­tronic goods and West­ern clothes, in­clud­ing de­signer short skirts for women.

Young Libyans flaunt Ja­panese and Ital­ian cars and crowd In­ter­net cafes. Strains of jazz mu­sic play­ing at a restau­rant fre­quented by West­ern oil­men waft through the Arch of Mar­cus Aure­lius, one of Libya’s many daz­zling Ro­man mon­u­ments, min­gling with calls to prayer for the Mus­lim holy month of Ra­madan.

But Libya is still ruled in idio­syn­cratic fash­ion by Col. Gad­hafi, who seized power in a 1969 coup and turned the coun­try of 6 mil­lion into a “jamahiriya,” a word the colonel coined and which is roughly trans­lated as “the state of the masses.”

Oil com­pa­nies are largely in­su­lated from the colonel’s an­tics, but many other Amer­i­can firms are leery.

“It’s a coun­try that doesn’t have all that much ex­pe­ri­ence in a West­ern cap­i­tal­ist en­vi­ron­ment,” said William Rein­sch, pres­i­dent of the Na­tional For­eign Trade Coun­cil, a Wash­ing­ton-based group that pro­motes U.S. busi­ness abroad. “It’s not a rule-of-law coun­try. Busi­ness dis­putes al­ways hap­pen, and Amer­i­can busi­nesses want to know there’s a trans­par­ent process for re­solv­ing dis­putes. You don’t have that in Libya.”

West­ern hopes for the coun­try have rested largely on Col. Gad­hafi’s son, Seif al-Is­lam, 36, who was in­stru­men­tal in un­tan­gling the dis­pute over Pan Am 103. An en­gi­neer fin­ish­ing a Lon­don School of Eco­nomics doc­tor­ate, Seif al-Is­lam has served as his fa­ther’s troubleshooter and is seen as the main con­tender to suc­ceed him.

He re­cently up­set rel­a­tives of the Pan Am 103 vic­tims, whom he called “greedy.” But the com­ments may have been in­tended to ap­pease rad­i­cals in the Libyan regime.

“In gen­eral terms, he is a mod­er­at­ing force,” said a Westerner in Tripoli who fol­lows po­lit­i­cal de­vel­op­ment closely, but who asked not to be iden­ti­fied to avoid jeop­ar­diz­ing his po­si­tion. “He is also re­al­is­tic. He re­al­izes that he has to as­suage the hard-lin­ers.”

Seif al-Is­lam has been pro­mot­ing a new con­sti­tu­tion that is said to in­clude some el­e­ments of democ­racy. But in a re­cent speech, he an­nounced that he would no longer par­tic­i­pate in pol­i­tics, rais­ing ques- tions about whether he had an­gered his fa­ther by push­ing for re­form.

A for­mer U.S. of­fi­cial in Wash­ing­ton fa­mil­iar with Libyan pol­i­tics, who asked not to be named, said Seif al-Is­lam was merely play­ing po­lit­i­cal games and is still Col. Gad­hafi’s likely suc­ces­sor.

How­ever, the West­ern source in Tripoli said Seif al-Is­lam faces com­pe­ti­tion for the suc­ces­sion from two broth­ers, es­pe­cially Mu­atism Gad­hafi, in his late 20s, the head of Libya’s Se­cu­rity Coun­cil. Com­pe­ti­tion could also come from Hamis Gad­hafi, in his early 20s, who com­mands the Spe­cial Forces Bri­gade, con­sid­ered the best mil­i­tary unit in the coun­try.

“The prob­lem could be if their fa­ther died sud­denly,” said the West­ern ob­server. “If a plan for suc­ces­sion has not been put in place, it would be a wor­ry­ing sit­u­a­tion. It is not known if the whole of the army sup­ports Seif.”

For now, Col. Gad­hafi seems se­cure, bol­stered by more than $50 bil­lion a year in oil rev­enues.

“West­ern leaders now scram­ble for photo-ops with Col. Gad­hafi,” the gov­ern­ment-con­trolled English-lan­guage news­pa­per, Tripoli Post, crowed Sept. 6. “Tony Blair was in Tripoli in 2004, so was Pres­i­dent Chirac of France, Ital­ian Prime Min­is­ter Ber­lus­coni, and Con­doleezza Rice is the lat­est West­ern VIP in Libya.”

But af­ter nearly 40 years in power, the colonel is not very pop­u­lar.

Construction is boom­ing in Tripoli with a new In­tercon­ti­nen­tal Ho­tel emerg­ing. Yet many Libyans still live in slums, such as the hov­els lin­ing dirt streets be­tween the Mar­cus Aure­lius Arch and Green Square.

“The broad mass of peo­ple are very un­happy,” the West­ern ob­server said.

De­spite a gov­ern­ment claim that 3,000 pris­on­ers were amnestied two weeks ago to mark the an­niver­sary of Col. Gad­hafi’s takeover, “at best there were tens, or per­haps hun­dreds, freed,” said the West­ern source. The num­ber of po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers in fa­cil­i­ties such as the no­to­ri­ous Abu Se­lim jail is un­known, but “it has to be in the thou­sands,” he added.

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