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Viewing cable 09TRIPOLI487, THE KNIVES COME OUT? NATIONALIZATION OF SAIF AL-ISLAM'S MEDIA GROUP A BLOW TO WOULD-BE REFORMERS REF: A) TRIPOLI 359, B) 08 TRIPOLI 494, C) TRIPOLI 374, D) TRIPOLI 414 (NOTAL) CLASSIFIED BY: Gene A. Cretz, Ambassador, U.S. Embassy - Tripoli, U.S. Dept of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09TRIPOLI487 2009-06-18 06:06 2011-01-31 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tripoli
O P 180622Z JUN 09
FM AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI
TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4933
INFO ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
CDR USAFRICOM STUTTGART GE
AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 
AMEMBASSY PARIS PRIORITY 
NSC WASHINGTON DC
AMEMBASSY ROME PRIORITY 
AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI
C O N F I D E N T I A L TRIPOLI 000487 
 
 
DEPT FOR NEA/MAG, NEA/PPD AND INR/NESA; NSC FOR MCDERMOTT 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL:  6/17/2019 
TAGS: PGOV PREL KPAO PHUM KDEM LY

SUBJECT: THE KNIVES COME OUT? NATIONALIZATION OF SAIF AL-ISLAM'S MEDIA GROUP A BLOW TO WOULD-BE REFORMERS REF: A) TRIPOLI 359, B) 08 TRIPOLI 494, C) TRIPOLI 374, D) TRIPOLI 414 (NOTAL) CLASSIFIED BY: Gene A. Cretz, Ambassador, U.S. Embassy - Tripoli, U.S. Dept of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)

1.(C) Summary: Following in the takeover of quasi-independent satellite TV station al-Libia, the Government of Libya (GOL) also recently nationalized the remaining assets of Saif al-Islam's al-Ghad Media Group. It is hard to interpret the move as anything but the end of nominally independent media in Libya and a further degradation of press freedom in a country already ranked 160th out of 173 countries worldwide by Reporters Without Borders. Perhaps more significantly, it represents another serious blow against Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi, who personally established the al-Ghad Group two years ago, and highlights the limits of the "soft power" approach he has taken in his effort to effect political-economic reform. His brother and reported rival, National Security Adviser Muatassim al-Qadhafi, may have helped orchestrate the timing (and perhaps more) of the government decree nationalizing the al-Ghad Group with Prime Minister-equivalent al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi, who has been at daggers drawn with Saif al-Islam over the latter's proposed reforms for over a year. How it all plays out remains to be seen, but in this round of jockeying in what remains a very old-school state, hard power appears to have trumped soft power. End summary.

OPENING SALVO ...

2.(C) As reported ref A, the state-owned Jamariya Arab News Agency (JANA) satellite television channel took over the quasi-independent al-Libia satellite channel on April 24. Al-Libia's manager and the former Deputy Director of the al-Ghad Media Group, Abdelsalam al-Mishri, was arrested and remains under investigation in connection with the channel's activities and alleged financial improprieties. The newspaper "Quryna" featured front-page articles on April 28 attributing al-Mishri's arrest and al-Libia's reported efforts to move its newsroom and broadcasting to London to al-Libia's reports by sensationalist Egyptian reporter Hamdi Kandil on Egypt's role in enforcing the blockade of Gaza and ties between Egypt and Hezbollah.

3.(C) The seizure of al-Libia coincided with a visit to Cairo by Prime Minister-equivalent al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi and Foreign Minister-equivalent Musa Kusa to discuss bilateral trade and security issues. Egyptian Political Counselor Ahmed Abdel Halim recently confirmed that Ahmed Qadhafadam, cousin of Muammar al-Qadhafi and a leading Libyan interlocutor on Egyptian-Libyan affairs, had brokered a call between President Mubarak and Muammar al-Qadhafi during al-Mahmoudi and Kusa's visit to complain about al-Libia's reports on Egypt. xxxxxxxxxxxx Shortly thereafter, state-owned Jamahiriya TV began to simulcast its programming on al-Libia's signal.

... LEADS TO A BROADER BARRAGE AGAINST PRESS FREEDOM IN LIBYA

4.(C) In what Reporters Without Borders described as "a retrograde measure", Libya's state-owned media announced on June 1 that it was nationalizing the remaining assets of the al-Ghad Media Group (also known as the "1/09 Media Group"), which was established in 2007 by Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi (son of Muammar al-Qadhafi). Opposition website Libya al-Youm posted a copy of Decree 226 of 2009, issued by Libya's General People's Committee (GPC -- Libya's Cabinet-equivalent), which "liquidated" the al-Ghad Media Group and established a new National Center for Media Services. The Center, to be funded by the GPC, will be "under the supervision of the GPC" and will "annex" all of al-Ghad's former assets. The al-Ghad Group comprised al-Libia TV, al-Shabibiya TV (focused on youth programming), al-Libia Radio and two daily newspapers, "Oea" and "Quryna". The newspapers were groundbreaking in the context of Libya's sterile media environment, and had quickly established credibility and a loyal readership (they effectively became the newspapers of record) by publishing criticism of senior officials and discussing taboo subjects such as Islamic extremism and opposition elements among Libya's diaspora population. (Note: While forward-leaning by local standards, coverage was largely in line with state-owned media and criticism of officials was measured and, in many cases, tepid. End note.)

5.(C) Tension between Saif al-Islam's supporters and more conservative regime elements unaccustomed to and unhappy with such coverage had increased steadily during the past year. xxxxxxxxxxxx Al-Libia's hortatory coverage of Muammar al-Qadhafi's recent visit to Italy suggests that the channel's content has quickly been brought into line with that of the more staid JANA. The channel devoted much less extensive coverage to al-Qadhafi's visits to Madrid, Paris and Moscow in 2007 and 2008. Al-Libia's coverage of Saif al-Islam has been reduced since the nationalization as well.

MUATASSIM - NOT HIS BROTHER'S KEEPER?

6.(C) The xxxxxxxxxxxx told us shortly after the nationalization was announced that they had been hearing for more than a week that it was coming. Their information was that Libyan authorities had only been "waiting for an official decree" from the GPC. Well-informed contacts have told us that Prime Minister al-Mahmoudi orchestrated at least the timing (and perhaps more) of the decree nationalizing the al-Ghad Group with National Security Adviser Muatassim al-Qadhafi, brother and reported rival of Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi. Al-Mahmoudi and Saif al-Islam have been engaged in a mostly quiet struggle over the latter's proposed political-economic reforms for over a year. A contact xxxxxxxxxxxx had been told xxxxxxxxxxxx that Mubarak's call to al-Qadhafi to complain about al-Libia's reports on Egypt had afforded the regime a useful pretext to do what it had intended to do for some time anyway - nationalize the al-Ghad Group.

AL-LIBIA LOOKS OFFSHORE, BUT HAVING TROUBLE FINDING A VENUE

7.(C) Saleh Abdulsalam Saleh, Chairman of the Qadhafi Development Foundation's (QDF) Human Rights Committee (and, according to Libya al-Youm, the new Director of the al-Ghad Group) claimed to P/E Chief on June 17 that al-Ghad had not/not been nationalized; however, he did confirm that al-Libia was actively looking for an alternative venue in which to house its news bureau and from which to broadcast. Confirming reports we'd heard previously, he said al-Libia had narrowed the choices down to London, Dubai and Amman and were leaning toward the latter. (Note: We have heard from employees of al-Libia that negotiations with the company's potential Jordanian counterpart have encountered some difficulty and that it is unlikely that al-Libia will secure approval from the Jordanian Government -- which is anxious to avoid angering the GOL, particularly in the wake of the Fathi el-Jahmi case (refs C,D) -- to broadcast from Amman. End note.) Saleh did not respond when asked to explain the interruption of al-Libia's broadcast on April 24 and reports on June 1 (including the text of the government decree) that the rest of the al-Ghad Group had been nationalized.

8.(C) Comment: Informed observers here agree that it is difficult to interpret the nationalization of the al-Ghad Group as anything but the end of nominally independent media in Libya and a serious blow against Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi. The annexation of al-Libia and the "Oea" and "Quryna" newspapers represents a further degradation of press freedom in a country already ranked 160th out of 173 countries by Reporters Without Borders. It also comes on the heels of an unwelcome (from Saif al-Islam's pespective) Cabinet shuffle, the failure of the General People's Congress to adopt a draft constitution he shepherded, Muatassim's successful visit to Washington in April (Saif al-Islam had wanted to maintain primacy on the U.S. account), Muatassim's premier role at his father's side during the recently-concluded Rome visit, and threats to Saif al-Islam's confidantes and business interests. His longtime business partner and adviser, Abdulrahman Karfakh, left Tripoli quickly earlier this year after having been threatened by Muatassim's confederates in connection with competition for a lucrative commercial contract. Karfakh is now in Houston "training" with U.S. project management company AECOM, but things have not yet quieted down enough for him to return to Libya.

9.(C) Comment (continued): The seizure of the al-Ghad Group is a significant development in the context of the ongoing struggle for primacy between Saif al-Islam and Muatassim, and is perceived as a signal to Saif al-Islam that his open criticism of conservative regime elements had gone too far. It is of a piece with the view that while Muatassim's star is waxing at the moment, Saif's is waning. Despite his high-profile involvement in the regime's most sensitive affairs (the Bulgarian nurses, the U.S.-Libya Claims Compensation Agreement, negotiations to resolve the Libyan-Swiss contretemps), Saif al-Islam holds no official title and has largely depended to date on "soft power" (the media group, the quasi-governmental QDF, his Youth Forum). The media group was a powerful asset that ensured that he was both the single most recognized figure in Libya after his father, and was seen as an agent of the reform that many Libyans quietly hunger for. It has been admittedly something of a mixed blessing, politically, for Saif: many Libyans viewed him as being too enamored of his role as a media darling, particularly since that was seen as further evidence that he was too Western and less authentically Libyan. While he has taken on conservative regime elements and eschewed a formal role, Muatassim has taken his position as National Security Adviser and quietly aggregated more traditional "hard power", to include involvement in the Security Committee (which coordinates sensitive security issues) and military procurement (his primacy in the latter has not yet been definitively determined). How it all plays out remains to be seen, but in this round of jockeying in what remains a very old-school state, hard power appears to have trumped soft power. End comment. CRETZ