Asharq Al-Awsat Series on Libya Traces Roots of Doha-Tripoli Tensions

Asharq Al-Awsat Series on Libya Traces Roots of Doha-Tripoli Tensions

Wednesday, 21 February, 2018 - 10:00
Supporters of Mommar al-Gaddafi and his son, Seif al-Islam, rally in Benghazi in 2011. (AP)
Cairo – Abdul Sattar Hatita
In its final investigation into the toppled regime of late Libyan leader Moammar al-Gaddafi, Asharq Al-Awsat aims to shed light on ties between Tripoli and Doha in the buildup to the North African country’s 2011 revolt.

Focus will be turned to the final deal between Qatar and Libya and the latter’s refusal to grant Doha privileges in investments in the gas, real estate and banking sectors.

A former Libyan official said that Doha wanted Tripoli to repay a favor Qatar for donating some 900 million dollars to resolve some of Libya’s international disputes. A total of 400 million dollars were dedicated to the AIDS victims fund and 500 million were directed to the 2008 comprehensive claims settlement agreement with the United States.

In wake of these grants, former regime officials said that Qatar demanded that Tripoli sell it projects in Libya at very low prices. These officials still have voice recordings of these dealings.

An aide to Seif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, the son of the later leader, was present at the talks between Libyan and Qatari officials. He explained that when Libya stalled in complying with Doha’s demands, Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani paid a visit to Tripoli in 2011 to address the issue. Witnesses spoke of Sheikh Hamad’s anger during a meeting with Seif al-Islam. Present at the talks were former Prime Minister al-Baghdad al-Mahmoudi, head of military intelligence Abdullah al-Senussi and head of the National Oil Corporation, the late Shukri Ghanem.

Sheikh Hamad angrily addressed the gatherers, by saying: “We gave you money and you have not fulfilled your pledges.”

The disputes came to the spotlight when Qatar appeared eager to oust Gaddafi’s regime in 2011. Its intentions were evident at international meetings and by employing its Al-Jazeera television to incite the public against Gaddafi. It also financed various Libyan sides, even after the collapse of the regime, including the “Al-Wasat ” institute that currently operates in Cairo.

Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine was present at various meetings that brought together Libyan, British and French officials, who were seeking to obtain privileges in Libya. Sheikh Hamad also sought such ambitions, but Takieddine said that what Doha really wanted was to “break the regime and it did.”

The AIDS case in Libya dates back to 1999 when five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor working at a children’s hospital in Benghazi deliberately infected 426 Libyan children with HIV. The case was settled in 2007 after years of Libyan and European tussling.

The settlement, said Seif al-Islam’s aide, included the release of the accused in exchange for compensating the families of the victims. The European Union was supposed to pay the compensations, but it refused. Qatar then intervened and paid 400 million dollars to a victims fund.

The comprehensive claims settlement agreement, worth 1.8 billion dollars, was aimed at closing all international cases linked to Libya. There were several stages that led to reaching the agreement on the final deal. The buildup helped the US adopt a more lenient approach towards Libya even before the end of the term of former President George W. Bush.

Meanwhile, Seif al-Islam believed that before he could tackle internal affairs and implement development plans for the people, external cases should be first resolved, including that of the 1989 bombing of UTA Flight 772 and 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

Qatar paid 500 million dollars on behalf of the Libyan state in order to ensure the success of the US comprehensive claims settlement agreement. Seif al-Islam’s associate said that the Qatari officials sought through their aid to gain privileges in Libya. “They had their sights set on gas contracts,” he remarked.

Disputes however soon emerged between the Libyans and Qataris because the latter wanted to strike the deals at cut prices. This spelled the beginning of the deterioration of ties between Doha and Tripoli, said the aide.

It appears that Qatar was seeking to infiltrate Libya from any angle, but Ghanem did not seem so eager to welcome its investment, revealed Takieddine. A further deterioration ensued, which he said only fueled Qatar’s support for Libya’s fragmentation and eventual backing of extremists.

The eruption of the so-called Arab Spring 2010 created more tensions between Libya and Qatar.

Gaddafi had protested against Al-Jazeera’s coverage of the protests in Egypt, accusing the station of inciting against then President Hosni Mubarak. He even contacted Sheikh Hamad to scold him over the coverage, revealed Seif al-Islam’s aide.

After Mubarak stepped down from power, a Qatari emir contacted Seif al-Islam, informing him: “Be prepared, you are the next target.”

Soon after, Seif al-Islam contacted a senior director at Al-Jazeera to ask whether it was planning on inciting Libyans against Gaddafi’s regime. He denied the charges, but said that “there were instructions to do so and in the end, these orders prevailed.”

The aide said that as soon as the Libya revolt began in Benghazi in 2011, various media kicked off a systematic campaign to “demonize” the regime. They reported false claims and exaggerated the number of casualties and attributed atrocities to state forces. In addition, they alleged that Gaddafi and his family had billions of dollars in foreign banks. Seven years after the revolt, none of these claims have been proven.

Former leaders of the regime and others operating in the eastern region in Libya, including the army led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, stressed that Qatar’s meddling in the country was still ongoing. Seif al-Islam’s aide stressed that Doha was still supporting extremists and financing Libyan media outlets based in Cairo.

Evidence has indeed proven that the Qatari chief of staff is funding the al-Wasat institution, he continued. “I understand that a state can finance a station or newspaper through its information or culture ministry, but the financing by the chief of staff is a whole new farce,” he charged.

Documents from 2013 and 2014 show that the funding of this Libyan firm began through a Qatari company in 2013. The budget for that year stood at 8.8 million dollars, showed bank transfers. In 2014, Qatar was pumping more than 100,000 dollars a month to al-Wasat.

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