Sunday Business Post


By Tom McGurk
Sunday, December 28, 2003

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usThere have been some extraordinary historical moments in Colonel Mu'ammer Gaddafi's famous tent in the desert, which apparently is always on the move given the aerial attack skills of his many enemies.

Two weeks ago, the phone rang and it was Tony Blair on the line.

With the help of a translator - although Gaddafi has reasonable English - the pair talked for half an hour. In the 34 years of his quixotic rule, Gaddafi has time after time managed to baffle both his enemies and his friends. I suspect that phone call has left many people baffled worldwide.

The phone call was the follow-up to the announcement that came utterly out of the blue in Tripoli and London earlier in the day. Libya had invited in the international arms inspectors after it decided to abandon its WMD programme. Once again the Libyan leader had astonished his critics and the international intelligence community.

However, it seems that only part of that community was shocked as it appears that, hardly had the dead from the World Trade Center been buried,when Lib yan intelligence officials opened up a remarkable dia logue in both London and Washington.

Apparently as Gaddafi, presumably watching in his tent, viewed the extraordinary pictures from New York, he saw a unique opportunity to help Libya and solve his own mounting problems with international isolation. He then thought of an astounding scheme that would both help Libya to escape from under the regime of UN sanctions and, at the same time, come in from the international cold war.

That 34-year war has made Libya an international pariah and has kept it in purdah ever since Gaddafi first threw out the oil companies, nationalised the country and declared his anti-imperial revolution across the globe. It was time, it seems, to leave the rogue state status behind.

Gaddafi's secret weapon in his new plan was his Al Mathaba organisation - the infamous secret Libyan intelligence agency that for three decades has guided and organised his anti-imperialist struggle across Africa and parts of Europe.

It seems Gaddafi was prepared to launch his secret intelligence agency in a new war that stood on its head everything that the organisation had so covertly worked for down the years.

The Observer in London reported recently that only weeks after the September 11 terrorist attacks, Musa Kousa - regarded as the single most dangerous Libyan in the world and head of Al Mathaba - arrived into London for secret talks with British intelligence.

Kousa has been the linchpin in all of Gaddafi's wars, as well as the IRA and PLO linkage, the killing in London of WPC Yvonne Fletcher in 1984 and the Lockerbie bombing three years later.

The offer that Kousa brought to the secret meeting last October was as astonishing as it was unexpected. Gaddafi was offering that Al Mathaba would put its unique international expertise within the Arab world to the service of the war on terrorism. Kousa even had a pile of documents at the meeting, detailing the names of Islamist terrorists in Africa, Europe and the Middle East and details of the cells into which they were organising.

It was a tantalising offer for both Washington and London. However much they knew about this extraordinary volte face on the part of Gaddafi, they certainly knew that Al Mathaba was an Arab intelligence agency that got to places few others did, particularly across North Africa.

We can see the dimensions of the deal that both sides clearly worked out then. Libya had to deliver on the Lockerbie bomber and pay massive compensation to the relatives, end its WMD programme and abandon the sponsorship of international terrorism. The British and the US had to abandon sanctions and welcome Libya back into the international fold.

So why has the infamous Gaddafi suddenly joined the "good guys" led by George W Bush? For decades, such has been the division of opinion about the Libyan revolution that the experts are still divided. There's little doubt that Libya's WMD programme was of little significance and not on the scale that was suspected in Iraq.

Apparently the carrots dangled in front of Gaddafi by Blair included economic incentives, the chance to obtain conventional weaponry and the possibility of welcoming Libyan youth to study in western universities.

But the truth may in fact be much more mundane. Beyond all the international opprobrium and geopolitical posturing, Gaddafi's social revolution on the ground in Libya has created something of a miracle. He has spent the oil money on education, health services, water irrigation and developing, potentially, a huge tourist infrastructure, if only he had any tourists.

He has also uniquely encouraged equality in education and work for women and over the decades produced a newly-educated Libyan elite.The west was never prepared to see this type of social revolution in Libya and instead concerned itself with Gaddafi's maverick attempts at international revolution.

The reality facing him in the 34th year of his reign is that all he has achieved in Libya cannot continue forever in the diplomatic cul-de-sac that he finds himself and his country in. As the old Soviet empire in eastern Europe found out a decade ago, the international isolation created by the revolution in turn creates an insatiable desire - particularly among the younger generations - to be able to join the rest of the world. Succeeding generations will do things their way.

There is also the question of the dictator's own succession. His son, Saif, has been at the centre of the Tripoli/London negotiations and it may well be that Gaddafi is already preparing not only for a succession but also for a new era in Libyan affairs.

Either way, once again he has not failed to astonish his critics. Nor, as the more caustic commentators have pointed out, does his new realpolitik interfere with Libyans' grander ambitions to be a considerable power and influence in the emerging Middle East.

Not even Washington's neo-conservatives could have dreamed up this one.


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