Qaddafi’s Son Is Alive. And He Wants to Take Libya Back.
Kaber’s power arose out of the bank’s control over Libya’s oil revenues. He also oversees the payment of the country’s militias, who, despite their fratricidal wars and non-compliance with the law, have been in the payroll of the state since 2011. Libya now has the highest proportion of employees in the country. State in the world, Kaber told me. The problem started under Gaddafi, who destroyed the private sector and then bought social peace by handing out endless government jobs, many of which are no-shows. The state now spends so much on subsidies that gasoline is cheaper than water, which has made large-scale smuggling unstoppable. Sometimes the eastern branch of the central bank in Benghazi used ersatz Libyan dinars printed in Russia. “We made the decision not to accept these dinars, but then they were accepted in commercial banks,” Kaber told me. His position, he says wearily, is “absolutely unique.”
One of the big mysteries around Kaber is how he kept his job. No other major political figure has survived the decade since 2011. He has made a lot of enemies, but someone has always stepped in to protect him. Libyans will tell you it’s no mystery: Kaber has played his cards masterfully, handing out favors and selectively closing his eyes. He has the power to increase or minimize the gap between Libya’s official and black market exchange rates, which has at times been very large. By granting certain people access to the official rate, it can, in effect, make the new rich Libyans even richer. The bank has most likely presided over bogus import programs with fabricated letters of credit, according to Global Witness, a London-based non-governmental organization. On some occasions, Kaber admitted, large cash stores have simply disappeared. Even the head of the Libyan National Oil Corporation accused Kaber last year of wasting billions of dollars in oil money and allocating credits to “big cats”.
Kaber moved his family to Britain years ago. He then transferred them to Turkey, perhaps a better refuge now that some are asking him to face an account. There is no doubt that he is a wise man.
When I asked about the embezzlement accusations, Kaber told me that he had done nothing wrong and that the bank had taken action to combat money laundering and fraud. Yes, billions of dollars were gone. But with regard to the false papers that enabled these crimes, “the bank manager’s job is with the documents,” Kaber told me. “People at the border have the power to check them. A single man could not be held responsible for the failures of the country. The interview ended shortly after. He smiled politely before walking me back to his long office to say goodbye.
During our interviews, Seif has repeatedly reverted to the idea that Libya has not had a state since 2011. The various governments that have claimed power since then, he said, were in reality only men. armed in costume. “It is not in their interest to have a strong government,” he said. “This is why they are afraid of the elections. He continued, “They are against the idea of a president. They are against the idea of a state, of a government whose legitimacy comes from the people. The corollary could not have been clearer: Seif seems to believe that only he can represent the state for all Libyans.
This dynastic presumption is quite brazen, especially because Muammar al-Gaddafi prided himself on having transcended the idea of a state. He praised his Libya as a jamahiriya, a coat rack with Arabic words for “masses” and “republic”. Perhaps Gaddafi’s most enduring crime has been his destruction of the country’s civic institutions. His erratic decrees have left Libyans in a constant state of fear for their lives and property. Its revolutionary committees were bands of fanatics who intimidated ordinary Libyans and could arrange to have them imprisoned at will. In 2011, there was constant confusion around the word “revolutionary”, because both rebels and loyalists identified themselves that way. Often their tactics were the same. In a sense, what happened in Libya after 2011 was not so much a revolution against Gaddafi as it was a replication of his methods at the local level. “Libya did not divide,” Ghassan Salamé, a Lebanese diplomat and former United Nations envoy to Libya, told me. “It imploded.”
Over the past year, Libyans have been mesmerized by an atrocity that seemed to recapitulate all the worst aspects of the Gaddafi era. It took place in Tarhuna, a farming town about an hour’s drive southeast of the capital. After the ruling militia – led by the notorious Kani brothers – were driven out in June last year, residents began to find human remains near an olive grove on the outskirts of town. Search teams uncovered the bodies of 120 people, but more mass graves were quickly discovered and more than 350 families reported missing loved ones. The victims included women and children, some of whom were shot up to 16 times. As their stories emerged, a window opened to a strange reign of terror that spanned nearly eight years. No one did anything to stop the Kani, because they made themselves so useful to everyone in the Libyan political class, allying first with the political leaders in Tripoli, then with Hifter. Their reign transformed Tarhuna into a police state with echoes of that of the Gaddafi: six brothers put their mark on everything and terrorized their people, all in the name of the revolution.
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