- Article history
[ID:194957 Cable dated:2009-03-03T14:42:00] C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TRIPOLI 000198 SIPDIS DEPT PLEASE PASS TO COMMERCE FOR NATE MASON; STATE FOR NEA/MAG; PARIS FOR WALLER; LONDON FOR TSOU E.O. 12958: DECL: 3/2/2019 TAGS: PGOV, ECON, EIND, EINV, ETRD, EAIR, LY SUBJECT: BLACK SHEEP MADE GOOD? SAADI AL-QADHAFI'S EXPORT FREE ZONE IN WESTERN LIBYA REF: 08 TRIPOLI 530 CLASSIFIED BY: Gene A. Cretz, Ambassador, U.S. Embassy - Tripoli, U.S. Dept of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)
1. (C) Summary: Saadi al-Qadhafi, son of Muammar al-Qadhafi, has recently turned his attention to transforming an area near the western Libyan town of Zuwara into an Export Free Trade Zone. The project would include an airport, immigration and customs operations, a high tech industrial park, banks, medical centers and educational facilities. During a rare visit by Muammar al-Qadhafi to Zuwara late last year, he promised to help bring the project to reality; work began a few days after the visit. As with most business ventures in Libya, there are considerable political dimensions to any economic enterprise. A desire to provide tangible deliverables to a leading city of the Berbers, with whom his regime has had a historically contentious relationship, may have helped prompt al-Qadhafi's support.
Saadi's status as a son of the first family may mean that his project stands a better chance of surviving as government budgets are tightened in light of flat oil prices. Although the Zuwara Free Trade Zone is an ambitious and expensive project, XXXXXXXXXXXX Regardless, the Berber-dominated town of Zuwara will benefit from the creation of new employment, both in the construction phase and later in the running of the zone.
SAADI SETTLES IN
2. (C) Saadi al-Qadhafi, a son of Muammar al-Qadhafi, has recently spent considerable time in the predominantly Berber town of Zuwara, located in western Libya near the border with Tunisia. Saadi was married off several years ago to the daughter of prominent regime figure al-Khweildi al-Hmeidi XXXXXXXXXXXX According to residents, XXXXXXXXXXXX Saadi does his own shopping and walks the streets of Zuwara's small downtown area, usually with a small security detail. A former professional footballer (he enjoyed a single season with Perugia in Italy's Serie A league, owns a significant share of al-Ahli - one of the two biggest soccer teams in Libya - and has run Libya's Football Federation) and engineer by training, Saadi's focus has drifted from soccer to the military (he was briefly an officer in a special forces unit and reportedly did well, but was bored by military life) to movies (he owns the film production company World Navigator Entertainment). He now appears to be focused on developing Zuwara into an Export Free Zone.
ZUWARA PROJECT SIZEABLE IN SCOPE
3. (SBU) The Zuwara Export Free Trade Zone project was initiated in 2006 XXXXXXXXXXXX to develop the area located between the city of Zuwara and the fishing village of Ras-Ajdar. The latter is located on the Libya-Tunisia border.
The zone is intended to encourage foreign investment and prompt industrial and commercial development and tourism that will contribute to long-term economic growth. In a press release, Saadi highlighted the project as a means by which to diversify Libya's economy, reduce dependence on oil revenues, create jobs and strengthen foreign investment. The design of the project was assigned to a number of multinational companies, which have developed a phased plan for the project. In late 2008, Emirati Emaar Properties and the Government of Libya (GOL) created a joint venture company to be the main developer of Phase 1, which included developing residential, commercial, industrial, educational, healthcare, leisure and entertainment components designed to attract foreign investment and generate employment.
4. (SBU) If implemented, the Zuwara Export Free Trade Zone would be the first of its kind in Libya. It would have unique
TRIPOLI 00000198 002 OF 003
features such as its own harbor and airport, and immigration and customs offices to facilitate vistors' entry into Libya, and would be a fully-functioning hub for business investors. In a nod to cultural sensitivity, there would be multi-religious worship facilities in the zone and the area would deliberately cultivate "western style" business laws with which European and American companies would be familiar. Locally-engaged Embassy staff resident in Zuwara have heard credible reports that Saadi has secured agreement to sell alcohol in the zone as part of an effort to make it attractive to potential expatriate investors and business interests. (Note: Libya is technically dry, although there is a thriving black market for alcohol and discreet drinking is tacitly accepted. A number of new hotels in Tripoli due to open soon have requested liquor licenses and believe they may get them, although there is credible reporting suggesting that Muammar al-Qadhafi personally opposes the consumption of alcohol and will not allow it so long as he remains in power. End note.)
LEADER'S VISIT SPARKS MOVEMENT ON CONSTRUCTION
5. (C) During a rare visit by Muammar al-Qadhafi to Zuwara in September 2008, he promised to help bring the project to fruition. His visit and interest in the project may have been partly prompted by a desire to provide tangible deliverables to the Berber community, with which his regime has had a historically contentious relationship. In 2007, the GOL showed some evidence of reversing its longstanding denial that any Berber communities exist in Libya and granted permission to the Amazigh (Berber) World Congress to host a large gathering in Tripoli in August 2007. Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi, son of Muammar al-Qadhafi, and the Prime Minister made high-profile visits in August and September 2007 to predominantly Berber communities and announced major infrastructure investments; however, in March 2008 the GOL hotly criticized a request for Emboffs to visit Berber leaders in Zuwara and in May 2008 Muammar al-Qadhafi denied the existence of an ethno-linguistically distinct Berber minority in a visit to Berber tribes near Jadu (reftel).
6. (C) Within a few days of his al-Qadhafi's visit to Zuwara, significant work on the free trade zone project began. On a site visit to Zwara in October 2008, Econoff noticed several old buildings being torn down along the beachfront to make way for new buildings. Roads have been re-surfaced in record time and the city's main entrance from the coastal road leading to Tripoli has been spruced up with palm trees and landscaping.
Local residents have remarked that their town, which had been a bit dusty and shabby, now looks like "an international city". A project to build another water desalination plant has just been awarded to a Turkish contractor and work has begun, which will directly contribute to the overall standard of living for Zuwara's residents. There is talk in the town of Zwara that the best building in town, previously owned by the National Livestock Company, will host the new joint venture company that will manage construction of the free zone.
7. (C) Comment: Saadi's status as a son of the first family likely means that the Zuwara Export Free Trade Zone stands a better chance of surviving as budgets are trimmed in light of flat oil prices. As reported previously, the GOL had initially pegged its 2009 national budget (now being debated at the session of the General People's Congress currently underway) to a price per barrel of USD 65; however, it recently re-calibrated the budget and significantly reduced outlays on some development projects to reflect sagging oil prices. Although the Zuwara Free Trade Zone is an ambitious and expensive project, Muammar al-Qadhafi likely views it as a relatively small price to pay if it helps occupy the notoriously ill-behaved Saadi and lend a patina of useful engagement to his otherwise less than sterling reputation. Saadi has a troubled past, including scuffles with police in Europe (especially Italy), abuse of drugs and alcohol, excessive partying, travel abroad in contravention of his father's wishes XXXXXXXXXXXX Creating the appearance of useful employment for al-Qadhafi's offspring has been an important objective for the regime. Muhammad al-Qadhafi (the oldest of al-Qadhafi's children, but by his first wife)
TRIPOLI 00000198 003 OF 003
dominates the telecommunciations sector, Saif al-Islam is the presumed heir-apparent and is focused on civil society and political-economic reform, Muatassim is National Security Adviser, Hannibal (another miscreant whose recent misbehavior in Geneva is the cause of the current rupture in Swiss-Libyan
relations) has maritime shipping, Khamis is commanding officer of Libya's premier military unit and Aisha runs a quasi-governmental organization and helps mediate family disputes. The mystery candidate is Saif al-Arab, who reportedly spends most of his time in Munich, where he is involved in ill-defined business pursuits and spends much of his time partying. Regardless of any desire to appease the Berber community and/or paternalistic motives behind the GOL's support for the free trade zone, the town of Zuwara and its predominantly Berber residents stand to benefit in the end from the project. End comment.