Hannibal Gaddafi: a new obstacle to the Beirut Arab League summit?
The Supreme Islamic Shia Council of Lebanon criticized Libya's invitation to the summit.
Hannibal Gaddafi, son of former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, was arrested in December 2015. But his case is now causing controversy in Lebanon where some parties are using it as a pretext to push for the postponement of the upcoming Arab League economic summit, scheduled to take place in Beirut on Jan. 20.
The controversy began on Jan. 9 when outgoing Minister of Justice Salim Jreissati asked the Judicial Inspectorate to review Gaddafi’s case and verify the legal basis of his incarceration. Jreissati, a member of President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), justified the move by saying that he had received a number of requests to initiate a review, including from the Geneva based United Nations Human Rights Committee. Jreissati also said that he had received requests from Libya and Syria, where Gaddafi was kidnapped before being handed over to Lebanese authorities in Beirut. The move was also a response to recent local and international media campaigns that have raised the issue.
Jreissati’s actions provoked a violent reaction from Ali Bazzi, a member of the Amal Movement whose founder, Musa al-Sadr, disappeared in Libya in 1978 along with two of his companions. Gaddafi is in prison in Lebanon after being charged with withholding information about the disappearance. Bazzi accused Jreissati of “distilling poison” by opening the review and challenged him to prove that he received a letter from Geneva to verify his claims.
Jreissati was forced to publish the letter on Jan. 11, which turned out to have been sent by the Center for Civil and Political Rights in Geneva, not the United Nations Human Rights Committee, and did not mention Gaddafi’s case.
On Jan. 10, al-Sadr’s family released a statement on the situation. "Hannibal Gaddafi provided important information concerning the place of detention of the imam (Musa al-Sadr) and the Libyan security agents who usurped the identity of the imam and his companions by making a trip to Rome,” the statement said. "To say that Hannibal Gaddafi was a child in 1978 is only misleading. Nobody accused him of having a role in the kidnapping at the time. But Hannibal Gaddafi later became a security officer in his father's regime… The fact that he was a political refugee in a fellow Arab state does not grant him immunity and has no legal effect.”
Hostility towards Libya appeared to rise rapidly as the controversy developed, and several analysts linked the situation to increasingly insistent demands for a postponement of the Arab League economic summit. On Jan. 9, Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, who is also the leader of Amal, said that the summit “cannot take place without Syria,” according to pro-Syrian Sunni MP Abdul Rahim Mrad.
After an urgent meeting on Jan. 11, the Supreme Islamic Shia Council of Lebanon criticized Libya being invited to the summit. "We condemn the Libyan authorities participation in the economic summit when the Lebanese State was asked to use all possible means of pressure on Libya to discover what happened to Imam Musa al-Sadr and his brothers,” the organization said in a statement, which also warned of "the popular reactions that could result from inviting the Libyan delegation" to Beirut.
According to the news website al-Nashra, "Amal supporters plan to close the Beirut airport road to prevent the Libyan delegation from entering the country to take part in the summit."
Some sources told the website that “supporters plan to organize monster protests and close Beirut for this purpose."
Qassem Soueid, the CEO of the Amal affiliated Lebanese TV channel NBM, announced that the station will boycott the economic summit if it is held. "NBN has decided to boycott this summit in response to calls for its postponement, due to the fact that Syria was not invited to this summit, and as a sign of refusal to enter the game of media propaganda to settle scores between Arab countries on the Lebanese soil,” Soueid said in a statement.
An Amal Movement official, who requested to remain anonymous, told l’OLJ that all Amal is asking for is “for the Libyan authorities to disclose the fate of Imam Sadr,” adding that street protests over the situation could occur.
Independent analysts drew a link between the Gaddafi crisis and calls to postpone the summit because Syria hasn’t been invited. "This new controversy is part of the soap opera that has been going on for years between the FPM and Amal,” said one of the analysts.
The demand to postpone the economic summit is a sign that some parties don’t want to see Lebanon move outside of the Syrian-Iranian sphere of influence. “How will the President of the Republic, one of the organizers of this summit, react?” one source asked.
In this context, the Gaddafi affair is purely political and not at all about the judicial process, another analyst said, who pointed out the contradiction between Berri calling for the summit to be adjourned because of the failure to form a government while at the same time arguing that the caretaker government can take a major vote on the annual budget. "The Libyan problem is just a pretext to prevent a summit without Syria from taking place in Lebanon.” the source said. “But this summit is important for the country. We are already giving an image of a bankrupt state. What would it be like if we accepted that this summit be postponed? And worse, if Amal supporters engage in chaotic street movements Lebanon's ability to keep Arab leaders safe will be in question. It will be a scandal for the people behind such a movement, but also for Lebanon.”
In 2002, Libya's participation in the Arab League’s 14th summit in Beirut was also a point of contention. Muammar Gaddafi, then president of Libya, initially refused to hold the event in the Lebanese capital because of the hostility he faced from Lebanese Shiite politicians stemming from al-Sadr’s disappearance. Gaddafi eventually lifted his opposition to the event after receiving assurances that the case would not be mentioned. He still refused to attend in person, but was represented by his minister of foreign affairs, Ali Abdussalam Treki.
(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 1th of January)