US diplomatic cables detailing the corruption and decadent lifestyle of the family of Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi, coupled with anti-government protests in provincial cities prompted Libya this weekend to cancel all soccer matches in the country.
The cancellation came amid mass anti-government protests in neighboring Egypt, driven in part by organized soccer fans that have shaken the regime of President Hosni Mubarak to its core.
Similar demonstrations in mid-January toppled President Zine Abedine Ben Ali of Tunisia, on Libya’s eastern border. US diplomatic cables disclosed by Wikileaks detailing the greed and extravagant lifestyle of Ben Ali and his entourage fueled the protests that led to his ousting.
The cancellation of all soccer matches by the Libyan Football Federation constitutes a bid to prevent the pitch from becoming a venue for expression of widespread anti-government sentiment.
The US cables entitled “Qadhafi Children Scandals Spilling Over Into Politics” and “A Glimpse Into Libyan Leader Qadhafi’s Eccentricities” were sent from the US embassy in Tripoli to the State Department in Washington in September 2009 and February 2010. They are circulating clandestinely inside Libya.
"The Gadaffi family has been in a tailspin…trying to put a stop to one rumor or another, in the name of defending the family's honor. From Mutassim al-QADHAFI's headline-grabbing St. Bart's New Year's Eve bash to Hannibal's latest violent outburst, the QADHAFI family has provided local observers with enough dirt for a Libyan soap opera,” the Gadaffi children's cable says. It says Mutassim and Hannibal’s siblings and mother were scurrying to cover up the scandals.
The St. Barts scandal involved Mutassim's alcohol-infested 2010 New Years Eve parties, for which Beyonce, Usher and others were paid one million dollars to perform and domestic abuse charges against Hannibal who was accused of breaking his wife’s nose in a $7,000 a night suite in London’s Clardidge hotel. Mutassim, Gadaffi’s fourth son, heads the Libyan National Security Council.
The cable about the Libyan leader himself describes Qadaffi’s phobia and his refusal to travel without his Ukranian nurse, a 38-year-old “voluptuous blonde,” according to the US diplomatic writer. Gaddafi, the cable says, “appears to have an intense dislike or fear of staying on upper floors, reportedly prefers not to fly over water and seems to enjoy horse racing and flamenco dancing.”
The cable about Gaddafi quoted a US embassy interlocator as issuing advice to the Libyan leader that is valid for other embattled Arab leaders, including Egypt’s Mubarak. “When you have been isolated for so long, it is important to communicate,” said the interlocator whose name is blocked out in the disclosed cable.
The cancellation of soccer matches and declaration of a state of emergency in areas bordering with Egypt coupled with the deployment of security forces seems to contradict the advice offered to him.
Yet, Gaddafi, like most Arab leaders is being forced to be conciliatory towards mounting public opposition against their regimes.
The Libyan leader recently instructed his Revolutionary Council, effectively the country’s government, to investigate complaints about corruption in public housing that sparked the protests and to promise that "all the problems will be solved soon through the legitimate authorities."
James M. Dorsey authors The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog