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Diplomacy between Egypt and Libya in the last few weeks has centered around a group of Libyans connected to the former Muammar Qadhafi regime, apparently residing in Cairo.
They have been accused of involvement in the recent bombings in Tripoli by members of Libya’s General National Congress (GNC), prompting ever louder calls for them to be extradited to their home country.
The accusations took place 26 August on the floor of the GNC, before a closed session was convened to discuss them further.
Two days earlier, demonstrators gathered outside the Egyptian Embassy in Tripoli, demanding extradition proceedings and the closure of Al-Wadi, a pro-Qadhafi TV channel based in Egypt. In what seems to be a response to pressure from Libya, Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Qandil met with ministers on 27 August to discuss the steps needed to extradite figures associated with Qadhafi.
Living the good life in Cairo
A number of wealthy, senior pro-Qadhafi figures are based in Cairo. After General Mohamed Hadia of the Libyan National Army was assassinated in Benghazi on 10 August, pro-Qadhafi exiles — remnants of Libya’s former regime — held a celebratory party in the luxury Staybridge apartments on top of the Intercontinental Hotel in Nasr City.
Several Qadhafi loyalists live in these apartments, says Mohamed Senoussy, a nephew of Libya’s former King Idris and a well-connected man among Libyan expatriates. There are also concentrations in Rehab City and Sheikh Zayid City. Several, including Mohamed Ismail, the former secretary of Qadhafi’s son Saif al-Islam’s office, Tayeb al-Safy, former minister of economy and commerce, and Khaled Hamidy, an officer in a Qadhafi brigade, have been meeting regularly in the Four Seasons Hotel.
“The wanted men are all the officials who left — they were from the revolutionary guards, officers, police officers, intelligence officers and Qadhafi’s revolutionary committees. They are those who committed crimes against Libyan citizens or worked with [Qadhafi’s] propaganda from Egypt,” says Faez Jebril, a veteran anti-Qadhafi activist based in Cairo. He estimates that there are about 200 Qadhafi associates in the country.
The Libyan labor minister, Mostafa Rujbany, has put Libyan investments in Egypt at a staggering US$21 billion, according to Egypt state newspaper Al-Ahram. These investments include nearly 40 percent of the Arab International Bank, nearly 30 percent of the Arab Banking Corporation, holdings in oil and agriculture, several hotels across Egypt, and land in Heliopolis and New Cairo.
These assets are controlled by Ahmed Qadhaf al-Dam, Muammar Qadhafi’s cousin and trustee of his wealth in Egypt, as well as other figures sympathetic to the former regime. However, within the last week, anti-corruption lawyer Shehata Mohamed Shehata filed a case with the public prosecutor on the basis of documents from the Libyan Transparency Association, demanding the confiscation of these financial assets. Mohamed Abdel Awad, a Libyan who sits on the board of the Arab International Bank, announced a two-month leave of absence from work at around the same time.
“Egypt is a safe haven for Qadhafi loyalists. They basically bought everyone and everything they need,” says Senoussy.
Human rights abuses
Many are accused of involvement in human rights abuses, both under Qadhafi and during the Libyan rebellion.
Among them is Qadhaf al-Dam. “Qadhaf al-Dam is living in Cairo, in Hassan Sabry Street, enjoying his companies, and his money that he has built up through his many relationships,” says Jebril, who says Qadhaf al-Dam is using the false name Ahmed Mohamed al-Kazim.
When the Libyan revolution broke out, Qadhaf al-Dam tried to rally the Awlad Ali tribe in northwestern Egypt to fight for his cousin. But despite having been offered millions of dollars, the tribal leadership refused, according to Bedouins who Egypt Independent spoke to in the northwest cities of Matrouh and Salloum, bordering Libya. Egyptian intelligence also objected.
But some say not all of those with similar sympathies have been so quiescent. Egypt Independent is aware of two Libyan intelligence sources who claim ongoing investigations into the recent bombings have already implicated several wealthy Libyans based in Egypt.
The sources say arrests in Tripoli, which also led to the later arrest of pro-Qadhafi militiamen near Tarhouna, to the southeast of Tripoli, led to the confessions. They claim the confessions reveal that Al-Wadi, owned by Kilany, was used to transmit coded orders to the bombers. One source says Egyptian police are hunting three Libyans in Egypt.
However, these accusations have not been made officially and have been impossible to verify further in Libya’s chaotic political environment. Some commentators think the accusations are exaggerated.
“It’s a device to draw attention away from their own mistakes,” says Hafed al-Ghwell, an anti-Qadhafi figure, referring to the Libyan political and intelligence establishment.
Abdel Aziz al-Hassady, Libya’s general prosecutor, visited Cairo earlier this year to meet his Egyptian counterpart to demand that Egypt extradite those accused of involvement with the Qadhafi regime. Hassady allegedly supplied a list of names.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr stated that Egypt had issued a travel ban for the suspects. However, one of the wanted suspects — Khaled Hamidy — has been seen traveling back and forth from Morocco. While publicly calling for the extradition and trial of former regime figures, in private, some have taken a more conciliatory approach.
Just before Libya’s first elections in July, the National Transitional Council (NTC) sent Ali Sallaby, an adviser to Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the former NTC chairman, to hold meetings with senior figures of the former regime, including Qadhaf al-Dam, to discuss reconciliation. When this became known in Libya, it caused an uproar and the NTC claimed that Sallaby was not sent on an official basis.
“It took place under the auspices of Egypt,” says Senoussy.
“Usually when he gets stuck, he calls [Sallaby] for help,” says an associate of Sallaby’s who disagrees with their approach to Qadhaf al-Dam.
“Libya has not even asked to freeze the Libyan money in Egypt. With two United Nations resolutions, they could have easily done that,” Senoussy argues. He also points out that Egypt has not arrested Nasr al-Mabrouk, the former deputy interior minister, even though he is under an Interpol red alert.
Thus far, the information supplied by Libyan authorities has been insufficient for Egypt to expedite extradition proceedings.
Yet Jebril is hopeful that the exiles will be arrested by Egyptian authorities, tried and convicted in a Libyan courtroom. Several — such as Al-Khuweildy Hamidy and his son Khaled — are accused of involvement in the slaughter of hundreds of people early last year.
“They fear the rebels now,” says Jebril. “They have committed a lot of crimes. They have mistreated jailed Libyans and are afraid of revenge. Qadhafi’s ‘revolutionary committees’ operated in all cities of Libya, and they were on ‘standby’ to enter houses and to arrest people. Some worked five or even 20 or 40 years for them, some quit, but some stayed until the very end.”
This piece was originally published in Egypt Independent's weekly print edition.