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Egypt

Gaddafi’s Double. The Libyan Leader Has A Look-Alike Cousin, Who May Also Be His Secret Weapon

Ahmed Gaddaf al-Dam looks so much like his older cousin Muammar Gaddafi that people can't tell them apart. Did he defect to Egypt? Or was it just a cover to run a secret mission to Syria?

Gaddafi’s Double. The Libyan Leader Has A Look-Alike Cousin, Who May Also Be His Secret Weapon
Pierre Prier and Tangi Salaün

If you thought that there was only one Gaddafi, think again. With his long, black, curly hair, Ahmed Gaddaf al-Dam, a cousin of Muammar Gaddafi, is the spitting image of the Libyan leader. A longtime eminence grise for the Tripoli regime in Cairo during the Mubarak era, neither Gaddaf al-Dam's current whereabouts nor his intentions are clear to Western sources.

First is the question: which side is Gaddafi's look-alike on? Gaddaf al-Dam is said to have disappeared from Tripoli in late February. But has he really defected, as Arab television channels have claimed? Or is he on a secret mission in Damascus on behalf of the Libyan leader, as Syrian sources have said?

Wherever he is, it would be hard for Gaddaf al-Dam to go unnoticed for long: even if a few years younger, he looks so much like his cousin that people sometimes get confused.

Gaddaf al-Dam's last public appearance was in Cairo on February 24, when he gave a statement to the official Egyptian news agency, declaring that he was "resigning from all official duties as a means of protest against the way the Libyan crisis was being handled." The pan-Arab al-Jazeera channel went as far as announcing that he had requested political asylum.

But what if it was all a well played strategy? Only a few days after the announcement, Gaddaf al-Dam was seen in Damascus, the capital of one of the few Arab countries still friendly with Muammar Gaddafi. Was he seeking support from Syria inside the Arab League? Was he trying to create a rear base, from where communications would be easier than from Tripoli?

Another possibility is that he was trying to recruit pilots for Libya's Soviet-made fighter jets, also used by Syria. The one thing that is sure, though, is that Gaddaf al-Dam is now keeping a low profile. "He will make no other official statement until the crisis is over," his Cairo office said. (Although Gaddaf al-Dam has tended to spend most of his time in the Egyptian capital, his office does not even have a permanent Cairo address).

According to an Arab journalist, Gaddaf al-Dam used to set his appointments in a restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel Cairo at Nile Plaza; the main shareholders of the hotel are the Kingdom Holding Company belonging to the Saudi Prince al-Waleed Bin Talal and the Arab Company for Hotels and Tourism Investments chaired by the Egyptian billionaire Hisham Talaat Moustafa, one of the pillars of Hosni Mubarak's regime.

Born to a Libyan father and an Egyptian mother, Ahmed Gaddaf al-Dam has long been in charge of some of the country's security services. He has also acted as a very personal representative of his cousin in his relations with foreign heads of state. A Chadian official remembers a meeting with Gaddaf in a tent in the late 1990s. On that occasion, Chadian President Idriss Deby brought a series of aerial photos showing the military aid provided by Libya to the MDJT rebels (Movement for Democracy and Justice in Chad), who were inflicting severe defeats on the Chadian army in the northern part of the country. "He was so angry," the official says. "He started insulting us, calling us French colonial agents. It really felt like being in front of Gaddafi himself." After regaining his composure, Gaddaf al-Dam demanded the tape from the official cameraman filming the scene.

Gaddaf al-Dam has been living in Cairo for some years now, where he would act as coordinator of relations between Egypt and Libya, a more important role than that of the ambassador. "He was the one who transmitted his cousin's personal messages," a Western diplomat says. "He worked hard to solve bilateral issues," a close aide says.

Libyan-Egyptian relations had been completely severed after the 1977 war between the two countries, and only to be restored in 1989. Since then, the number of Egyptians working in Libya has soared, despite recurring tensions over visas. "Every time a crisis would erupt, the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs always preferred to deal directly with him rather than with the ambassador," says an expert.

Gaddaf al-Dam is thought to have personally tried to speed-up the evacuation of Egyptian nationals when the Libyan rebellion broke out. It is apparently thanks to him that Egypt Air and Egyptian military planes were able to successfully usher people away from Tripoli. The recent turmoil must probably have reminded him of the time when he fought -- as his official biography claims -- alongside Egyptian soldiers in the 1973 war against Israel. But another mission he is often credited with is sweet-talking the Bedouin tribes living in Egypt, near the Libyan border, a population usually seen as a reservoir of fighters. This was one of the reasons for his presence in Egypt, which was not always to everyone's liking.

Before Gaddaf left for Damascus, a protest was scheduled to take place against him in Marsa Matruh, the city closest to the border. Here, it was rumored that Gaddaf al-Dam had recruited Egyptian Bedouins and planned to launch an attack from the east, or even take Tobruk back from the rebels. Gaddaf al-Dam has denied the accusations, but the fact is that he knows the place well: he is the organizer of an annual poetry and horse riding festival in the cities of Marsa Matruh and Salloum. Might this have been used as an opportunity for the Gaddafi regime to dish out hefty financial rewards to all the tribe leaders controlling the vast border region? Maybe. But Bedouin seem to have a short memory. They have mostly supported the rebellion, just like their brethren on the Libyan side.

Gaddaf al-Dam was also the person responsible for overseeing Libyan investments in Egypt, especially those of Libya Oil. According to a deal signed in 2009 by Cairo and Tripoli, the two countries agreed to invest a total of six billion dollars to build a refinery, expand an already existing one and put up 500 service stations in Egypt. But Gaddafi's cousin also took care of his personal investments. He owns shares in the Sheraton Cairo luxury hotel, according to a source. A big football fan, he is said to have offered one million Egyptian pounds (about 150,000 euros at the time) to Ismaily, the third Egyptian football club, an offer which was eventually politely declined. If Ahmed Gaddaf al-Dam is now on a new mission in Syria, its details are likely to remain shrouded in mystery, much like the rest of his life.

Read the original article in French

Photo credit (sludgegulper)

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