Virtually unknown to the rest of the world, this former judge was the first senior cabinet minister to abandon Gaddafi and join the revolution. Now Mustafa Abud Al-Jeleil may be the last best hope to take down the old regime. With some help.
BAIDA - The road to Mustafa Abud Al-Jeleil - the head of the rebellion against Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi - leads into the north of the country, in the mountains some 200 kilometers from the bustling port city of Benghazi. Here lies the town of Baida, where Jeleil calls home.
The climate is different here than down along the coast. Some time after a hail storm had thundered through the streets of the mountain town, a man approaches the car dressed in a long dark coat and a brown, traditional Libyan rounded hood zhanna. This local handler worked for Jeleil when he was still head of Gaddafi's justice ministry, but today no one is working harder than them to take the Libyan dictator down.
Jeleil is not an easy man to meet with. As leader of the revolt against Gaddafi, he is constantly on the move, which helps make him a difficult target. He travels in a convoy, guarded by a band of family members all armed to the teeth. He usually travels between his home in Baida and Benghazi, where the Libyan National Transitional Council - the opposition government to Gaddafi - has its headquarters.
The man with the hood and one of Jeleil's security officers take us to an office in the center of Baida. It's long after dark when Jeleil finally appears in a black SUV, accompanied by a group of bodyguards - most of them armed with Kalashnikovs, one with a Belgian FN FAL assault rifle and a cartridge belt strung across his chest.
Jeleil is a delicate, quiet man with a black hood over his head and a white, neatly trimmed beard. At first glance he looks like a scientist, a professor perhaps. He is in every respect the antithesis of the loud, eccentric Gaddafi. Rumors have been circulating in the media that they are negotiating with one another through intermediaries. "I heard it on television too," says Jeleil. "One of Gaddafi's people whom many people respect appeared on Libyan television to demand that we stop fighting them. Of course we want to stop fighting - we only want our freedom. But if Gaddafi really wants peace, he has to say so publicly."
Jeleil repeats a demand made by his colleagues in Benghazi that if the Colonel leaves Libya within the next two days, he might be able to avoid future prosecuting. "But ultimately that's for the families of the victims to decide. Gaddafi has killed many people," he says. "Our terms are that Gaddafi must leave the country, go into exile and cease interfering in the political, economic or military affairs of Libya."
According to information from the ranks of the National Transitional Council, they have received indications from Gaddafi loyalists that the dictator wants to make a deal with the opposition. One possible option, they told the rebels, would be free passage for Gaddafi in exchange for immunity from prosecution by the judiciary and maintaining control of his property.
The Council - a 31-member assembly made up of members of various opposition groups and committees from liberated cities - is still considering whether that offer is genuine or whether it's a ruse to divide the opposition and buy time. Recent days have seen heavy fighting between Gaddafi's troops and the rebel militia around the oil ports Sawija and Ras Lanuf.
Hopes of a no-fly zone
The Transitional Council has asked the United Nations to establish a no-fly zone to put a stop to the recent air strikes with which the regime has been able to halt the rebel advance in the last few days.
So far, the insurgents haven't been using their own fighter planes. Instead they've been relying on Soviet anti-aircraft guns that are more than 30 years old. Emissaries of the Transitional Council met with representatives of the American government in Egypt's capital Cairo. The subject of the talks was not disclosed.
"We hope that a no-fly zone or a similar measure is imposed to prevent Gaddafi from killing our people," said Jeleil. "He is using his sovereignty over Libyan air space to bring mercenaries, weapons and material into the country to kill Libyans. All we want is a no-fly zone – something to make this a fair fight between Gaddafi and the revolutionaries. But we don't want foreign troops in Libya."
Unfortunately, says Jeleil, Libya's oil is more important to the West than Libya's population. "If there is no international intervention, Gaddafi will destroy our country. He doesn't care if people die." In an interview with a Turkish journalist Gaddafi said that the imposition of a no-fly zone would prove that a colonialist conspiracy was under way. "Then every Libyan would see that it's actually all about bringing Libya under control, taking away their freedom and their oil," said Gaddafi. "In this case all Libyans would take up arms and fight." Gaddafi has also repeatedly claimed that the terrorist organization al-Qaida is behind the rebellion.
The Transitional Council rejects this accusation as propaganda designed to frighten the West. From 1978 until his appointment four years ago to the post of Justice Minister, Abud Al-Jeleil had worked as a judge. A father of eight, he was the first among Gaddafi's ministers to support the revolution.
"When they began firing live ammunition against peaceful demonstrators, killing 15 people - something I saw here in Baida with my own eyes - and then released prisoners from the jails to wreak havoc and burn down the courthouse, that's when I decided to resign and join the revolution," he says.
An outsider inside the regime
Abud Al-Jeleil's resignation came as no surprise to most Libyans. Even as a minister, he was one of the very few to publicly criticize Gaddafi for obstructing the judiciary, says his political adviser Ahmed Dschebril. "If the court wanted to release a prisoner, the security forces would keep him behind bars," says Dschebril. "When Mr. Abud Al-Jeleil was judge in Tobruk, he ruled in a case where two brothers had killed a man who had slept with their sister. He sentenced the brothers, but then Gaddafi lifted the verdict on the grounds that under the circumstances the crime was understandable."
Jeleil was responsible for clearing up hundreds of cases of government expropriation of land and revising sentences that had been dropped due to weak evidence. This made him popular with many Libyans even though he was part of the regime. They see in him someone who can lead the country if and when the dictator leaves.
"He has stood up to Gaddafi several times," says a 32-year-old local waiter Ibrahim Mansur, who has served Jeleil at his table. "Mr. Mustafa isn't scared of him."
All that Jeleil says is borne from a conviction that Gaddafi can be overthrown. The Libyan National Transitional Council is already thinking about the nation's future after the regime has fallen. "The transitional government will remain in office until Gaddafi falls and the people themselves can decide on their leadership in free elections," said Jeleil. "We have to draw up a new constitution with a new democratic state that respects human rights and religious freedom. Some say this is civil war. But I don't think it is. The rebels are trying to liberate their country from this regime. We're fighting against Gaddafi's army, not against the people. And we won't stop until the regime falls. We'll fight to the last man."
Read the original article in German
The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.
LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.
Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.
Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.
The role of the nuclear pact
Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.
It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.
He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."
The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.
Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020commons.wikimedia.org
Riyadh's warming relations with Israel
Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."
The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."
Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."
Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.
If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.
Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.
Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.
For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.
- Arab-Israeli Rapprochement: Is Saudi Arabia Next? - Worldcrunch ›
- Why Iran Is Actively Backing The Taliban For The First Time ... ›
- Iran-Azerbaijan Tensions: How Khamenei Overplayed Islamic Ties ... ›