The US ambassador to Libya, Gene Cretz, may be the first senior diplomat to fall victim to the release of confidential embassy cables on WikiLeaks. ‘Ambassador (Gene A.) Cretz is in Washington for consultations… The question of when Ambassador Cretz returns to Libya will be one of the many subjects of his consultations,’ a spokesman said last week. Appointed in 2007, Cretz was the first US ambassador to Libya since 1972. Last month Colonel Qadhafi praised WikiLeaks for exposing US hypocrisy. ‘The true face of US diplomacy has been revealed through the confidential documents,’ he said. This ‘proved that America is not what it has led allies and friends to believe it to be’.
Most of the stories from Tripoli that were picked up in the western media were old news in Libya, where few are unaware, for example, that Qadhafi suffers from phobias about flying, travelling over water and staying on upper floors. Many elderly desert bedouin feel the same way and no one thinks that Qadhafi travelled 7000 miles around Africa by land because of his love for African unity.
One of the more curious – and less reported – stories concerns a businessman from Las Vegas who befriended one of Qadhafi’s bodyguards and ended up spending a fair amount of time with the Leader inside his tent. The ‘consultant’ remains anonymous, but the bodyguard is named as Mabruka al-Sharef. ‘Mabruka, who is in her mid-40’s, is known to be very close to Qadhafi,’ Cretz writes. ‘She has been described to emboffs’ – embassy officials – ‘as “Qadhafi’s left arm”.’ The consultant first met Mabruka in early 2009. By November of that year, when the cable was sent, she ‘had provided him access to Qadhafi on numerous occasions and even arranged for the two to meet during the Leader’s September visit to New York.’ On the other hand, ‘the consultant had not yet managed to secure business contracts for any of his clients.’ There may be a straightforward bureaucratic reason for this: at the moment, just one member of the Revolutionary Guard is signing off on all government tenders, so there’s quite a backlog.
Cretz’s supporters say that he was a popular ambassador but the word in Tripoli is that Libyans never much liked him. In the run-up to his departure Qadhafi reportedly suggested to the visiting US assistant secretary of state for economic, energy and business affairs, Jose Fernandez, that he might like to take Cretz home with him. The Libyans weren’t fed up with Cretz only because of the WikiLeaks cables: they have been feeling short-changed by the US since dismantling their WMD programme in 2003.