Politics, Lies and Gaddafi Tapes: The plots uncovered by Libyan intelligence leaks
A recent flurry of audio recordings leaked by a Qatari opposition activist has again drawn attention to Qatar’s controversial foreign policy positions and ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
The series of audio clips add further insights into some of the political conversations that Libyan dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi (r. 1969-2011) had with Qatar’s former Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani (r. 1995-2013), Qatar’s former Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, and Kuwaiti MPs with links to the Brotherhood.
A previous leak from 2017 had captured Gaddafi with the former Emir and Prime Minister plotting against Saudi Arabia and discussing plans to create chaos in Arab countries.
At the time, Qatar dismissed the recording, saying that the Qatari royals had been humoring Gaddafi, who was known for his erratic speeches.
But at the end of May this year, Qatari opposition activist Khalid al-Hail released the first of a new set of recordings that have recast the spotlight on Qatar’s foreign policy, including its links with Muslim Brotherhood activists, who also feature in the new leaks.
The first leak captured Qatar’s former Emir Sheikh Hamad seemingly calling former US President Barack Obama a “slave,” the first in a series of explosive revelations to be caught on audio.
Throughout June, al-Hail released further leaks that have brought renewed attention to the allegations made against Qatar by the Arab Quartet of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt, who have been boycotting the small Gulf state since 2017.
These accusations include Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood and its use of the Doha-based Al Jazeera network to undermine governments in neighboring countries, especially Saudi Arabia.
Now, al-Hail says that he is still planning to release more leaks that would be “nothing in comparison” to what he leaked so far – despite receiving death threats.
Here is everything you need to know about the leaks, and their potential consequences for the region.
Qatari opposition activist Khalid al-Hail has published the leaks in Arabic periodically on his Twitter page.
Al-Hail is one of the most prominent Qatari critics of the royal family, especially the former Emir Sheikh Hamad, and has been described as “the leader of the Qatari opposition.”
He was imprisoned by the Qatari regime in 2010 and 2014, he told the New York Times, saying he had been tortured and electrocuted.
Now in exile in London, al-Hail heads the Qatar National Democratic Party, which calls for the establishment of a constitutional monarchy in Qatar. He frequently appears on media channels criticizing the ruling al-Thani family.
Al-Hail did not reveal the source of the audio files when asked by Al Arabiya, and Al Arabiya English has been unable to access the originals for verification.
“A person would have reservations revealing their source but myself like many others who received information, the space is open, but I mean the leaks I posted are all exclusive and I am sure as I transcribed them myself, especially the ones I published myself,” he said in an interview this week.
Many of the leaks feature the voice of the Libyan dictator Gaddafi, who promoted a revolutionary ideology that advocated overthrowing other Arab leaders while he ruled Libya from 1969 until his death in 2011.
Some of the leaks also refer to the US invasion of Iraq, placing them between 2003 and 2011.
Others refer to a peace treaty between Sudan and a rebel group signed in 2006. One source, who asked to remain anonymous, said that some of the conversations might have taken place in Doha in 2009, when Gaddafi famously stormed out of the Arab summit after insulting Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah.
One possibility is that the audio recordings come from the records of Gaddafi’s regime, many of which fell into the hands of a range of groups following the bloody coup that overthrew the dictator in 2011.
“Gaddafi was known to record conversations so it is plausible that this has come from his mukhabarat [secret police],” said Tim Eaton, a Libya expert and senior research fellow with Chatham House’s MENA Program.
Eaton also suggested that as Qatar currently backs Islamist groups in Libya’s ongoing war, it might make sense for people opposed to the Islamists to release leaks about Doha.
Many of the leaks also appear to have some redacted elements when Gaddafi is talking, potentially adding more evidence that they were conversations that took place in either Qatar or Libya that were recorded by Libyan intelligence services.
None of the individuals in the videos have denied their authenticity, and Qatar acknowledged the first set of recordings when they came out in 2017.
In an appearance on Qatari television, former Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim dismissed the conversations as Qatari officials merely humoring Gaddafi.
“[Gaddafi] asked for Al Jazeera to be part of it. He gave us tapes and everything and asked us to release them against Saudi Arabia. We didn’t release anything. After that, he said he’s preparing a conspiracy to change the rulers of Saudi Arabia. We used to laugh at him,” said Sheikh Hamad.
One of the Kuwaiti former MPs in the recordings, Mubarak al-Duwailah, tacitly acknowledged their authenticity by tweeting that he had received permission to meet with Gaddafi from the Kuwaiti government – which the government later denied.
Despite this, his brother Nasser denied the recordings authenticity on Twitter, describing a “story of fabrications, incomplete records, edited image and clips.” In response, al-Hail pointed out that both Mubarak and the Kuwaiti government had acknowledged the recordings, and Kuwait’s government has launched an official investigation into al-Duwailah’s appearance in the leaks.
Al-Hail told Al Arabiya that he had received death threats from people who did not want him to release the audio files.
“If it was matter of selling yourself like a mercenary ... and a lot of offer actually came, but the story is not just about the monetary offers but there’s been a lot of threats, telling me I will be assassinated or killed, basically acts of intimidation, etc,” he said.
The leaks have attracted attention to Doha’s links with Gaddafi and other regimes, including that of Bashar al-Assad.
In one recording, the former emir can be heard saying: “As a small country we used to be ostracized by the big countries. But thank God there [are countries] like Libya standing with us, Oman, Syria recently.”
A theme that runs throughout the recordings is Gaddafi’s plan to destabilize other Arab countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, to which the Qataris appear to assent.
On more than one occasion, the conversation centers on how to overthrow the Al Saud family and carve Saudi Arabia into different states.
Saad al-Faqih, a London-based Saudi Arabian opposition dissident, is mentioned on several occasions as a tool for the conspiracy.
In the 2017 recordings, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim and Gaddafi building a network agents in Europe, as well as the need to build ties with the US and Israel to reduce pressure from the US, which they suggest is linked to Saudi Arabian lobbying against Qatar.
According to the Saudi Arabian commentator Ali Shihabi, the leaks “confirm Qatar’s active efforts to subvert the Kingdom, which is the main issue at dispute here.”
“Let them stop that and relations can revert to normal. After all, Doha lives in the same neighborhood, and a fire it starts in Riyadh will inevitably burn Doha down too. Time to stop this nonsense and move forward as a unified GCC that faces identical threats,” he told Al Arabiya English.
he recordings also touch upon several of the points of contention between Doha and the Arab Quartet that have contributed to the ongoing boycott.
The Quartet accuses Doha of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which the UAE and Egypt have designated as a terrorist organization.
According to commentators, the fact that Gaddafi was having similar conversations with Qatari rulers and Kuwaiti MPs with links to the Brotherhood is evidence for Doha’s complicity in a regional conspiracy.
“[The recordings have] exposed the extent of the conspiracy plotted by the Muslim Brotherhood members, under Qatar’s guidance, as they seek to ruin their countries and spread “constructive chaos” in Arab countries, specifically the Gulf,” wrote journalist Salman al-Dossary in Asharq al-Awsat.
They also bring into question Al Jazeera’s editorial independence from Doha, with the leaks appearing to suggest that the station’s coverage was at least influenced by the former Qatar emir.
Varsha Koduvayur, a senior research analyst at the Washington-based think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), said that this was not the first time such allegations had emerged.
“There should be no doubt that Al Jazeera is far from independent in its coverage, especially since the Arab Spring,” she added.
The first is Hakem al-Mutairi, a known extremist preacher now living in exile in Turkey.
Al-Mutairi was designated as a terrorist by the Arab Quartet, which called on Doha to sever its ties with him in 2017.
In Kuwait, he had previously founded the Ummah Party, an unrecognized political party that promoted alleged extremist views. Beforehand, he was a member of the Kuwaiti Salafi Movement and a frequent critic of Saudi Arabia.
The preacher is active on Twitter, where he has both Arabic and Turkish accounts, and frequently tweets criticizing the US and Israel.
In the most recent recording, al-Mutairi is heard plotting against the Saudi Arabian and Kuwaiti governments.
This follows a previous recording in which al-Mutairi can be heard as part of a conversation with Gaddafi discussing revolutionary plans for the region, including “bringing down these governments.”
Sources at Kuwait University, where al-Mutairi was a Sharia professor, revealed that Kuwait’s Ministry of Interior had launched an investigation into al-Mutairi based on the recording.
Al-Mutairi was reached for comment but did not respond in time for publication.
Mubarak al-Duwailah is a Kuwaiti former MP who was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood until the 1990s, and now heads the Islamic Constitutional Movement, an organization that shares a similar ideology.
Born in 1954, al-Duwailah studied engineering in the US before entering politics and becoming an MP in Kuwait in 1985.
He was a member of the Brotherhood until the first Gulf War, after which he left the organization due to its support for Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, according to the Erem news channel.
Al-Duwailah attracted controversy for criticizing the leaders of regional countries, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE. In 2015, he was convicted to five years in prison in abstention for insulting Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed.
Audio released on Sunday reportedly captured al-Duwailah meeting with Gaddafi, in which he responds to the Libyan leader’s speech about the imminent fall of Saudi Arabia’s ruling Al Saud family.
“We hear from the guys there that their situation is not good, even amongst themselves they have many issues,” he says, in response to Gaddafi’s claims.
Al-Duwailah tacitly acknowledged the recording’s veracity by responding to it in a tweet, in which he claimed he had briefed the Kuwaiti Emir about his meeting with Gaddafi.
However, Kuwait’s Amiri Diwan – the name for the Emir’s royal palace – rejected al-Duwailah’s claims and launched an investigation into his conduct.
“Kuwait’s Amiri Diwan Sunday termed as ‘totally untrue and fabrications’ the remarks made Mubarak Al-Duwailah that he briefed His Highness the Amir about details of his meeting with ex-president Muammar Gaddafi,” said a statement posted on the official Kuwait News Agency (KUNA).
The third figure is the less well-known Fayez Hamed al-Baghili al-Rashidi, also a former Kuwaiti MP.
Al-Baghili is heard praising Gaddafi for his peacekeeping efforts in Sudan, where Gaddafi apparently helped broker a ceasefire between the Sudanese government and the Rashaida Free Lions, an armed group based in eastern Sudan.
Al-Duwailah claimed on Twitter that he and al-Baghili had been in Libya to help the negotiations. Both are reportedly members of the Kuwaiti branch of the Rashaida tribe.
According to al-Hail on Twitter, al-Baghili and al-Duwailah had previously claimed that Gaddafi had not been involved in the ceasefire negotiations and that the Kuwaitis had brokered them themselves.
In the recording, al-Baghili refers to the Rashaida people and praises Gaddafi, describing him as “brother leader” and praising his apparent peacekeeping efforts in Sudan.
This would place the recording after 2006, when the Free Lions signed a peace treaty with the Khartoum government.
What do the recordings tell us about the Muslim Brotherhood?
Commentators have said that the recordings give further evidence to the links between Doha and the Muslim Brotherhood across the region.
Support for the Brotherhood, which the UAE and Egypt have designated as a terrorist organization, is one of the demands of the Arab Quartet for it to restore relations with Qatar.
“Such revelations only come to underline the historic decision taken by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to boycott Qatar in June 2017 and designate the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorist. Meanwhile, Mutairi is an extremist who was included in the terrorism list announced by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain in 2017. It goes without saying that he is one of the main recipients of Doha’s financial and media support,” wrote journalist Salman al-Dossary in Asharq al-Awsat.
For al-Hail, the recordings expose the Kuwaitis as “political beggars” who went to Gaddafi for support, which al-Hail says helps expose the Muslim Brotherhood and its “climbers and fawners.”
“In the end, I think that the Muslim Brotherhood in Kuwait in particular will fall and fall strongly because what we have on them, whether documents or file or even recordings or others, all these are documented,” said al-Hail.
“Even Hakim al-Mutairi, he deceived his country, he deceived many people in the Arab Gulf region. You only heard a part of the leaks, but you don’t know the rest of it. He created a system that exists even in Saudi Arabia and even in people who are now imprisoned on terror charges who were also complicit,” he added.
Read more: Tunisian party leader calls for Muslim Brotherhood to be designated as terrorist
The new leaks have also attracted scrutiny to the Doha-based Al Jazeera network.
In two of the leaks, Sheikh Hamad and Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim appear to discuss Al Jazeera coverage with Gaddafi.
In one, the former prime minister appears to tell Gaddafi that the network will not host guests who are critical of Gaddafi.
“Give us names ... if you give us the people that you don’t want to come out on Al Jazeera. The person that coordinates between us and you ... [inaudible] ... Abdulla,” Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim seems to be heard telling Gaddafi.
The late Libyan leader then replies: “The agreement is that anyone who attacks Libya, they’re not allowed.”
In the second, the former emir appears to tell Gaddafi that Al Jazeera has not stopped its negative coverage of Saudi Arabia.
“Al Jazeera stopped [negative coverage] of Saudi Arabia,” Gaddafi says, to which Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa replies: “No, no, no. The stop that you’re referring to did not happen.”
After Gaddafi says that Qatar’s other television channels now have the same coverage of Saudi Arabia as Al Jazeera, seemingly implying the need for a change in the coverage, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim interrupts, and says he agrees with the Libyan leader.
Another section of the leaks also seemed to suggest that the Muslim Brotherhood runs Al Jazeera, with Hamad bin Jassim appearing to respond to Gaddafi’s claims that Brotherhood members run programs on the station by saying “I agree with you, I am telling you this is true.”
Al Jazeera’s coverage has also been a cause of disagreement between the Arab Quartet and Doha. The Quartet accuses Qatar of using Al Jazeera to undermine the governments of neighboring countries and destabilize the region, while Qatar insists that the station’s coverage is independent.
“This would not be the first time such allegations emerged. Leaked diplomatic cables (through WikiLeaks) showed Qatari officials boasting about changing Al Jazeera’s coverage as well. There should be no doubt that Al Jazeera is far from independent in its coverage, especially since the Arab Spring,” said the FDD’s Koduvayur.
Al-Hail has said that there will be more revealing leaks on the way, despite receiving death threats.
“Unfortunately, what I saw and heard, is something abnormal. What I leaked is nothing in comparison,” he said.