People first, not the leader | Saadun Suayeh

Libya’s ambassador to Malta Saadun Suayeh reveals his covert role as the Transitional Council’s informer on Col. Gaddafi’s regime’s intentions through the embassy


“Whatever I did throughout these last six months was dictated by my conscience,” says Libya’s ambassador to Malta Saadun Suayeh, who reveals for the first time, details about his covert role during the six month revolution that ousted Col. Gaddafi’s 42-year rule.

Suayeh greeted me at his embassy in Attard which – since last Sunday – has been stripped of Col. Gaddafi pictures and anything green, and says that he is “relieved” to be able to talk freely about his secret role, and claims that he “deliberately and responsibly” stayed on as ambassador, keeping the ‘privileged’ position to receive sensitive information which was secretly passed on to the Maltese government and other agencies.

Since Sunday, Saadun Suayeh wears a ‘Libya’ broach on his breast pocket, while a revolution flag stands proudly behind him. Another smaller flag is centred on his large mahogany desk.

For weeks, angry Libyans protested outside his embassy and made repeated calls for his resignation and the removal of the all-green flag, but Saadun Suayeh remained defiant and refuted the calls.

But behind this facade of defiance, the ambassador was in regular contact with the Benghazi-based National Transitional Council, while also meeting with the Maltese government to discuss sensitive ‘notes verbales’ sent to him from Tripoli.

“I would receive the messages from Tripoli, asking my embassy to do all that was necessary to allow the safe passage of ships laden with fuel for the forces, but I would forward the information about the ships to the Maltese government who would pass it on to other competent authorities for interception,” Suayeh explains.

“I was aware of the risk of doing this, but my conscience dictated to me that I was doing the right thing in protecting my own fellow people from the military onslaught,” he says.

When the regime was becoming suspicious of Suayeh’s behaviour, two secret service agents were dispatched to Malta from Tripoli under the guise of ‘diplomats’ and were ordered to ‘mind’ the ambassador.

“It wasn’t easy, and I was under pressure. They were difficult times, and I had to ensure that the information kept coming and keeping the channel open with the National Transitional Council.”

One night, Saadun Suayeh explains that he managed to secretly meet with the NTC representatives and discuss the situation and the way forward.

“The situation was a very serious one,” the ambassador explains, adding that his main concern at that time was that the Libyan people are protected from the military and from “Gaddafi’s brutality.”

The two ‘minders’ are reportedly still in Malta but are not presenting themselves at the embassy since the fall of Tripoli last Sunday.

They are expected to be expelled from Malta in the coming days by order of the Maltese government and the NTC.

According to the ambassador, Tripoli exerted tremendous pressure on his office and on the Maltese government to release the two Mirage fighter jets that were flown to Malta by two defecting Air Force colonels in February.

“They wanted these planes back at all costs,” Suayeh said, but stopped short of answering the question on whether he was behind the information that led the Maltese government refuse landing to a plane allegedly carrying pilots and engineers who intended to fly the Mirage fighter jets back to base in Tripoli.

The two defecting colonels remained in Malta, but ambassador Suayeh never had the opportunity to meet them, even though he had made a request to see them.

But the ambassador proved to be instrumental in NATO blocking crucial supplies from reaching Gaddafi forces, many of which remained unknown to the public.

But the most notorious is the recent blitz by rebels on the Libyan-flagged GNMTC tanker ‘Cartagena’ as it was anchored on Hurd’s Bank off Malta.

Tripoli was desperate for the 40,000 tonnes of gasoil the ‘Cartagena’ was carrying and the notes verbales dispatched to the embassy in Malta found themselves on the NATO operations commander’s desk and also in the hands of the NTC.

On the night of 5 August, some 20 freedom fighters, assisted by a contingent of naval special forces, boarded the Cartagena and seized the cargo, ordering the captain to steer to Benghazi.

The fuel it was carrying had picked up its cargo in Turkey three months earlier, and Tripoli was repeatedly calling ambassador Suayeh to have it safely pass through the Mediterranean without being stopped by NATO warships.

“Earlier this year when the revolution started I expressed a wish to have my embassy ‘depoliticised’ and I insisted to stand firmly by the Libyan people,” Suayeh said, adding that as things developed, the embassy did “exactly that.”

According to the ambassador, many Libyan students in Malta received assistance through the embassy in many ways.

Some were given money, others advice and also travel tickets to be able to return to their concerned families. “We paid for the well being of many Libyan nationals throughout the revolution, and supported who ever needed our help.”

Saadun Suyaeh says he never was “close” to the regime in Tripoli. “Far from it,” he says, adding that his background is not political, but academic as a lecturer in many universities around the world, including Malta.

“I had accepted the post of ambassador after I was approached by many friends here in Malta to consider taking the ‘nominee’ appointment which I gladly accepted out of love for Malta and my people,” he says.

But as Suayeh denounces Col. Gaddafi and the “many sins” he committed, I point out that as an ambassador he still served the dictator, and also had defended him in public statements at the beginning of the revolution.

Suayeh shows me that he expected the question, and replies that when one speaks about ‘serving’ it is more of a case to be ‘serving the people’ and the ambassador who serves the ‘King’ or ‘Queen’ of a given land. “It’s the people that you serve and not the political leaders who come and go,” he said.

But I confront Suayeh with statements he made to the media at the beginning of the conflict, among which was that Col. Gaddafi ‘should not go’ as he said:  “his presence for the time being is definitely a guarantee for the country's unity.”

“That was the reality at that time. Blood was being shed and we all augured that this bloodshed would stop. But obviously things changed dramatically, and the brutality by which the Gaddafi forces retaliated was enough to insist for the contrary.”

Suayeh knows that it is not an easy task for him to explain the difficult role he has assumed during the last six months.

“There are some who may not have seen it or understood it, but who know me, know my heart and what my conscience would dictate to me.”

The ambassador explains that he is aware of the NTC’s appreciation of his work in Malta throughout the revolution.

Suayeh has compared the Libyan revolution to the French revolution, and adds that the fall of Bab Aziziya is comparable to the historical fall of Bastille.

“Watching the fall of Bab Aziziya just made me shiver, and as a Libyan it made me ask myself if this was really happening,” he says.

He is convinced that Col. Gaddafi will eventually be captured and made to respond to the grave atrocities committed on his people.

He describes Seif Al-Islam as “disoriented”.

“I regard him as a man who has lost touch with reality, living a warped dream of believing that he is in control when the whole world around him is crumbled.”

But is the ambassador worried about the transition of power?

“Everything depends on the international community’s quick reading of the situation,” Suayeh says, while also stressing the urgent need to have frozen assets released to pay up salaries to civil servants.

“Now that Libya has a chance of really being Libya, then let all the moneys be released and given to the NTC to start paying the civil service and make the system operate.”

“Libya is rich in resources and is yarning to restart and be even stronger. It has the potential of becoming an important economic player south of the European Union.”

Suayeh sees a new Libya built on the dreams of the youth which played a huge role in the ouster of Col. Gaddafi.

We have a youth to be proud of, because they taught us a lesson on how to fight back and hold on to a dream,” he says, adding that as the dust settles and the NTC moves into Tripoli, all eyes will be focused on the refining of a new Constitution and the calling of free and independent elections.

According to Suayeh, the draft Constitution for a new Libya speaks of guarantees to the national unity, safeguard domestic tranquility, provide the means for common defence, secure the establishment of justice, guarantee the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity and promote economic and social progress and the general welfare. 

The new constitution has Islamic law as its foundation, and  
according to the document, Islam will be the state religion and the principal source of legislation will be the sharia.

But Suayeh refutes the notion that Islamist fundamentalists will take the upper-hand.

“I remotely see this happening,” he says, adding that what is important is the democratic foundations and the respect for rule of law.

Suayeh praises the Maltese government and the people of Malta for their constant support towards the Libyan people during the revolution.

“Nothing would have been achieved without the help of the Maltese,” he stressed, adding that people from Benghazi, Misurata, Zawiyah and now also Tripoli say that Malta provided a “vital line” for their survival.

Maltese businessmen and ordinary citizens gave and helped in all ways, and I have seen that with my own eyes,” the ambassador says.

“There will come the time when the Libyan people will say thank you, for the life line that you gave them when they needed it, and for all the medical care and attention you gave and are giving to the injured.”

Talks are ongoing for more civilian casualties to be brought to Malta and given medical attention at Mater Dei Hospital, while tonnes of food and medical aid is being shipped from Malta directly into Tripoli.

Saadun Suayeh proudly stands in front of his re-found national colours and tells me that it’s the same flag he was brought up with until he graduated in 1965, and the coup ensued.

“Even the anthem is the same I used to sing when I was a young lad, and we sing Libya, Libya... it’s emotional to relive this proud moment. The re-birth of a nation,” he concludes.

What a load of bullshit!