Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- In what may be regarded as the biggest defection from within the ruling regime in Libya, Tripoli acknowledged publicly for the first time on Monday the defection of Nuri al-Mismari, Libyan leader Col Muammar Al-Gaddafi’s aide de camp to France after disappearing for approximately two months. Informed Libyan sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that Al-Mismari, regarded as one of the most prominent of those close to Colonel Al-Gaddafi and his confidante, dissented from the Libyan regime and left for Tunisia before eventually ending up in France.
Acting on official Libyan arrest warrant and extradition request on charges of committing huge financial violations and squandering public Libyan funds, the French authorities arrested Al-Mismari at his place of residence on Monday. However, it is not yet clear whether or not France will later extradite him to the Libyan authorities.
Al-Mismari is the first Libyan official to abruptly withdraw from Colonel Al-Gaddafi’s inner circle, despite being a permanent fixture in Al-Gaddafi’s entourage, where he could be seen in the famous nomadic Libyan tent which Colonel Al-Gaddafi uses wherever he travels, an expression given to those regarded very close to and supporters of Colonel Al-Gaddafi.
According to exclusive information made available to Asharq Al-Awsat, Al-Mismari suddenly fled from Libya for fear of being arrested or killed having learned that the Libyan authorities were in the process of preparing an official bill of indictment detailing a host of charges against him in preparation for bringing him to justice.
Informed Libyan sources, which insisted on anonymity, told Asharq Al-Awsat that Al-Mismari seized the opportunity of concluding a visit to an African country on official assignment by Colonel Al-Gaddafi to tell him that he would return to Libya after spending some time in neighboring Tunisia. However, Al-Mismari suddenly left for France without advance notice. Unconfirmed reports say that he submitted an official request for political asylum in France.
Al-Mismari refused to willingly return to Libya after being contacted by a number of Libyan officials close to Al-Gaddafi. He also requested a high-level Qatari official to convey a personal message to Colonel Al-Gaddafi to the effect that he does not at all intend to return to Libya and in return he will not join any party opposed to Colonel Al-Gaddafi’s regime, and will absolutely not engage in any political activities.
No official announcement has so far been made by the Libyan authorities on the ramifications of the dissent and defection of Al-Mismari or his arrest in France. However, Libyan Press news agency disseminated the news of his arrest, but did not name him, contending itself with saying that the French authorities arrested a prominent Libyan official the day before yesterday during his stay in France after the Libyan authorities submitted a request to the French authorities to remand him in custody in response to an arrest warrant issued by the Libyan authorities.
In recent days, several independent opposition Libyan websites reported on rumors of Al-Mismari’s defection from Libya before the news was officially confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat of his arrest in France in response to an official request from Libya.
Libyan circles in and outside Libya told several stories on Al-Mismari’s taking this unprecedented step, most notably that he was personally insulted by Colonel Al-Gaddafi during the Afro-Arab summit which Libya hosted last month. These circles said that Al-Mismari received threats that he will be subjected to an official interrogation for embezzlement of public funds, taking advantage of his position as an official in charge of protocol and arrangement of Colonel Al-Gaddafi’s special ceremonies.
Immediately after Al-Mismari’s defection to France, the Libyan authorities imposed a semi-house arrest on his family and prevented his wife and daughter from traveling abroad to join him.
Al-Mismari’s defection in this manner came as a big shock to senior Libyan officials. One of them told Asharq Al-Awsat that he does not expect the Libyan regime to sustain a violent jolt as a result of Al-Mismari’s defection, notwithstanding the enormous amount of information he has, having worked very closely with Colonel Al-Gaddafi over the past 10 years. During that period, he witnessed most of the important dramatic transformations that occurred to Libya’s relations with the outside world, notably the United States and its Western allies. This official, who asked not to be identified, added: “After all, Al-Mismari was an ordinary employee, and although he held a high post, he was an extremely marginal figure.”
Musa Kusa, secretary of the General People’s Committee for Foreign Liaison and International Cooperation (foreign minister), issued a decision early this month appointing Fawzi Ammar Abu-Subu as general director of public protocol and ceremonies to succeed Al-Mismari, in the first signal that Al-Mismari had officially quit his post. This decision has not yet been officially announced despite although it has been the talk of officials of the Libyan Foreign Ministry.
Toward the end of 2007, Al-Mismari lost his son, Mahfuz, in a controversial incident after unidentified men stormed his house in the Al-Andalus neighborhood in the Libyan capital Tripoli. Rumors earlier circulated that he fled, but Al-Mismari denied the rumor in part and parcel.
Al-Mismari, who speaks fluently several languages and majored in tourism, hotel management, and public relations, was famous among the Libyan people as “Nuri Harakat,” as he was known for being tall, well-dressed, and a close companion of Colonel Al-Gaddafi by virtue of his post. Al-Mismari had often been responsible for all arrangements relating to Colonel Al-Gaddafi’s foreign tours and meeting with officials in Libya and beyond. One of the anecdotes that the Libyan people do not forget is that Al-Mismari held a censer with burning frankincense and walking around Colonel Al-Gaddafi during one of his visits to Tunisia. He was also seen joking with some African dancers, holding a drum, and dancing with former US President Bill Clinton.