A Four-Decade-Old Mystery Haunts Libya's Government Anew

(Bloomberg) -- It’s a mystery that has never been solved, another twist in the murky world of Middle East politics in which Libya’s longtime leader, Muammar Qaddafi, often played a central role.

More than four decades after the revered Lebanese Shiite cleric Musa al-Sadr disappeared inside Libya, relations between the countries are still haunted by his fate.

Libya, which has been struggling to rebuild after a 2011 uprising ended Qaddafi’s four-decade rule, planned to participate in an Arab League economic conference in Lebanon beginning on Friday. Protests and the removal of Libya’s flag from the venue by supporters of Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri gave Tripoli second thoughts.

“The seat for the Libyan state will remain vacant,” Libyan Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Al-Arbad said on Facebook late Sunday. The Libyan State Council, which serves as an advisory body to the United Nations-backed Tripoli government, called for severing ties with Lebanon.

Berri, who holds the highest Shiite government position in Lebanon, told President Michael Aoun last week that he objected to the presence of the Libyan delegation in Beirut. There’s no room for compromise, added Hani Qobeisi, a lawmaker who belongs to Berri’s Amal Movement.

“The tools of the former Libyan regime are still in power and they’re the ones who rejected cooperating with Lebanon on the case,” Qobeisi said during a ceremony for Amal, one of Lebanon’s two main Shiite groups.

The cleric, accompanied by two associates, went missing in 1978, shortly after traveling to the Libyan capital at Qaddafi’s invitation. Libya’s consistent denials of involvement in his disappearance have rung hollow, coming from a nation that was sanctioned for years as a sponsor of terrorism. Lebanon has accused Qaddafi directly of ordering al-Sadr’s disappearance.

One widely circulated theory was that Qaddafi had the cleric killed for questioning the Libyan leader’s qualifications in matters of religious interpretation. Qaddafi had considered himself a philosopher of sorts and canonized his musings in “The Green Book.” The 1975 tome, required reading in Libya under his reign, covered a range of topics from menstruation to direct democracy being the best form of government.

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