Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the second son and erstwhile heir apparent to revolutionary leader Muammar Gaddafi has confirmed to Egyptian television, through a family spokesman, Basem al-Hashimi al-Soul, that he seeks to run in next year’s tenuous Presidential elections in Libya.
While Libya remains a failed state in the wake of the 2011 NATO war against the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, many have pinned their hopes on Saif al-Islam Gaddafi who since his release from captivity this year, has been touring the country and buildilng support among Libya’s many tribal factions.
According to his spokesman,
“Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of the former Libyan president, enjoys the support of major tribes in Libya so he can run for the upcoming presidential elections due in 2018.
Saif al-Islam plans to impose more security and stability in accordance with the Libyan geography and in coordination with all Libyan factions”.
Libya is currently locked in a multi-dimensional power struggle without a single unifying government. Saif al-Islam plans to change this through reunifying the country as his father did in 1969. However, after years of western meddling, he has his work cut out for him.
For years, they have contended with multiple factions. At present, the leading factions are the broadly pro-western Government of National Accord in Tripoli and the Egypt backed and generally Russia friendly Libyan House of Representatives in the eastern Libyan city of Tobruk. The strongest armed forces in Libya and frankly the only united one, is the Libyan National Army led by House of Representatives loyalist Khalifa Haftar. By contrast, the fledgling Government of National Accord is constantly besieged with a rival Tripoli faction, the National Salvation Government, while all forces are battling (or in the case of the Tripoli factions, failing to battle) terrorists associated with al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS.
Resurrecting Libya as any kind of state is a monumental order. In a few short years, a NATO war turned Libya from a wealthy, united state with high standards of living and near-universal literacy to an open air terrorist training camp, built on top of a failed state.
Thus far, the only signs of salvation have come in the form of military victories by Haftar’s Army which has successfully cleansed Benghazi of many terrorist forces. The problem however is that while Haftar’s Libyan National Army has found success, the Libyan House of Representatives for whom he fights, has struggled to put forward a cohesive nation wide political programme.
This is where Saif al-Islam could come in. When Saif was released from prison, many scenes of supporters waving the Green flag of the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya took to the streets. Unlike Iraq for example, which has genuine and difficult ethno-religious sectarian divides, Libya is almost all Sunni Muslim, although the very small Christian minority which received protection under Gaddafi, has been decimated since the 2011 NATO war.
While the western backed Government of National Accord does not acknowledge the amnesty granted to Saif al-Islam by competing factions, this weak government is in reality, far less popular in parts of the country than Saif al-Islam personally and the tribal factions over which he once again commands loyalty.
Ethnically, most Libyans are either Arabs or Arabised Berbers. While under Gaddafi, Libya had a sizeable black-African minority, sadly many of these people who lived well in Libya have been either killed or chased into neighbouring states by Takfiri terrorists.
All of this ammounts to a country that does not so much have ethnic nor religious divides, but instead, deep tribal divides. Prior to Gaddafi’s revolution, Libya was economically retarded and in the grip of local tribes who had little interest in forming a unified modern country. This old Libya, was ruled by the lethargic King Idris who was overthrown by the young Gaddafi in 1969.
Gaddafi changed all of this, bringing modernity, unity, world-class healthcare, public wealth, irrigation to the desert and technological amenities to Libyans. Sadly, since 2011, Libya has returned to a dark age.
Many increasingly feel that because of his lineage and apparent intelligence (though not intelligent enough to see through the west’s betrayal of his father), Saif al-Islam could become a unifying figure in the country.
While bringing any unity to Libya is a tall order, Saif would likely have to deal with Haftar, especially as Haftar’s support could be crucial in what would pass for an election in post-NATO Libya.
Khalifa Haftar was once a loyal officer in Gaddafi’s Libya but in the late 1980s, during the war with Chad, he fell out with Gaddafi and ran to the US where he became an American citizen. Upon returning to Libya, his secular political programme, proven military skill and his backing by secular Egypt, has made him a moderate in a failed state undulating between various Takfiri extremes.
It is not clear how Saif al-Islam would be able to work with a man who was viewed as a failure and traitor by his father, but it would be almost impossible if two men with a theoretically similar political programme for Libya could not at least attempt to work together in some capacity.
Haftar has just stated that the western backed Government of National Accord has now lost all its legitimacy as its official mandate expired on the 17th of December. Haftar said,
“With the onset of December 17, 2017, the so-called political agreement ends, and all bodies formed according to it automatically lose their legitimacy, which is controversial from the first day of their work.
…We strongly reject the method of threats and intimidation and promise to the Libyan people that we vow to protect them and their capabilities and institutions to the last soldier in our ranks, and also declare our refusal to submit… to any party, whatever source of its legitimacy, if it was not elected by the Libyan people”.
This is a clear indication that Haftar is not seeking to reach a compromise with the fledgling and corrupt body in Tripoli, but may be looking either to lead the country himself, or else partner with another body or leader.
A clear choice for Haftar, if personal/historical differences can be ironed out, would be to partner with Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, as both leaders represent a similar ideology and usually among political aspirants in Libya, actually have experience and credibility. Crucially, both Saif al-Islam and Haftar have a common opponent in the form of western governments which have been keen to prop up the effectively powerless and incapable Government of National Accord.
Saif’s lawyer and public representative, Khalid al Zaidi has taken an optimistic tone in respect of Saif’s ability to re-unite Libya in a recent public statement.
After calling Saif Libya’s “only hope”, his lawyer said, “the current situation in Libya, the absence of dialogue and the misunderstanding of the actual state of affairs there make it essential that Saif al-Islam Gaddafi returns to politics to try to reach a political settlement”.
“There have been frequent reports that Saif al-Islam has left Libya, but this is not true. He is communicating with Libyan leaders, representatives of tribes to reach a political solution and appease the conflicting parties”.
While the discredited International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Saif in 2011, in 2013, the UN stated that his incarceration was “arbitrary”.
Clearly, if there is anything Saif is too guilty of, it is being too trusting of the western partners of his father who eventually invaded and destroyed Libya in 2011, less than a decade after the very public Libya-US rapprochement in 2003.
Libya has gone from a shining light in Africa’s constellation to one of the most dangerous and depressed places on earth. Such a country needs all the help it can get to recover. Saif al-Islam owes it to himself and his country to at least try and see if he can manage to do that which no one has thus far been capable of achieving.