Muammar Qaddafi’s Son, Saif al-Islam, Emerges with a Possible Return to Politics

Yoselina Guevara López
In his first appearance since June 2014, Saif al-Islam al-Qaddafi, 49, son of assassinated Libyan Leader, Muammar Qaddafi, said he wants to restore the unity Libya has lost after a decade of chaos. His remarks came in an interview with the New York Times conducted in a village in Zintan, western Libya. Saif al-Islam noted “I am now a free man and I am preparing to return to the political scene.” In view of this, it cannot be ruled out that he will run in the next presidential elections, scheduled for December this year. Although Saif al-Islam did not explicitly clarify whether or not he intends to run for the presidency of the North African country, he did affirm that his movement could bring Libya back to unity at a time when the nation is “on its knees”. Saif al-Islam also declared that in Libya “there is no money, there is no security, there is no life here”. In this regard it is widely known that the governments of recent years lacked popular support, and once Libyan leader Qaddafi was deposed the country entered a new period of destruction.

Before 2011, Saif al-Islam, whose name means “sword of Islam,” was widely considered the likely successor to his father, Muammar Qaddafi. With a PhD in economics from the London School, as well as a perfect command of English, he sought to effect a rapprochement between his father’s government and the international community. Unlike three of his seven brothers, who were killed, he was fortunate enough to be captured by an “independence” brigade, which protected him from other rebel factions and transferred him to Zintan, his home region.

Four years later, the International Criminal Court (ICC) convicted Saif in absentia for alleged war crimes committed during the uprisings. His last appearance had been in June 2014, when a video emerged from Zintan during another trial he was subjected to in Tripoli. In 2017 the pro-independence brigade that captured him released him, from there he disappeared from the political scene. In particular, some analysts claim that Saif al-Islam would have taken advantage of his absence to study the situation in the Middle East and reorganize his father’s political force, known as the “Green Movement”. But for the son of Qaddafi to return to the Libyan political arena, he must overcome legal obstacles, including the conviction by the Tripoli court and the arrest warrant by the ICC. For Saif, however, these convictions would be the least of it if the Libyan people elect him their leader.

Saif Qaddafi’s candidacy

The presidential aspirations of Qaddafi’s son may be more serious and plausible than is widely believed. His supporters participated in the talks that formed the current Libyan interim government, and so far appear to have moved to reject legislation that could prevent Saif from running again. Moreover, polls, albeit with limited data, show that the Libyan population trusts him, in addition to possibly having the support of Moscow. The possibility of Saif’s participation in the elections worries Western policymakers, who say that Libya’s troubled peace process has enough major hurdles to overcome without the Qaddafi’s son, a highly polarizing figure, getting involved. Some experts say Saif’s candidacy would likely be popular in the desert south of the country and among former Qaddafi loyalists, and could convince many Libyans, exhausted by a decade of fighting, that he is the best bet for a stable future with a return to prosperity of Qaddafi’s Libya.

Recently, there have also been reports of the possible candidacy of the general’s son, Saddam Haftar, for the December 2021 elections. This information was revealed by anonymous sources and disclosed by the American website “Washington Free Beacon”. Israel, according to the source, could be in favor of such a move, relying on its rapprochement with the North African country, while Haftar’s objective is to obtain “Western” consent (https://freebeacon.com/national-security/israeli-intel-officials-met-with-libyan-candidate-for-president/). Earlier this year, pro-Qaddafi Libyan media claimed that Haftar and his son were plotting to kill Saif. Some Islamists at the forefront of the 2011 uprising are also deeply opposed to a return of a Qaddafi family member.

Elections in Libya

The December elections, if held, would be the culmination of the ongoing democratic transition in Libya and a way to end the instability that has plagued the country since February 15, 2011. In October of that same year, the government of Muammar Qaddafi was overthrown, and since then Libya has never achieved a democratic transition. The picture in recent years has been two-sided: on the one hand, the Tripoli government, created by the Skhirat Accords of December 17, 2015, and led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, which has been the only executive recognized by the UN. Whose main supporters have been Turkey, Italy and Qatar. On the other side is the parallel government in Tobruk of General Khalifa Haftar, supported by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Russia and France.

Western leaders have no confidence in Haftar, as revealed by the chairman of Libya’s High Council of State, Khalid al-Mishri, who said the elections are unlikely to heal the lingering rifts. The latter could even lead the country back to war. In June 2021, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken joined foreign ministers from 17 states, including Russia and Turkey, which have military forces present in Libya, at a meeting in Berlin to urge Libyan parliamentarians and factions to adhere to an election timetable and pass a law regulating the polls. The European Union has warned that it will consider sanctions against Libyan leaders who obstruct the process.

Imposed processes

Once again the West pays attention to the fulfillment of an electoral calendar without taking into account the internal processes leading up to the elections. Talks by current political players in Libya are deadlocked over the electoral law and whether a referendum on a draft constitution should be held first, which would delay elections for months. Despite the strong show of support for presidential and parliamentary elections expressed by participants at the Berlin meeting, Libya remains divided on the issue. Clearly the main obstacle on the road to the polls is the lack of consensus on a constitutional basis for holding the elections and disagreement on how to elect the president. In addition, the security factor in various parts of the country also plays against it. So far it is still on the table that the Libyan population will hold elections in December, and potential candidates are quietly entering the political game.

Translation by Internationalist 360°