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saif al khadafi

Seif al Islam Gaddafi

In Libya only the military feats of Khalifa Haftar, the political weakness of Fayez al Sarraj, the militias of Misurata who oppose Haftar without supporting the Sarraj are under the spotlight. We debate over who has control over the rich oil wells, the unclear role played by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Russia, France, Italy, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United States. Much credit is also given to the peace negotiations that have yet failed to produce any result: Skirat, Paris, Palermo and now Abu Dhabi. We insist on a UN sponsored agreement between Sarraj and Haftar in order to hold free elections in a country that is in the hands of gangs and factions, with no security and where the democracy has never existed.

But behind all this there is the elephant in the room, a character that has disappeared from the media’s narrative and who, instead, is present in Libya, moves and cultivates contacts both within the country and outside: Seif al Islam Gaddafi. Since his release by the Zintan authorities was official, the dictator's son has resumed his personal political activity, albeit in a hidden form. The acclaimed release is, in fact, a rehabilitation in the eyes of the Libyans, or at least for a large part of them. Since June 2017, the son of the late dictator has not given interviews, has not appeared in any official event, refuses any contact and, for security reasons, does not even reveal where he resides. There are those who say he remained in Zintan, others speculate he moved to Beida, where some of his relatives reside.

Seif is 47 today, the first son of Gaddafi's second wife. In the power system of the family he was the one who had to take over his father in running the country and had been prepared for it. He studied in London at the London School of Economics, he knows the western world and, as the designated heir, before the civil war broke out he was the bearer of a progressive agenda, he showed openness to issues such as human rights and alienated his father’s old guard.

He was certainly not a warmonger like his brothers Mutassim and Khamis who both died during the fighting. He was and is above all a political figure. But in the role of first male child he had decided to fight alongside his father and follow him in his destiny. Because of his commitment to the civil war he was immediately accused of crimes against humanity, as happens every time to those who lose, but, to be fair, he did not deserve those accusations. He only carried out his duty as a son.

Of all the Gaddafi family members who survived the war, Seif is certainly the most qualified one. His brother Saadi is still detained and on trial in Tripoli even though, during the regime, he was mainly known for his footballing ambitions. During the war he held the rank of Colonel, but he was the first to escape and take refuge in Niger, from where he was later extradited and returned to the rebels in Tripoli. His other brother, Hannibal, was instead known for his excesses around the world. He had been convicted by a French court for beating his wife, he was implicated in illegal activity on the Cote d'Azur, he had had problems in Switzerland and even in London. He has been jailed in Lebanon for the past 4 years.

muhamar gaddafi

Muhammar Gaddafi

Lebanon had very difficult relations with the Libyan dictator, accused of the disappearance and murder of Shiite leader Musa Sadr during a trip to Tripoli in 1978. Hannibal had taken refuge in Damascus and was apprehended there - probably by Hezbollah - and later extradited to Beirut. Hannibal has no knowledge of the Sadr affair, but once again he behaves badly and is now in jail for contempt of the Lebanese judiciary. The rest of the Gaddafi family now lives in Oman: Safiah Farkash, the dictator's second wife, the favorite daughter Aisha and the son of the first wife Mohammed who was never involved in the affairs of the regime and is a businessman.

Muammar Gaddafi was certainly a dictator who was guilty of many crimes, had many enemies, but also many followers in his country. He governed by being generous to those who supported him and ruthless against those who opposed him. He held onto power with the support of some tribes, which in Libya are called Kabyle, against the hostility of other kabyles. The civil war highlighted this division with the only variant that the weakest kabyle - those who would have lost in an armed confrontation with the dictator - then won thanks to international armed support. And when this circumstance occurs the result is obvious: civil war.

The negative consequences of this war that still looms over the country have inevitably led to a re-evaluation of the figure of the dictator. People realized that, in the end, life under Gaddafi wasn’t so bad, while what followed was certainly worse. This mood potentially favors the reappearance of a Gaddafi in the Libyan landscape. Seif is a high-level politician. He knows that it will take some time before the return of a Gaddafi as a political leader in Libya is accepted. This applies both domestically and internationally.

Domestically, all the main political players competing for power, from al Sarraj to Haftar, know that having Gaddafi on their side, and with him that part of the population that supported the dictator, is important both in terms of political, social and, last but not least, military support. Since Seif was set free, both contenders have been fighting for his influence. And if and when elections are held in Libya, it is possible that Seif will also be a candidate. He will come forward if he is sure he can win or, at least, be in a position to dictate who the winner is. It is not excluded that he may also decide to stay out of the competition and wait for better times.

On an international level, the subject is even more delicate. An international military intervention led by a global coalition intervened in 2011 to oust the Muammar Gaddafi. Eight years later one of his children now risks taking over the country again, or playing an important political role after decades of finger-pointing against the Gaddafis. As of today, Seif avoids playing a visible political role. He does it out of prudence, he does so, as some assume, because Zintan's militias have imposed some restrictions on him, but he does so also to give his domestic and international counterparts enough time to accept his return to the scene.

Although Seif doesn’t appear in person, he works through a set of envoys. Even before his release, he had sent a loyal man known as Kashkar to Italy to test the reaction of local politicians in case he decided to reappear on the Libyan political scene. He recently did the same in Russia, this time using another emissary, Mohammed Gallush, who delivered a letter to Putin in which he announced his support for the UN mediator Ghassam Salame's plan to convene a national conference in Libya.


Khalifa Haftar

So far the international community has ignored or pretended to ignore the fact that a Gaddafi can still play an important role in Libya. So this is why the name of Seif al Islam Gaddafi never appears in the various negotiations or conferences that seek to restore peace in Libya. This is a way of exorcising a danger. But this doesn’t mean the peril will disappear. The name of Gaddafi is embarrassing for some, but still has its charm in the Libyan political landscape. It only remains to be seen if Seif is actually capable of converting the attractiveness of his name into social and political consensus. Seif know he cannot rely solely on the support of those who want revenge for the wrongs suffered as a result of the civil war. It would be like wanting to revive a social model that has had its day.

But Seif is patient, he knows how to wait for the right moment, has both personal financial resources (not everything that belonged to the family has been seized) and those of his supporters. He can count on a large diaspora of loyalists sheltered in Egypt and who are putting pressure on Abdel Fattah al Sisi. He can also rely on the subtle complacency of many Gulf countries (revolutions are always a bad example for autocratic regimes) and, since he has a direct channel with Moscow, he also enjoys the consideration from Russia.

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