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Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Saif Gaddafi: The Returning Vagabond

Saif Gaddafi
Seif al-Islam Kadhafi, son of Libyan strongman Moamer Kadhafi, waves during a meeting with youths on March 10, 2011 in Tripoli, after he issued a warning of “we’re coming” and that his forces were advancing towards their bastion of Benghazi in eastern Libya. AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD TURKIA.

Khaled Mahmoud

Although Saif al-Islam, the second son of the late Libyan Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, is still out of sight somewhere in Libya, in one way or another, he continues to test waters for the possibility of his candidacy for the presidential elections, scheduled on Dec. 24.

Saif al-Islam has never appeared anywhere to speak to his fellow citizens. However, his aides are still talking about him. In addition, he frequently contacts official figures from several foreign countries. The list includes Russia, Britain, Germany and France. Moreover, his aides talk about his possible return to the political scene in Libya, where he had previously lost influence, power and wealth, the trinity that his father had monopolized before him and his regime were overthrown ten years ago in 2011.

Where, when and how? These questions remain unanswered, as no one can determine when or how he is returning, and most importantly, how will he justify his return.

Some think, including myself, that Gaddafi’s second son was nothing but a Trojan horse that the West exploited to overthrow his father’s regime, who imposed his control over Libya for 42 years.

Assuredly, any self-reflecting or objective criticism of the experience that has ended in which he contributed considerably, perhaps unknowingly, would reveal that Saif al-Islam has more than a guilt complex about his responsibility for what happened.

A few days before the outbreak of protests that were exploited by the Muslim Brotherhood, with U.S.-Western funding and planning, Saif al-Islam was told over the phone that Feb. 17, 2011, would pass like any other normal day.

“Let’s talk in two days,” he said with a laugh as I asked him about his predictions for this day.

That conversation was a few hours before the disaster. At that time, Saif al-Islam did not realize that he would be a part of the disaster for which he would pay a heavy price, adding to the total losses suffered by the Gaddafi’s family.

Gaddafi Junior was trying to imply that everything was under control, and perhaps he was partially right because it was just a verbal assertion, totally isolated from reality.

As I told him, the Libyan scene had many unusual indications, as ordinary people have become uncharacteristically daring in criticizing, insulting and threatening the regime.

In the past, even the mightiest opponents of the regime used to communicate secretly to pass on their news without revealing themselves, as everyone feared Gaddafi’s tyranny would reach them, whether in peace or war.

Back then, it seemed that Gaddafi’s son couldn’t comprehend what was happening or was unable to believe it.

In both scenarios, his reforming activity was the reason behind everything that happened later on.

Gaddafi’s empire collapsed, and he was killed with his sons, Mutassim and Saif al-Arab, while Hannibal was imprisoned. Al-Saadi moved to Turkey after a controversial release, and the older brother Muhammad fled with the rest of the family, accompanied by Aisha Gaddafi and their mother into exile.

The dramatic fate, which spanned over only eight months, since the outbreak of the February 2011 events, until the announcement of the father’s murder, swept away in its folds Gaddafi’s family and his regime.

Saif al-Islam lost everything in a single moment: family, influence and status.

In the past, he used to surprise me with a phone call from his British number from anywhere in the world. Moving between different countries, surrounded by guards and protection, getting invited to business and investment relations. It is as close as possible to an attempt to read how the ruling regime functions and how its future takes shape. But now, he is banned from travel and wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes.

Despite everything that transpired, he could use the remnants of his father’s influence and look for a way to redeem himself.

Those who want Gaddafi junior in power spread rumours that he has contacts with Russia, the former ally of his father’s regime and that certain tribes publicly demand that he runs for the presidential elections if they take place on time, despite all the doubts.

The Russian stance is not new, as Moscow viewed Saif al-Islam as one of the political options presented in Libya’s political future.

About two years ago, Saif al-Islam’s most prominent personal assistant and former bureau chief, Muhammad Ismail, visited the Russian capital and met several Russian officials and conveyed a message from Gaddafi’s son to them.

After this visit, Mikhail Bogdanov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, spoke publicly for the first time about the need for Saif al-Islam to play a role in the Libyan political scene and to reveal that he regularly communicates with Russia.

Saif al-Islam proposed ideas for a political future for Libya, while Western powers and the UN seek to hold elections in Libya before the end of this year to end the conflict.

But the question remains, is Saif al-Islam considered an influential factor in the Libyan equation? Can he win the post of the next president if fair elections are held in the country for the first time in its history?

This question, which consequently raises other questions, is preoccupying the minds of international and regional circles more than the Libyans themselves.

I said before that if time goes back, Saif al-Islam would have executed all those his father released from his prison cells.

Those extremists, especially the former elements of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, were released through the intellectual revisions launched by Gaddafi’s son with American and Western blessings. Today, they are directly responsible for all the chaos that Libya is still suffering from nearly ten years after the fall of the Gaddafi regime and later his death in 2011.

Under American pressure and British encouragement, Saif al-Islam skilfully played the role of the godfather of reconciliation, which many believed in, and opened prison cells to release killers who later indulged themselves in violence and spread their terror across the country.

Previously, I said that perhaps it is time for Gaddafi’s son to get married, have children and lead an ordinary life like any human being.

Perhaps he went back to his old hobby of drawing and colour painting, or maybe he worked on a book in which he narrates his memoirs and biography, exposing the secrets behind the fall of a regime, of which he once was an unofficial key player.

Such a thing would be much better than being the talk of the media and on top of the scene again.

In the Arab world, those who lost power can get it back through forging elections or a military coup, which, certainly, are tools that Saif al-Islam doesn’t have in his shed anymore.

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The opinions expressed in this publication are those of our bloggers. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Fanack or its Board of Editors.

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Dima Elayache
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