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Another Gaddafi for Libya? – Professor Hussein Solomon

July 3, 2017

Another Gaddafi for Libya?

By Hussein Solomon

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 5 (2017), Number 14 (July 2017)

The recent release of former Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi’s son, Saif-al Islam from prison in Zintan has raised speculation that he may preparing for a political comeback of sorts in this strife-torn country. The younger Gaddafi was captured on the 19th November 2011 and held as a prisoner by the Abu Bakr al-Siddique Brigade in their stronghold of Zintan. The battalion’s commander, Ajmi al-Atiri announced Saif-al Gaddafi’s release as part of an amnesty law passed by the parliament. It should however be borne in mind that the parliament Al-Atiri refers to sits in the eastern part of the country and is not recognized in Tripoli. Indeed, in July 2015 a Tripoli court sentenced in abstentia Saif al-Islam Gaddafi to death for the role he played in suppressing protests against his father’s rule in 2011. Tripoli’s Prosecutor-General made clear that the enactment of the amnesty by the parliament sitting in the east of the country has no bearing to his court and that the death sentence for Gaddafi junior still holds.

The real reason for Gaddafi’s release however has less to do with legal processes and more to do with the fractious politics that has characterized Libya currently. The Abu Bakr al-Siddique Brigade is known to be allied to renegade General Khalifa Haftar’s forces and some believe that the general intends to boost his campaign for military supremacy and legitimacy in the country by allying with Saif-al Islam Gaddafi.

Those who support a political role for Gaddafi point out that other former Muammer Gaddafi-era politicians have occupied position of power in the new Libya and that the younger Gaddafi was known as a reformist during his father’s rule and was known for his negotiation skills. After all, it was the younger Gaddafi who talked his father out of his nuclear ambitions. It was Saif al-Islam Gaddafi who compensated the victims of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing and restored cordial ties with the West. Saif-al Islam’s lawyer stresses that his client’s negotiation skills could greatly assist national reconciliation efforts in Libya. These supporters of Gaddafi also point out that Libyans are tired of the wanton death and destruction that has plagued Libya post-2011 and are beginning to look at his father’s draconian rule as a time of peace and stability. Whilst this may be true, it is also true that the wounds inflicted on the Libyan people by Muammar Gaddafi’s repressive regime has run deep. This was reflected in an attempted assassination on Saif-al Islam Gaddafi in May 2017 whilst in prison in Zintan.

It is interesting to note that Western nations who played such a key role in the ousting of his father, have been muted in their reaction to the son’s release. Some have speculated that the Western-trained Saif-al Islam Gaddafi’s political ambitions might well be encouraged by Western powers as they seek stability in Libya. Consider two factors: migration and terrorism. Europe is awash with migrants using the ungoverned spaces of Libya as a springboard to cross the Mediterranean and into Europe. According to the Italian Interior Ministry, 90 percent of all illegal migrants entering Italy emanate from Libya. The number of migrants from Libya to Italy jumped to 176,554 in 2016. This was eight times higher than the 2013 figure. On the issue of terrorism, the local Islamic State franchise remains centred on Sirte, the birthplace of the Muammar Gaddafi and where many of his most loyal supporters remain. If Saif al-Islam can bring about a functioning national government – one which can control its borders – it will certainly be welcomed by Europe. In addition, if he also convinces those in Sirte to switch their allegiance from Islamic State to a new national government, this too will be welcomed by the West.

Such an embrace of Saif-al Islam Gaddafi by the West will however be complicated by the International Criminal Court (ICC) warrant out for Saif al-Islam’s arrest!


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