Too Many Enemies: Sief Al Islam Must Watch His Back

Published August 15th, 2021 - 01:29 GMT
Saif al-Islam
Saif al-Islam (AFP file photo)

He is back, alive, kicking and ready to go after an absence of 10 years when everybody thought he was as good as dead.

Sief Al Islam Al Gaddafi is amongst us again, ready to fight for a return to his father’s Libya. Unperturbed and not concerned with the past crimes allegedly made by the regime of his father Muammar Al Gaddafi who ruled Libya for 40-odd years, Sief Al Islam says he wants to bring back stability to Libya after the chaos that reigned in the country in its post-Arab Spring revolution of 2011.

He, the second eldest of eight children fathered by the self-styled autocrat with a colorful flair, eccentricity and flamboyance, is clearly eying Libya’s 24 December parliamentary and presidential elections patched together under the United Nations after endless talking with the country’s warring political factions and militias.

While Sief Al Islam, is yet to throw in the towel and say yes, he would be running for elections, his sudden appearance on the scene speak boundless words of politics and a Gaddafi-era return. Yet he is careful because (a) the country is yet split basically into-two ruling governments in the east and west, and we are yet to find under which of the two administrations elections will be held under; and b) the fact Sief Al Islam was sentenced to death by a Tripoli Court in 2015 and long wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court.

Thus his future may still be in peril. How is he going to get out of these two sentences is anyone’s guess but he seems confident as he says, both rulings would be dropped or waivered after it is demonstrated Libyans would want him back. Is it dreams or delusions on his part one wonders?

He recently told a New York Times writer “I’ve been away from the Libyan people for 10 years. You need to come back slowly. Like striptease. You need to play with their minds a little.” Like father like son. With these words, Sief Al Islam appears to be much like his father: Antics that shock but makes one listen!

This is the kind of colorful language that is used by a man who has been in hiding and his escapades about how he persuaded his captors to let him go in 2017 and the fact, as he claims, of being now a free man, living a plush life in a villa. At times it provides a rich reading material on a past Gaddafi life of opulence and the need to get back and reintroduce the past glory. He boasts he befriended his captors who no longer see him as their enemy but someone who can put things right.

However, one wonders whether, either of the two administrations, in Tripoli and Tabrouk, would let him stand for elections with both making up their minds that Sief Al Din is a wanted man and can’t possibly stand for public office because of his past criminal record, and this is already begging the question, and that is how is he going to “come out” in public and campaign. Wouldn’t he immediately be arrested or even shot? Maybe he is well aware of that.

Sief Al Islam isn’t in the part of Libya ruled by the UN-recognized Tripoli-based Government of National Accord but in the region run by the Tabrouk government and backed by strongman Khalifa Haftar. He has been at loggerheads with the GNA and his forces squeezed Tripoli in 2019 and 2020 until they were warded off at the last minute. But this doesn’t mean as well, he is happy about Sief Al Islam turning up out of the blue, despite the fact most of his fighters are pro-Gaddafi supporters and this is something he will need to reckon with once the maverick decides to make full appearance.

Haftar now sees Saif Al Islam as a potential rival that many analysts say would be happy to see him go. But it’s still early days yet because of the complicated nature and rivalry of Libyan politics, politicians, military men and the festering of militias right across Libya. It is a cauldron and Sief Al Islam is in the middle of it.

He has supporters, especially from the Libyan tribes who backed his father. These include Al Qadhadhafa, his own tribe, Magarha and Warfalla. And although opinion polls are hard to come by one, a survey suggests 57 percent believe Sief Al Islam would make a good future leader. Further to that, reports suggest rallies were held in the eastern and southern parts of the country like Sirt, Derna, Benghazi and Bani Waleed calling from him to stand for president in the 24 December elections.

One pro-Ghaddafi supporter, Ramadan Abu Qareen says rallies for Sief Al Islam has been going on for a number of years but now gained greater momentum. But analysts say Sief Al Islam is not only relaying on domestic support, although important, but international backing from western politicians and most important Russia which would like to see a return to the Ghaddafi era because of various political considerations and interests.

During the pre-2011 days Sief Al Islam built himself as a reformer who believed in democracy and community development. Although he refused any official position under his father’s rule, he was known as his right hand man. Armed with a Phd on civil society organizations which later turned out to be mostly written by ghost writers as alleged, he set out to widen his relations that included those with the Royal Family in Britain, politicians, academics and leaders and has at one time invited Human Rights Watch into the country to look, first hand, at Libya’s human rights track record.

However, now it is Russian support that he is mostly interested in to cultivate and support for public office if he does decide to run for president. The appeal to outside parties is now easy for Libyan leaders because of its long-time chaos in the past 10 years. Different parties and states came to support different proxies and governments inside the country.  

The Tripoli-based United Nations-recognized GNA came to be supported by Turkey and Qatar. Ankara has been militarily shoring up the government there who would have long fallen if it wasn’t for their backing. And hence, the parallel government back in Tobruk appears to be stronger because of its no doubt, material, financial and military support from the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, France and Moscow with mercenaries from Russia, Sudan and Chad.

This is what Sief Al Islam is looking at when he says he may/may not run for president. He knows despite strongman Haftar and his son Saddam, many of the militias that exist, estimated at 25,000 – 30,000 including 7,000 trained personnel will likely sway with the Gaddafi starlight if push comes to shove as he claims 80% of the fighters in the so-called Haftar’s army support Sief Al Islam.

Sief Al Islam is 49-years old. He has a lot of patience. If he doesn’t run now, he will likely wait to fight another day, widen his popular support and base and watch how the Libyan situation unfolds. Unfortunately, and cynically the worse it gets, the better it is for him, but Sief Al Islam needs to watch his back not so much from his enemies but from his friends. He has many enemies from both sides of the political divide. 

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