Since the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan, the international media have taken a Back to the future air. Libya is determined not to be outdone. Seif al-Islam Kadhafi, “son of”, who had remained silent for nearly ten years, reappeared on the pages of the New York Times end of July.
Gone are the typical oval glasses of a technocrat, the neatly cut suit and the three-day beard, quintessentially Western traits he had previously adopted.
The second son of the “Guide” now sports the abundant hair of a venerable sheikh, a female dog (a traditional coat worn in the Gulf) with gold trims and a turban tied like a pirate.
Seif al-Islam has carefully compiled this outfit. In fact, he probably wouldn’t mind if his journey through the desert, which lasted almost a decade, was seen as a long spiritual retreat in which he spent most of his time pondering the plight of his people. .
A free man
Seif al-Islam has lived in this same western mountainous region since his father’s death in 2011 and his subsequent arrest in southern Libya by a revolutionary brigade from the town of Zintan. His captors never handed him over, despite a Tripoli court sentencing him to death in 2015 and a claim by the International Criminal Court (ICC) that he participated in the 2011 crackdown.
“We could even say that he was protected,” said a person familiar with the Libyan case. âThe tribal chief who installed him in his home, who was anti-Gaddafi in 2011, has become one of his best friends.
Therefore, Seif al-Islam met American journalist Robert Worth as a free man, to whom he confided what many believe to be an open secret: his hope of returning to politics, before the presidential and legislative elections in December.
In the ten years since the loss of power of the Gaddafi clan, Libya seems to have plunged a little more into chaos. Seif al-Islam is happy to see this situation, without fear of being contradicted: âThere is no money, no security. There is no life here. Our gas stations do not have diesel. We are lighting up half of Italy and yet we have blackouts. It is not just a failure, but a fiasco.
The desire of a providential man
This declaration comes shortly after the tenth anniversary of the Arab Spring, which gave rise either to authoritarian restorations, as in Egypt, or to the paralysis of the state, as in Tunisia, or even to its dislocation, as in Libya.
“At the moment, some European countries, including France, tend to say ‘we warned you’ when talking about the revolts that took place ten years ago,” explains Libyan researcher Anas el-Gomati. âThere’s this idea that regime change doesn’t work. The international community could therefore support the candidacy of Seif al-Islam.
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From Tripoli to Beirut via Tunis, people are expressing their anger at the incompetence and corruption of political personnel. The Guide’s son seems to want to capitalize on this general rejection, which results directly from a desire to have a providential man in charge capable of cleaning the Augean stables.
And in Libya of course, at least according to Seif al-Islam, the only possible man for the job is a Gaddafi. In this context, a ten-year absence from the political scene is equivalent to virginity found in the eyes of some Libyans. To illustrate, in a poll that covers one of the country’s three major regions, Seif al-Islam has a 57% approval rating.
“All the countries in the region share the idea that democracy can wait and that strong leadership is needed in Libya,” adds the Libyan expert cited above.
He, like the Sahel states, is worried about the uncontrolled return of African mercenaries to their territory. The fact remains that in the absence of Seif al-Islam, other figures capable of respecting these terms have emerged, notably Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who is just as skeptical of democracy as the former.
âThey don’t just share this rhetoric,â Gomati says. âKhalifa Haftar’s networks are more or less the same as those of Seif al-Islam, from former army officers to tribal chiefs, passing through some towns like Sebha, Sirte, Bani Walid and Tarhouna. This fabric, which constitutes the deep state of the Jamahiriya, is still in place. According to the specialist, the two men are fighting for the control of this network.
The “sword of Islam” that the Libyan system had hoped to reform before 2011, ended up adopting his father’s aggressive rhetoric during the first anti-regime protests.
Seif al-Islam accused “drug addicts and criminals” of being behind the 2011 wave of protests, then warned: “It will take 40 years to reach agreement on how to lead. the country because everyone will want to become president. or emir.
Today he seems to be enjoying how accurate his predictions were. âWhat happened in Libya was not a revolution. You could describe it as a civil war or dark days, âhe says, ten years after the events.
Due to his pedigree, there is reason to fear that he will not pay much attention to the electoral process initiated by the UN and the new Libyan government. Especially since its international legal problems could prevent it from exercising its responsibilities.
âWhether he leads himself or is represented, Seif al-Islam will respect the principle of elections,â Gomati said. He also recalls that the Gaddafi movement presented candidates during the Libyan forum which appointed the new government of national unity in February. âIs it ambitious enough to set up a democracy? Absolutely not, âhe says.
In any case, the Guide’s son can count on Russia, a powerful international ally. Moscow, which never ceases to recall that the UN mission to which it had given its agreement in 2011 had exceeded its prerogatives by eliminating Muammar Gaddafi, maintained contact with the family.
“What Russia was not capable of in 2011, it is able to do now,” says Gomati, who refers to operations designed to manipulate opinion through media and social networks.
“If they succeeded in doing it in the United States, then there is no reason why the Russians cannot do it in Libya.” The group of Yevgeny Prigojine, head of the Russian private military company Wagner, is very present in Libya and is linked to the Kremlin. In addition, it owns 50% of Al-Jamahiriya TV, which is committed to the cause of Seif al-Islam. Since 2019, the Russians have provided financial and technical assistance to the TV channel, which now broadcasts almost continuously.