Until recently, the world was not sure if he was even alive. Now, Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, the 49-year-old son of Libya's deposed dictator Muammar Gaddafi, hasannounced a run for the presidency. The entitlement, arrogance, and shamelessness implied in his decision to throw his hat into the ring is an affront to Libyans. Gaddafi is an insult to their revolution, and an insult to the thousands who died over the course of his father's brutal 42-year reign.
That his candidacy causes hurt and pain is self-explanatory, as is the fact that he stands no chance of winning fairly. But the reason he should be barred from running is that his candidacy alone is dangerous for Libya.
Gaddafi Junior was captured during the civil war, during which he played aninstrumental role in his father's ruthless gambit to stamp out the revolution. Despite his fluent English and dubious doctorate from the London School of Economics, he proved to be his father's son.
"But the reason he should be barred from running is that his candidacy alone is dangerous for Libya"
At the start of the Civil War, he warned Libyans that his father would fight "until the last man and last woman." With the family's trademark pomposity and condescension, he wagged his fingers at Libyans.
After the war ended, he reappeared on Syrian state television to promise that he would "fight until the end, and get revenge." Gaddafi's role in the murder of civilians earned him an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court (ICC,) which has charged him with two counts of crimes against humanity - murder and persecution.
Contrary to his protestations, these charges are not mere spin. Even in secret, his role in war crimes appeared in leaked American diplomaticcables, which noted that he 'exercised control over crucial parts of the State apparatus… and had the powers of a de facto Prime Minister,' an adjunct pyromaniac to his father's Nero.
A decade later, he shows no remorse for his actions. He has even moved toreorganise his 'Green Movement,' the flagship of his father's eccentric political views, and recently euphemized his complicity in war crimes as 'legal issues.'
Gaddafi Junior's run is not meant for Libyans, the overwhelming majority of whom know all too well what a second Gaddafi would mean. The premise behind his candidacy is squarely aimed at the outside world, which has for a decade been perplexed by how Libya might return to some semblance of normalcy.
What Gaddafi offers is the sort of iron fist that General Khalifa Haftar was meant to be before his ignominious defeat in 2020. So the argument goes: A strongman beats chaos. Gaddafi is taking on the mantle of his father no doubt for his own Freudian reasons. But there is a tactical element to his unapologetic approach anda newfound appreciation for traditional Libyan clothing. Gaddafi is selling himself to the international community as a 'quick fix.'
While other candidates offer trade deals and other backroom deals, his offering is psychological: A return to a time when Libya, despite all Gaddafi's lunatic ravings, was not a headline item. The bluff is easy to see through.
Gaddafi is no different to any of the other candidates in that he is willing to do whatever it takes, not for Libya, but for his own political fortune. Saif has hired, to the surprise of nobody,Russian political consultants close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In 2019, he allegedlycavorted with Russian operators from the shadowy Wagner Group, as they tried to engineer a situation where he would return to power. This earned him yet another arrest warrant, this time from Libyan prosecutors, who understandably resented his outreach to a mercenary group that has committed war crimes and enabled the effective partition of Libya into two spheres of influence.
Gaddafi's lust for power, likely linked to the 'revenge' he swore to take ten years ago, has already led him to try and create unholy alliances with the very forces that are the source of so much division in Libya. He is no 'comeback kid', much less a solution to Libya’s multiple ills. He is another sell-out to the interests of a country other than his own. In other words, he is the opposite of what Libya needs.
Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of Libyan politics today is that its currency is relevance. This has already led to a range of attention-seeking gambits from across the Libyan political spectrum, aimed at showing the international community who, if anyone, is most able to close the Libyan Pandora's Box. This attention-seeking will likely take more drastic forms as elections draw closer.
"Libya needs and deserves a clean pair of hands, capable of unifying the country, restoring some dignity, and creating a positive answer to the question of what it means to be a Libyan"
Gaddafi is but one of many candidates that the international community could have, and can still remove from the race through the threat of UN sanctions. It will probably not do so, based on the logic that disqualifying candidates would create new opponents to an election that is already the source of massive controversy and which very, very few in Libya expect to yield meaningful change – much less a government. But what Libya needs is not more posturing. Libya needs a genuine fresh start.
If it is to be whole again, Libya desperately needs reconciliation. After more than a decade of fighting, in-fighting, and political impasse, Libya needs and deserves a clean pair of hands, capable of unifying the country, restoring some dignity, and creating a positive answer to the question of what it means to be a Libyan.
To be sure, such a pair of hands are hard to find after all that Libya has gone through. But what is clear is that the blood-stained hands of Saif-al-Islam are especially unfit for the task.
Mustafa El Sagezli is the Director of The Libyan Program for Reintegration and Development (LPRD). He has over 20 years of experience in designing strategies facilitating the de-radicalization and reintegration of ex-combatants into society. He has seen over 160,000 ex-combatants in Libya graduate his Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) programs and is one of Libya's foremost experts in the field.
Follow him on Twitter: @Elsagezli
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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.