Tuesday,18 December, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1349, (15 - 21 June 2017)
Tuesday,18 December, 2018
Issue 1349, (15 - 21 June 2017)

Ahram Weekly

The release of Gaddafi

The release of Seif Al-Islam Gaddafi will have ramifications in the Libyan, Arab and African political arenas, writes Gamal Nkrumah

The release  of Gaddafi
The release of Gaddafi

The Libyan civil war began not with the clash of ideological swords, but with treachery among conflicting clans. The longer the rebels that had fought against the regime of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi waited for peace to arrive, the more fractured and unstable the North African nation became.

Early on, rival transitional governments formed in the east and west of the sprawling desert country. And Libya remains a powder keg.

It is difficult to place Seif Al-Islam Gaddafi, released from captivity this week, squarely within any of the known religio-political movements. He is a seasoned Libyan political figure, albeit a controversial one, and is the second son of Muammar Gaddafi, overthrown and killed in 2011, and his second wife Safia Farkash.

Unlike Gaddafi, from the west of Libya, Farkash is an easterner from the town of Al-Bayda. As the widow of Gaddafi and the mother of seven of his eight children including Seif Al-Islam, she has been a power behind the throne.

She fled Libya with her family to Algeria after backing her husband in the 2011 conflict, and relations were strained with their Algerian hosts after her daughter Aisha refused to heed restrictions on criticising the Libyan Revolution.

Eventually, she returned to her native Al-Bayda, and it is believed that her son has now joined her there after he was released by the Abu Bakr Al-Sadiq Brigade, a militia based in Zintan, one of the largest cities in north-western Libya roughly 136km south-west of the capital Tripoli.

“I met him in Zintan, and I’ve been in contact with him,” Seif Al-Islam’s British lawyer Karim Khan said. “He was in good physical health. I had lunch with him in Zintan and sat with him for several hours,” Khan said.

 But there are doubts about Seif Al-Islam’s future. While the eastern parliament in Tobruk, to which Zintan is aligned, says he is a free man, Tripoli’s UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) considers him to be a war criminal.

His release comes at an ominous time. The anti-Sub-Saharan African ethnic cleansing that has embroiled Libya since the fall of Gaddafi has strained relations between the North African nation and countries south of the Sahara. Thousands of Africans have also been fleeing Libya to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.

According to Hein de Haas, director of the International Migration Institute at the University of Oxford in the UK, public discourse on African migration to Europe often portrays the phenomenon as an “exodus” composed of irregular migrants driven by conflict and poverty.

But migration from Africa to Europe, de Haas argues, in fact “is fuelled by a structural demand for cheap migrant labour in informal sectors”. Most migrants leave on their own initiative, rather than being the victims of human-traffickers, gangsters who have profited from the power vacuum in Libya today.

In 2015, an estimated 1,000 African asylum-seekers drowned in the Mediterranean in a desperate bid to reach Europe. Estimates suggest that between the beginning of 2015 and the middle of April in the same year, some 21,000 African migrants reached the Italian coast and 900 died in the Mediterranean.

Before the fall of his father in 2011, Seif Al-Islam led something of a charmed existence. In 2006, the German magazine Der Spiegel reported that he was romantically linked to Orly Weinerman, an Israeli actress and model. In September 2012, Weinerman asked former British prime minister Tony Blair to intervene in the Libyan conflict in order to spare his life.

Seif Al-Islam was captured by Zintan rebels in November 2011 while attempting to flee to Niger. Previously, he had been hosted at Buckingham Palace by the British royal family, and in 2008 he received a PhD from the London School of Economics (LSE). Critics have charged that Gaddafi plagiarised his doctoral dissertation and pressure was put on the LSE to revoke the degree.

Today, he is wanted by the International Criminal Court for his alleged involvement in the killing of protesters in the uprising against Gaddafi in 2011. According to local reports, he is now among relatives in Al-Bayda, where he seems to be receiving the at-least-tacit support of General Khalifa Haftar, the military strongman in the east of the country who is at odds with the government in Tripoli. 

In a press conference in Algiers on Monday, Mohamed Siyala of Libya’s UN-recognised government announced that Haftar would be recognised as “the commander-in-chief of the Libyan army” provided that he also recognised the GNA government as Libya’s sole legitimate government.

Haftar was disavowed by Gaddafi in the 1980s, leading him to devote the next two decades to toppling the former Libyan leader. He might now emerge as a kingmaker in Libya by using the son of the very man who disowned him. The relations between the two men are unknown, though when Haftar outlined his plans to save Libya from Islamist extremism he won many backers in the Arab world.

In February last year, Haftar’s Libyan National Army pushed Islamist militants out of much of the eastern city of Benghazi, and he has been ruling the region ever since. The arrival of Seif Al-Islam Gaddafi in Al-Bayda may now lead to an alliance between the two men, perhaps at the expense of the government in Tripoli.

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