Can Saif al-Islam Gaddafi regain power in Libya?

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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For years, unconfirmed reports have been circulated regarding Saif al-Islam Gaddafi’s alleged arrest, death, escape, and discovery in a rebel camp, whereas other reports state that he had disappeared in the south of France. His press statement yesterday has brought him back to the limelight. He presented his vision to the world for the first time since his arrest during the Libyan revolution. So, there he is living in Libya, as a free man, or, to paraphrase him, his jailers became his guards and friends after they became “disillusioned with the revolution.”

In war-torn Libya, perhaps if Gaddafi returned from his grave, he would retake power; after ten bloody years during which militias and mercenaries ruled the country. A large section of the Libyan people may not agree with this view: accepting Gaddafi, but even they have no alternative to the miserable situation that Libya lingers in today and with no end in sight.

Will Saif return to politics and restore his father’s rule?

Indeed, he can. However, the road to realizing his dream is fraught with blood and suffering as a result of the cumulation of internal Libyan conflicts, whether regional, tribal, or personal in nature. There are also external challenges from Arab countries that wield influence or partial influence, such as Turkey, Italy, France, and the US. Is this akin to Napoleon returning from exile to capitalize on disgruntlement and chaos or is he merely an exile, daydreaming as he lay in the confined of his disorderly cave? The Libyan tragedy, on par with the Syrian one, has come to its end but with no true victor. It is no easy task to repair a broken regime and return it to what it once was as this requires a great deal of prudence, reconciliation, and compromise. Saif al-Islam says he will return to rule with the Green Book, which is not an appealing electoral slogan. But Saif is not the same as Muammar, albeit he is his son. We know of Saif’s previous attempts to change Libya by opening up and channeling the country’s massive wealth towards domestic development and putting an end to his father’s overseas escapades. He succeeded, to some extent, during the last years of his father’s rule, but Saif was never in the hot seat in order for us to judge him as a leader.

It is easy to point to the catastrophic situation in which Libya and Libyans finds themselves today—after the collapse of the regime—and to say that the ideal option is a return to how things were prior to February 2011. The world of Gaddafi Senior was an abstraction beyond the reality in which the majority of people wanted to live. On the other hand, any leader who promises to achieve security, stability, and decent living standards will inevitably garner support in the wake of a decade of chaos, the rule of rival groups, and foreign interventions. The Libyan dilemma, after ten years of the failed revolution, is no longer about a rejection of some kind of regime; rather, it is against the complete collapse and division of the country as a result of chieftains’ infighting. In Libya, there is no longer a state, but ministates ruled by militias.

In the current situation, Saif Gaddafi can compete and reach power; this notion was once impossible to envisage, but today, it is in the cards. In order for this notion to become a reality, can the Libyan people accept it? Will the major powers allow it? And, even more difficultly, can he succeed in what all the domestic forces have been unable to achieve during the past ten years, by uniting the country and ruling it centrally from the capital?

In order to achieve this, you need more than an interview with the New York Times.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.

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