Son of former Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi runs for president
On Sunday, the son of Libya’s late dictator Muammar Gaddafi appeared in public for the first time in nearly a decade to register as a presidential candidate for a December election intended to help end the years of upheaval that have followed his father’s overthrow.
Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, 49, appeared in an electoral commission video signing documents at the polling center in the southern town of Sebha, wearing a traditional brown robe and turban, as well as a grey beard and glasses.
Gaddafi is one of the most well-known — and divisive — candidates for president, with eastern military leader Khalifa Haftar, Prime Minister Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah, and parliament speaker Aguila Saleh.
While his name is one of Libya’s most well-known, and he formerly played a key role in policymaking before the 2011 Nato-backed revolt that toppled his family’s dictatorship, he hasn’t been seen in almost a decade.
His formal participation into an election whose rules are still being contested by Libya’s feuding factions may raise additional concerns about a campaign that features candidates deemed unsuitable in some parts of the country.
Despite the fact that major Libyan factions and foreign countries have expressed support for elections on December 24, the vote is still in doubt as different entities argue over the rules and timeline.
Those who disrupt or impede the vote will face sanctions, according to a big conference in Paris on Friday, but with less than six weeks until the election, there is still no agreement on rules governing who should be allowed to run.
While Gaddafi is likely to appeal to nostalgia for the era before his father was deposed by a Nato-backed uprising in 2011 that ushered in a decade of instability and violence, observers think he may not emerge as the front-runner.
Many Libyans remember the Gaddafi era as one of brutal despotism, and Saif al-Islam and other former regime elites may find it difficult to rally as much support as significant competitors now that they are no longer in power.
Moammar al-Gadhafi was kidnapped and killed by opposition fighters outside his hometown of Sirte in October 2011. Days later, as he attempted to depart Libya for Niger, Saif al-Islam was apprehended by militants from the hilly Zintan region.
After just over a decade, Saif al-Islam has become something of a cipher for Libyans. Zintan fighters kept him hidden for years, and his thoughts on the problem remain unknown.
He spoke to the New York Times early this year, but he has yet to make a public appearance addressing directly to Libyans.
Gaddafi’s presidential ambitions were complicated by the fact that he was prosecuted in absentia in 2015 by a Tripoli court in which he appeared via video link from Zintan and was condemned to death for war crimes including the massacre of demonstrators during the 2011 rebellion.
If he appeared openly in Tripoli, he would almost certainly face arrest or other dangers. The International Criminal Court has also issued an arrest warrant for him.
Saif al-Islam, educated at the London School of Economics and a proficient English speaker, was previously regarded by many governments as Libya’s respectable, Western-friendly face, and a probable heir apparent.
But when a rebellion broke out in 2011 against Muammar Gaddafi’s long rule, Saif al-Islam immediately chose family and clan loyalties over his many friendships in the West, telling Reuters television: “We fight here in Libya; we die here in Libya”.