Nine years after the start of the Libyan revolution and the overthrow and death of Muammar Gaddafi, his 48-year-old son Saif al-Islam is still the only one member of the family who retains influence and political ambitions, trying to return to power. Despite the escalation of armed conflict between the forces of the internationally recognized Government of National Accord and General Khalifa Haftar, both sides shared a hostile position towards the colonel's son. While Haftar considered Saif al-Islam "the poor boy on whom some naive people are betting," Faiz Sarraj is confident that he should be extradited to the International Criminal Court. The latter accuses Gaddafi's son of committing war crimes against the rebels.
Saif al-Islam Muammar Gaddafi
The name of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi attracted attention again when the Qadhadhfa tribe (the largest armed Libyan tribe to which the late leader belonged) refused to further participate in the hostilities on the side of Haftar. The tribal council demanded the release of all detained residents of the city, and in case of refusal, Dignity Operation will be regarded as aggression that must be resisted. This event can be considered the biggest threat to Haftar, as the tribe was his biggest ally in Sirte. The forces of the Government of National Accord have besieged the city for over 100 days.
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi is the strongest opponent of Haftar and Sarraj
Three out of eight children of late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi were killed along with their father during the Libyan revolution in October 2011. The handcuffed colonel was killed in captivity by the Abu Bakr al-Siddiq Brigade in the city of Zintan, southwest of Tripoli, after a failed attempt to cross the border into Niger. A few days later, the efforts of the rebels were mainly aimed at finding Saif al-Islam, the son of Muammar Gaddafi most involved in government affairs.
Initially, Haftar's allies refused to extradite Saif al-Islam and kept him in custody. The rebels cut off three fingers on his once threatening right hand and knocked out his teeth. He was sentenced to death and imprisoned in the city of Zintan for about six years before the government in eastern Libya, supported by the Tobruk parliament, decided to release him. Saif al-Islam was released from prison in June 2017 under an amnesty law.
The son of Gaddafi then moved to eastern Libya, where his whereabouts for security reasons remained secret. Then he went abroad, where he successfully helped his tribe regain its former influence in the southern region of the country, as well as establish contacts with the Libyan tribes in the east. The latter were the source of combat force for Haftar, and are currently responsible for the safety of Saif al-Islam's movements.
The Government of National Accord has tried to track down Gaddafi's son, who has not appeared in public in recent years because of the militia under the Interior Ministry. Several months ago, during a special operation, it stormed the city of Zintan, but failed to find Gaddafi's son. According to a report by the news agency Africa Gate, citing Libyan sources, Turkish intelligence then stepped in and conducted a search operation southwest of the Libyan capital.
The emergence of Saif al-Islam as a political force coincided with the decisions to hold presidential and parliamentary elections in Libya. The agreement was the result of a meeting of the parties to the conflict in July 2017 with the support of France. After failing to hold elections, France again convened the four main parties to the Libyan conflict (Sarraj, Haftar, Agil Salah Issa and the head of the Supreme Council of State, Khaled al-Mishri), and it was decided to hold presidential and parliamentary elections in December 2018.
Meanwhile, while in the Tunisian capital, the official representative of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi announced his nomination for the upcoming presidential elections. At the same time, Russia began to take steps to return him to the political arena, betting that in the future he could become the leader of Libya. In this regard, the Italians' statement came as a big surprise to everyone: they are not against the coming to power of Gaddafi's son following the elections. The Government of National Accord, represented by the Minister of Defense, also announced that nothing could prevent his nomination for the presidency.
The growing influence of Saif al-Islam became evident when his delegation arrived in Moscow to discuss a political settlement of the Libyan conflict. Russia Today channel invited the delegation to its studio, introducing Gaddafi's son as one of the parties to the Libyan peace process.
The emergence of Saif al-Islam has created a dilemma for both sides of the conflict. Forces of the Government of National Accord cannot reach him in eastern Libya, and there is also a threat that he will win the presidential elections if the political process is launched.
As for Haftar, who called Gaddafi's son "poor boy," he revised his position last year and said that Saif al-Islam, as a Libyan citizen, has the right to run in the elections if all the necessary conditions are met. Such a shift in the general's position could be called forced, since harming Gaddafi's son promises him to lose influence in eastern Libya.
Nevertheless, from a military point of view, he saw an opportunity to postpone the political process by launching an offensive operation on the Libyan capital in order to demolish the Government of National Accord. The fall of the latter would increase the chances of the Libyan general in the face of the enemy in the east, which has an extensive network of ties with his most powerful allies at the regional and international levels.
How did Haftar's defeat contribute to the rise of the star of Saif al-Islam?
Last April, Libyan General Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive against Tripoli, one of the last strongholds of the Government of National Accord. However, the balance of power suddenly changed, and the war, which was supposed to end in two weeks, turned into a prolonged 14-month standoff. As a result, Haftar lost the entire west of Libya, including the strategic base of Al-Watya and the fortified city of Tarhuna, the center of its operations in western Libya.
As a result of recent events in the military arena, only the city of Sirte and the strategic airbase of Al-Jufra remained at the disposal of Haftar in central Libya, and their fall automatically means the fall of the entire south, and then the western, central and southern regions of the country will be at the mercy of the Government of National Accord. In other words, Haftar's political clout will return to the level it was in September 2016 when he took over the oil crescent. The region contains 80% of Libyan oil, and the TNC forces are currently planning to return it in the battle for Sirte if it takes place, which is hindered by the states supporting Haftar.
As for Russia, which is on the side of the Libyan general, its support depends on his military successes and is determined by Moscow’s interests. In May 2019, the Government of National Accord in Tripoli arrested two Russians on charges of organizing a meeting with Saif al-Islam Gaddafi and gathering information about the mood of Libyan society in order to influence the results of local elections.
According to information received by the Stanford University Research Center, Wagner private military company, which employed two Russian spies and which fought on Haftar's side in the battles for Tripoli, planned to promote the candidacy of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, and this plan included funding the Libyan Jamahiriya channel, broadcasting from Cairo.
In addition, Russia tried to negotiate with the National Transitional Council on the release of the detainees, and, according to the official statement of the Russian Foreign Ministry, their detention is currently the main obstacle of mutually beneficial cooperation between the two parties. There are other sources reporting on Russia's contacts with Gaddafi's son and negotiations with the National Transitional Council. The parties are discussing the possibility of a deal, according to which Moscow would refuse to support Haftar if the National Transitional Council supports Gaddafi's son.
Al Araby Al Jadeed reported two months ago that senior Egyptian officials from the General Intelligence Service are in talks with Saif al-Islam because they are convinced of his willingness to play a leading role in Libya in the future. For many years, Egypt has been hosting Ahmed Gaddaf al-Dam, Muammar Gaddafi's cousin, and political project sponsor Saif al-Islam. In addition, he currently holds the position of an official and is considered an intermediary between the son of Gaddafi and the Arab countries, which began to take into account the scale of his influence in Libya after recent events.
Although Saif al-Islam is wanted by the International Criminal Court, his lawyer claims that his client has already appeared before a Libyan court and cannot be tried again in another instance. Moreover, he was released under the amnesty law and the decision of the highest legislative body of the Libyan state - the House of Representatives. Therefore, he cannot be prosecuted or deprived of the opportunity to exercise political rights. The Government of National Accord confirmed this.
How did the change in the position of the Qadhadhfa tribe affect the Libyan situation?
Haftar faced threat from the Qadhadhfa tribe on August 20, the ninth anniversary of the fall of the Libyan Jamahiriya, after supporters of the colonel's son tried to organize demonstrations across the country and Sirte became the main arena of fierce confrontation, as it is the birth and death of Muammar Gaddafi, and the main stronghold of the mentioned tribe.
The rift was sparked by mass arrests of tribal members, attacks on their homes, and other acts of violence that they fell victim to. As a result, the tribal council called on everyone to immediately leave the ranks of the Libyan general's armed forces, and the Government of National Accord and the Tobruk parliament announced an immediate ceasefire.
Due to the difficult political situation in Sirte after armed clashes with the Qadhadhfa tribe, Haftar refused to cease fire and fired about 12 Grad missiles at government forces west of Sirte, resulting in another conflict - between him and the speaker of the Libyan parliament, Aguila Saleh Issa. The latter turned to his adversary in western Libya to end the hostilities and proposed a comprehensive settlement. The latter does not imply the participation of Haftar in determining the present and future of the country, which was the main reason for the resumption of hostilities.
Haftar currently maintains fragile alliances in eastern Libya, and the opposing camp is divided into three forces that threaten his future political project. These are the National Transitional Council, which is preparing to start a military operation in the city of Sirte, the camp of Agila Salah Issa, which enjoys international legitimacy and significant support from Egypt and Russia, and the Qadhadhfa tribe. The latter at one time teamed up with the Libyan general against the rebels, which was one of the reasons for the change in the political equation in favor of Haftar.
He fears that the Qadhadhfa tribe will join Agila Salah Issa's camp as the latter has no military forces. In addition, the Qadhadhfa tribe still has the money to buy loyalty and a lot of influence so that the sons of the late colonel can return to power. In particular, this concerns Saif al-Islam, because he still enjoys wide international and tribal support, and large countries insist on the withdrawal of charges from him in the International Criminal Court on the grounds that he can restore stability in Libya.
Read the original text on Sasapost