Gaddafi's Son Could Save Libya If He Becomes the New President

The second son of late Muammar El-Gaddafi, Saif Al-Islam El-Gaddafi, has emerged from prison to run for the upcoming 2018 Presidential election in Libya. To win, he needs to first convince those who count - Libyans.

Roughly 80 percent of the 140 powerful tribes and clans that hold political might in Libya are gearing up to support Saif Gaddafi as the man with the right ginger and experience to patch up Libya following the 2011 NATO-led intervention that saw the ousting and killing of his father.

The historical dynamics of Libya after the 2011 Arab Spring revolution and some of the controversy around the Gaddafi era, means that Saif Gaddafi faces strong internal and external opposition from 15-20 tribes and militias linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State groups in Libya.

They remain uncomfortable with the return of anyone linked with the Gaddafi family. But surprisingly, the overall reaction has and continues to be very positive within the circles that count. Many of the key tribes believe Saif Gaddafi can save Libya from years of strife and instability.

Libya requires a leader that can unify most, if not all its different tribes. If Saif Gaddafi puts forward a convincing strategy that can revitalize the Jamahiriya system (State of the masses)—this time in a more moderate and democratic fashion to align with changing economic and political influences—he stands a further chance to winning Libyans' hearts and minds.

Saif Gaddafi
Journalists watch as the judges (unseen), question Seif al-Islam, the son of slain Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi, broadcasted live from the western Libyan city of Zintan, from inside a room in Tripoli on June 22, 2014.Gaddafi was released from prison as part of a new amnesty law in 2017. He recently said he will run for president in 2018 elections. MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Image

The country's economy needs recharging. Thus, his economic reforms policy, national reconstruction and development programs must exhibit the potential to bring Libya back as one of the energy-rich countries globally. Libyans will be expecting Saif Gaddafi to reinstate the social programs that supported marriage, family, education and healthcare. This is what ordinary citizens miss from the Muammar Gaddafi era.

Muammar Gaddafi kept Libya stable and economically powerful due to his clever mastery of the tribal mentality in Libya. Saif Gaddafi lived under this system and best place to replicate, and at the same time modernize, his father's virtues through a democratic governance that would allow the Jamahiriya system with local, regional and national hierarchy counsel of tribes answering to the president.

Foreign policy will be very complex due to outside competing and conflicting interests in Libya. How Saif Gaddafi uses his experience in diplomacy to manage key actors like Russia, China, U.S., United Nations, NATO, EU, U.K., France, Qatar and Egypt is crucial.

His greatest challenge will be countering terrorism in Libya and the region, a situation exacerbated by fleeing jihadists from Syria and Iraq. But with his international outreach and governance experience, and as a regional unifier and champion for peace, he would have a better chance than anyone else on a sustainable counter-terrorism strategy.

Saif Gaddafi faces strong internal competition with the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli and the Libyan National Army (LNA) alliance to the Tobruk parliament under Gen. Khalifa Haftar in the east.

Haftar seems the most likely alliance for Saif Gaddafi, due to the former's close ties with Egypt, China and Russia and his stance against local militias and radical jihadists elements linked to ISIS and Al-Qaeda in Libya.

Reaction from the U.S. and other major Western states can be gauged by looking at their comments to date. So far these are all 70 percent positive or there has not be any reaction to Saif Gaddafi's announcement at all. At this point, the West is willing to support any leader who can save them from the refugee crisis and instability situation, serving the interest of all parties.

However good the intention of the West may be, ordinary Libyans are very averse to foreign-prescribed governing systems. To regain peace and stability, the people of Libya must be comfortable that they are in full control of their country without any foreign influence.

A successful governing system will have to take the form of a moderate version of the Jamahiriya Tribal system.

If he is allowed to run for president in spite of a 2011 indictment from the international criminal court (ICC) on alleged crimes against humanity, Saif Gaddafi could likely be the leader of a majority rule governance chosen during a free and fair election.

For the interests of Libya, and Libya only, let the best man win.


Dr. Mohamed Zayed, PhD, is the Chairman of the Arab African Council on Socioeconomic Development (AACSED) and the Special Envoy To The Legal and Technical Team Of Saif Al Islam Gaddafi. He is is considered a subject matter expert on Libya and the MENA Region, conflict resolution, peace building initiatives, tribal governance, counter terrorism, counter insurgency, anti-money laundering as it pertains to support for terror and militias by State Sponsors.

David Otto is the Director of TGS Intelligence Consultants Ltd and the Preventing Radicalisation and Violent Extremism Programme – Step In Step Out (SISO) - based in the United Kingdom. He is also Senior Counter Terrorism Advisor for Global Risk International. Follow Otto on Twitter.