Saif al-Gaddafi breaks his silence in interview with The New York Times

Gaddafi's son emerges as candidate for Libya's presidential elections

photo_camera AFP - Saïf al-Islam, Muammar Gaddafi's favourite son and successor.

On 17 February 2011, Libya experienced what was called the Day of Anger, which gave way to a wave of demonstrations, protests and clashes, framed in what were called the Arab Spring, and which aimed to overthrow the Gaddafi regime, the government of the Great Jamahiriya. The revolts were successful in that sense, the Gaddafi regime not only fell, but the Libyan leader was executed at the end of that year in the last stronghold that his supporters had in the town of Sirte. 

More than nine years after the end of the Libyan war, Seif al-Islam, son of dictator Muammar al-Qadhafi and former heir apparent, has not relinquished his position as leader of the country. Saif el Islam al-Qadhafi, whose whereabouts have been unknown for years, is in Libya and has broken his silence in an interview published by The New York Times, in which he fuels rumours that he aspires to be the country's next president.

REUTERS/GORAN TOMASEVIC - Un combatiente rebelde sostiene una bandera del Reino de Libia y un cuchillo durante un bombardeo de soldados leales al l铆der libio Muamar Gadafi en una batalla cerca de Ras Lanuf, el 4 de marzo de 2011

In what the newspaper presents as the first contact with a foreign journalist in a decade, al-Gaddafi describes the time he spent as a prisoner after the fall of the regime in 2011 and offers his view of the situation in the country, which has been in chaos and civil war ever since.

In 2011, after four decades of undivided power, Muammar Gaddafi and his family members fell to a popular uprising, eliminated, imprisoned or forced into exile. Three of Qadhafi's sons had been killed, but the fate of the fourth, Seif al-Islam, long considered his father's successor, remained a mystery. Seif al-Islam, was captured in the southern city of Sebha by Zintan militias on 19 November 2011, a month after his father was beaten to death in the central city of Sirte, while reportedly trying to flee the country across the Niger border, and transferred to Zintan.

REUTERS/ASMAA WAGUIH  -   Una pancarta rota que muestra a Muammar Gaddafi se ve en un edificio durante los enfrentamientos entre los combatientes anti-Gaddafi y las fuerzas de Gaddafi en Sirte el 12 de octubre de 2011

In 2015, after a highly criticised trial in which he did not participate, he had been sentenced to death by a court in Tripoli, a sentence that was not recognised by his captors, who always refused to hand him over both to the various authorities in the capital and to the international court. Since July last year he had been living in a regime of semi-freedom, still controlled by the Zintan militias, allied with Marshal Hafter, but free to receive all kinds of visitors. Appointed head of the tribes of western Libya, he has formed a platform of nostalgics of the former regime who are very active in Tunis and western Tripoli, calling for the return to power of the Gaddafi family as the only way to resolve the crisis in the country, according to the Times, and continues to reside in that area, where a journalist from this newspaper went to talk to him in person, and where his former captors are now his "friends", according to him.

One of the controversies surrounding the Libyan dictator's son was his claim that Libya financed the 2007 election campaign of the current French president, Nicolas Sarkozy. It all stemmed from a journalistic investigation launched in July 2011 in the online newspaper Mediapart, by journalists Fabrice Arfi and Karl Laske. In March and April 2012, they published reports on the basis of a document provided by former Libyan leaders in hiding, written in Arabic and dated December 2006, in which it was stated by the country's secret services that there was "an agreement in principle" to help Sarkozy in his race for the Elys茅e Palace. The dossier bore the signature of Musa Kusa, who spent 15 years at the head of Libya's intelligence services and is considered to be the mastermind of the attack on Lockerbie in 1988 and on a French airliner in Niger in 1989.

REUTERS/BOB STRONG - Tumbas de los rebeldes libios muertos en la lucha contra las fuerzas gubernamentales de Muamar Gadafi se alinean en la ladera de una colina en Nalut, en las monta帽as occidentales de Libia, el 3 de agosto de 2011

For a time, however, the French politician, like many other European and African leaders, maintained an ambivalent position of ambivalence towards Gaddafi. He visited the country, attended its festivities, but then, during the NATO operation to topple him in autumn 2011, he was a staunch activist, as he and his collaborators have now taken it upon themselves to recall in order to confront this unprecedented situation.

In the conversation, he does not confirm rumours that he will run in the elections scheduled for December, but he makes it clear that he sees himself as the leader of a movement capable of reunifying the country and that he is preparing his return. Al-Qadhafi argues that the various figures who have led Libya in recent years fear elections and are against a "government that has legitimacy from the people". For now, however, he does not seem interested in openly launching himself into the political arena: "I have been away from Libyans for ten years," he says.

LPHOTO/AFP - Los libios conmemoran el 17 de febrero el d茅cimo aniversario del inicio de la revoluci贸n que derroc贸 al dictador Muamar Gadafi, una ocasi贸n p铆rrica para muchos, en un pa铆s a煤n sumido en el caos

With a PhD from the London School of Economics in 2008, Seif al-Islam became in those years the friendly face of al-Gaddafi's regime and a well-connected potential successor in the UK and Italy who tried to sustain his father's attempt at reconciliation with the international community. A policy he maintained in the first months of the outbreak of the Libyan revolution and NATO's intervention by offering to hold elections, an offer that was rejected by the rebels.

Despite progress towards a political solution for Libya after a decade of violence and chaos, most of the country is still controlled by armed groups, corruption is rampant and external powers involved in the conflict have not withdrawn. Since last March, power has been in the hands of the National Unity Government (GNU), elected by the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LDPF), an unelected body set up by the UN outside the hitherto warring governments to unify the country, maintain the ceasefire and steer it towards the next elections. 

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