A son of former Libyan dictator Muammar Al-Gaddafi has re-emerged in the nation’s politics with national ambitions and a potentially winning issue – bringing Qatar before the International Criminal Court.
Seif Al-Islam was freed earlier this year after being held for six years by a Libyan militia group. According to his lawyer, he has been travelling around Libya rallying Qhaddafi loyalists for a campaign against Qatar and a potential presidential run.
This is not a typical political barnstorming tour. Having been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC), Seif’s location is not publicly known, and he speaks through others. This communications strategy differs substantially from the long bombastic speeches that his father gave during his decades in power between 1969 and 2011.
Seif Gaddafi’s comeback harkens to the past. During his father’s final years, he was the dictatorship’s heir apparent.
Holding a PhD from London School of Economics and an MBA from a school in Vienna,
Seif served as a de facto Prime Minister before the revolution that ended his father’s life in 2011.
Captured by Zintan militias in November 2011 in Southern Libya, he spent six years in the city without trial. Seif Al-Islam was indicted in 2011 by the international criminal court (ICC) for alleged crimes against humanity for his role in using violence to suppress the uprising against his father.
He was also sentenced to death absentia by a court in Tripoli in 2015, in a trial that was widely panned by human rights groups for failing to live up to the rule of law.
He was sentenced to death in absentia by Libya’s central government in 2015 and freed this year. The details regarding his imprisonment and freedom remain unclear.
“In my opinion, he functioned more as an adviser than a prisoner in Zintan. He was certainly an asset to the militia feeding them with institutional knowledge and advising them as they manoeuvre Libyan politics, ” said Suhaib Kebhaj, who worked in Libya following the revolution and now works for an international development organization based in Washington.
Now free Seif Al-Islam has vowed to set-up an international organization focusing on Qatari efforts to meddle in Libya’s affairs. Qatar played a major role in funding insurgent groups that eventually topped the elder Qaddafi and has continued to fund Islamist groups in Libya. While there are increasing calls in the North African nations to hold Qatar to account for its actions, the most radical proposal – that the Emir of Qatar is handed over to the International Criminal Court – is a longshot.
That decision would have to be made by the UN Security Council, and regardless Qatar is not a signatory to the ICC protocol.
Seif’s statement comes not long after the Libyan Attorney General‘s office issued travel bans and warrants against 826 persons including many in Qatar and Turkey.
Seif al-Islam may have his axe to grind against Qatar. One publication reported that Qatar approached late Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh suggesting that he use Seif al-Islam al-Qaddafi as a go-between in negotiations with Al Qaeda.
Though other experts doubt the claim.
“It doesn’t seem credible that Qatar would need to involve Seif Al-Islam to work as a mediator. Qatar could have facilitated direct talks with Al-Qaeda,” said Nabeel Khoury, a fellow with the Atlantic Council and a former U.S. diplomat in Yemen.
“At this point, it is unclear if Seif Al-Islam is truly free, most likely he has some freedom to move around the town of Zintan, the freedom that he earned by cooperating with the local militias. I highly doubt that he is free to move around the country as he pleases. Zintan is not only his jailers but also his protectors. “said Kebhaj, ”I think he speaks for a significant fraction of Libyans regarding real resentment towards Gulf countries’ meddling in the country most notably Qatar.”
Seif al-Islam has not tried to appeal that verdict after being freed. However, a rival faction in Libya, the Tobruk-based government, led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, announced a full amnesty for Seif after his release. Haftar was a military commander in Muammar Qaddafi’s regime.
Representatives of Seif have claimed that he is organizing a counter-terrorism force of his own. The force is said to be assembling near the coastal town of Sabratha with the claimed goal of capturing Tripoli.
Sabratah lies to the north of Al-Zintan in Western Libya and is only 30 miles from Tripoli.
Analysts say given the diminished stature of the Ghaddafi it is unlikely he will be able to rally many to his banner.
However, the son of the former Libyan dictator and graduate of the London School of Economics may have another way of taking the Libya’s capitol city.
The country is expected to hold presidential elections next year. His campaign to denounce Qatar may be part of an effort to re-brand the Ghaddafi franchise in nationalist terms as he positions himself to run for president in those elections.
“Elections are scheduled but, I am not sure they will even take place let alone that Seif could win,” says Oded Berkowitz, a Senior Analyst on North Africa region at MAX Security Solutions. “Seif is banking on the few residual supporters of his father’s regime to help him mobilize support either separately or more likely from within the LNA….but that’s not very likely to succeed.”