The Rebirth of Khaddaffi: How Muammar’s Son Can Win in the Elections


The son of Libyan leader Muammar Khaddaffi (who was executed during the civil war) will be taking part in the presidential elections in 2018. As was reported by the family’s press agency, the forty-four-year-old Saif al-Islam Khaddaffi will soon present his pre-election program, which will include procedures that “he hopes will be approved by the UN and which are capable of helping Libya move away from the current transition period towards stability”.  

It became known earlier that Saif al-Islam had been freed from captivity in Zintan. Representatives of the ‘Abu Bakr as-Siddiq’ group (who had been holding the politician), had mentioned earlier that Khaddaffi had been let go through an amnesty which had been declared by the country’s parliament.

About the candidate

Saif al-Islam Khaddaffi in many areas began as a liberal politician; he studied at the London School of Economics and Political Science and restarted economic relations with Great Britain. He received his education in Austria and the UK, and later received a PhD from the LSE for a dissertation about the role of civil society in the democratisation of international institutions and ‘soft power’.

In addition, Khaddaffi junior busied himself with charity and actively participated in the life of his country and region. In particular, in 2010 his charitable foundation contributed means towards the recovery of the gas sector after the blockade. 
Serious problems with the West began during the civil war when he was accused of corruption, and during the war itself he immediately came under pressure as son of the leader and his loyal co-belligerent.

From the 23d of October he took command of the forces resisting the Libyan National Transitional Council and swore to avenge the death of Muammar Khaddaffi.

“We are continuing to resist,” – he said in a message to the people, - “I am in Libya, I am alive, free and determined to fight to the end and get revenge.”

Khaddaffi junior separately emphasized that he has forces which fought against ISIS (a terrorist organisation forbidden in Russia), illegal immigration, and smuggling.

He was imprisoned since 2011. Rumours of torture and pressure reached the rest of the world, and in the first few years there was talk of a potential death sentence. However, the overseers in Zintan refused to execute the court’s sentence, and already in June 2017 ‘Abu Bakr as-Siddiq’ confirmed that he had been freed in July 2015.

It is important to note that Khaddaffi senior saw Saif al-Islam as the main candidate for is successor when he was still alive.

Composition of forces

From the moment of the coup and the killing of Khaddaffi chaos reigned in Libya, in the political, economic, and criminal sense of the word. A balance of dual power between the governments in Tobruk on the one hand and in Tripoli on the other. Tobruk is led by general Khalif Khaftar, who has fought on the side of Muammar Khaddaffi; Tripoli is ruled by the government, which has enlisted the support of the West. The balance of power is formally controlled by UN agreements, but in practice the papers carry less and less meaning. 

Taking into account the multiplicity of other actors (both political and openly criminal) on Libyan territory, attempts to restore peace and order in the country are currently failing. A massive number of African refugees is located in Libya, the level of criminal activity remains extremely high, and there are many different military groups. has earlier written in detail about the alignment of forces in Libya.

Khaddaffi’s realistic possibilities

The West will probably declare Khaddaffi’s candidature to be illegitimate for alleged criminal activity. The International Criminal Court accuses him of ‘crimes against humanity’. However, this will not prevent him from taking part in the elections, as this is a Libyan domestic matter. There is a precedent, as the Kenyan leader Uhuru Kenyatta took part in the elections in 2013 and won.

Before Khaddaffi declared his participation, experts were examining scenarios for the creation of an ‘integrated military structure’: the creation of a military council in which all active political actors would solve problems related to terrorism. The possibility of the formation of a new government after the elections is not excluded. 

If Khaddaffi takes part in the elections, new perspectives are possible. Sceptics say that the young leader has no chances of strengthening single rule in Libya as it will be impossible for him to collect a sufficient number of loyalists against Tripoli. The Warshefana tribal militia are allies of Khaddaffi, and they have recently managed to maintain control over the region around Tripoli and have encountered resistance from forces out of Zintan; if they had been allies earlier, now they are probably competing for influence over checkpoints and roads. 

On the other hand, Khaddaffi is popular, especially in the southern regions. In the west of the country, too, entrepreneurs would like to see a successor of the former, stable regime. Nostalgia for the times of Khaddaffi senior is also visible: the image of the father, under whose rule the country prospered, is carried over to the son. The people are tired of war, criminality, and divided power: they want peace. 

The scepticism will disappear in the case that Khaddaffi manages to secure an alliance of his allies with the forces of general Khaftar and/or Zintan and separate groups; then Tripoli's domination can collapse. Khaftar has good relations with Egypt and the UAE, and Moscow is leading a dialogue with him on the same level as it does with Tripoli. Khaftar has recently had talks with the military based in Tripoli and on whose loyalty Sarajj’s security depends. 

Apart from this, judging by developments, Tripoli is losing the support of the US. For example, at a meeting with US president Donald Trump, the prime minister did not manage to get more active interference from Washington nor guarantees of his personal safety. Although the fact of the visit itself speaks of the White House’s continued participation in Libyan affairs, in practice we are year by year seeing the strengthening of the positions of Khaddaffi family supporters.