Recent reports in Libya are claiming that the son of late Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, Saif al-Islam, will soon address the Libyan people in a speech to announce his his position on the upcoming Dec. 24 elections.
It is not entirely clear whether Gaddafi is actually considering running for the presidency, or if he only intends to support candidates in the parliamentary elections.
However, his return to politics, whether crowned with success or met with failure at the polls, will be an achievement for Gaddafi, who had been for years the expected successor to his father. But since the fall of the regime ten years ago, he has been either chased, imprisoned, or completely cut off from the public life.
Gaddafi was not, in fact, the only candidate to succeed his father. But the many roles he assumed over the years suggested that he was the first and favorite candidate among the colonel’s sons.
Gaddafi’s eldest son from his second wife, Safia Farkash, played a key role in the 1990s in settling Libya’s foreign issues, pertaining to actions attributed to his father’s regime, such as the bombing of civilian planes (Pan American and UTA) and nightclubs (La Belle in Berlin), and many others.
Gaddafi did not only deal with foreign affairs, but also played key roles in improving the image of his father’s regime inside the country by launching the Libya of Tomorrow project, and initiating reconciliation with the Islamists, his father’s staunch opponents
He was hence accepted at the internal and external levels for the succession of the colonel, whenever the latter chose to move away from power. But the uprising of Feb. 17, 2011 came to destroy, not only the succession project, but the entire Libyan authority. The head of the regime and his son, Mutassim, were killed after their capture in their hometown of Sirte in Oct. 2011.
Khamis Gaddafi, another son of the colonel, who led fierce battles in the west of the country, was also killed in an air strike along with his relative, the son of former intelligence chief Abdullah Senussi, near the city of Tarhuna.
Muammar Gaddafi had earlier lost his son, Saif al-Arab, who was not involved in politics, in an air strike that targeted a family home in Tripoli (the raid was likely targeting the hiding place of the colonel).
Saif al-Islam himself almost met the fate of his brothers. He miraculously survived a raid targeting his convoy in Bani Walid, south of Tripoli, where he lost fingers on his right hand. He was arrested by the Zintan brigades in Nov. 2011, after he fled to Ubari in the south of the country.
Amid clear preparations for Gaddafi’s return to the political scene, alleged opinion polls distributed by his supporters put him at the forefront of the contestants in the presidential elections, which are expected to take place in December.
However, serious questions are raised about the legality of such move. Saif al-Islam Gaddafi is wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague since 2011, on several charges, including allegations that he tried to bring in mercenaries to defend his father’s regime during the revolution.
In addition, the Court of Appeal in Tripoli issued a death sentence against him in 2015. The judgment was issued in absentia at the time, as he was being held in Zintan.
Gaddafi was released by his captors in 2017. Since then, he has not made any public appearance, except in an interview with the New York Times earlier this year.
Many Libyan parties say that they are in contact with him. His supporters participated in the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, which produced the new Libyan interim authority (the government of Abdul Hamid al-Dbeibeh and the Presidential Council, headed by Muhammad al-Menfi).
If he runs in the upcoming elections, he is expected to obtain good results within the tribes and cities that used to support his father’s regime and fought with him in the 2011 revolution.
He is also believed to enjoy undeclared Russian support, knowing that the Tripoli government had for years arrested two people it accused of being Russian agents, who were in contact with Gaddafi’s son.
The relationship is somewhat vague between Saif al-Islam and the commander of the Libyan National Army, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar - who may see Gaddafi’s son as an unwelcome competitor.
Saif al-Islam is also likely to face tension with the Islamists who dominate western Libya. In fact, at the beginning of the new millennium, he had an important role in releasing hundreds of Islamists, who were imprisoned by his father. But those turned against him, joining the revolution in 2011. Gaddafi’s candidacy and victory in the elections could raise their fears of a possible retaliation.