After being absent from the public eye since his father Muammar al-Gaddafi was assassinated in 2011, Saif al-Islam appeared on the political scene with a bang. With a long beard, turban and fluttering gloves, not unlike the outfit his father wore. He quoted the Koran when announcing his candidacy for president.
“God always wins, even if the unbelievers hate it,” he said in a video published in connection with the launch of the candidacy.
A whole new image for a man who has a doctorate from the London School of Economics, dated an Israeli photo model and spent his holidays with the royals of Europe.
Captured and sentenced to death
The election scheduled for December 24 comes after several years of political chaos in Libya. Libya also had its Arab Spring, which ended with the despot having to leave. The country’s longtime leader Muammar al-Gaddafi was overthrown by militia groups, aided by NATO and Norwegian F16 aircraft.
Saif al-Islam was one of his father’s close supporters and tried to flee the country. He was captured and imprisoned in the city of Zintan. Since 2015, he has been wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for crimes he committed while he was his father’s political supporter. A Libyan court sentenced him to death the same year. He was released from prison after being ousted by one of the country’s two rival governments amnesty in 2017.
One country, two competing governments
After the dictator was overthrown, several groups have fought for power and the country now has two governments, competing for power. One government in Tripoli led by Abdulhamid Dabaibe, and one in Tobrok, led by General Khalifa Haftar. The first is approved by the UN and receives military support from, among others, the United States and Turkey. General Haftar receives support from Russia, Egypt and France, among others. Now the UN hopes that the presidential election can lead to the country having one government and less chaos.
A UN-appointed commission has long worked for this election to be conducted in a way that is accepted by the militias in the country.
Read more about Libya after the fall of Gaddafi her.
– Chaos most likely
– Libya is ruled by militias that fought against Muammar al-Gaddafi, they will never accept that his son becomes the country’s leader. That’s what Professor Knut Vikør says.
He does not give Saif al-Islam great chances to win the presidential election.
– The most likely is that none of the candidates get enough support and the country is led out into even more chaos, says Vikør.
The support he has is in his own clan and among Libyans who long for the time when his father, Muammar al-Gaddafi, ruled the country. In addition to Gaddafi, there are many other lesser-known candidates. One of the country’s most powerful men, General Khalifa Haftar, is currently not approved as a candidate. But this has been appealed.
The courts in the country reflect the political situation in Libya; they are divided by regional dividing lines.
Gaddafi got his candidacy approved by a court in Sabha, in the south of the country, where the Gaddafi family is strongest. Haftar was excluded from participating in the election of a court in al-Zawiya, a city where he has many enemies, says Vikør.
Doubts whether the election will be fair
Human Rights Watch is concerned that the election may be conducted in a way that does not expose those who are to vote for danger.
– Libya needs this election, to move forward, said Hannan Saleh, senior researcher at HRW til Aljazeera.
Salah urges world leaders to put pressure on Libya so that:
“People can cast their vote in relative security and get the best possible chance for free and independent elections,” Saleh said. She was unsure whether the current Libyan authorities are able to conduct elections without discrimination and harassment of both voters and candidates.
Knut Vikør is one of many who believe that it is highly uncertain whether a presidential election will take place in Libya on 24 December.