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November 15, 2021
10 years after the death of long-time Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, his son is running for president in Libya.
In 1969, a 27-yo military officer named Muammar Gaddafi led a coup that brought down the government of Libya. For 42 years he ruled the country as one of the most eccentric and repressive leaders on Earth. Amid the Arab Spring in 2011, rebels picked up guns to take him down. And with the help of US and NATO bombs, they succeeded.
On Sunday, almost 10 years to the day of Gaddafi’s death, another Gaddafi announced he is trying to rule Libya: Muammar’s son, Seif al-Islam Gaddafi, said he will run for president.
Libya fell into chaos in the 10 years after Muammar’s death: Rebel groups divvied up the country, terrorist groups spread, and the official government was left nearly powerless. One militia’s attempt to take over the whole country sparked a full-blown civil war in 2019. That raged for 15 months, then various groups came together to form a “unity government.”
To the surprise of many, that government has brought some stability to Libya. It has also promised to hold presidential and parliamentary elections by year-end, and the candidates are now stepping forward. On Sunday, Seif al-Islam Gaddafi declared his candidacy.
Seif was an enigma who disappeared for 10 years. Before the Arab Spring in 2011, he was known as being one of the most liberal-minded people of influence in the Libyan government.
He studied at the London School of Economics, spent extensive time abroad, spoke fluent English, and said the keys to Libya’s success would be democracy and human rights. That contrasts with his father, who spoke of himself as akin to a prophet reuniting Africa; was responsible for bombings that killed hundreds of Americans and Europeans; and ran a totalitarian state that made him an international pariah.
When the rebellion began in 2011, many hoped Seif would be a moderate voice that would enact reforms the protesters were calling for. Instead, he sided with his father, warning of civil war, terrorism, and chaos. “All of Libya will be destroyed,” he said, while promising to fight and die for the country. For his role in trying to suppress the uprising against his father, he would be convicted in absentia of crimes against humanity and sentenced to death.
But in 2011, Seif disappeared after rebel gunmen stopped his car. They held him as a prisoner until 2014, after which no one heard from him for 7 years. People didn’t know if he was alive or dead.
Then this past summer, he gave an interview to the New York Times, in which he said that Libya would turn back to a Gaddafi – him – because the revolution brought nothing but chaos.
“They raped the country — it’s on its knees,” he said in the interview. “There’s no money, no security. There’s no life here... It’s more than a failure. It’s a fiasco.” Meanwhile, many of his warnings from 2011 – of war, division, terrorism, and so on – came true.
It’s unclear how an election in Libya will proceed, however reports from people there suggest that Seif may be a frontrunner. Could he put the Gaddafis back on the throne?
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