Son of former Libyan ruler Gadhafi running for president

November 14, 2021
Son of former Libyan ruler Gadhafi running for president

The son of Libya’s late dictator Moammar Gadhafi registered on Sunday as presidential candidate in December’s planned election as disputes rage over the rules of a vote proposed as a way to end a decade of violence.

Seif al-Islam al-Gadhafi, 49, appeared in social media photos in traditional brown robe and turban, and with a grey beard and glasses, signing documents at the election centre in the southern town of Sebha. An official confirmed he had registered.

Gadhafi is the first major presidential hopeful to submit his candidacy to run for president. Also widely expected to announce their bids are eastern military commander Khalifa Hifter, parliament speaker Agila Saleh and former interior minister Fathi Bashaga.

Despite the public backing of most Libyan factions and foreign powers for elections on Dec. 24, the vote is still in doubt as rival entities squabble over the rules and schedule.

Seif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, sitting, registers as a presidential candidate for Libya’s Dec. 24 election, at the registration centre in the southern town of Sebha on Saturday. (Khaled Al-Zaidy/Reuters)

A major conference in Paris on Friday agreed to sanction any who disrupt or prevent the vote, but with less than six weeks to go, there is still no agreement on rules to govern who should be able to run.

While Gadhafi is likely to play on nostalgia for the era before the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that swept his father from power and ushered in a decade of chaos and violence, analysts say he may not prove to be a front-runner.

The Gadhafi era is still remembered by many Libyans as one of harsh autocracy, while Seif al-Islam and other former regime figures have been out of power for so long they may find it difficult to mobilize as much support as major rivals.

Moammar Gadhafi was captured outside his hometown of Sirte by opposition fighters in Oct. 2011 and summarily shot.

His son Seif al-Islam remains something of a cipher to many Libyans, having spent the past decade out of public sight since his capture the same month by fighters from the mountain region of Zintan.

He gave an interview to the New York Times earlier this year, but has not yet made any public appearance speaking directly to Libyans.

Tried in absentia for war crimes

Complicating his presidential ambitions, Gadhafi was tried in absentia in 2015 by a Tripoli court at which he appeared via videolink from Zintan, and which sentenced him to death for war crimes including killing protesters during the 2011 revolt.

He was released in June 2017 after more than five years of detention in Zintan.

Seif al-Islam would likely face arrest or other dangers if he appeared publicly in the capital Tripoli. He is also wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of crimes against humanity allegedly committed in the first weeks of the 2011 uprising.

ICC spokesperson Fadi El Abdallah declined to comment on Seif al-Islam’s candidacy.

“The Court doesn’t comment on political issues, as for the legal side there is a pending warrant of arrest and that hasn’t changed,” he said.

Educated at the London School of Economics and a fluent English speaker, Seif al-Islam was once seen by many governments as the acceptable, Western-friendly face of Libya, and a possible heir apparent.

But when a rebellion broke out in 2011 against Moammar Gaddafi’s long rule, Seif al-Islam immediately chose family and clan loyalties over his many friendships in the West, telling Reuters television: “We fight here in Libya; we die here in Libya.”

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