In his first interview with a foreign journalist in a decade, Muammar Gaddafi’s son, Saif Al-Islam, told the New York Times that he was a free man living in Zintan and was organizing a political return in a bid for president, describing his return to the lives of Libyans after over a decade of ousting and killing his father, as that of a slow move of a stripper to play with the minds of the spectators.
“I’ve been away from the Libyan people for 10 years,” he said. “You need to come back slowly, slowly. Like a striptease.” He laughed. “You need to play with their minds a little.” According to the lengthy report of the New York Times.
The reporter of the New York Times, Robert Worth, said Saif’s presidential campaign pitch is the kind that has worked in many countries, including in the US: The politicians have brought you nothing but misery. It is time for a return to the past.
“They raped the country [Libya] — it’s on its knees,” he said. “There’s no money, no security. There’s no life here. Go to the gas station — there’s no diesel. We export oil and gas to Italy — we’re lighting half of Italy — and we have blackouts here. It’s more than a failure. It’s a fiasco.”
The article says that “A victory for Saif would certainly be a symbolic triumph for Arab autocrats, who share his loathing of the Arab Spring. It would also be welcomed at the Kremlin, which has bolstered strongmen across the Middle East and remains an important military player in Libya, with its own soldiers and about 2,000 mercenaries still on the ground. “The Russians think Saif could win,” a European diplomat with long experience in Libya told me. Saif appears to have other foreign backers; he was cagey with me on that front. Libya has been a proxy battleground in recent years for a number of foreign powers, including Egypt, Russia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. But it is hard to know how much influence they might have on an election. For the United States, which led the NATO campaign that helped oust Saif’s father, the revival of the Qaddafi dynasty would be an embarrassment at the very least.”
Saif Gaddafi also faces a serious obstacle from abroad: He is wanted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court, based on his role in the 2011 crackdown.
The article further reminds that he was tried in a separate proceeding in Tripoli in 2015, making appearances by video link from a cage in Zintan, and was convicted and sentenced to death by firing squad. (He is entitled to an appeal under Libyan law.)
Saif told the New York Times that he was confident that these legal issues could be negotiated away if a majority of the Libyan people choose him as their leader.
“Saif returned again and again to the idea that Libya has not had a state since 2011. The various governments that have claimed power since then, he said, have really just been gunmen in suits. [It’s not in their interest to have a strong government.] He said. [That’s why they are afraid of the elections.]” He went on.
“They are against the idea of a president. They are against the idea of a state, a government that has legitimacy derived from the people.” The corollary could not have been clearer: Saif seems to believe that only he can represent the state for all Libyans.” The report adds.
Robert Worth says: “There was something conspiratorial in the way Saif spoke those cynical words. He seemed to have felt that he could trust me, that I would be a willing partner in the seduction of his fellow Libyans. But behind the smoke and mirrors, Saif is the same callow figure he was a decade ago. His long years in the wilderness have taught him nothing. He still talks about democracy and says it’s important for Libya to have a free and fair election. He is right that the revolution has brought disaster to Libya, that the country is in some ways worse off than it was under his father. But he seems to have gained no understanding of what his fellow Libyans have been through. He doesn’t even seem to care. When I asked whether he sympathized at all with the feelings that led protesters to call for change in 2011, his answers were categorical: [They were evil people, terrorists, devils.] I asked for his take on the other Arab uprisings. He said: [The foolish Arabs destroyed their countries,] without a moment’s hesitation.”
Worth said Gaddafi even went on to say he had no real criticisms of his father’s 40-year rule: “Maybe some of the socialist policies of the 1980s had gone too far,” he said, “but his father recognized this and modified them.”
Worth asked about Gaddafi’s Green Book, the Mao-style pamphlet that Qaddafi forced on Libyans from childhood on, with its weird mash-up of quasi-socialist theories and banalities (“women are females and men are males”). Wasn’t some of that a bit crazy?
Saif answered: “It was not crazy. It talked about things everybody is now recognizing. All kinds of ideas that have grown popular in the West — public referendums, employee stock-ownership plans, the dangers of boxing and wrestling — had their origins in the wisdom of the Green Book.” Saif said.
Saif was asked about his own reading habits and he cited an American writer named Robert Greene, which Worth had to look him up, and Greene, it turns out, was the author of best-selling advice books that are popular with hip-hop stars on how to get ahead and get laid.
Talking about Abu Salim, Saif told the reporter confidently that most Libyans now believe that the regime was too lenient and ought to have killed all the prisoners in Abu Salim.
“Go to Benghazi,” he said. “Ask anyone. They will tell you, ‘They didn’t finish the job.’” And When asked if he endorsed the belief that massacring 1,200 people was a good idea or if he was merely repeating it, Saif said he believed there was “excessive use of force” at Abu Salim.
“But he has clearly mastered the Trumpian tactic of dog-whistling to his most bloody-minded followers. He breezily and knowingly repeated the false claim that the Abu Salim victims were all Islamist terrorists, saying, [People have seen what they have done in the past 10 years.]” Worth remarked.
Saif was asked about his experience as a prisoner without power in Libya since 2011, and he seemed baffled by the question, telling the reporter: “We’re like fish, and the Libyan people are like a sea for us. Without them, we die. That’s where we get support. We hide here. We fight here. We get support from there. The Libyan people are our ocean.”