Looking At The Gadhafi Family Tree

Host Michele Norris speaks with Frederic Wehrey of the Rand Corporation about the Gadhafi family tree and the political rivalries between Moammar Gadhafi's sons.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

At the heart of the unrest in Libya is a family saga so tangled and rich with rivalries and revenge that it seems worthy of its own television drama. We're talking about the children of Moammar Gadhafi, seven sons and one daughter and their vast network of wealth, power and political influence. It was widely assumed that Gadhafi's sons would have a hand in running the country well into the future. But that's now all in question.

And for more, we're joined by Frederic Wehrey. He's a senior policy analyst at the RAND Corporation. He recently returned from Libya.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. FREDERIC WEHREY (Senior Policy Analyst, RAND Corporation): Thank you.

NORRIS: I want to look at the Gadhafi family tree, and I'd like to think of this as almost as if we're ticking through baseball cards. And if we could just look at the sons and their profiles and their rivalries, as we do this.

And we should begin with Saif al-Islam. He's the best-known of the sons. He speaks very good English. He appeared on television at the height of the protests. Even though he'd expressed no interest in inheriting power from his father, he seemed to be sending a signal that he was very much in power, at least in favor with his father.

Mr. WEHREY: Absolutely. He has long promoted himself as a reformist to the West. Much of this has to do with his polished style, his pedigree. He holds a doctorate from the London School of Economics. He's gone on record publicly as calling for economic and political change. It was therefore quite surprising when we saw him appear on public television, publicly calling for a bloodbath and a crackdown.

NORRIS: Moatesssem is also somewhat well-known in this country because he's traveled to this country, actually appeared with Hillary Clinton. We've seen that picture quite a bit in the news lately.

Mr. WEHREY: Yes. He's the adviser to the National Security Council. At one point, his star appeared to be ascendant. But now, within the past year, he appears to have been marginalized. We saw him disappear from public view.

NORRIS: Khamis?

Mr. WEHREY: Khamis al-Gadhafi is a professional military officer. He's a captain in the Libyan army. He commands the most capable unit in the Libyan army, the 32nd Brigade that serves as the Praetorian Guard for the regime, Gadhafi's palace guard. And this unit is spearheading the crackdown against the protesters.

NORRIS: Hannibal.

Mr. WEHREY: Hannibal is really known as the bad boy of the family. Of course, all these sons have reputations as party animals. But Hannibal really made the news when he was arrested by Swiss authorities for abusing his domestic help. And this really prompted Gadhafi to lash out at the Swiss authorities, break relations with Switzerland to even declare a jihad.

NORRIS: We mentioned Saif al-Islam. There's another Saif, Saif al-Arab.

Mr. WEHREY: Yes. He appeared in reports that he'd gone over to the opposition. Quite frankly, he never appeared on our radar before this. His defection is probably a symbolic blow. But certainly, again, I don't think that should distract us from focusing on the four key sons that really matter in this current crisis.

NORRIS: And who would those four be?

Mr. WEHREY: Well, Saif al-Islam, Moatesssem, Khamis and the fourth that we haven't mentioned is Saadi. Saadi is the third eldest son. He achieved fame primarily as the captain of Libya's national football team. But more importantly, he exerts strong behind the scenes influence on oil contracts, and he's a brigadier in the Libyan special forces. When the Benghazi unrest broke out, we saw him dispatched to placate the unrest. And later on, there were reports that he was actually spearheading military forces that were cracking down on it.

NORRIS: Since you were just recently in Libya, how do Libyans view this, the Gadhafi clan? What do they think of the sons and their influence over the country?

Mr. WEHREY: My sense was that Saif al-Islam was held in higher regard by many Libyan youth as perhaps a beacon of reform and change because he spoke to their aspirations. Much of this was, again, due to his sort of polished demeanor, his sort of fashionable attire, which contrasted sharply to the sort of tired, revolutionary slogans of this regime. I think...

NORRIS: And yet, you see pictures of him holding a machine gun and promising to...

Mr. WEHREY: Which, and again, this...

NORRIS: ...fight to the death, an army supporter.

Mr. WEHREY: Exactly. Exactly. So this - and again, this is when I was -this was the old Saif, the former reformer, as I think we can say.

With regard to the other sons, I think the reports of their excessive lifestyle, their high-profile scandals, the life that they led abroad, this had a negative impact on the country. I mean, first, it's an embarrassment to the people. And secondly, it calls into question where is all this oil wealth going. And it's the classic case of family rule and that the lavish lifestyle enjoyed by the few is not enjoyed by the many.

NORRIS: Frederic Wehrey, thank you very much for joining us.

Mr. WEHREY: Thank you.

NORRIS: Frederic Wehrey is a senior policy analyst at the RAND Corporation.

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