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Saif Gadhafi: How A Reformer Came To Embrace Libya's Violent Crackdown

Saif al-Islam Kadhafi, son of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, waits for the arrival of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan at Tripoli International Airport on April 5, 2008. i i

hide captionSaif al-Islam Kadhafi, son of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, waits for the arrival of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan at Tripoli International Airport on April 5, 2008.

Mahmud Turkia/AFP/Getty Images
Saif al-Islam Kadhafi, son of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, waits for the arrival of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan at Tripoli International Airport on April 5, 2008.

Saif al-Islam Kadhafi, son of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, waits for the arrival of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan at Tripoli International Airport on April 5, 2008.

Mahmud Turkia/AFP/Getty Images

In a piece posted, yesterday, on New York Magazine's website, the publication tries to unravel the mystery of Saif Gadhafi, the son of Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi.

It's a long piece, but it's fascinating and certainly worth your time. Saif al-Isaalm Gadhafi, the piece argues, was Libya's hope at reform. He spoke openly about it and 2002, it was Saif who negotiated Libya's nuclear and chemical disarmament. And it was Saif whose dialogue with the West culminated in the U.S. posting an ambassador to the country in 2008.

Saif received a doctorates from the London School of Economics in 2008 and according to NYM, he said Libya needed democracy during dinner-time conversations with American lobbyists he had hired to make Libya's case in the U.S.

The magazine reports that at the height of his reformist stage, Saif gave a speech that essentially created a gulf between him and his father:

In August 2008, Saif, at the height of his popularity, was preparing to go to Washington. Before he left, he gave a speech at an annual youth gathering, as he had done for the past three years. But this speech would prove to be his most infamous. He claimed that Libya had been in "stagnation for decades." In a swipe at his father, he said, "we want to have an administrative, legal, and constitutional system once and for all, rather than change ... every year." Referring to George Orwell's Animal Farm, he called Arab countries with their ruling families a "forest of dictatorships."

It's unclear why Saif took his criticisms so far. Some think he was flush with recent diplomatic successes. Others, however, believe he was beginning to realize that changing Libya was a fool's errand. Most of his family, content with their fiefdoms, still seemed indifferent to the problems. "There wasn't much evidence of reform," says Sandra Charles, the head of C&O Resources. "There were too many people around Qaddafi who had more persuasion."

But just as the uprisings began in February, his father called him back home. And, suddenly, Saif became a mirror image of his father. Perhaps a case-in-point is one interview we pointed to in late February. A defiant Saif first denied that there was any kind of revolt happening in Libya and then said the family would never leave Libya. "Plan A is to live and die in Libya," he said. "Plan B is to live and die in Libya. Plan C is to live and die in Libya."

So what happened?

Talking to people who've kept in touch with Saif, New York Magazine lays out a few possibilities. One of them is that Saif went home and tried to council his father in favor of reform. After a NATO bombing killed his younger brother, Saif al-Arab Gadhafi, though, all bets were off.

The other is that he felt the country slipping away from his family's grasp and he reacted with his "true nature:"

His father told him this is a tough country, and once in a while, you have to kill some people," Ali Errishi [former Minister of Immigration and expatriates in Libya] says. "Saif didn't have that in him. But now that it's been taken away from him, he wants to show his father that he's tough enough to win a war—against their own people."

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