Last month Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh visited Bani Walid, southwest of Tripoli. He visited the mountainous city, visited some government institutions and met with local officials and civil society leaders. The visit was the first of its kind by a Prime Minister and marked a new government approach to Bani Walid, long considered the center of support for the late regime of the late Muammar Gaddafi; he sent a message of reconciliation across the divided land.
Home to Libya’s largest tribe, the Warfalla, Bani Walid was the last town to fall to NATO-backed rebels in October 2011. Its fall literally ended the Gaddafi regime in what has become ” Libyan revolution ”. Since then, the city has been closed to the new authorities of the country because it has become a rallying point and a refuge for former supporters of the regime.
It paid a heavy price when in 2011 it was overrun by a coalition of militias aimed at flushing out Gaddafi’s supporters and bringing the city under Tripoli control. However, the invasion failed to break the city’s strong pro-Gaddafi position. Instead, Bani Walid won the support and sympathy of the public from all over Libya, and his tribal members and social leaders became a leading voice for reconciliation in the country.
The reconciliation process was officially launched by the Presidency Council and Bani Walid is likely to once again play a leading role in bringing Libyans together as they prepare for the elections scheduled for December 24. It is in this context that we read recent press articles claiming that Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi, the late leader’s son, is considering running for president later this year.
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However, his representative living in exile abroad told me that Gaddafi has not spoken to any media recently and that the media reports are only speculation. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the 58-year-old former university professor confirmed that Gaddafi is “in good health and well inside Libya and that he is in indirect contact with the Libyan people, regularly receiving visitors “. His whereabouts, however, “cannot be disclosed” for obvious security reasons.
Gaddafi junior took refuge in Bani Walid when he fled Tripoli after it was taken by the rebels in August 2011, at the end of the war. In the city where he enjoys respect and support, he has been offered shelter and protection. If, indeed, he decides to run for president in December, he will certainly be a serious candidate.
He was captured on November 19, 2011, while trying to leave Libya, shortly after leaving Bani Walid. In July 2015, Gaddafi and eight former officials in his father’s government were tried and sentenced to death by a court in Tripoli. His captors, the Zintan militia west of Tripoli, worried about his safety and refusing to hand him over to court, his trial was conducted by video link.
Since then, the elected parliament of Libya has adopted law number 6/2015 which mandated a general amnesty under certain conditions for all crimes committed between 2011 and 2015. Saif Al-Islam Gadhafi’s representative confirms that the amnesty law general applies to him “since the Supreme Court recognizes this [the law]”This explains why he was released from prison on June 11, 2017. However, he is also wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Nevertheless, his representative believes that all the legal problems facing Gaddafi are behind him, including that of the ICC. This gives him the legal right to stand for election. Whether it is final or not is another matter.
When asked if Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi was ready to run in the December elections, his representative replied that it was up to him to decide. “He will make his decision in due course… depending on the circumstances inside Libya.”
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Since 2011, Libya has experienced a series of wars and the near total collapse of government services. Such failures have served to rekindle the belief that former regime supporters should have the chance to run the country. The state has been deprived of experienced bureaucrats who know how to run the country as they did for decades under Muammar Gaddafi.
In 2013, the parliament, under pressure from armed militias, was forced to pass the law on political isolation. This notorious law, condemned by international rights groups, has deprived the country of thousands of experienced civil servants. Fortunately for Libya, the law was overturned by the new parliament in 2015. This allowed former regime supporters to return to the country and participate in the political process again. A handful of former Gaddafi officials now openly hold key government positions.
Gaddafi supporters also took part in the UN-led Political Dialogue Forum that produced the current government of national unity last February. Even Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi’s political team took part in the dialogue which resulted in the appointment of Prime Minister Dbeibeh and the election of a new Presidential Council. This development opens the door for former supporters of the regime to seek political representation.
Kadhafi junior could he, despite everything that happened, come forward to “save the country” as his representative says? Many Libyans still have some nostalgia for their days under Sr. Gaddafi, especially when it comes to security and stability, but translating such sentiments into votes will be difficult.
Observers believe that the Libyan people have now tasted the new political reality of their country, which has cost them dearly. Others think that the people are not yet ready to welcome another Gaddafi even if it is said that Saif Al-Islam is not his father. The only thing that is certain in all of this is that the late Muammar Gaddafi is still popular in Libya, although he was killed ten years ago. Can his son take advantage of this popularity? This is the question we are waiting for an answer.
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