Scenarios of Saif Gaddafi's candidacy for the presidency of Libya
Saif al-Islam in Zintan after his 2011 capture. Photograph: Ammar El-Darwish/AP

The VOA – Voice of America website revealed that Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi, son of former Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi, is considering running for the presidential elections, which will be held next December.

The site stated that the possibility of Saif’s appearance in the elections worries Western diplomats and international democracy advisers, who say that the turbulent peace process in Libya has enough major obstacles, stressing that the participation of Gaddafi’s son in the process will be further complicated because he is a highly polarizing figure.

“It is still not clear if he will actually run or not,” says Claudia Gazzini, a researcher at the International Crisis Group. “I will only believe it when I actually hear him or see him in a video announcing it.”

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Following the fall of the Gaddafi regime in 2011, Saif, who was considered one of his most important symbols and a candidate to succeed his father, was arrested by a militia in the town of Zintan, 136 kilometers southwest of Tripoli, before he was released in 2017, and disappears from view. He is also wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes.

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Hafiz Al-Ghwail, a fellow at Johns Hopkins University’s Foreign Policy Institute, said he did not think Seif had made up his mind. “But if he did, I think he would have a lot of support,” he adds.

Observers believe he is popular with the tribes in the south of the country and will be able to convince many ordinary Libyans, exhausted by a decade of conflict, who will see him as their best bet for a stable future. But they maintain that his candidacy also risks provoking more violence.

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Earlier this year, pro-Gaddafi media in Libya claimed that General Khalifa Haftar, who rules eastern Libya, and his son Saddam, were plotting to kill Seif, due to his presidential ambitions.

“There are certainly many Islamists and non-Islamists, who would plan to kill him because of his role during the revolution,” says Wolfgang Bostai, who worked in Libya as a defense attache to Austria between 2007 and 2011 and is a senior advisor at the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy.

There has been much talk in Libya since 2017 that Gaddafi’s son, who presented himself during the final years of his father’s rule as a reformer, might one day try to return to political life. Some Libyans say he could have saved a lot of pain for his country if he had turned on his father on the eve of the 2011 uprising, which friends say he seriously considered.

Since 2011, Libya has been experiencing conflict between East and West and a number of militias. Encouraged by the United Nations and Western powers, last March, Libya’s opponents agreed on an interim government to run the country until parliamentary and presidential elections on December 24.

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