Late Muammar Gaddafi’s son, Saif al Islam, is likely to reemerge in the Libyan political scene that appears fractured. A militia group based in the Libyan city of Zintan has set him free since June 2017.
Saif al Islam had been released under ‘General Amnesty Law’ passed by the Libyan House of Representatives. At this juncture, it will be crucial to ponder on his intents.
He wants to initiate a peace mission, but international law has a different story to tell about his past political actions. In 2011, he had quelled a rebellion against the ruling regime of his father.
A court in Tripoli has sentenced him to death in absentia two years back. He had been facing an arrest warrant from International Criminal Court for ‘crimes against humanity’ at the time of his capture in November 2011. Before the 2011 civil war, he was believed to be a moderate, unlike his deceased father.
But the Libyan government filed an appeal on this decision, stating that Saif al Islam should be tried at home. His legal case has become a matter of national importance in Libya. Contrarily, Human Rights Watch believes that Saif al Islam’s defence trial was not presented fairly by his attorney.
At his return to politics, Libya is going through a chaotic phase and the government doesn’t have a unified code of conduct. There is a Tripoli based National Accord Government (GNA) and the Tobruk based House of Representatives (HoR). The HoR have their loyalty with Libyan National Army under General Khalifa Haftar.
In 2016, the Libyan National Army, winning the support of local tribes, and gaining strides in and around Benghazi, was involved in instigating rifts between the rival government factions and seized oil ports namely Es Sider, Ras Lanuf, Brega and Zueitina.
These ports, previously under Petrol Facilities Guard, had made a pact with GNA to end a three-year economic blockade. Islamic State had attacked oil ports of Raus Lanuf and Es Sider last year. Since then, Benghazi Defense Brigades are also attacking Libyan National Army posts.
Western government backs GNA but General Haftar, who controls eastern Libya, is supported by Egypt and UAE for his anti - Islamic State standpoint. He has also been tainted as an agent of erstwhile Gaddafi regime and a divisive figure who is hell bent to establish a military dictatorship. His stances have also prolonged the conflict in Libya.
In December 2015, UN brokered Libyan Peace Agreement (LPA) where it was decided that a Presidential Council will preside over GNA. However, it became mandatory for Tripoli based GNA to be endorsed by Tobruk based House of Representatives (HoR). However, on two occasions, the HoR turned down the list of GNA ministers and they also want the current Presidential Council to be dissolved.
Regional analysts believe as long there is a rift between the governing entities, the Islamic State will take full advantage of this divide. At the present, there are ‘city states’ that are scrambling for power in western and southern Libya. There is also dominance of tribes in central and eastern Libya.
Most of the Libyan masses seem to have varying loyalties. It also indicates as if there are multiple governments running in Libya, not one. How will Saif al Islam change that? It remains to be seen.
Libyan Central Bank, which oversees oil business, enjoys a lukewarm relationship with the Presidential Council. Statistics suggest that the armed conflict and political disputes have reduced Libya’s oil production to about 200,000 barrels per day (bpd) from the 1.6 million (bpd).
Libyan government believes that the Islamic State is regrouping after their fallout in 2015-2016. Many of the new recruits are coming from Syria and Iraq, escaping the air raids from the Russians and the Americans.
Under the Trump administration, ‘precision air strikes’ against the Islamic State have regained their course. It seems that only a stronger military apparatus can defeat the Islamic State.
Post Gaddafi era, thousands of rebel fighters had stormed through the city of Sirte and operated in ‘small cells’.
When Islamic State launched a suicide attack in Misrata in early October this month, it was believed to be a revenge killing against killing of militias from Misrata, where the government forces had intents to wipe out rebels from Sirte.
The government, to get hold of the situation, has compiled a report on the cause of extremism in Libya. It is also raising the bar of its international diplomacy to pacify internal threats. The government also ordered arrest warrants for around 800 militias lately.
Libyans, over the course of time, have expected nothing from the peace talks. At this moment of time, it will be interesting to see what kind of role Saif al Islam will play.
Does he have the charisma left to start a political settlement? It seems that he has long lost power and also the trust of his people. As a leader, can he unite his country when he presumably has blood on his hands?
Varying political sentiments make perplexing conclusions. Many Libyans think that the noose should hold him, while there is a parallel faction that believes he can regain support of common Libyans and get them out of dubious forces. The coming time will be the biggest test for Libya.