A couple of months ago when the UN-sponsored ‘Government of National Accord’ (GNA) was sent to take control of all national institutions, Libya was already being ruled by two different, rival parliaments: the Islamist-dominated ‘National Salvation’ government in Tripoli and the internationally recognised parliament based in Tobruk in the east.
The actual result of this painstaking UN brokered peace process is that Libya now has three rival governments instead of two: and none of them appears capable of governing or unifying the once stable nation. But the UN-backed GNA might be the least capable of the three and has just suffered an embarrassing vote of no confidence: members of the Libyan House of Representatives have voted against the UN ‘Government of National Accord’ by 61 to 1 (source).
Not that this is necessarily surprising; on its arrival in Tripoli at the end of March, the GNA leaders found Tripoli’s airspace closed to them and had to arrive by boat. So much for all of the UN’s diplomatic efforts: the same UN, remember, that didn’t bother to send any fact-finding operations to Libya in 2011 to try to ascertain whether there was really any basis for authorizing the NATO military intervention to force regime change.
So, to recap. The UN-backed government appears to have already failed. There are now 3 separate ‘governments’ in Libya. And the US has just begun military operations in ISIS-held Sirte, with France recently having to admit to having already been carrying out secret operations in the country.
Making sense of post-Gaddafi Libya is very hard work.
From 2014, the plethora of armed militias at large in the chaos-riddled country due to the 2011 mercenary war seemed to have gathered around either the Libyan National Army (backed by the secular ‘House of Representatives’) or the Libyan Dawn Coalition (dominated by the Islamist parties). That said, there are also roaming factions of jihadists and terror groups in various places, seemingly answerable to no one.
And it is against this confused, chaotic backdrop that reports emerged some months ago suggesting that Saif al-Islam Gaddafi – the eldest son of the late Libyan leader and one-time ‘Golden Boy’ of Libya’s political future – had been released from his detainment, having previously been sentenced to death.
It is difficult to work out whether this story is true. It was broadly reported at the time (albeit in a very low-key manner, with mass media reticence), but most news out of Libya has become increasingly difficult to verify or cross reference.
So is Saif Gaddafi at large? And how relevant would that be to the bigger picture mentioned above?
Saif Gaddafi’s lawyer reported that Saif had in fact, “been given his liberty on April 12, 2016″, this being in accordance with an amnesty law passed by the Tobruk parliament. Saif had been captured by the Zintan militia shortly after his father and brother were murdered by NATO’s Libyan death squads in Sirte in October 2011. The International Criminal Court had demanded Saif be handed over to them; but the Zintan refused.
After fierce fighting, when the Islamist Libya Dawn faction took control of Tripoli, Saif, along with dozens of other officials of Gaddafi’s former state were put on trial for their life. However, the Zintan militia – allied to the more secular Libyan National Army – again refused to hand him over.
After a cowboy trial dominated by the Libya Dawn militias and condemned by human rights groups, Saif was sentenced to execution, along with eight other former officials of Gaddafi’s Socialist Arab Republic. But the trial was never recognised by the government in Tobruk.
It was reported that in the 24 hours after word has gotten out of Saif’s recent release, Green Libyan loyalists across different cities and towns were holding up images of Saif and shouting out his name: evidence, if any were needed, that even five years on from the French/American-led NATO destruction of Libya, there is still massive support (pictured above) from the Libyan people for the former Libyan republic.
A British lawyer seemed to confirm Saif’s release, saying that his death sentence had been quashed. Karim Khan QC said he was now petitioning the international criminal court to drop its charges against Saif, which would allow him to travel abroad without facing arrest.
The Guardian noted, however, that ‘The claim could not be independently verified, and neither the UN-backed government in Tripoli or Zintan authorities has yet commented on the report, while some disputed it.’
And according to the Tripoli Post, Libyan officials were denying it.
According to Al-Monitor, however, Saif ‘has already started contacting people inside Libya and abroad who are supporting him, trying to come up with his own plan to salvage the country.’
The report continues, ‘The majority of tribes that supported his father in the 2011 civil war see him as a savior, and they are willing to support him as their de facto leader in any political process to bring about national reconciliation and reunify the country. This is especially true since the United Nations-brokered political dialogue and the Government of National Accord have so far failed to deliver stability and security, let alone anything tangible to alleviate the hardships Libyans are facing on a daily basis, which include power cuts, shortage of money in the banking system and soaring prices.’
Al-Monitor goes further and claims to have ‘learned, by having been part of these discussions’ that ‘tribal leaders who support Seif are willing to accept him as their only representative, or what is known in tribal customs as “next of kin”.’
This is a highly significant suggestion: could Saif Gaddafi, sentenced to death by Libyan militias and wanted on spurious ‘War Crimes’ charges by the ICC, be seen as the only national figure suitable as a unifier?
The going-full-circle irony of this state of affairs would be immense.
Mass rallies of pro-Gaddafi Green loyalists were occurring all throughout the violent, bloody events of the 2011 war and NATO intervention, including one march that was estimated to have been the largest protest in world history. Such rallies even continued on after Muammar Gaddafi’s murder, but the reign of terror that ensued by NATO-backed criminal gangs and death-squad militias suppressed such public gatherings or displays of loyalty to the former Libyan state.
This forced many Gaddafi supporters and Green Libyans into hiding, while many thousands were rounded up by the militias and some hundreds are estimated to have been summarily executed. That hasn’t, however, stopped a slow, steady resurgence of pro-Gaddafi activity and public displays of loyalty to the former Libya.
When word about Saif’s release broke some months ago, an RT journalist distills the essence of Saif Gaddafi’s liberty; ‘What is so significant about his release… is what it represents: the recognition, by Libya’s elected authorities, that there is no future for Libya without the involvement of the Jamahiriya movement.’
In a tribal society like Libya, the tribes — particularly the major tribes such as Warfalla and Tarhuna — are absolutely crucial for establishing any successful settlement in the ravaged country. This is a key fact that those behind the initial Libyan intervention in 2011 and those trying to maneuver its aftermath have utterly failed to appreciate, with clueless Western officials frequently displaying a completely dismissive attitude towards the tribes.
This isn’t just some quaint quirk of Libya either, but a key factor in various other Middle Eastern or African societies, such as a Western/American ally like Jordan.
As many British political experts noted in light of the Chilcot Report and the Americans’ utter lack of respect or understanding of Iraqi society in their post-war planning, the Americans have absolutely no idea about Arab societies whatsoever.
The British, by comparison, have traditionally been much better informed and able to think more intelligently, going back to even the imperial days and the role and influence of famous ‘Arabists’ like T.E Lawrence and Gertrude Bell, among others; but, as veteran Conservative politician Ken Clarke recently argued in response to the Chilcot Report, the Americans – going into Iraq – completely dismissed any need for such experts in the region; the British were also largely sidelined from post-war planning in Iraq, allowing the Americans to completely dismantle every element of the Iraqi state (and dismiss all those who had worked for it) and create the sectarian quagmire that exists to this day in that country.
The same extraordinary levels of ignorance occurred in Libya, with Hillary Clinton and others in her sphere completely dismissing any significance to Libya’s tribal make-up: and neither the French nor the British, in their blind rush to remove Gaddafi, appeared to have given the matter any thought either.
There are thought to be something like 140 tribes or clans in Libya, with 30 or so of these being particularly influential. Even in the early months of the 2011 ‘uprising’, it was reported widely that several hundred tribal elders gathered in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, for what was described as widespread show of support for Gaddafi.
It is interesting that, of the many Libyan refugees in Tunisia, almost all of them still hold onto great love for the former republic under Gaddafi and are from tribes that were loyal to the regime, such from Sirte, Bani Waled or Warshefana. A young woman speaking in this 2014 article from The World Weekly – and who spent months in various prisons after the fall of Gaddafi, in which she describes being beaten with pipes and repeatedly raped by a militia leader – essentially says she was waiting for the return of Saif al-Islam, who was seen as the only hope.
Saif Gaddafi has the loyalty of many, many Libyans – that is to say, natural, indigenous Libyans, as opposed to the foreign jihadists and the foreign-backed militias or internationally imposed ‘governments’. He, crucially, also has respect from many of the tribes.
I noted with curiosity as well that internationally recognised authorities in Libya recently allowed Muammar Gaddafi’s widow (and Saif’s mother), Safia (pictured below with the late Libyan figurehead), back into the country as part of a new attempt at ‘national reconciliation’. This would be the first time Safia has set foot in her homeland since her husband’s murder. This also might suggest a wind change in Tobruk.
Ever since the day Muammar Gaddafi was brutally murdered in Sirte in October 2011, there has been nothing but continuous failure in Libya to establish any kind of unity or workable future; and some of this has to be down to Western sponsors’ failure to respect the tribal nature of Libya. And it may be, if some experts are to be believed, that Gaddafi’s eldest son, Saif, emerges from the brink of execution as the one figure who might be able to make the difference.
That he could also garner mass support is very likely.
When the Islamist militia court passed the death sentence for Saif last year, people in multiple Libyan cities and towns came out onto the streets in protest, holding up pictures of Saif and his father; this even happened in places under ISIS or Al-Qaeda control, where doing this was extremely dangerous.
But this also somewhat echoes the unconfirmed report earlier in the year that the late Libyan figurehead’s daughter, Ayesha Gaddafi, was secretly maneuvering to return to Libya and announce herself leader of a Libyan people’s resistance and movement for national unity. The claim about Ayesha Gaddafi (pictured below) was difficult to validate and international media entirely ignored the story; the story now concerning Saif Gaddafi appears much more substantial, but the media has mostly downplayed this story too.
This could be because Western mainstream media and Western governments alike do not want any ‘Return of the Gaddafis’ or resurgence of Green Libya; they do not want any reversal of the collapse that was accomplished in 2011.
In part, this might also be because the corporate media went to such lengths to help bring about that collapse by propagating the false narratives and fake stories about what had really gone on in Libya in 2011. And having engaged in all of that deception – and having also gloried in the downfall of Gaddafi himself – to now, five years on, have to report on normal Libyans supporting or calling for a return to the old republic and chanting the name of Gaddafi’s eldest son would be not just counter to Western policy and geopolitical needs, but also just downright embarrassing.
Saif was long regarded a reformer and democracy advocate in Libya, prior to the 2011 catastrophe: in fact, a WikiLeaks document in early 2011 suggested Libya was headed towards further democratic reforms and possible elections just prior to the foreign-orchestrated bloodbath.
Many Libyans – even those who might’ve had reservations about Saif beforehand – came to respect him even more when, instead of fleeing or trying to protect his own career, he remained in Libya in 2011 and supported his father. More than that, he had actually been abroad when the trouble had started and had gone home specifically to help defend the Socialist Republic. He had even openly admitted that he bore some guilt and responsibility for having been so involved with Western and European leaders and institutions and thus allowing Libya to lower its guard and become vulnerable to international duplicity: and yet, when that betrayal was in process, he came home to try to protect and preserve the country, at risk to his own life.
Saif himself, who in the midst of the 2011 crisis (pictured below greeting Green Libya loyalists in 2011) was openly bitter about the extent to which he felt he had been betrayed by his many Western and European friends and allies, would probably not be someone most Western policy makers would want to see reemerge: not just because he is a Gaddafi and not just because he would seek to restore the country and expel all of the imported terrorists, mercenaries and jihadists, but because he is someone who has been wined and dined by the Western elites and powers and is intimately aware of them (Saif was, at one point, being befriended by everyone from Tony Blair to the Rothschilds) – and moreover, having been so comprehensively betrayed by them, he is not likely to cooperate with their agendas ever again.
In short, he could never be the puppet leader that the West wants. One suspects even ISIS would be preferable to Saif. The irony is that, had the 2011 conspiracy never happened and had the Western governments simply waited for things to develop organically, Saif probably would’ve been very amenable to Western influence and interests in his steering of the political situation in Libya.
All of this forces me to wonder how Western, particularly American and French, policy makers will react if not only Assad survives in Syria, but Saif Gaddafi emerges as the most potent figurehead for re-unifying Libya.
Imagine if Assad continues to preside over a re-unified and sovereign Syria and a Gaddafi begins to gather mass support to move towards not only unification, but restoration of the former Libyan republic. Then the brutal covert, regime-change wars that were inflicted on both nations in 2011 will have ultimately failed – albiet, only after several years of vast bloodshed and destruction.
Somehow, I can’t imagine Washington putting up with that.
And it is unfortunate that these turns of events are happening just as Hillary Clinton presidency might be imminent. Hillary – especially given that she was a central player in the wars on both Libya and Syria (and was famously filmed celebrating Gaddafi’s violent killing) – will most likely seek to take measures to prevent both scenarios. She has already stated her intention to ensure Assad doesn’t remain in Damascus as being one of her “first priorities” when she comes into office. We can safely imagine that she wouldn’t tolerate either Saif or Ayesha Gaddafi – or anyone else connected to them – gaining momentum in NATO’s and Hillary’s Libya.
Which brings us to the matter of renewed military intervention in Libya.
US forces are already active in Libya again, and official statements have suggested there is “no end” currently foreseen for those operations. So are US forces just there to fight ISIS? Or are they also there to stick around and make sure the Green Libyan movement doesn’t experience its second coming?
There are question marks over what the US raids in Sirte are really about, along with the French military presence in general. They could legitimately be trying to weaken or drive out the ISIS presence (which is only there in the first place thanks to French, American and other Western military efforts, remember) for the sake of the weak, ineffective and corrupt puppet ‘government’ it has put in place to preside over the chaos as foreign entities finish siphoning off all of the country’s former wealth and resources.
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook has said they don’t see “an end point at this particular moment in time.”
Libya’s unity government has faced backlash from the parliament and its rival government in the east for calling in US airstrikes in the jihadist stronghold of Sirte – Gaddafi’s birthplace and a town which ISIS has been allowed to virtually take over, also thought by some to be the location of the Islamic State’s so-called ‘caliph’ or global leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Protests also in July erupted in Libya over French military operations conducted inside the country without local authorities’ consent.
In fact, it seems all of the major players in the 2011 conspiracy are again active in Libya.
Leaked reports have suggested the British SAS may have been on the ground in Libya for months already – just as they had been in the early weeks of the 2011 crisis, when they had been secretly hunting for Gaddafi and aiding ‘rebel’ militias at a time when British and international officals had been insisting they weren’t interested in regime change or assasination, only a ‘ceasefire’. And earlier this year senior Conservative politicians in Britain attacked what they saw as a ‘disastrous’ plan to station some 1,000 UK troops in Libya.
Which, again, could all genuinely be for the sake of fighting ISIS and other jihadists and cleaning up their own mess. But given the extraordinary levels of blood-soaked deception and duplicity all three governments – and much of the international community – employed in 2011 to topple Gaddafi’s government and install jihadists into Libya in the first place, it is almost impossible for us now to not be very suspicious about motives.
Vijay Prashad argues that the GNA only authorises foreign military operations in Libya because the UN and Western governments are denying them $67 billion of Libyan money that it will only give back to Libya if the foreign agenda is served. He writes, ‘When the Libyan government requests US airstrikes, it does so not of its own volition but because of the conditions for the release of its own money.’
But again, could this renewed Western military presence be more to do with halting any movement back towards the old Libyan national identity? Hushed talk of this resurgence of Green Libyan loyalists or ‘Green Resistance’ isn’t just about rallies or chants.
On January 18th, when a group of armed fighters assaulted an air-force base outside the city of Sabha and expelled the forces of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan’s government (we can use the word ‘government’ loosely), reports spread that the Green Flag of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya was raised again in a number of cities. International media was virtually silent on the matter, while the ‘government’ was reticent in providing details.
When writing about Libya in general, we have to be very careful; as there is a constant absence of verifiable information. These days there are always rumours or unconfirmed reports of things, but everything is a sea of uncertainty.
The Green Resistance is reported by some to be becoming an increasingly influential force within the Libyan National Army, which serves the country’s elected House of Representatives, and there have been suggestions that the LNA has been recruiting from among tribes loyal to Gaddafi. But if the Sabha story was true, it serves as a reminder that ‘Green Resistance’ fighters can be a significant force, particularly in the south – which is where there is the most popular support. Given time, and with enough organisational ability, a movement could coalesce in the south of Libya that could potentially claim and hold territory.
It could even lead to the creation of an independent state of sorts in the south. A major figurehead – like a Saif or Ayesha Gaddafi – could make that happen. And from there, anything could happen – and the old, sovereign nation of Libya could be restored.
The question is, in relation to that possibility: what would the US, France and the rest of the ‘international community’ do if that started to happen? And might they, in fact, be taking measures already to prepare for that?
Wherever Saif Gaddafi is – if he is free from detainment now – I hope he has very good protection being given to him. In fact, it actually struck me as being possible that the reason Libyan authorities and even the Zintan seemed to deny Saif’s release might’ve been to protect him and throw observers off the scent.
Related: ‘Is Ayesha Gaddafi Leading a Secret Resistance in Libya?‘ ‘Saif Gaddafi: The Man Who Could’ve Brought Liberty to Libya‘, ‘The Story of Sirte: From Proud Libya to ISIS Caliphate‘, ‘The Libya Conspiracy: A Guide to the Crime of the Century‘, ‘Libya After Gaddafi: The Humiliation of the Failed State‘…