Saif al-Islam Qadhafi is gathering momentum

Libya

Published on Friday 17 May 2024 Back to articles

Saif al-Islam Qadhafi – 2021

Saif al-Islam Qadhafi is creating somewhat of a stir, with support for Muammar Qadhafi’s son and heir apparent picking up pace, including in some unexpected places. Last month Zintan’s Abu Bakr Sidiq Brigade held a large military parade and released a video statement expressing its support for him. This force — which is headed by al-Ajmi al-Atiri, and mainly comprises fighters from the Awlad Issa tribe in Zintan — is famed for having captured Saif al-Islam as he tried to flee to Niger in 2011. 

The statement prompted a wave of expressions of support from other groups and areas, including from Wershefana, Bani Walid and Ajaylat, as well as from the Youth Union of Sabratha. The Supreme Council of Fezzan Tribes and Towns also expressed its backing for Saif al-Islam, as did the Social Council of the Tuareg Tribes. Ghat, which is mainly Tuareg came out in support of Saif al-Islam, while parts of the Qadhadhfah, Mashahiya and Sia’an tribes also followed suit. 

While the Abu Bakr Sidiq statement was surprising, most of the areas, tribes and organisations that rallied round and expressed support are strongly associated with the former Qadhafi regime and were largely reluctant to back the revolution in 2011. For many years afterwards these elements were reticent to voice their support for the former regime, including for Saif al-Islam, fearing the consequences. However, ever since his controversial surprise appearance in Sebha in November 2021, when he registered his candidacy for the presidential elections that were meant to go ahead in December 2021 but did not take place, these areas have become more emboldened. They are increasingly vocal in their backing for the former leader’s son, and he is attracting more support. 

Saif al-Islam has growing support in these areas and tribes, which are spread across different parts of Libya. That includes the towns and areas of Bani Walid which is home to the large Werfella tribe, Wershefana, Ajaylat, Ragdaleen, Rajban, Jumail and Sirte in the west and centre. It also includes tribes that have a strong presence in the south including the Qadhadhfah, Hassowna, Miqarha and the Awlad Suleiman. He also has the backing of some Tuareg.

This is not to suggest that all branches of these tribes are ready to stand behind Saif al-Islam. Tribes do not operate as single units in this way. Furthermore, some have somewhat complicated relations with the Qadhadhfah. In the aftermath of 2011, some parts of the Awlad Suleiman who were opposed to the regime clashed fiercely with the Qadhadhfah in Sebha. However, these problems appear to have been largely smoothed over, and some parts of the Awlad Suleiman, which is currently aligned with Khalifa Haftar, could well switch sides. 

Saif al-Islam has also resolved the problems he had with some parts of the Qadhadhfah, who blamed him for the 2011 uprisings and for the regime’s collapse. These elements believed that that, through his reformist project during the 2000s, he had empowered and enabled certain elements to challenge the status quo. They pointed out that many of the key figures who led the uprisings and who took over the country’s nascent transitional institutions in 2011 were part of his Libya al-Ghad (Libya Tomorrow) reformist project. More importantly, many of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) prisoners who Saif al-Islam released from prison under his deradicalisation ‘reform and repent’ initiative made up the front lines of several rebel forces which took up arms against the regime. Some parts of the Qadhadhfah were so angry that they denounced Saif al-Islam with one disgruntled member going as far as to try to assassinate him in Tripoli before he fled in 2011. 

He has been working hard to repair his relations with his own tribe and the situation looks to have been largely resolved. The Qadhadhfah — as well as other tribes linked to the former regime, especially in the south — could provide deep pools of support for Saif al-Islam in any presidential race. The south is a critical area for him and besides Sirte, is where he has the greatest backing. It is here that he can tap into the growing sense of disillusionment and feeling that the region has been totally ignored and marginalised by the governments in both the east and the west. This feeling is sufficiently strong for the south to have recently demanded the establishment of its own government to serve as a counterbalance to the two coastal based governments and to defend the interest of the south. 

There is also some limited support for Saif al-Islam in the east but, because of the Libya Arab Armed Forces’ (LAAF) heavy handed repression in the region, the extent of this support is difficult to gauge. However, he certainly has the backing of some elements of al-Bayda’s al-Barassa tribe which is that of his mother, Safiya Ferkash. This month fans of the local Green Club football team began chanting pro-former regime slogans during a match against a team supported by one of Khalifa Haftar’s sons. They were punished for their actions, with the leader of the Green Club’s fan organisation being arrested. While some of the east would probably baulk at a Saif al-Islam return, he is likely to have pockets of support in the region from former Qadhafi regime loyalists and figures, as well as among certain sections of some of the eastern tribes.

...Continued…

This excerpt is taken from Libya Focus, our monthly intelligence report on Libya. Click here to receive a free sample copy.

The May 2024 issue of Libya Focus also includes the following:

Politics

  • Khoury’s arrival meets with a muted response…
  • Implications
  • Saif al-Islam Qadhafi gathers momentum…

Foreign Relations

  • Growing concern at Russia’s role…

Security

  • Gold smuggling case brings trouble in Misrata
  • Clashes to the south of Zuwara

Energy & Economy

  • Oil Minister Mohamed Oun’s suspension is lifted
  • House approves the GNS’ 2024 Budget…

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