Saif Gaddafi’s Flirtations with Reform were Just That


saif.jpgSaif Gaddafi has probably just assured the civil war he warned against in his finger-wagging comments that security forces would fight protesters down to the last bullet. Leading tribal chiefs inside Libya have called out for the Gaddafi government to show restraint and to back off, condemning government for the violence against those mourning at funerals and the indiscriminate shooting and shelling of unarmed crowds by snipers and from helicopters. Hundreds have been slaughtered and many thousands injured.
What is interesting is that Saif Gaddafi is no idiot. He has seen for some time that his father’s government was brittle and fragile — and that a spark could come along and unleash internal rage against those holding incumbent power.
Much to the distress and private anger of Libyan leader Moammer Gaddafi’s chief internal security and military czars, Saif Gaddafi has led a domestic campaign of reconciliation and bridge-building with the Muslim Brotherhood, considered at that time to be the regime’s chief political opponent. At Saif’s urging and with grudging support from his father, various former leaders of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group had been appointed to various key government and semi-government positions of responsibility.
When I was in Libya, three of the LIFG’s top tier — the Emir of the group as well as the head of planning, and of armaments — were taken off of death row and released. I was there and met them and watched the discomfort of the chief of internal security as this was happening. Saif was trying to make the police state his father had built relax its grip and to reconcile with many of those it feared.
Thus, while I am no fan of Gaddafi, the full story of the revolution inside Libya can’t be told without understanding that Saif Gaddafi, a likely successor to his father, believed in certain kinds of reforms and inclusion early — but given the tenor, the arrogance, and distance from reality he exhibited in his televised comments, he showed that he doesn’t understand the public grievances driving this revolution.
There is little hope that any of these regimes in the Middle East really understand what an inclusive, non-totalitarian regime would really look like.
— Steve Clemons


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