A court in Libya has approved Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of the late dictator Muammar Gaddafi, to run in the upcoming presidential election. Experts believe that Gaddafi may be able to win the support of Libyans that yearn for the stability of his father’s regime before the civil war. Other Libyans are outraged that Gaddafi can run in the election despite his prior conviction for war crimes during the revolution.
History of the Gaddafi Family
Colonel Muammar Gaddafi ruled Libya for 42 years, his son serving as his right-hand man and heir-apparent. Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown in a bloody civil war in 2011, caused by a NATO-backed intervention and Libyan protests as part of the Arab Spring. Without structural plans of what was to come after the regime, Libya fractured into regional militias that utilized force to obtain political power. Today, control of Libya is split between the official government and the Libyan National Army, with ISIS maintaining a sizeable influence in the country. The upcoming presidential election is thought to be a crucial factor in bringing the country political stability and ending its 10-year crisis.
After his father’s fall in 2011, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi was captured by a Libyan revolutionary militia. In 2015, he was sentenced in absentia to the death penalty for war crimes, including killing protestors during the revolution. He was held captive in the northwestern town of Zintan until his release in 2017. Gaddafi’s sentence was eventually overturned for violations of due process and the United Nations called on Libyan authorities to surrender Gaddafi to the International Criminal Court (ICC). As of December 2021, Gaddafi still has not been brought to the ICC and is still wanted for crimes against humanity committed during the civil war.
After a decade of silence, Gaddafi reemerged in November 2021 to register as a presidential candidate. While he was initially disqualified for his prior conviction, he successfully appealed the disqualification and is permitted to run for Libyan presidency. While considered to be a controversial candidate, Gaddafi is thought to appeal to voters among certain tribes and regions which benefited under his father.
Complications to the election process
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi is one of numerous divisive candidates for the Libyan presidential election. Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army, was originally disqualified from the race for his prior conviction of war crimes committed during the civil war. Like Gaddafi, Haftar appealed his disqualification and was permitted by the Tripolis Appeal Court to run as a presidential candidate in the election. Abdul Hamid al-Debeibah, leader of the interim government, also added his name to the list of candidates despite his pledge to not run for the presidency. Due to a number of court cases against candidates such as Gaddafi, the electoral commission has yet to announce a finalized list of candidates for the election poll.
It is still unknown when the presidential election will take place. Originally scheduled to be held on December 24, the election was called off just two days beforehand by the Libyan parliamentary committee. While the country’s High National Electoral Committee suggested pushing the election to January 24, 2022, the parliamentary committee refused, stating that an election on this date would have the same fate as the one originally set for December 24. UN convoy Stephanie Williams called upon the parliament to “live up to its national responsibilities” and address recommendations to push the election process forward. While western governments looked forward to this election as the opportunity to unite a fragmented country, it is becoming increasingly uncertain if there will be a peaceful devolution of power.
The January issue of the IELR will have a more comprehensive discussion of Gaddafi’s war crimes allegations and the current issues facing the Libyan presidential election.
 Matthew Loh, The son of Libyan despot Muammar Gaddafi has been OK-ed to run for president, even though he was convicted and sentenced to death for war crimes, Business Insider, December 3, 2021.
 Bill Bostock, The son of Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan despot whose toppling characterized the Arab Spring, emerged in public for the first time in 10 years to run for president, Business Insider, November 15, 2021.
 Matthew Loh, supra.
 Peter Beaumont, ‘War weary’ Libya reflects 10 years on Gaddafi and Arab spring, The Guardian, April 26, 2021.
 Bill Bostock, supra.
 Stephanie Nebehay, The UN says Gaddafi son’s trial was unfair and that he should be sent to the ICC, Business Insider, February 21, 2017.
 Heba Saleh, Gaddafi’s son given the go-ahead to run for Libya presidency, Financial Times, December 2, 2021.
 The Prosecutor v. Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi, Case No. ICC-01/11-01/11.
 Bill Bostock, supra.
 Heba Saleh, supra.
 Middle East Eye, Libya’s parliament refuses to set new date for presidential election, December 27, 2021.
 Egypt Today, Libyan court allows Khalif Haftar back to presidential race, December 6, 2021.
 Middle East Eye, supra.