Center for World Conflict and Peace

Center for World Conflict and Peace

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Can we take Saif Qaddafi seriously?

The New York Times published an interview with Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi in which Seif declared that the regime had struck an alliance with the Islamists and he declared that "Libya will look like Saudi Arabia, like Iran."

It is very doubtful that such alliance has happened. Islamists are fundamentalists, but they are not stupid. The last thing they'd do is hitch their sail to a sinking ship called Qaddafi's Libya. Moreover, it is very doubtful that Muammar Qaddafi himself is willing to turn his back from his own Green Book. Not to mention the questions such as who would be the new "Ayatollah" of Libya? It is very doubtful that Libyan Islamists will approve the selection of Qaddafi as an "Ayatollah" and far less likely is the idea that Qaddafi will be willing to put himself under the power of or share his power with an "Ayatollah." 

Still, we cannot consider this simply as the last gasp of a delusional and desperate regime.

One thing that the Qaddafi's regime has been good in doing since its creation is in dividing and conquering its enemies, resulting in a very fragmented state, with tribes at each other throats and nobody really sure what's going on, except Qaddafi himself.

With the regime's survival at stake, the regime has been quick to seize any on sign of fragmentation within the rebel groups, which may not that difficult to do. The rebellion was in essence a mishmash of various tribes and people from various ideological backgrounds united by a single goal of overthrowing the Qaddafi regime. As the rebellion has been ongoing for months, the early euphoric sense of unity is steadily being replaced with the sense of tediousness. This situation is ripe for dissension and splits within the movement. The mysterious killing of General Younes and two of his colleagues may or may not have been orchestrated by Tripoli, but the effect is very beneficial for the Qaddafi's regime: it exposes the rift within the rebels' movement.

Saif Qaddafi's courting the Islamists is the latest attempt by the regime to launch a two-prong attack to undermine the opposition. First, it tries to create a rift within the rebel movements, who are generally suspicious toward the Islamists. While the Islamists may not interested in defecting to Tripoli, the insinuation from Saif is enough to create some questions within the rebel movements regarding the reliability of the Islamists.

The second prong of attack is directed toward the Europeans and the United States, who are providing military aid to the rebels. By stressing the Islamist element within the rebellion, Qaddafi is hoping that the U.S. and the Europeans will take a second look toward helping the rebels and instead push for a negotiable solutions to the Libyan conflict. In essence, the question is whether the US and Europe should aid the rebels, and indirectly, the Islamists within it, even though there's a possibility that the Islamists may hijack the revolution, like the Salafis might be doing in Egypt.

In any case, this offer inadvertently exposes a long term question on post-Qaddafi Libya: after the dust settles, what kind of Libya will emerge from the ruins of Qaddafi's regime?

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