Seif al-Islam: From Libyan reformer to hardliner

Entrepreneur, artist, politician and bon vivant – Seif al-Islam Gadhafi always loved to put on a show.

The eldest son from late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s second marriage – with six younger siblings and an elder half-brother – the 39-year-old Seif al-Islam emerged as the strongest of his brothers in public life. he was also said to be his father’s favorite.

Seif al-Islam had, for a time, been perceived as something of a reformer by Western observers. But, unlike some of his brothers, he remained loyal to his defiant father until almost the very end.

Seif al-Islam grew up in Tripoli and studied architecture at the Al-Fatih University. After completing his bachelor’s degree and a year of military service, he went to Vienna, where he studied economics.

Bildunterschrift: Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift:  Complaints were made about Seif al-Islam to the London School of Economics

After studying at the private university IMADEC, he graduated with a Master’s in Business Administration and went on to study at the prestigious London School of Economics (LSE).

His dissertation was published in 2008 under the title “The role of civil society in the democratization of global governance institutions.” Although Libya may have nominally been a republic, there was little trace of democracy in the country during his father’s 42 years in power.

Luxurious student lifestyle

Seif al-Islam was no typical academic. According to the British daily newspaper the Guardian, he enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle. In 2009, he even bought a 10-million-pound (11.7 million euro, $15.8 million) house – with eight bedrooms, a sauna, a swimming pool and a suede-lined cinema.

In 2004, politically active Libyan exiles in Britain had accused him, in an open letter to the LSE, of not taking his studies seriously and damaging the school’s image. the authors asked the university to refuse to allow him to study further. It was not until February of this year, however, that the institution first distanced itself from the Libyan leader’s son.

Indeed, many politicians in the West held Seif al-Islam to be someone to take seriously – and regarded making his acquaintance as a key to securing access to Libya’s vast oil reserves. unlike his father, he spoke very good English and his Western appearance helped him to win the confidence of others.

Friends in high places

While studying in Vienna, he was friends with the late right-wing populist Austrian politician Jörg Haider. This did not seem to put off influential British figures such as the Labour party grandee Lord Peter Mandelson and the financier Nathaniel Rothschild. According to the Guardian, they were believed to have maintained their contacts with the Libyan. 

Bildunterschrift: Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift:  the uprising prompted Seif al-Islam to warn of a civil war that would kill thousands

As a 25-year-old, Seif al-Islam founded the Gadhafi International Foundation for Charity Associations. he described the body as a non-governmental organization and served as its president. the foundation supported development and mission work at home and abroad but, despite its non-governmental status, it increasingly became an instrument of Libyan foreign policy.

As president of the foundation, Seif al-Islam mediated repeatedly in efforts to absolve Libya of any direct links with terrorism. In 2004, the foundation agreed to pay $35 million in compensation for the bombing of the La Belle discotheque in Berlin in 1986, which killed three people and left more than 200 injured. he also handled the negotiations over damages for the victims of the Lockerbie bombing in 1988. Libyan secret service agents were linked with the incident, in which a Pan Am flight was attacked over Scotland killing 270 people.

In 2008, five Bulgarian nurses and a doctor of Palestinian origin were freed from a Libyan prison after spending eight years in custody. Seif al-Islam admitted in public that the five had been tortured and forced to write a confession that they had deliberately infected hundreds of patients with the HIV virus. Seif al-Islam was praised by Western media for his openness over the issue.

From friendly face to hardliner

The colonel’s son served for a long time as the friendly face of the Libyan regime. he declared himself in favor of political and economic reform and embarked on a project for constitutional reform in 2007. he also founded a private television station and Libya’s first two private newspapers. At the same time he made no secret that he believed nobody should rein in his father’s power. Just like the sons of leaders in Egypt, Syria and Yemen, Seif al-Islam was being groomed as a successor to his father.

The nearest competition that he faced on that front was from his younger brother Mutassim, who in 2007 was appointed head of the country’s national security council and who – like his father – was killed in October.

Bildunterschrift: Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift:  Moreno Ocampo said Seif al-Islam played a major role in violent repression

It was when the protests against the Libyan regime began in February 2011 that Seif al-Islam proved himself to be a true hardliner. he resolutely backed his father and, on national television, threatened a civil war “with thousands dead.”

“We will not give Libya up,” he said. “We will fight until the last man, the last woman, the last bullet.”

Seif al-Islam has been wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague since the end of June this year when a warrant was issued for his arrest for crimes against humanity. ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo has attributed to him a key role in suppressing the uprising “by all means.”

Author: Anne Allmeling / rc

Seif al-Islam: From Libyan reformer to hardliner


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