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Geopolitics

Inside The Gaddafi Clan’s Kabuki Theater

In an interview, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi insists his father’s regime is “the target of a propaganda fomented by the foreign media.”

Inside The Gaddafi Clan’s Kabuki Theater
(StartAgain)
Delphine Minoui

TRIPOLI - He chose to sit on the green couch, just under a giant portrait of his father. Arms crossed over a wool sweater, the face of Saif al-Islam ("the sword of Islam"), Muammar Gaddafi's best-known son, is etched with determination. "The situation is excellent, you be the judge!" he insists in perfect English. The 38-year-old Gaddafi brushes aside the possibility that his father's regime might be teetering on the brink. "In a couple of days everything will be back to normal," he promises with a smile.

He gathered his guests in the city center, and through the thick windows there are no signs of unrest. Tripoli is silent but for the famous Green Square where a group of inebriated men sing odes to their Guide, wishing him a "long life." In this sort of Libyan take on Kabuki theater, news from surrounding cities like Zuwara, Zawiyah or Misurata is invisible. Still, news reports show an uprising there gaining strength, inspired by the rebellion in the East, a region now under opposition control.

"It's true that it's a little messy in the East," he admits, but he predicts a quick return to calm. But then his face turns grim, admitting that "hundreds of people" have died. "At the beginning of the clashes, in Benghazi and Al Bayda, the police panicked and killed dozens of protesters who were attacking police outposts," he says. But he denies everything else: the air strikes against the people, which the UN has called "crimes against humanity."

"We are the targets of a propaganda fomented by the foreign media!," Gaddafi says. "But the worst is that for the first time in the history of contemporary diplomacy the Security Council voted for a resolution based on fake reports."

Golden Boy

The visas given to several foreign reporters were clearly intended to try to change the narrative. "Welcome to Libya. Open your eyes, show me the bombs, and show me the wounded! Take a walk through Tripoli!" he tells reporters, whose every move are closely monitored and limited "for their own safety."

So, what about the protesters in the East who say they have formed an interim government? "These people aren't credible. They're opportunists. Yesterday, they were with us. Today they're switching teams. Americans are naïve to want to start a dialogue with them," he answers.

Gaddafi says he wants things to settle quickly so he can start to implement vast reforms that he says were initially supposed to kick off on March 2. Among the reforms: drafting a Constitution, a new Penal Code and allowing more press freedom. Some say it's too little too late, as the unrest grows stronger.

"Thousands of people call me regularly asking me to reinstate order. They are simple people, farmers, people who want security, who want their kids to go to school safely," he says, accusing protesters of creating terror. "Innocent victims' of this chaos have each received about $400 to "compensate the increase of the cost of living caused by the unrest."

The 38-year-old architect who studied at the London School of Economics had been seen as a man of change, and reform. Ten years ago when he stepped on the political scene, he became the number one mediator for a very untrusting international community, afraid of Libya's support of Islamist terrorists.

His father appointed him as the head of the Gaddafi Foundation, and Libya's shaved-headed golden boy used the organization to try to open the country to the rest of the world. He was behind the damages paid to the victims of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing and the 1989 French UTA bombings in which Libya was implicated. In 2009, he even acknowledged in public that there were shortcomings "in the way the power of the people and democracy were applied" in Libya.

Now, at the height of the worst crisis his father has known during his 41 years in power, Saif al-Islam is trying to turn on the charm toward the West once more. But can he make people forget his father's delirious statements? On Tuesday, during a television interview with ABC and BBC, Muammar Gaddafi said: "My people love me. They would die to protect me." On Wednesday the Colonel spoke again:

But perhaps the most telling appearance was back on February 20. That was when Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, self-proclaimed reformer, the son long seen as the bridge to the West, went on Libyan TV to declare that there would be "rivers of blood" and a fight "until the last bullet" if protests continued. Now a "return to peace" is what he vows. "My father is fine," he adds. "And I have no ambition of becoming Libya's president."

Read the original article in French

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