One son is offering to negotiate with the transitional government. Another is vowing to fight to the last man. The daughter and two other sons have fled to Algeria. And where’s father? No one knows.
Libyan strongman Muamar Gaddafi presided over a famously fighting family during the four decades he was in power. They quarreled over property, their father’s favor and power, but they stood united in keeping the family business of running Libya intact. Now, with the opposition in control of the capital and much of the country, the family seems to be at odds over its place, if any, in the new Libya.
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“At the end of the day, they are all part of a bad institution, but there certainly are divisions between them,” Imad El-Anis, a lecturer in international relations and Libya expert at Nottingham Trent University, told The Media Line. “There are big divisions in terms of ideology, in terms of policies and their role.”
The splits in the Gaddafi clan come in stark contrast to the families of other Middle East despots who have been ousted or are threatened with it. Egypt’s Husni Mubarak is standing trial with his two sons beside him in the docket. In Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s relations are holding the fort while he convalesces in Saudi Arabia. No defections have been reported in Syrian President Bashar Assad’s family.
Although most analysts think the Gaddafi era is over, the leader retains
unknown but possibly significant support among Libyans, particularly in
his birthplace and stronghold of Sirte, which the National Transitional
Council (NTC) forces have yet to conquer. On Thursday, the NTC extended
its deadline for Sirte to surrender.
"The pro-Gaddafi troops that we see are not in total disarray, they are
retreating in an orderly fashion," said NATO spokesman Colonel Roland
Lavoie on Tuesday. Gaddafi had the ability "to exercise some level of
control and command," he said.
If the family can close ranks, that could help their bargaining
position. For now, however, it looks like the Gaddafis are pulling in
Saadi, son No. 3, told Al-Arabiya television on Wednesday that he had
his father's approval to negotiate with the NTC. "We were talking about
negotiations based on ending bloodshed," he said. But another son, Seif
Al-Islam, vowed to fight on with what he asserted were 20,000 loyalist
soldiers ready to defend Sirte.
"We must wage a campaign of attrition day and night until these lands
are cleansed from these gangs and traitors," he declared in a statement
broadcast on the Syrian-owned Al-Rai satellite television. “We are
standing fast and the commander is in good condition,” he said,
referring to his father.
Meanwhile, at least four other family members seem to have decided the
war is lost. Gaddafi’s wife Safiya and three of his children – Aisha,
Mohammad and Hannibal entered Algeria by car early on Monday. Aisha
reportedly gave birth in Algeria after fleeing Libya as her father's
regime crumbled. Rebel leaders said another son, Khamis, the head of an
elite paramilitary brigade, may have been killed on Saturday in clashes
south of Tripoli.
The whereabouts of Gaddafi himself remain unknown, but the last public
address he made – a radio broadcast a day after Libyan rebels overran
his Bab Al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli – he took a tough line, calling
for "martyrdom" or victory. He ordered his supporters to "cleanse"
Tripoli of opposition "rats."
The children played important roles in the regime. Seif-Al Islam led
Libya’s rehabilitation with the West after the Lockerbie-bombing
sanctions were dropped and helped free a group of Bulgarian nurses held
hostage in Libya in what were widely seen as trumped-up murder charges.
Khamis led military brigades that actively suppressed the revolt and
Muatassim acted as national security adviser.
Mohammed was the head of the Olympic committee and chairman of the
General Posts and Telecommunications Co., which cut off phone and
satellite services to the east when the uprising began last February.
Hannibal was the head of the General National Maritime Transport Co.
Although the Gaddafi clan tried as much as possible to operate behind
the scenes, the sons’ bad behavior, especially during escapades in
Europe, often emerged in foreign media reports. Wikileaks revealed US
Embassy cables dating from a few years back that gave a rare glimpse of
the family and its activities inside the country.
Aisha, a lawyer by training who helped in the defense of Iraqi despot
Saddam Hussein, was assigned the task two years ago of looking after her
wayward brothers, Saadi, Hannibal and Seif Al-Arab, according to the
embassy cables. After a notoriously unsuccessful stint as a professional
soccer player in Italy, Saadi had repeated encounters with the police
and abused drugs, the cables alleged. Hannibal was arrested in
Switzerland on charges of beating his servants in 2008, provoking a
In 2005, a dispute between Muatassim and Muhammad over the local Coca
Cola bottling franchise turned nasty, according to American diplomats in
Tripoli at the time.
Muhammad had an unspecified interest in the lucrative business, which
opened after United Nations sanctions were dropped. But Muatassim bore a
grudge against his brother for taking over his soft-drink business in
the late 1990s when Muatassim had been forced by his father briefly into
Determined to deny his brother any soda profits, he dispatched a team of
armed men in military vehicles to seize the plant and order its
employees to leave. Over an extended period, the facility remained
occupied and people connected with it, including Muhammad himself, were
threatened with violence.
“You know the movie 'The Godfather'? We've been living it for the last
few months," a businessman was quoted in the cable as telling an
official from the US diplomatic mission in Tripoli.
The plant eventually reopened although the circumstances were never clarified, according to the cable.
The most important of the Gaddafi boys was Seif Al-Islam, who seemed to
many analysts to be the heir apparent. Although he suffered his own
embarrassments – most famously a controversy over who really wrote his
doctoral thesis for the London School of Economics – he presented a
moderate, pro-Western stance, that is until rebellion erupted last
February and he threatened "a river of blood" if it didn’t stop.
Seif Al-Islam and his father are both wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.
Seif Al-Islam’s high profile and the favoritism shown to him by his
father generated jealously among his ambitious brothers, but many
ordinary Libyans preferred him over the alternative heirs apparent, said
El-Anis of Nottingham Trent University.
“There wasn’t lots and lots of love for any of the family, but Seif
Al-Islam was seen as hope for future, that he might be a reformist and a
modernizer,” he said. “In the first few weeks of the revolution he
tried to calm the situation, but about a month into it he totally
changed. With that, he became a hated by figure.”