Lamine Ghanmi is a veteran Reuters journalist. He has covered North Africa for decades and is based in Tunis.

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  • Mixed reactions at the release of Qaddafi’s son

    'Is there anybody playing a new card in Libya that involves the return of the old regime with Qaddafi’s son on top of the list?” Libyan journalist Abdelkader Assad

    ‘Bitter harvests.’ Journalists watching as the judges (unseen) question Saif al-Islam Qaddafi during a session broadcast live from the western Libyan city of Zintan in 2014. (AP)

    2017/06/18 Issue: 111 Page: 10

    Tunis- Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, once hailed as the successor to his father, Libyan dicta­tor Muammar Qaddafi, has reportedly been released from prison where he had been held for nearly six years by militias from Zintan.

    The reported release was met with mixed public reaction, with some flooding the streets in celebration and others firing guns in protest.

    The International Criminal Court, where Qaddafi, 44, is wanted for crimes against humanity, called for his immediate arrest and surrender.

    The news added a layer of con­troversy to the conflict in Libya. Some Libyans expressed shock at Qaddafi’s release while saying they hoped that the conflict had gone full circle and one of Muammar Qaddafi’s eight sons would emerge as the country’s deliverer.

    Libyan analysts, however, said the impetus for Qaddafi’s release was a recent shift in the Arab world’s political climate that had put the once-powerful Islamists on the de­fensive. This shift is evidenced by the sanctions imposed on Qatar by Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Coopera­tion Council (GCC) neighbours over Doha’s alleged links with Islamists in Libya and elsewhere, they said.

    Qaddafi’s release coincides with growing disillusionment over Libya’s political order, which has caused some to long for the days of Muammar Qaddafi.

    “Some voices of reason are only asking why Saif would be released now,” said Libyan journalist Ab­delkader Assad. “Why would he be freed and why is he now secured somewhere in Libya? Is there any­body playing a new card in Libya that involves the return of the old regime with Qaddafi’s son on top of the list?”

    Abid al Raguig, a Libyan political analyst, said: “The announcement of Saif’s release by the armed group that captured him was the result of political and social changes at home that coincided with new regional and international circumstances.

    “Libyans who see Saif as part of the problem and as a pillar of the old regime, now hope he can be part of the solution. They have lowered their expectations from changing the regime to… (ensuring) security and achieving minimal standards of living.”

    Raguig faulted Islamists and their international backers for failing to safeguard the country, which he said has caused Libyans to yearn for Qaddafi’s regime.

    “Radical Islamists were pushed into the front with the direct assis­tance of foreigners to take control of the main bodies of the state,” Raguig said. “They wreaked havoc and anarchy as they have no skills or expertise to run the state affairs. As a result, the demands and expec­tations of the Libyans shrank to the basics like security and order and a minimum level of decent living.

    “A majority of the Libyans are now backing Saif as they compare where Libya stands with where the country was before.”

    Mohamed al-Mifti, one of the scores of prominent Libyan intel­lectuals jailed by Muammar Qaddafi during his decades-long purge of political opponents, said that “des­tiny appears to have made Saif an indispensable leader.”

    “The bitter harvests of the past seven years and the stability and safety needed by Libyans caused the number of those backing Qaddafi’s regime to increase sharply and their voices to become louder,” said Mifti, who spent 11 years in jail.

    Videos showed Saif al-Islam Qaddafi’s supporters celebrating his release with cheers and gunfire in cities such as Jufra, Sabha, Ubari, Beni Walid in the south and west of Libya as well as some areas in east­ern Libya where the powerful Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s military spokesman, Ahmed al-Mesmari, welcomed Qaddafi’s release.

    The head of Abu Bakir al-Siddiq Brigade, al Ajmi al Atibi, who guard­ed Qaddafi since his capture, argued that Qaddafi must be released due to an amnesty law voted in last year by the Tobruk-based House of Rep­resentatives. Qaddafi’s critics disa­greed, arguing his release was “ille­gal” and “a betrayal of the ideals of the February revolution.”

    “The release of Saif in such a manner will further disturb the po­litical scene and derail the political process because he is able to rally around him the backers of the old regime whose voices have become louder in all towns as they are at­tempting to underline the failure of the revolution,” said parliament member Omar Gueith.

    It is unlikely Qaddafi will immedi­ately battle for control amid Libya’s chaos.

    “To have an influence Saif must settle his case with the International Criminal Court. This should be his first step and I expect that he will be declared innocent in accordance with the local law of general am­nesty that set him free and with the backing of some influential foreign states with stakes in Libya,” said Reguig.

    “He must take notice that, at this stage, he does not own a military force or anyone with the keys of authority and power in the coun­try… There are political currents that have on the ground sources of power and authority.”

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