Age of the iron fist is over, says Gadaffi Jr Saif al-Islam, the son of Colonel Gadaffi, said the time for ‘military regimes, kings, crown princes’ had passed
Sara Hashash and Hala Jaber
Published: 27 June 2010
The Sunday Times
The 38-year-old Saif is widely seen as a potential successor to his father (Nick Cornish)
The son of Colonel Muammar Gadaffi, who has ruled Libya with an iron fist for more than 40 years, has declared that the country no longer needs a “great leader”.
In an interview last week,
Saif al-Islam Gadaffi said the time for “military regimes, kings, crown princes” had passed.
“The future is for managers – people will elect managers and not have kings or great leaders,” he said. “People should be free to elect their own leaders. The future is for democracy. There is no other way for Libya.”
The 38-year-old champion of reform, who is widely seen as a potential
successor to his father, warned that his country could face “very serious
trouble” if it failed to adopt a more liberal approach to relations with the
Dressed in a T-shirt, jeans and trainers, he strolled into the flower garden of a friend’s villa on the outskirts of Rome and said: “Hi, I’m Saif.”
Sitting beneath a wooden gazebo near a pool surrounded by palm and cedar trees, he outlined his vision of Libya as a tolerant, 21st-century state enriched by tourism.
“I would like to make Libya the Vienna of north Africa,” he said passionately, referring to his favourite European city. Luxury hotels were already being built, he added.
We will create the right environment for tourism in Libya. If you have no drink, no visa, no hotels, nobody will come to Libya Gadaffi, who studied for his PhD at the London School of Economics, smiled as he claimed that tough visa restrictions for westerners would be abolished soon, starting with the British.
Measures had also been discussed to permit the sale of alcoholic drinks to foreigners in hotels, he said. “It will happen,” he added. “We will create the right environment for tourism in Libya. If you have no drink, no visa, no hotels, nobody will come.”
Gadaffi’s ambitious hopes to modernise his conservative, Muslim country
extend to lobbying his father’s government for a constitution that would
reflect “A to Z” reforms in a state whose relations with the West have
historically been fraught.
It would be a radical change of style for those serving the 68-year-old
“brotherly leader”, who has governed Libya for 41 years in accordance with the principles of the Green Book he wrote in 1975 to explain his socialist philosophy. It inevitably drew comparisons with Mao Tse-tung’s Little Red Book.
The confident, charismatic Saif Gadaffi, who is fluent in English, German
and French, has played a pivotal role in changing Libya’s international
image, facilitating the transformation of his country from a pariah state
into a prospective ally of the West.
It was he who persuaded his father to give up Libya’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programme in 2003, ending the country’s diplomatic isolation and paving the way for a visit by Tony Blair the following year.
Blair has since visited Libya repeatedly as a personal guest of Colonel
“Mr Blair was there only last week,” Saif Gadaffi said nonchalantly,
explaining that his father regarded the former prime minister as a “great
man with knowledge and experience”. He dismissed a report that Blair was working as a paid consultant.
More recently, Saif Gadaffi negotiated the release of Abdelbaset al Megrahi, who was convicted of the Lockerbie bombing that killed 270 people in 1988.
Gadaffi was at Megrahi’s side on his return to Tripoli last year, when he
was given a hero’s welcome. The staging was seen as a means of improving Gadaffi’s standing among critics who believe he is too close to the West.
Despite his aspirations for reform, a report by Amnesty International last
week criticised progress on human rights in Libya and suggested its internal security agency had free rein to abuse its power.
“I respect Amnesty International a lot, but their role is to be very
critical and ask for more reform and that is good,” Gadaffi said. “I am very
proud, very confident, that the facts in Libya today are different to the
reality 20 years ago.” He challenged Amnesty to name one political prisoner in Libya.
“There are people criticising my father, the country, the government and
they are living in Libya and they are free. This is happening for the first
time in our history … People are not afraid any more; there is no fear any
In contrast to his father, who has bankrolled terrorist groups, including
the IRA, he has channelled cash into humanitarian causes as chairman of the Gadaffi International Charity and Development Foundation. As a student in London he witnessed the contrast between the British police and Libya’s security forces, who have regularly been accused of arbitrarily detaining and torturing civilians.
“The British police for me are one of the most civilised police in the
world. Police should respect the citizens, be polite, be civilised. I want
to see the Libyan police like the British police,” he said.
He confirmed that British officers were already training his country’s
police, an initiative seen by some as an insult to the memory of Yvonne
Fletcher, the police officer shot dead outside the Libyan embassy in London 26 years ago. Her killer has not been brought to justice.
Gadaffi also admires the British system of local government. He aims to
establish similar municipal authorities in Libya.
“We rely very heavily on British institutions to train our people, to run
the local councils and municipalities … It’s very important,” he said.
His willingness to incorporate western ideas into his thinking is in stark
contrast to his father’s more reclusive style of government.
Yet the younger Gadaffi is critical of oil and gas deals that entail more
co-operation with the West. He believes “easy oil money” has discouraged
investment in other sectors, including tourism, that could help to create
the prosperous state he envisages. “Oil is a curse, it creates many problems in Libya,” he said.