Gaddafi too late playing the family card

2011-04-04 23:11

Benghazi - Muammar Gaddafi, under great pressure militarily and politically to stand down, is playing the family card by saying his son should lead Libya or it will be divided, a gambit that looks set to fail.

At least two of Gaddafi's sons, Seif al-Islam and Saadi, are backing a transition to a constitutional democracy that would see their father step aside, the New York Times reported on Sunday.

But the rebels quickly shot down the idea of a deal involving the Gaddafis.

"Gaddafi and his sons have to leave before any diplomatic negotiations can take place," the spokesman of the rebels' Transitional National Council, Shamseddin Abdulmelah told AFP.

An insurgency spokesperson in the rebel city of Misrata said: "They are all war criminals.

"To talk of such a transition is a humiliation for the free Libyan people and all martyrs for liberty. We no longer want to look at this criminal and his family except behind bars."

The idea of a transition is not new, however. It was first mooted in September 2009, when Gaddafi proposed that Seif al-Islam take charge of the country's internal affairs.

But the regime did not follow this through, a fact "it must surely be regretting now", according to someone close to the regime, who asked not to be identified.

Too late

"This would have worked. Seif al-Islam was accepted by everyone, both at home and in the West. Now it's too late."

Seif al-Islam had been pushing for ambitious political and economic reforms in Libya, where huge oil reserves, tourist destinations and economic development remained largely untapped amid alleged rampant corruption.

But he came up against the brick wall of the old guard of the "Jamahiriya" or state of the masses, established in 1977, who were decidedly unenthusiastic about reform.

While not having any official post, Seif al-Islam later became Libya's de facto figurehead abroad, and was a driving force behind normalisation of relations with the West.

But his image was severely dented after the uprising began in February and he made a fiery speech that ended up with his reformist image being shattered as he spoke of civil war in Libya and "rivers of blood".

"This speech signalled his end on the political scene," according to one Libyan academic.

"Gaddafi and his family have only one option: to find a way out of the country that would give them financial security and immunity from prosecution," the academic added.

Point of a gun

TNC spokesperson Abdulmelah told AFP the regime had lost any right to talk of a negotiated exit after it had continued to pound Misrata even as it sent Deputy Foreign Minister Abdelati Laabidi to Athens, Turkey and Malta to discuss a way out.

"How can you negotiate at the point of a gun?" Abdulmelah asked.

He said that Seif al-Islam had shown through his conduct since the uprising began that his reputation as someone who wanted to change the regime from within was completely baseless.

"People thought he was a reformer but since the revolution began, he has shown his true colours. He is a carbon copy of his father," he said.

The TNC also rejected a role for Saadi Gaddafi.

The former footballer in Italy's Serie A, who has a bad reputation at home, sought to play a leading role after the crisis erupted in February.

But on a trip to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, while it was still under regime control, Saadi had to be rescued from an angry crowd by his father's special forces.

Division card

Some days later he appeared by Gaddafi's side, in military fatigues and with a Kalashnikov assault rifle.

In order to retain power, the Gaddafi clan - despite a wave of defections by senior regime officials - could play the division card, and leave the east of the country to the opposition.

But that option is probably not a goer either, given that Libya's third city Misrata just 214km east of Tripoli is a raging battleground, as is the Al-Jabal Gharbi region southwest of the capital.

"The regime and the international community must understand that Libya as a country is indivisible," the rebel spokesperson in Misrata said.

Gaddafi "will do anything to stay in power, even if it means he has to hunker down at Bab al-Aziziya," his compound in Tripoli, he added.

"An exit strategy for Gaddafi is not something we are involved in pursuing," a spokesperson for British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Monday.

Read more on:    seif al-islam gaddafi  |  muammar gaddafi  |  libya  |  libya protests  |  north africa  |  uprisings
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