When the kangaroo court in Tripoli sentenced Saif to death in absentia in July 2015, many of his supporters went out to the streets in many cities such as Bani Walid, Benghazi and Sirte and even other countries like Egypt risking their lives and waving his pictures, demanding his immediate unconditional release. Those who were demonstrating in the Libyan cities only dispersed after they were faced with guns by people carrying the Libyan independence flag. He represents a hero to them because he is the inheritor of his father’s rebellious soul. He is highly educated with a PhD degree from LSE and has a practical wartime experience that he gained during the Libyan civil war that resulted in the assassination of his father.

In addition, he played very important roles in the Libyan history like leading the historical rapprochement between Libya and the west where he advocated for Libya’s disarmament of its nuclear weapons and long range missiles which he later regretted and forthrightly apologized to his own people because it was the reason for weakening their country and opening it to foreign invasion. However, like a real leader he stood defiant during the war against the most powerful coalition in the world until the moment he was captured.

Back in 1998, he founded the first official charity organization in Libya called "Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation" and it was the only place in Libya where people can go to in order to complain about torture and arbitrary detentions. This organization was responsible for intervening in many international and national problems to find a solution to those involved. It also worked very seriously to free the media and rehabilitate Islamist fighters who were held in Abu Salim prison before releasing them.

The first time international organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch were allowed to enter Libya was in 2005 through the help of this organization. It also intervened in the Abu Salim prison victims who were killed by irresponsible soldiers in 1996 and compensated the families of the victims, and it played a very important role in the HIV crisis that happened in Benghazi children's hospital, in which more than 400 children were deliberately injected with HIV virus, and compensated the families of the victims. Saif al-Islam intervened personally to release the Bulgarian nurses who were accused of committing this horrific crime. Furthermore, it played an important role in the Philippine peace process in 2001 by hosting the peace talks between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in Tripoli.

In 2008, Dr. Saif successfully negotiated with the Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi compensating Libya for the colonial period. It was the first time that Libya has been compensated by any country ever. He also successfully negotiated with the families of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing victims by compensating each family $10 millions to get the trade sanctions on Libya removed. Even after the civil war erupted in 2011, Saif was responsible for releasing many journalists and reporters who were arrested in the front lines and worked against the violence of irresponsible soldiers.

Moreover, Saif is supported by the most influential tribes in Libya starting from his own tribe “Gaddadfa” tribe, Warshefana tribe and also the largest two tribes in Libya which are Warfalla and Tarhouna. Hence, he has the loyalty and respect of the majority of Libyans far more than any of the three current governments in Libya (Fayez al-Sarraj's Presidency Council in Tripoli, the National Salvation Government led by Khalifa Ghwell also in Tripoli, and Abdullah Thinni and his Interim Government in Tobruk). This is, of course, because he represents a promising future and symbolizes a much better past for them.
Saif al-Islam greeting his supporters in Tripoli in August 2011 Photo: Reuters
Many elements of his supporters who fled to Egypt and to other countries, including Europe, are now working closely with the president Sisi in Egypt along with the tribal councils in order to cooperate against their Islamist jihadi enemies and to support the return of Saif to lead Libya in this critical stage with the support of the Egyptian army. These tribes see him as a savior and they want to back him to become their de facto leader in any process for a national unity and reconciliation because the United Nations elected governments have so far failed miserably to make any tangible changes to solve the current embarrassing crisis in Libya. Additionally, they believe that he is the “next of kin” which is a tribal custom that gives him the credibility to be the only person responsible for accepting any terms of national peace accord that could be arranged in exchange for accepting to forgive the heinous crimes committed by the so-called rebels since 2011, including the torture and murder of his father and his two brothers.

As a result of the miserable failure of these governments and due to the rapid continuous deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Libya, random heavy fighting between rival militias in residential areas, recurrent kidnappings, frequent water outages, continual blackouts, and the, apparently, never-ending cash crisis; more and more Libyans are now coming to terms with the fact that Saif could really be a successful player in this critical stage as he symbolizes a way much better past. Although Saif was politically wise enough to predict all this to happen in his famous speech in February 20, 2011 where he warned the Libyan people about the conspiracy, he was accused at the time by many Libyans and the West of inciting violence and threating Libyans to stop the revolution. Many Libyans and much of the world now; however, admit that he couldn't be more accurate!

More importantly, because Libya is a tribal nation with more than 140 tribes and clans and is considered as one of the most tribal nations in the Arab world, one of the reasons for the failure of the successive governments is that tribal forces have been largely ignored most of the time. This was due to the lack of organization of these tribes to form a single political party that could be seriously taken as a negotiating partner.

However, all the tribes opposing the so-called “February 17th Revolution” have now founded the Supreme Council of the Libyan Tribes which still lacks coherence and strong leadership. Saif could play this role very effectively because he has an overwhelmingly large public support and strong tribal credentials along with an invaluable experience of leadership that allow him to play a major political role in the national reconciliation and unity negotiations. Therefore, for Libya's sake, the West must open the door for Saif and support him to reunify Libya under a single, tribe-backed, democratic government, exterminate the Islamists, and to stop the recent massive influx of illegal migrants to Europe.

Last edited: February 27, 2017