Saif al-Islam al-Gadaffi, the powerful mover and shaker

Saif al-Islam al-Gadaffi, the Libyan leader’s second son, is a powerful mover and shaker in Libya and abroad—despite occupying no official position in the Jamahiriya, the “state of the masses”.

Gadaffi’s recent comment that British politicians had behaved in a “disgusting” way in the Abdelbaset al-Megrahi affair reflects a tendency for blunt speaking—and the central role he has played in efforts to release the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing. It was Saif who accompanied the dying al-Megrahi back to Tripoli when he was released on compassionate grounds from Greenock prison last month, and publicly embraced him for the cameras at the airport.

It is not the first time he has attracted controversy on this most sensitive issue in Anglo-Libyan relations. Last year Saif complained that relatives of some of the 270 victims of Pan Am flight 103 were “greedy”—after Libya had agreed a $2,7-billion compensation payout and accepted “responsibility for the actions of its officials”.

Saif is an Anglophile and well-connected in Britain.
He studied at the London School of Economics and contributed £1,5-million to its centre for the study of global governance. Last month he reportedly bought a £10-million house in Hampstead Garden Suburb, in north London. In the summer he met Lord Mandelson, the business secretary, at the Corfu villa belonging to the Rothschild banking family. He is also said to be close to Prince Andrew and has been a regular speaker at Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs.

Staff at Gadaffi’s television company, Al Mutawassit, (The Mediterranean) are moving to Britain, though the satellite channel broadcasts from Jordan. A TV channel he used to run in Libya ran into trouble because it was deemed to be too liberal. Saif is also seen as the patron of two semi-independent newspapers.

Back home, the 37-year-old engineer is seen as the voice of Libya’s younger generation, born, like him, after the 1969 revolution his father led and still embodies. He created National Youth Day—by chance or design the very day he escorted al-Megrahi home. The clip of their embrace is shown repeatedly on Libyan TV and featured in last week’s lavish 40th anniversary celebrations of the revolution.

He runs the Gadaffi foundation, which oversees a wide range of activities which the government will not or cannot deal with, such as human rights, development and aid. Libyans describe how he regularly browbeats ministers into taking action, forcing one to set up an inquiry into a riot at Tripoli’s Abusalim prison where more than 1 000 inmates were killed by guards.

Two years ago his star was in the ascendant but he announced last summer that he was quitting politics and devoting himself to promoting the growth of civil society. Recently, say diplomats and Libyan and foreign analysts, his wings have been clipped by his father and the old guard of the “peoples’ committees” and the security services. “The [al-] Megrahi release will certainly boost his position and make it harder to block him,” said Ashour Shamis, an opposition activist.

Shamis and others say Saif is the only one of the leader’s seven sons who is likely to succeed his father, though another one, Mu’tasim, was recently appointed national security adviser.

In his trouble-shooting role, Saif also played a key part in the release last year of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor who were convicted of infecting Libyan children with HIV.

In an August 2008 BBC TV interview, Saif said that Libya had admitted responsibility (but not admitted guilt) for the Lockerbie bombing simply to get the sanctions removed. He admitted that Libya was being “hypocritical” and was “playing on words” but had no choice in the matter. According to Saif, a letter admitting responsibility was the only way to end the embargo imposed on Libya. When asked about the compensation being paid to the victims’ families, he repeated that Libya was doing so because it had no other choice. He describe the families of the Lockerbie dead as “trading with the blood of their sons and daughters” and being very “greedy”.

He said: “They were asking for more money and more money and more money.” -

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