Are we witnessing the return of the Qaddafis to Libya?

Personalities are important in the country's upcoming election, but its main significance lies deeper than that

The winding road to holding Libya's upcoming presidential elections, scheduled for December 24, took a new turn on Sunday, when Saif Al Islam Qaddafi, the son of Libya's former dictator Muammar Qaddafi, confirmed his candidacy.

The news will be disconcerting for some, and his current political opinions are relatively unknown; he has been out of sight for the past decade. His life beyond politics might also raise eyebrows. He faces allegations of corruption and, most seriously, he is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes committed against protesters in 2011, when Libyans were demonstrating en-masse against his father's decades-long rule.

Ultimately, however, it is unsurprising that Saif, who is well-known in Libya and abroad, is making a bid. Many other candidates will also enter the race with questionable pasts, albeit slightly less famous ones than his. But whatever the backgrounds of individual candidates, the main feature of December's vote is about precedent, not personality. It will be the most important peaceful political event for the country in 10 years. Ghosts from the past cannot change that, but contemporary divisions could.

After so much violence during the past decade, holding even what will almost certainly be a flawed election marks good progress from a period of hugely destabilising strife and foreign interference. Former fighters are taking themselves away from the battlefield and to the ballot box, and that is no bad thing.

It is also a logical step in a longer chain towards sounder politics. The main task of the current provisional government, headed by President Mohammed Al Menfi and Prime Minister Abdel Hamid Dbeibah and which governs on increasingly shaky ground, is to see through a UN-brokered political plan to hold December's elections. A government formed by a democratic vote will be harder for enemies and rivals to undermine.

All parties must keep focus on the bigger picture. Holding the election still remains fragile, a reason so many in the international community are ready to defend it robustly. Just last Friday, French President Emmanuel Macron held an international conference in Paris dedicated to keeping the "inclusive" vote on track and discouraging potential saboteurs with sanctions. Participants included Egyptian leader Abdel Fatah El Sisi, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi. Also in attendance was US Vice President Kamala Harris, who before the meeting said she was going to “demonstrate our strong support for the people of Libya as they plan for elections”.

Qaddafi-era Libya was one of early, revolutionary hope that gradually morphed into isolation and oppression. Libyans emphatically rejected it in 2011 by taking to the streets and physically ousting the former dictator. Unfortunately, the post-uprising-era was one of extreme violence. For politics in Libya, then, the past five decades have been turbulent at best and deadly at worst.

However strange and fragile the buildup to the election might be, the end product can still be something created by the people, and perhaps the beginning of a long march to better times.

Published: November 16th 2021, 5:30 AM