September 20, 2007


An up-and-coming force in Libyan politics (Elisabeth Rosenthal, September 20, 2007, IHT)

The thin man with a shaved head smiled slightly as he made his way to a podium erected amid Greek ruins, a serious presence in a boisterous crowd that gathered last week to celebrate plans for an eco-development region near the town of Cyrene, in the deserts of Eastern Libya.

In a skull cap and long white tunic with a gold-trimmed vest, he talked slowly, deliberately - even a bit nervously - presenting data in English about desertification, oil supplies and carbon emissions. He corrected even the smallest grammatical errors in the printed speech he was reading.

"Climate change is a global problem, but global solutions start with local solutions," he said in faintly accented English. "We must build societies in a way that allow us to reduce greenhouse gases. The day will come when oil will run out and if we wait for that it will be too late."

The man - part scholar, part monk, part model, part policy wonk - was Saif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, the powerful 33-year-old son of Libya's extroverted and impulsive president, Muammar el-Qaddafi. He is, in short, the un-Qaddafi. [...]

He emerged on the world stage in 2000, when he helped negotiate the release of hostages taken by Islamic terrorists at a Philippine diving resort. He has spoken out against Libya's Revolutionary Committees, which exist in schools, businesses and offices to enforce political orthodoxy.

Perhaps as a sign of his growing importance, his security detail has greatly increased in the past year, say those who know him.

"He doesn't have an official position but it's clear he has influence and power - Saif is right in the heart of it all," said Rajeev Singh-Molares of the business consultancy the Monitor Group in London. He has advised Qaddafi for three years, working on a strategy for Libya's economic development. Michael Porter, a professor at Harvard Business School, also talks with Qaddafi.

Westerners who have worked with him say he is smart, well-read and quick to pick up the telephone to call the prime minister or his father. But "he understands that there are red lines that he cannot cross," said an associate who asked to speak anonymously about the political forces within Libya.

The Qaddafi Foundation he runs "was certainly helpful in the nurses' case," said Richard Roberts, who led a group of Nobel Prize winners in petitioning Libya for their release. "At this point one would like to believe the best about them."

Qaddafi has recently made some extraordinary admissions: He said the medics were tortured with electricity while in prison and that the infection of children with AIDS in Benghazi resulted from poor sanitary conditions at the city's hospital and was not - as his father and the prosecutors contended - a plot by the nurses to infect them.

Also this year, in a televised speech, he said that Libya should adopt a proper constitution that would guarantee freedom of the press. Qaddafi has opened two private newspapers in Libya and this summer he addressed a gathering of more than 100,000 young Libyans.

He is the president's second-born son, the first child of his second wife, Safiyya. His siblings are Muhammad, a businessman; Saadi, a professional soccer player; and Aysha, his sister, who is a lawyer.

Qaddafi is, experts say, clearly an emerging force for liberalization.

Time for Gamal Mubarak to step up to the plate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 20, 2007 2:35 PM
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