Three years after the revolution that toppled Libya’s long-time dictator Muammar el Gheddafi, not much has changed in the North African country, except for the fact that on Thursday Gheddafi’s son returned to Tripoli.
On Feb. 17 a crowd met at the center of Tripoli to celebrate the third anniversary of Gheddafi’s ouster, though the majority of Libyans have little to celebrate since the country’s long road to democracy appears to be not just bumpy, but totally blocked at the moment. As a matter of fact, the General National Congress, the incumbent government elected in 2012, is currently fractured into two solid blocks.
On one side is the a coalition of Islamists and revolutionaries who push for a bigger role of religion in the country’s affairs, on the other side the Nationalists and liberals who want to modernize Libya and limit the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood. This is the type of political and ideological polarization that often leads to fights between the respective militias and might escalate into a civil war.
A few days ago, the GNC decided to extend its mandate until December, although it should have expired at the end of February. The decision sparked the wrath of dozens of protesters who stormed the parliament shooting two lawmakers and injuring several others.
In the midst of a tense situation, the return of Saadi Gheddafi to Libya might be just a government attempt to try to calm down the rebels by putting on trial Gheddafi’s son and giving them the illusion that the goals of the 2011 revolution are still being pursued. Saadi, a former commander of Libya’s Special Forces, fled to Niger after the rebels captured and killed Colonel Muammar el Gheddafi in 2011. Unlike his brother Saif al-Islam, Saadi is not wanted by the International Criminal Court but he is accused by Libyan authorities for armed intimidation and for misappropriating properties.
Libyan new authorities had repeatedly requested his extradition from Niger but the western African state, that originally granted the fugitive political asylum for humanitarian reasons, rejected the requests for fear that Saadi’s return to Libya would have condemned him to an unfair trial.
New photos taken after the arrival of Saadi in Libya were uploaded on a website by a government-back militia and portrayed Gheddafi’s son wearing a blue jumpsuit and kneeling down while his beard and head were cut with a razor.
Despite the fact that Libyan authorities promised Niger to treat Saadi “in accordance with international law,” the sudden decision of Niger to extradite the son of late Colonel Gheddafi might be more than just a demonstration of cooperative attitude toward Libya. Political analyst Khalid al-Tarjaman was quoted by Reuters as saying that the extradition of Saadi came after Libya persuaded Niger that disorders on its northern border were being stirred up by former Gheddafi loyalists aware of the presence of Saadi in the country. Eventually, Niger decided it was not worth taking the chance and agreed to hand Saadi over to authorities in Tripoli, hoping that the move would put an end to disorders on the southern border with Libya, an extremely volatile region that has the potential to jeopardize Niger’s stability.
In February, 2012 Saadi appeared in an interview from Niger and declared to be ready to lead an uprising against the interim government, claiming to still have many followers in Libya, many of whom were members of the ruling government.
Notwithstanding his rebellious aspirations and the volatile situation of the Libya, Muammar el Gheddafi’s son will now face trial for war crimes and might soon see his siblings and other ex-loyalist returning to Libya through extraditions.
By Stefano Salustri