15 FEBRUARY 2012


The last we saw of him was a horrified look in tribal Tuareg's outfit when caught attempting to flee. Militias from Zentan claimed they had arrested him and flew him to their now almost autonomous province. ICC's Prosecutor General Luiz Moreno Ocampo made an attempt to grab him, perhaps hoping to grab media attention after fading away on Darfur just before retiring to Argentina. It didn't work.

Saif El-Islam Qaddafi most likely thought he had a safe passage deal through the Tuaregs who roam the desert borders with Chad, Niger and Mali -- obviously, money was no problem. The LSE/PHD holder once described by favourable media as a sophisticated operator, may have overlooked the well-known fact in that treacherous uranium hunting region, that the veiled "blue tribe" operates closely with France's Directorate of "Recherche" or whatever the updated name of those closely following its vital interest in Francophone Africa. And while his sister, mother, and thuggish little brother would be considered small fry allowed across for the big bait, Saif was the heir apparent and the practical negotiator of most deals over the last five years.

As there are several conspiracy theories about Muammar Qaddafi's killing, there are several more on Saif's survival. In brief, Arab media mainly hinted that the Colonel's secrets, if confessed, would have embarrassed several key governments, indeed certain prominent personalities like former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, PM Berlesconi in Italy, President Sarkozy in France, and several U.S. officials and business companies. Like the much shrewder Ali Abdallah Saleh of Yemen, the deposed leader of the Green revolution, despite his obvious hallucinations, knew precisely where the other Green (cash) had flowed, and to whom. While his special envoys, or security chiefs knew certain operators, "Al-Akh" (Brother) Muammar knew where all the bodies were buried. Now he joined them.

In that way, Saif is certainly of interest to many, particularly those "holier than thou" pontificators who systemically projected him as a reformer, an intellectual, a Davos pundit, a cosmopolitan intellectual and business-friendly open-minded Keynesian with a subtle grasp of tribal nuances!

Awkward and embarrassing as that may be, but such hot air -- and its benefactors -- is not that crucial to "affairs of state," nor would it invoke what the French call "raisons d'etat."

Still, one never knows -- as they say in the New York Lotto. Saif may have an abundance of state secrets, including those passed by his beleaguered father during his final weeks.

Another consideration is the nature of Saif's relationship with some current leaders of "revolutionary" Libya. For example, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the chairman of the National Transitional Council, which runs the country, owed his appointment as Justice Minister for five years under Qaddafi, to Saif's strong backing. Rebel Colonel Abdelkarim Belhaj, Tripoli's current strong man, was helped to exit from jail and torture by none other than Saif. Both -- and others unmentioned -- may feel some sense of returning a favour at an hour of real need. That may explain current tension amongst members of the Libyan revolutionary government: those who would advocate an elaborate prolonged "fair civilized" trial and those who seek a quick condemnation. Refusing to deliver him to the International Court of Justice suited both internal sides: those who fought to "save" him from being squeezed for information beyond which he would keep if at home, and those who would deal with him as a criminal at trial in a national court.

Without a doubt, Colonel Qaddafi's eldest son is much more aware of world developments than his other thuggish brothers. He was also in touch with several local forces whom his father had overlooked as Inspired Supreme Leader. His attitude when arrested and flown to Zentan displayed a shrewd -- though obviously scared -- negotiator. Furthermore, unlike the rest of his family -- he seems to enjoy some popularity. He also happens to know where to obtain lots of cash -- usually a useful tool when cornered. What is almost certain is that those who hold him in Zentan are not likely to give him away to anyone else except a "lawful" government, which seems very distant at this time. In fact, some inside Libya say they would not be surprised if Saif El-Islam -- opening to Islamist groupings -- turns out in the long run to become part of that eventual government, unless an "unfortunate incident" happens in the meanwhile.

All that speculation should not hide the fact that the U.N. should insist on the rule of law and, unlike what happened to his obviously assassinated father, Saif -- like every other Libyan citizen and unlike his father's despotic reign -- deserves an open, transparent, judicially correct, internationally witnessed, civil trial.