Bedouinocracy: Libya Between Hereditary Succession and Reform

There are two fundamental aspects to reform in Libya. The first is Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s passing of the country’s leadership on to his son, Saif al-Islam, and the plan’s potential ramifications; the second is the political line adopted by the latter, and the internal and external roles he has played in the past few years. Saif al-Islam is portrayed as the leader of the reform movement in contrast with the “conservatives” represented by the regime’s old guard, in particular the Revolutionary Committees. The present paper examines the relationship between Saif al-Islam and various constituent elements of the Libyan opposition, and comes to the conclusion that the future leader is trying to forge a compromise based on normalization with the regime, in return for a change in the brutal way this regime deals with the opposition. He is also attempting to lay the foundations for an unprecedented dialogue format within the country, especially with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group linked to al-Qaeda. It is interesting to compare the reformist movement’s demands, especially in recent years, with Saif al-Islam’s agenda, and examine the possible avenues of rapprochement between the two, especially after the succession process has been put in motion. The possibility of any rapprochement should also be viewed in light of Saif al-Islam’s failure, between 2006 and 2008, to lay the proper foundations for a constitutional framework for the country. This is despite the positive response of various sectors of the opposition, both liberal and Islamist, who, encouraged by a number of media reforms, saw the possibility of achieving their demands with help from elements within the regime. However, once the succession plan became official and various elements of the Jamahiriya government pledged allegiance to Saif al-Islam, as head of both the executive and legislative authorities, the debate within Libya regarding the need to reform the governance system expanded, focusing mainly on the delineation of the General Coordinator of Popular Leaderships’ prerogatives, making the constitution a necessary conduit. In the final analysis, however, it is Muammar Gaddafi who keeps a tight grip on both the reformist and conservative wings in the country.

The views represented in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arab Reform Initiative, its staff, or its board.