Armed Gunmen Help Ban Qaddafi Son from Libya Presidential Election

Seif al-Islam, left, the son and one-time heir apparent of late Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi registers his candidacy for the country’s presidential elections next month, in Sabha, Libya, Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021. Al-Islam, who was seen as the reformist face of Gadhafi's regime before the 2011 uprising, was released in …
Libyan High National Elections Commission via AP

Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, son of late dictator Muammar Qaddafi, was disqualified Wednesday from running in Libya’s upcoming presidential election.

His lawyer said on Thursday that armed militia fighters drove him away when he attempted to file an appeal against the election commission’s decision.

Qaddafi was once viewed as a promising young reformist. He disappointed many of his hopeful admirers by transforming into a belligerent and bloodthirsty defender of his father’s regime after the Arab Spring uprising began in 2011. Last year he reinvented himself as a robed desert wanderer and Muslim holy man and launched a run for the Libyan presidency that ended this week when the national election commission ruled he was ineligible for this month’s ballot.

Qaddafi was one of 25 candidates the election commission banned this week. The commission said it ruled Qaddafi ineligible at the urging of prosecutors in Tripoli because he was convicted of war crimes in 2015 and has been sentenced to death in absentia. The sentence was never carried out because Qaddafi was captured after the overthrow of his father by a faction that did not recognize the legal authority of the Tripoli government.

Many of the other candidates were disqualified because they could not provide documented support from at least 5,000 people, as required to appear on the presidential ballot. A few others were banned because, like Qaddafi, they had prior criminal convictions.

Under Libyan election laws, Qaddafi and the other disqualified candidates have 12 days to file an appeal. Qaddafi’s lawyer Khaled al-Zaidi said on Thursday that when he visited one of Libya’s three election registration centers to file an appeal, he found the court building overrun by armed men who forced everyone to leave.

The identity of the gunmen has not been made public, and none of Libya’s many militant factions have claimed responsibility for the courthouse assault as of Friday morning. However, the city is largely controlled by militia loyal to Gen. Khalifa Haftar, the warlord who attacked Tripoli with his Libyan National Army (LNA) in 2019 but is now standing for election as chief executive of the government he tried to overthrow.

Haftar has not been disqualified as a candidate yet, even though he is also accused of war crimes and has dual U.S. citizenship, which could make him ineligible to run for president under Libyan law. A military court in the city of Misrata chose to underline Haftar’s dicey legal status on Friday by sentencing him to death for the 2019 bombing of the Air Defense College located in that city.

The Supreme Judicial Council of Libya ruled on Thursday that candidates can only appeal their disqualification by filing paperwork in the district where they registered, so Qaddafi has no alternative to the court in Sebha, a city in the southern region where Qaddafi’s support is strongest.

The United Nations and United States diplomatic missions to Libya on Friday expressed alarm about the incident at the Sebha courthouse.

“Attacks against judicial or election facilities or judicial or elections personnel are not only criminal acts, punishable under Libyan law, but also undermine Libyans’ right to participate in the political process,” the U.S. Embassy said.

The U.N. Security Council said on Wednesday it may impose sanctions against “individuals or entities who threaten the peace, stability or security of Libya or obstruct or undermine the successful completion of its political transition, including by obstructing or undermining the elections.”

The U.N.’s top envoy to Libya, Jan Kubis, announced his resignation on Tuesday, saying it was necessary because he believes two officials should be assigned to handle the duties previously addressed by a single envoy.

“Libya continues to be at a delicate and fragile juncture on its path to unity and stability through the ballot boxes. While risks associated with the ongoing political polarization around the elections are evident and present, not holding the elections could gravely deteriorate the situation in the country and could lead to further division and conflict,” Kubis said in his resignation statement.

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