Monday, March 7, 2011

Saif Gaddafi and the "family business"

I don't really buy it, but according to Benjamin Barber, in this interview about his relationship with Saif Gaddafi, who Saif is and his efforts to help Libya reform,  Saif isn't really a bad guy, just got caught up in "the family business." As a modern day Michael Corleone, it's a nice, romanticized picture, but as reality I'm just not sure it flies. According to Barber, civil war seems to be the only conclusion now,
Michael Corleone never went straight again. I don't see a good scenario. I see tribal war. I see people -- once Qaddafi is gone -- who say, "We represent Libya" and then other people saying, "No, we represent Libya and the Libyan people." Even Secretary Clinton said that she wasn't sure of who the protesters represented and what they wanted -- not to delegitimate them but to express her sense of the complexity of events as they are unfolding. I myself cannot imagine the people in Benghazi will go back and say that they would accept any members of the Qaddafi clan -- even those who were in the military, who ran the air force, and so on -- to be eligible to be part of a national coalition, to make a new democracy. Sadly, I can't even imagine them saying that the director of the Gaddafi Foundation (who resigned in protest and deplored the regime's violence last week) or the human rights groups from Tripoli who engineered the release of prisoners are eligible to be part of a new government. I hope they are; that would be the ideal case. But the media is so intent on totally vilifying not just Saif, but anybody that worked with him -- including any Westerners who went in and that worked on constitutional reform -- that they are in effect destroying the credibility of what might be one of the few positives to come out of Libya.
Yet although Saif has thrown in with his father and the Gaddafi clan, if there is any hope that the conflict can be contained, Barber argues that Saif should be engaged. Writing that part of the reason for the lack of Obama options is that,
they don't have anyone now to talk to because they vilified everyone, made everyone complicit -- and certainly Saif is complicit. But if I were advising them, I'd say, "Why don't you find a way to get to Saif, instead of saying that he was a poseur, that he never believed any of the reform talk and human rights activities in which he engaged." I mean, Saif took all those risks, spent seven years writing books and his dissertation, just to fool everybody? So why not say instead that he was authentic -- he intended to take risks on behalf of reform -- but now he's gone to ground, gone back to the family. He is the guy who you can talk to; he keeps inviting reporters. He half-believes his own illusions that they didn't do anything bad. "Come and see," he says. "Come to Tripoli; you'll see it's all fine." Why not reach out to him, talk to him, call and find out if he can be cajoled back into the light? If the point is to punish him, which he deserves, forget it; let him reap the whirlwind. If the point is to avert a civil war and find a way both out of the conflict and towards a more open society for Libya, then ... well, the U.S. government are talking to all the ministers who worked for Qaddafi all those years without complaint or protest but who have now jumped the sinking ship to embrace "democracy." So why not talk to Saif?
I'm not sure if a civil war--or at least a prolonged one--is really inevitable. In a highly urbanized society, 2 million Libyans in Tripoli, 700,000 in Benghazi, that has resulted in intermarriage between the tribes (isn't Saif's own Eastern Libyan mother and Gaddafi's Western background an example of this?), it's unclear just who belongs to what tribe. Even if Libyans can distinguish their tribal affiliations, the tribal makeup of the rebels and the pro-Gaddafi fighters aren't clear. Furthermore, I am yet to see significant evidence of tribal language, or at least language distinguishing tribal allegiances, being used by either side's rhetoric. It seems to me that the issues and divisions have more to do with the powerful versus the powerless, and although there may be certain tribal elements to that, the large numbers of Libyans protesting and fighting against this regime all over Libya, East and West, strikes me as something other than just tribal differences at play.

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