Following Saif al-Islam Gaddafi's announcement in an interview with The New York Times that he intends to position himself as a candidate in the next Libyan presidential elections, Libya's political class has set alarm bells ringing. The speaker of the Libyan parliament, Aguila Saleh, a Haftar supporter, has already expressed his rejection of Gaddafi's statements. In a parliamentary session, Saleh said that "anyone wanted by the criminal court does not have the right to run for the presidency".
According to Saif Gaddafi's statements to the New York newspaper, his political figure would form the third political rival to try to consolidate the country, torn by civil war and economic collapse, despite being a country rich in oil reserves.
Ten years after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya is divided between an eastern sector controlled by the army, led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, and a western zone controlled by armed brigades. Among the most powerful brigades are the Misurata brigades, the largest military force in the region consisting of 17,000 fighters and 35,000 reserve soldiers.
An alleged return of Gaddafi to political life would directly affect Libya's Marshal Haftar. In this regard, the National Army has managed to ally itself since the end of 2014 with the leaders of the security battalions affiliated with the Gaddafi regime, according to Colonel Abdelbaset Tikka, leader of the Counter-Terrorism Service in Tripoli. Moreover, Saif al-Islam himself has claimed that 80 per cent of the National Army forces are pro-Gaddafi.
Gaddafi's son believes that Libyan politicians "have only brought misery, and it is time to go back to the past, the country is on its knees, there is no money, there is no security, there is no life here", he declared. On the basis of these statements, Gaddafi has presented himself as "the saviour of the country", and wants to fight to "revive the lost unity".
Gaddafi's candidacy in Libyan politics could break the ranks of the Libyan army, and even more so if he manages to enter the elections, as he would be Haftar's most prominent competitor so far for the presidency. Although the security battalions formed by Muammar Gaddafi to protect his regime were disbanded after the revolution, the warring parties returned and sought the help of their leaders and members. They were subsequently included in military units, but most of them follow the Haftar-led army.
Alongside this, pro-Gaddafi supporters continue to occupy sensitive positions in the ranks of the National Army, notably Major General Al-Mabrouk Sahban, commander of the ground forces (from the Maqarha tribe), Major General Omar Amraj, commander of the Tariq bin Ziyad brigade (from Maqarha) and Major General Abdel Salam al-Hassi.
As for their external support, several reports speak of a Russian military presence in Libya through the Wagner company, while other investigations point to the presence of pro-Gaddafi Russian regular forces. Analysts explain this phenomenon on the basis of Haftar's latest statement that "all mercenaries must leave Libya without exception". Moscow makes no secret of its support for Gaddafi and, moreover, according to a European diplomat specialising in Libyan affairs, 'Russia believes that Gaddafi will win the elections'.
Similarly, the New York Times reported that, in opinion polls, 57 per cent of residents in an unspecified region of Lebanon showed confidence in Saif al-Islam. Alongside this, Gaddafi's return to the political landscape may succeed in creating new and heterogeneous pacts that may affect the country's development. However, since 2011, Gaddafi's supporters have lost the vast majority of the political battles they have tried to fight against the Western Libyan Brigades or Haftar.
Libya's next general elections will be held on 24 December in a scenario that, with the possible entry of Gaddafi as a candidate, could transform the political chessboard of a country trying to recover from a devastating civil war. If he succeeds in running, he could provide an obvious rival for Haftar and even change Libya's political course. What is clear is that, regardless of what happens in the general elections, the military presence will not disappear from positions of power.