afrol News, 5 September - He publicly calls Libya's political and economic elite a "mafia" of "crooks and agents", demands human rights and democratic reform, promotes foreign capital and privatisation and calls for and end of the revolutionary state, and he gets away with it: Saif al-Islam Al Gaddafi is the son of Libya's Great Leader. But the old elite is striking back.
Western-educated Gaddafi junior rose to prominence when he successfully led Libya's diplomatic efforts to break out of international isolation. In Europe and North America, but also among very many Libyans, he became the face of the "new Libya", a country that was to find its place in the international community and enjoy the fruits of modern life.
Besides from fatherly protection, Mr Gaddafi jr meanwhile can count on his personal power base. He heads the powerful Libyan movement and is President of the Gaddafi Development Foundation, a small international charity organisation, which however has great influence over Libya's foreign policy and has developed into a think-tank for national reform.
Following the successful reconciliation between Libya and the Western world, the opening and liberalisation of the Libyan economy started, in line with Saif al-Islam's convictions. US-educated reformist Shukri Mohammed Ghanem, a confidant of Gaddafi jr, was named Prime Minister and launched free trade reforms and privatisation campaigns.
Prime Minister Ghanem and Saif al-Islam also managed to initiate the first steps towards democratisation of the authoritarian Libyan state. By allowing Amnesty International to enter the country, human rights could finally be addressed.
In March, however, the reformists noted a sever setback as the Libyan General People's Congress - which functions similar as a parliament - sacked Prime Minister Ghanem and several liberal ministers. The country's new Prime Minister, Ali Baghdadi Mahmudi, is seen as closer to the old revolutionary elite, well represented in the People's Congress.
Under PM Mahmudi, economic and institutional reforms have slowed somewhat down while greater emphasis is given to social projects and nationalist issues. The current government hinges to the "transitional" revolutionary institutions created by Gaddafi senior after his 1969 coup. Economic reforms go towards handing out state shares to the poor rather than classic privatisation.
With the new government, the conflict line between reformists and the old elite has become clearer. So has Gaddafi jr in his criticism of his opponents. In a speech made to the national youth organisation in late August, Saif al-Islam presented a programme of reforms, challenging the governing elite.
"With all frankness and transparency, we have a mafia in Libya," the reformist told his audience, referring to civil servants in government and state companies. He held that this elite of "crooks and agents" was enriching itself through corruption and the management of state companies, while tyrannising ordinary Libyans through their control of the press and the judiciary.
"Who is the beneficiary of the existing situation? It is said that the press belongs to the people. However, it belongs to five persons," Saif al-Islam lashed out. "It is said that the companies belong to the people. However, they belong to ten or twenty persons. ... Every manager of a public company thinks himself the owner of that public company while he announces that it belongs to the people."
"People are imprisoned and tortured 'in the name of the people'," he added. "Decisions and recommendations are forged 'in the name of the people'. The only beneficiaries are those groups of employees in the state and some fat cats that have appeared recently in Libya. The whole story has been clarified: there is an un-sacred marriage between the fat cats and technocrats in the state. There is coordination between them in what is described as 'the Libyan Mafia'," he told his audience.
In recent appearances, Gaddafi jr has propagated wide-ranging reforms of the Libyan state. In a televised speech two weeks ago, where he repeated his allegations of "a Libyan mafia", he called for an end to the "revolutionary era." Libya by now, he said, needed a constitution like other states and the setting up of a normal parliament, ministries and ordinary state institutions to replace the "transitional" revolutionary institutions.
But Saif al-Islam has also understood in which direction the new winds are blowing. In his recent speech to the Libyan youth, greater emphasis was given to social challenges than to the privatisation drive. Providing improved water, electricity, housing, education and health services to all citizens was set as a basic goal, while explaining that this had to go hand in hand with modern banking, foreign investments, computerisation and democratisation if Libya was to succeed.
The wide-ranging demands of the Great Leader's son have caused some confusion in otherwise single-tracked Libya. On Friday, leader Muammar Gaddafi had to correct his son in a public speech, where he defended his revolutionary concept of "people power" through current institutions. "When we led the revolution we did not want power for ourselves, but we assumed it for the people," he declared. "In consequence, we will not allow anyone to steal it from the people."
While the 63-year-old Libyan leader may not yet be ready for deep-ploughing reforms that put an end to his revolutionary state, the battle between reformists and the old elite is certain to go on. The next conflict stage is a Tripoli court room, where the fate of one Palestinian doctor and five Bulgarian nurses, accused of purposely infecting 426 children with HIV in the city of Benghazi in the late 1990s.
The Benghazi HIV trial - which ended up in six death sentences in 2004 but is currently reviewed - splits Libya's two political blocks. While the six medics' innocence seems to have been proven, conservatives do not wish to bow into Western pressure yet again. The reformists, however, see the case as the last hurdle to normalise relations with the West and a test case for human rights in Libya.
A final verdict in the Benghazi HIV case was foreseen for 12 September this year, but a new delay in the retrial today may lead to an extended deadline. The next court session was set for 12 September.
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