In a sense, America’s turbulent Presidential election of 2016 is a referendum on the old epigram: “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know.” The concept has been traced back to the 16th Century logician Erasmus, although it was enunciated in as many English words in 1857 by the novelist Anthony Trollope.
Backers of the Republican nominee Donald Trump rebel against this logical model. To them, Hillary Clinton is the devil they know, part of a generational power elite that presided over a brace of cultural, economic and political changes they want to reverse. Of course, to Democrats and some Republicans and Independents, Trump is simply The Devil, whose rebellion against conventional politics, wisdom and logic is simply a self-interested con-job.
In Libya, almost everything in daily life and future prospects is infinitely worse than the problems that worry Americans. Perhaps worst of all are the political choices in Libya between a pair of devilishly violent and ineffective semi-governments that over the past two years Libyans have gotten to know and loathe, and now, suddenly the prospect of a third choice…the son of the devil who ruled them for 41 years, Muammar Qaddafi.
Seif al-Islam Qaddafi, reputedly his father’s favorite son and designated successor, was captured shortly after his father’s death as he was trying to flee the country. He was held in the western Libyan town of Zintan, accused of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court, and convicted by a tribunal in the Libyan capitol Tripoli and sentenced to death.
The Tripoli trial was shambles, with Seif testifying by phone link from Zintan, and many of the prosecution’s charges sloppily presented. Human Rights Watch denounced the trial and verdict.
Earlier this year, the verdict was wiped out, the death sentence set aside, as part of the Tripoli Government’s amnesty campaign to try to reunite the divided nation. Now, Seif’s lawyers say the ICC should also drop its case because to try the 44 year old junior Qaddafi would be “double jeopardy.”
Beyond the legal questions there are some more basic ones like, where might Seif al-Islam Qadafi be safe…in Zintan where local militias have promised to protect him?…in Tripoli, where the government amnestied him?…in Tobruk where the other Libyan government, the last elected one, is allied to the Zintan militia? Or somewhere else where many believe Seif al-Islam might reorganize his father’s old tribal base of support and become a unity candidate to succeed a series of failed governments.
Mustafa Fetouri is an award winning Libyan journalist and academic who has taught and lectured widely on economics and risk assessment.