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LIBYA: Political power struggle amid rumors of Kadafi family feud

January 20, 2011 | 11:38 am

_49841247_libya Recent developments in Libya suggest the political power struggle between moderates and the country's conservative old guard is back in full swing -- a spat some speculators trace to a rift in the inner circle of leader Moammar Kadafi's family. 

In one of the first signs incidating that something might be underway on the political front in the secluded North African republic was when the board of the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Organization (GICDO) demoted the reform-minded Saif al Islam Kadafi, son of the leader -- to an honorary position.

GICDO also announced around the same time that it was withdrawing from politics and that it no longer would promote human rights in Libya -- a move fueling speculation among analysts of the nation that conservative forces are pushing the country's moderates to the sidelines and that reformist hopes for Libya might be dwindling.

"Whether Saif was forced out or withdrew voluntarily, he has had to acknowledge that his work came up against insuperable obstacles in the form of the old guard surrounding his father. ... At least for now  Libyans have lost one of their few avenues to pursue human rights improvements and political reform," wrote Ronald Bruce St John, an author of seven books on Libya, in a recent commentary for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.  

Default The younger Kadafi has never held any formal political power. But he has played a key role in improving Libya's ties with the West in recent years and has become a vocal critic of conservative hardliners in the government. Some of his calls for economic and political liberalization have not gone down well with some conservatives.

And there seem to be more twists to the drama. According to media reports, several of Saif al Islam Kadafi's conservative opponents are believed to be closely backed by his two brothers -- Mutassim, a national security adviser, and Khamis, a high-ranking military leader.

The rumors about alleged cracks inside the Kadafi family and brawls between the brothers over their differing political visions are apparently so widespread that the younger Kadafi went out to deny such speculations in a rare public statement.

"Several press reports have suggested that I’ve been involved in a power struggle with my brothers behind the scenes in Libya," Saif al Islam was quoted as saying in an address posted on GICDO's website. "There is nothing of the sort.  I have an excellent relationship with my family."

The rising tensions between moderates and hardliners in Libya have been noticeable in recent months. In November, 20 journalists working for media outlets run by the Al Ghad publishing company, a media group closely affiliated with the younger Kadafi,  were detained by Libyan security forces.

The reason for their detainment was not immediately clear. Press-freedom group Reporters Without Borders said in a statement at the time that the arrested journalists had called for the return of opposition figures. They were later ordered release by the elder Kadafi.

In his statement denying the rumored family feud, Saif al Islam Kadafi apparently also felt compelled to set the record straight about his links to Al Ghad. He denied that he owned the media group, emphasizing that he was "merely a supporter" and nothing else.

The publishing company was in the news again earlier this week when a Libyan news agency that is part of Al Ghad published a rare article criticizing the Libyan army. 

The piece, reportedly written by the political editor of Libya Press, claimed the Libyan army was doing a bad job and said civilians should lead the defense ministry.

"The armed forces have taken over thousands of acres of land that were needlessly transformed into camps and barracks and later became sources of wealth for many," the Reuters news agency quoted it as saying.

Aside from accusing the army of inefficiency, the piece also described some senior military officers as corrupt.

It' was a daring piece by Libyan standards. Aside from the apparent escalating power struggle between moderates and the old guard, media reports have surfaced about protests being staged in several Libyan cities in the past week over corruption and lack of government-subsidized housing.

-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut

Photos, from top: Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi's reformist-minded son Saif al Islam Kadafi has publicly denied that he is involved in a family feud with his conservative brothers amid escalations in the power struggle between the country's moderates and the old guard surrounding the elder Kadafi. Credit: Getty Images. Libya's long-ruling leader Moammar Kadafi. Credit: Reuters

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