Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s second-son and presumed heir, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, gave an exclusive telephone interview to Asharq Al-Awsat, during which he provided his account of the current situation in the country, and looked towards the future. Saif al-Islam Gaddafi had previously been portrayed as something of a political reformer prior to the current crisis, however he has lately issued statements strongly supporting the Libyan regime, toeing the government-line that the protests have been incited by foreign terrorist groups, and even threatening the Libyan people with a civil war in which the regime “will fight to the last minute, until the last bullet.”
The Western-educated Saif al-Islam Gaddafi studied at the London School of Economics and is president of the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation.
In a combative interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, during which Saif al-Islam Gaddafi often adopted a patronizing Egyptian dialect, the second son of the Libyan leader denied that Colonel Gaddafi had hired African mercenaries to suppress the protestors, or that the Libyan army had been given orders to kill any demonstrators. He also claimed that more than 90 percent of Libya was under the control of the Gaddafi regime, and called on the international community to “leave us alone.”
The following is the full text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How would you describe the situation in Libya today?
[Saif al-Islam] I would say that more than 90 percent of the country is fine; the problem is in Darna and Benghazi, and there are some [problems] in Tobruk.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you saying that the media reports that do not conform to this assessment [of the situation inside Libya] are lies and that people should believe your evaluation?
[Saif al-Islam] This is not about whether you believe me or do not believe me; the best thing to do is to take a car and a camera and see [the situation] for yourself.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the unarmed Libyan civilians who have been killed?
[Saif al-Islam] When did this happen?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There have been reports of hundreds of civilians being killed and wounded over the past few days in Libya.
[Saif al-Islam] This is not true, and we will hold a press conference to respond to this, all of this talk is garbage!
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You are accusing the Al Qaeda organization of being behind what is happening in Libya? How is this possible?
[Saif al-Islam] I have not accused Al Qaeda, I have accused terrorist groups and armed militias, and they are present [in the country], and the foreign press has met with them and photographed them with weaponry, machine guns, and tanks. This is a fact that is present on the ground.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You have warned against civil war and the establishment of an Islamic emirate, but the people are saying this is nothing more than an attempt to inspire fear. What is your response to this?
[Saif al-Islam] Hilary Clinton and the US have said that Libya could slide into civil war, and this is the US that is saying this which means that there is a genuine threat of this happening. All the people are afraid of the crimes and terrorism that are taking place in Benghazi and Darna, and you yourself can telephone people [there] and ask them and see this for yourself.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] However I spoke to the people in Benghazi and they are calling for the Gaddafi regime to be toppled.
[Saif al-Islam] Who did you speak with?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] I spoke with Abdul Hafiz Ghogha, the spokesman for the [newly-formed] National Council of Benghazi.
[Saif al-Islam] (laughs) Yes, of course you called Ghogha! Speak to the normal people and ask them!
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You are saying that Ghogha is only speaking for himself?
[Saif al-Islam] Ghogha is an [expletive deleted]! Two weeks ago he was sitting in Colonel Gaddafi’s tent cheering and applauding, and he even appeared on the Al Jazeera channel defending Libya and the [Gaddafi] regime, however now he is talking about toppling the regime? “I love you; I love you; that is until your money runs out!” That should be their slogan!
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Don’t you think that the Libyan people deserve a better system of government than the one in place?
[Saif al-Islam] Truly they deserve a better system, and I hope to see the implementation of a better system. However the Libyan people have not entrusted anybody to speak on their behalf… Ghoga is backed by no more than a handful of people, and they do not represent the Libyan people!
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Colonel Gaddafi has always said that power is in the hands of the Libyan people, and the people have now taken power, so what’s the problem?
[Saif al-Islam] They are free to hold and exercise power, there is no problem with that, but rather the problem is in the chaos, terrorism, and crime [taking place]. As I said to you before, ask the ordinary people of Benghazi their opinion [about what is happening].
[Asharq Al-Awsat] I have viewed a video clip of you carrying a weapon and standing on the roof of a car –
[Saif al-Islam] (interrupting) Did you want me to carry a violin or something? All of the people today are armed, and weapons can be found everywhere. In such circumstances, did you want me to carry a guitar? This would not be appropriate.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] People thought that in your speech you would attempt to calm the situation and perhaps even offer some concessions, but you surprised everybody by issuing threats.
[Saif al-Islam] I did not threaten but warn, and there is a difference between threatening and warning.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Until when will Colonel Gaddafi remain in power?
[Saif al-Islam] Until when? My friend, you are listening to certain people like the Americans, Qataris, and I don’t know who else! Allow me to tell you that this is not democracy, this is [expletive deleted]. My friend, what kind of democracy needs to be accepted by the US and [Hilary] Clinton and Al Jazeera? I am sorry; this only needs to be accepted by the Libyan people.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is the Libyan regime employing mercenary forces?
[Saif al-Islam] Where are they? Point out any of these mercenaries to me.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the hundreds of video clips on the internet that clearly show the presence of mercenary forces in Libya?
[Saif al-Islam] My friend, these are Libyans, there are blacks in Libya; if there is a black soldier this does not necessarily mean he is a mercenary, this is racial discrimination!
In Libya there are whites and blacks, the mercenaries are the ones who went to the Americans and came [to Libya] in alliance with NATO and the Qataris, these are the mercenaries, my son. As for those who turned out in service of their country, these are Libyans, whether they are black or white.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you trying to say that what is happening is a conspiracy against Libya?
[Saif al-Islam] Of course, what do you think Al Jazeera and Al-Arabiya are doing? Today they have said that there has been a naval attack on the port of Mizdah, however Mizdah is in the desert, so how can there be an attack on a port in the middle of a desert?
There has also been talk about warplanes carrying out airstrikes on Tripoli; there are 200 foreign journalists in Tripoli right now and they have not found one shell. There have also been claims that the Libyan Air Force bombed camps and cities, destroying Fahsloum and Tajura and other cities. However the journalists met with people [there] and spoke with them, and they said that nothing like this happened. So how can you try and say that there is no organized conspiracy against Libya?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You previously attempted to portray yourself as a reformist, however now people are saying that you are nothing more than a follower of the regime. How do you respond to that?
[Saif al-Islam] When things were going well I was a reformer, however when people cross the red line I hit them with my shoe, and I also hit their fathers’ with my shoe.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What do you have to say about the questions surrounding the Gaddafi family assets abroad?
[Saif al-Islam] Now they are saying that we have assets in Switzerland, can you imagine that? Let me say here and now to the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, if you find any [Gaddafi] money in Switzerland or anywhere else, you can keep it!
[Asharq Al-Awsat] By which you mean to say that nobody in the Gaddafi family has secret assets hidden abroad?
[Saif al-Islam] My friend, this is ridiculous, and shameful. What money do we have in Switzerland? They say we have money in Switzerland? How is this possible? This is a joke!
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why do we see Saif al-Islam Gaddafi – who has no official position in the Libyan government – appearing to comment and issue statements, whilst the Libyan prime minister is nowhere to be seen?
[Saif al-Islam] This is because the prime minister is busy; the country is in a state of emergency. Unfortunately, journalists – like yourself – keep calling me [for comments], and if I refuse you are disappointed, so I have no choice but to talk!
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you think the current crisis will end?
[Saif al-Islam] My friend, the situation is calm and quiet, and – God willing – things will return to normal, so we are optimistic.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] However the people in eastern Libya have said that they have formed a military council [to govern themselves] and have even said that they intend to besiege Tripoli.
[Saif al-Islam] What council are you talking about? This is nonsense! This is a group of [expletive deleted]. There are elderly and poor people who are speaking under duress; they said to these people, either you say this, or we will do this to you. Therefore, they are poor and scared people; shame on you for saying this to me!
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You are not an official member of the Libyan regime, but what role are you playing during the current phase?
[Saif al-Islam] My friend, I am not working [for the Libyan regime]; journalists telephone me – as you did – and I respond.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about when you went out and gave a speech addressing the Libyan people?
[Saif al-Islam] I spoke with many Libyans, and they told me that they had heard rumors that I had been shot, and that Colonel Gaddafi had travelled to Venezuela, and that the regime was over or that it had fled the country, so they asked me to go out and speak. Have you forgotten the rumours that were being spread by Al Jazeera [at this time] or what?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You have accused Qatar or playing a role in the unrest in the country. If this is true, why do you think they have taken such a position?
[Saif al-Islam] Ask them. I don’t know why.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You also accused Egypt of jamming the broadcast of the al-Libya channel on Nilesat. What do you have to say about that?
[Saif al-Islam] You well know that they jammed the al-Libya channel; they did not just jam it but completely cut off its transmission.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But this channel is on air right now.
[Saif al-Islam] Yes, but in the first days [of the uprising] they blocked the transmission…which means there is an organized war [against Libya].
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You also accused Egyptian and Tunisian workers of being involved in what has happened?
[Saif al-Islam] We have films and documents [proving] this and we will release this proof in the future.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] From the manner that you are speaking, it is clear that you are trying to give the impression that the Libyan regime remains in control of the country.
[Saif al-Islam] My friend, the best thing that you can do is to ask the ordinary Libyan people in the street [if this is true], or come to Tripoli [and see for yourself]. The streets in Tripoli today are open, and life is carrying on as normal, and the rest of the cities in southern and central Libya are experiencing a normal life.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the claims that the Libyan regime is attempting to play down the situation to the media?
[Saif al-Islam] Play down what? In Egypt 5 million people took to the streets and went to Tahrir Square to force Hosni Mubarak to leave power and flee to Sharm El-Sheikh. Nothing like this is happening in Libya, there is nobody in the streets! Why are you trying to destroy our country? The picture is white, not black!
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You mean that Libya is not Egypt?
[Saif al-Islam] (interrupting) My friend, Libya is not Egypt or Tunisia, and to hell with Al Jazeera and Qatar, and the [US Navy’s] 6th Fleet, and NATO. They are all [expletive deleted] and I do not care about them.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is your loyalty to your father, Muammar Gaddafi, or to the Libyan regime?
[Saif al-Islam] This is loyalty to Gaddafi, Libya, our people, and our history. We will live and die in our country, we will not go to Jeddah or Sharm El-Sheikh; we are staying [in Libya]!
[Asharq Al-Awsat] So you are saying this is not a battle to defend the Gaddafi family?
[Saif al-Islam] What family are you talking about? This is Libya; just like you [the Egyptians] say “this is Egypt!” I am saying, this is Libya, this is our country, and we are staying and will not leave!
[Asharq Al-Awsat] However the Americans and others are exerting pressure on Colonel Gaddafi to relinquish power.
[Saif al-Islam] (laughing) The Americans have been saying this for 40 years, so this is not the first time!
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What, if anything, would you like to say to the international community?
[Saif al-Islam] I would like to say one thing: the Libyan people would be fine were it not for the foreign sponsored sedition, NATO, the UN Security Council, and Arab satellite television channels. The sedition was caused by foreign parties who lied and issued rumors; in addition to this there have been the [expletive deleted] imams who have issued biased fatwas, not to mention [the actions of] NATO, the US, France, and the UN Security Council. The Libyan people are fine, and we are one family, and we will resolve our problems calmly and quietly and with mutual understanding, but we are now telling the world to “leave us alone.”
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the majority of Libya’s diplomatic corps resigning in protesting to the Libyan regime’s handing of the situation?
[Saif al-Islam] No, my friend, this is not true, a majority did not resign. Even those who did resign, when did they do so? They resigned during the first 4 days [of the uprising] when they were not in contact with Libya. It was impossible for them to get in contact with Libya because the communication network had practically broken down, and there were no foreign journalists here to report the truth. We worked night and day to re-establish communication. In the end, these people [the Libyan diplomatic corps] are just human, and the media has a frightening impact, and the people were affected.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] So who is responsible for the killing of Libyan citizens?
[Saif al-Islam] Those who are responsible for inciting the people, for they did not die in the [protest] marches but rather left the people and children to die, and then came out and said that they are leading the revolution!
[Asharq Al-Awsat] So you don’t feel that there is blood on the hands of the regime?
[Saif al-Islam] My friend, nobody issued orders to kill anybody, what happened occurred spontaneously, everything occurred spontaneously, and tomorrow during the press conference I will reveal the details [of what happened].
[Asharq al-Awsat] Are you not worried about Libya being divided?
[Saif al-Islam] Libya will not be divided, this crisis will subside.
[Asharq al-Awsat] On what basis can you adopt such optimism?
[Saif al-Islam] You are in Egypt, and I am in Libya, so rest assured, but do not misquote me. The garbage people are the ones who are seeking to divide Libya, and kill people, whilst they sit there drinking coffee, and making remarks.
[Asharq al-Awsat] There have been reports that the Libyan regime is preparing to send an envoy to engage with the people in Benghazi, and that Colonel Gaddafi has entrusted [former Libyan Prime Minister] Abuzed Omar Dorda with this task. Is there any truth to this?
[Saif al-Islam] My friend, he would be engaging with a farce. You are talking about 10 individuals who are only representing themselves, not Benghazi, where 1.5 million people live.
[Asharq al-Awsat] But everyone in Benghazi is demanding the overthrow of the regime?
[Saif al-Islam] In any case, you will see in the forthcoming press conference that the participants in those demonstrations were not Libyans; they were Egyptians and others. The whole situation is upside down and chaotic, and everyone is watching [the situation]. Those who came out to [protest] were 5 thousand, or at most 10 thousand, certainly not 100 thousand, whilst the population of Benghazi is 1.5 million, therefore such claims are illogical.
[Asharq al-Awsat] Have you talked about a second Jamahiriya [of Libya]?
[Saif al-Islam] Yes I have talked about this. Now strong domestic rule must return to Libya; there must be an agreed constitution in place, and the issuance of laws promoting freedom and democracy. We must restore peace and security to Libya, along with free elections, where the people can choose whoever they want. As for the chaos, the division of Libya between the east and the west, and the bloodshed, this is unacceptable. The criminals whose hands are stained with blood are responsible for this civil strife.
[Asharq al-Awsat] What about those who say that the talk about freedom and democracy now is nothing more than an attempt to prevent the Gaddafi regime being toppled?
[Saif al-Islam] No, these are my words which I said a month ago, and two years prior to that as well. I have conducted 40 interviews with you…and we always speak about the same things, so how can you say this to me now? This upsets me.
[Asharq al-Awsat] I am not speaking to you now as a friend, but rather as a journalist.
[Saif al-Islam] As a journalist you have conducted 50 million interviews with me, and you are the journalist I have dealt with most often. I have always repeated the same words and phrases. I have not changed my stance one iota, and you know me well.
[Asharq al-Awsat] Why does your voice seem so tired then?
[Saif al-Islam] No, my friend, I am fine, I know [laughing] you want me to tell you I am tired, and about to collapse. If this satisfies you then I could tell you so.
[Asharq al-Awsat] This would not satisfy me, I just want to know the truth. What is the truth?
[Saif al-Islam] What I told you is the truth.
[Asharq al-Awsat] You laugh, as if you want to give me the impression that everything is fine?
[Saif al-Islam] What do you want to hear, do you want me to cry and not laugh? What do you want me to tell you?
[Asharq al-Awsat] But men do not cry.
[Saif al-Islam] Very well, what do you want me to tell you, to make you relax?
[Asharq al-Awsat] I want you to tell the truth.
[Saif al-Islam] I told you.
[Asharq al-Awsat] What do you want to say to the people of Libya?
[Saif al-Islam] We are now united and in agreement, and you know personally that we have not seen a national movement such as this for decades. The largest, most cohesive, and popular movement is happening right now, which is unbelievable. This is the first time we have seen all Libyans react politically, socially, and psychologically. There has been a mass interaction within society, and there is cohesion and a real awakening now. The cohesion is very substantial, and we are all united Libyans, there are no words such as east or west, this is still the great Libyan Jamahiriya. There are no problems, this is a passing cloud, and we hope for a better future. Because we are certain of this, you do not hear from the groups who want to govern and seize power, at the expense of Libyan blood and the division of Libya, for they are insignificant. They have been brought in by the Americans, the French, and whoever else, and they are insignificant. It is important that they are brought to trial.
As for the people in Benghazi, who are both patriots and well-respected, every day I receive hundreds of phone calls from there. Please, speak with the ordinary people in Benghazi, and they will tell you the truth.
[Asharq al-Awsat] What about those close to you who have resigned in protest of the regime’s handling of the situation?
[Saif al-Islam] Like who?
[Asharq al-Awsat] Like Yousef Sawani, Executive Director of the Gaddafi Foundation, of which you are the president.
[Saif al-Islam] I have no idea.
[Asharq al-Awsat] He said that he resigned in protest to what is happening.
[Saif al-Islam] Frankly, Sawani did not talk to me, nor did he offer me his resignation.
[Asharq al-Awsat] I mean, you do not see any justification for why a Libyan official might want to resign?
[Saif al-Islam] Why resign? Journalists are now in Libya, and we told the world please send film crews to uncover the facts. See if you can find one piece of evidence of us using the army, or air force, to bomb civilian targets, and bombard the demonstrators. I, Saif al-Islam, am willing to accept anything, but it is unreasonable, my brother, for you to hit me and then [in addition to this] cry and complain about me. This is not right.
[Asharq al-Awsat] You spent years calling for reform, and nobody [in Libya] paid any attention. What are your views on this?
[Saif al-Islam] I called, and no one heard me, and I still call [for reform]. Libya has no option but to move towards reform, with democracy and greater freedoms. This is something I have told you a thousand times, and I am still true to my word and my position.
[Asharq al-Awsat] But the people in the streets are now calling for the end of the Gaddafi regime.
[Saif al-Islam] My brother, what people have you come here to talk about? What people? Help me to understand! Abdul Hafiz Ghogha, who you spoke to, does not represent the Libyan people; you are talking about 4 or 5 individuals, not 100 thousand, or a million. Libya has a population of six million, and if we were to hold an election, we would receive 80 percent of the votes.
[Asharq al-Awsat] What is your response to those who fear that the Libyan regime, now finding itself in a desperate phase, may ignite the oil fields, for example?
[Saif al-Islam] Firstly, I would like to assure you, the Libyan army is safeguarding all oil wells and terminals. Everything is fine and there are no problems, so there is nothing to worry about.
[Asharq al-Awsat] With what you are doing now, do you have a clear conscience?
[Saif al-Islam] My conscience is clear and strong, because what we are doing is right, and I am 100 percent convinced of this. The enemy, and the forces confronting us, want to divide Libya between the east and west, and they want US and NATO to intervene. What kind of patriot would accept the division of his country? What kind of patriot would accept foreign intervention and occupation of his country? What kind of patriot would force his children to go out and demonstrate, even if they die or are arrested?
[Asharq al-Awsat] I heard that Mohammed Ismail, one of your most prominent aides, had died?
[Saif al-Islam] [sarcastically] Mohammed Ismail – I wish he was dead! Unfortunately he has not been killed, he is still in Tripoli. If you want to talk to him I can ask him to speak with you.
[Asharq al-Awsat] Well then, I shall wait for him. What matters now is that Libya is safe, this is what concerns me.
[Saif al-Islam] God bless you.
[Asharq al-Awsat] Could you please arrange for Colonel Gaddafi to conduct an interview with Asharq al-Awsat?
[Saif al-Islam] Listen. If you publish this interview with exactly what I told you, without any distortion, I promise I will arrange a beautiful interview for you with the [Libyan] leader.
[Asharq al-Awsat] People are disappearing, and history will have no mercy on anyone who kills civilians, or commits acts that are displeasing to God, without conscience.
[Saif al-Islam] Yes, this is true.
[Asharq al-Awsat] Let me ask you again, do you have a clear conscience with regards to what is going on?
[Saif al-Islam] Yes, I am sure that my conscience is clear. As for the rest of this talk about using the army and planes [to confront the protesters], well it is all lies.
[Asharq al-Awsat] When will Libya become a true democracy?
[Saif al-Islam] Now, this is the best chance for Libya. This is a historic opportunity for Libya to become a first-class democratic state. God willing, this can be done peacefully, without the killings, the blood of victims, and the division [of Libya].
[Asharq al-Awsat] In this democratic state you talk about, will Colonel Gaddafi be present?
[Saif al-Islam] I told you that what is important now is Libya, rather than the names of individuals. What is important is the country and our people, individuals are not important, we all die and sacrifice ourselves for our country.
[Asharq al-Awsat] Thank you for your time, although I am not convinced by a lot of what you have said, but my duty as a journalist is to report what you said honestly.
[Saif al-Islam] Thank you. God willing you will discover that what I told you is the truth.