Two of Moammar Gadhafi's sons are secretly offering to push their father aside and lead Libya toward democracy. However, the plan faces possible sabotage not only by rebels whose hatred of the whole Gadhafi family runs deep, but also -- and perhaps even more -- by a fierce, violent sibling rivalry from the dictator's other sons.
Gadhafi's seven sons are notorious for their playboy reputations, brushes with the law, corruption and family infighting. One son, Hannibal, was arrested in 2008 for allegedly beating servants at a Geneva hotel. Another son, Saadi, was booted from a professional soccer team in Italy in 2003 after failing a drug test. The third-born, Mutassim, was sent into exile in Egypt for years after he repositioned Libyan troops without his family's permission and used live rounds during military exercises.
Sometimes the brothers have even come to blows. In 2005, Gadhafi's oldest son Mohamed, who was in charge of Libya's Coca-Cola bottling plant, had to fend off an attack by soldiers dispatched by Mutassim, who wanted a piece of the Coke business.
Gadhafi's ChildrenRick Loomis, Los Angeles Times/MCT7 photos Seif al-Islam Gadhafi was long considered by U.S. diplomats as a possible successor to his father, according to WikiLeaks cables. But that changed in February, when Seif went on state TV, calling pro-democracy protesters drunks, drug addicts and terrorists, and dramatically vowing to die on Libyan soil.
Seif al-Islam Gadhafi was long considered by U.S. diplomats as a possible successor to his father, according to WikiLeaks cables. But that changed in February, when Seif went on state TV, calling pro-democracy protesters drunks, drug addicts and terrorists, and dramatically vowing to die on
A U.S. diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks compared the Gadhafi sons' infighting to "a Libyan soap opera" and noted that the whole family "has been in a tailspin recently." Another cable from 2009 predicted that "acute discord" among Gadhafi's children "could play an important, if not determinative, role in whether the family is able to hold on to power after the author of the revolution exits the political scene."
Now the Gadhafi brothers' infamous jealousies are likely to be directed toward the Libyan dictator's second son, Seif al-Islam. A secret proposal backed by Seif and his brother Saadi, and still under debate in Libya and the West, would put Seif in charge of a process to transform Libya into a constitutional democracy.
The plan faces several obstacles, not the least of which is from Seif's own brothers. Libyan opposition forces -- as well as the U.S. and Europe nhave long called for total regime change, rather than merely installing another Libyan leader with the Gadhafi name. Seif's standing in the West has also suffered in recent weeks, as he re-emerged as an attack dog for his father's regime.
Until recently, U.S. diplomats had long considered Seif a possible successor to his father, according to WikiLeaks cables. Educated in London, he pushed for economic reform in Libya and was even rumored to have an Israeli girlfriend. But that all changed in an instant, when Seif went on state TV in February, calling pro-democracy protesters drunks, drug addicts and terrorists, and dramatically vowing to die on Libyan soil.
"What he would have done in the past is try to act as conciliator between the hardliners and the (anti-Gadhafi) protesters in Benghazi," Charles Gurdon, a Libya expert who runs the London political risk consultancy Menas Associates, told AOL News. "As it happens, he'd been responsible for trying to resolve problems between the east and the regime for a number of years.
"But with that speech, in which he basically parroted what his father said, and was just as hard-line as his father, that's when I think it was recognized ... that there would have to be fundamental change," Gurdon said, describing Seif's fall from grace. "Any idea that there could be a transition between Gadhafi and Seif al-Islam probably went out the window then."
Inside the Gadhafi family, the most resentment of Seif's possible future role could come from his brothers Khamis, a professional soldier, and Mutassim, who has a reputation for being a "hothead," Gurdon said.
"Seif al-Islam has no military training and he's not involved in security services at all, whereas Mutassim and Khamis are. Therefore they would always fear... that the rivalry would follow them," Gurdon said. "There would likely be conflict between the brothers, probably between Mutassim and Seif al-Islam. Mutassim is probably ready to take over even through force."
The Gadhafi family's best hope for reconciliation might come in the form of the Libyan leader's only daughter, Aisha, a lawyer who served (unsuccessfully) on Saddam Hussein's defense team, and who is better known in the Arab press as the "Claudia Schiffer of North Africa." At one point, Gadhafi appointed Aisha as a "minder for the most troublesome" of her brothers. She was tasked with "monitoring the activities of ne'er-do-wells" in her family, a WikiLeaks cable noted.
One of the tasks that befell Aisha Gadhafi in 2008 was mediating a diplomatic row that exploded between Switzerland and Libya, after her brother Hannibal was arrested in Geneva. But according to WikiLeaks, the Swiss ambassador privately told U.S. officials that Aisha gave her father a "less than accurate rendering" of events -- suggesting she may have had more loyalty to her brother than to her father. The whole incident brought Aisha closer to some of her siblings but alienated others.
That seems to be what the current Libyan conflict has done to the Gadhafi family, bringing some of the siblings together and stoking further rivalry among others. The Gadhafis' small circle of trusted relatives and friends is also shrinking, as top aides defect to the West.
And an investigation by the International Criminal Court into possible war crimes by the Libyan dictator could also cover the actions of his sons Khamis, a commander in his father's elite security forces, and Seif al-Islam, for allegedly inciting violence with his state TV speeches.
"Nobody really knows what's happening within the family," Gurdon said. "There is a lot of rivalry between them, but it may be more of a case of swimming together -- or sinking together."