Some thought that he would be back in Libya rallying behind Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, who registered as a candidate for Libya’s upcoming presidential election on 14 November. However, Saleh, the former regime’s big money man and previous head of the Libyan sovereign wealth fund, has other plans. Following his arrival in Sebha, he filed his own candidacy in the same city as the former Guide’s son.
Abu Dhabi’s shadow
As a matter of fact, relations between the two men have been reduced to a minimum in recent years. Gaddafi’s entourage coldly received the news, which minimises the event’s significance. “His candidacy was planned, but he does not carry much weight in public opinion.”
Saleh is said to have tried to contact Gaddafi upon his return, but the latter feels that the former money man is too close to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Saleh has been living there since 2018, after he left South Africa where his life was threatened and he no longer enjoyed the authorities’ protection after Jacob Zumba resigned.
Béchir Saleh probably has no chance of becoming president, but he is interested in having a seat in parliament.
Many observers feel that Abu Dhabi’s shadow hangs over his candidacy. “He has passed on a lot of secrets to the Emiratis,” says a person close to al-Islam. “He is Abu Dhabi’s submarine,” says another person familiar with the Libyan dossier.
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Therefore, he is running to split the vote of the Gaddafists, who favour Khalifa Haftar, who is also a candidate. “He does not have significant funds of his own, but a jet trip costs several hundred thousand euros. Who paid for it?” asks a former colleague, who feels that Abu Dhabi’s involvement in helping Saleh return home is questionable.
The green light from Haftar?
Saleh’s return to the Sebha region is no coincidence. He has several supporters – including within the Tubu community, where he is from – whom he can count on. “His jet landed in Tamanhint [Sebha region], rather than in Tripoli because he received authorisation, the green light, from Haftar,” says one of Gaddafi’s Libyan supporters. In fact, the region is under the control of troops that are loyal to the marshal.
“Don’t forget that a presidential candidacy can be useful for promoting a candida[te] for the legislative elections [to be held in January],” says the same source. “Béchir Saleh probably has no chance of becoming president, but he is interested in having a seat in parliament.”
While doubts remain about whether the election will take place on 24 December as scheduled, no less than a dozen candidates are expected to run in Libya’s presidential election. Saleh told us back in 2017, during an interview, that he wanted to return to Libya “as soon as the democratic process is underway and the militias have been disarmed.” He added that he would run for president, “if the Libyans want him to.”
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