No longer a man the West can do deals with

His former university distances itself from Seif al-Islam el-Qadhafi — he had a role in nuclear talks and in Megrahi's release, convicted in the Lockerbie bombing case.

Updated - November 17, 2021 03:40 am IST

Published - February 23, 2011 12:41 am IST

With his flawless English, his expensive Italian suits and his place at the London School of Economics (LSE), Seif al-Islam el-Qadhafi appeared to be a man with whom the West could do business: a man who could smooth access to his country's vast mineral resources while avoiding the need to deal with his famously capricious father.

As State security forces were reported to be firing relentlessly into crowds of civilian protesters on February 21, and with Qadhafi Jr appearing on television to threaten a civil war in which the regime “will fight to the last minute, until the last bullet,” many of his erstwhile associates were questioning their friendships with him.

The LSE was quick to distance itself from Seif on February 21, issuing a statement in which it said the university had had a number of links with Libya, but that “in view of the highly distressing news from Libya over the weekend of February 19-20, the school has reconsidered those links as a matter of urgency”.

Although the LSE had accepted £1.5m from the Qadhafi International Charity and Development Foundation, an organisation headed by Seif — some of which was to finance “a virtual democracy centre” — the university stressed that it was to be paid over five years, and only £3,00,000 has been received to date. “In current difficult circumstances across the region, the school has decided to stop new activities under that programme,” the statement said. The LSE has also received scholarship funding in return for advice given to the Libyan Investment Authority in London. “No further receipts are anticipated,” the university said.


Professor David Held, an academic advisor to Seif Qadhafi during his four years at the LSE, said: “Watching Seif give that speech — looking so exhausted, nervous and, frankly, terrible — was the stuff of Shakespeare and of Freud: a young man torn by a struggle between loyalty to his father and his family, and the beliefs he had come to hold for reform, democracy and the rule of law. The man giving that speech wasn't the Seif I had got to know well over those years.” The university's move to break its financial links to the regime in Tripoli did nothing to silence criticism, however. Raheem Kassam, director of the anti-radicalisation group Student Rights, said: “LSE has the most market-driven fund-raising model there is in the U.K. Has that model reduced them into a simple gun for hire?” An explanation for Qadhafi's arrival at the LSE in 2002 may be found in one of the WikiLeaks cables, in which a U.S. diplomat notes that “creating the appearance of useful employment for al-Qadhafi's offspring has been an important objective for the regime”.

Shortly before he arrived, apparently with the blessing of the late Fred Halliday, professor of international relations, he startled some of the academic staff by insisting that it was his father, and not Anthony Giddens, emeritus professor at the university, who created the concept of the third way, then a pet philosophy of Tony Blair.

In the introduction to his doctoral dissertation on global governance, published in 2008, Qadhafi wrote: “I shall be primarily concerned with what I argue is the central failing of the current system of global governance in the new global environment: that it is highly undemocratic.” The purpose of his dissertation, he added, was to analyse “how to create more just and democratic global governing institutions,” focussing on the importance of the role of “civil society.”

Approached MI6

Six months after arriving in the U.K., and with U.S.-led forces about to invade Iraq, he is said to have approached MI6 to inform the agency that his father's regime was prepared to abandon its nuclear weapons programme. The contact led to negotiations between Libya, Britain and the U.S. which saw the programme dismantled, and the Qadhafi regime begin to be allowed in from the cold.

While studying for his PhD, Seif enjoyed a life of considerable luxury in one of London's wealthiest and most prestigious suburbs. In August 2009 Qadhafi bought his son a £10m house in north London. Inside the neo-Georgian eight—bedroom mansion, Seif could relax in his own swimming pool sauna room, whirlpool bath and suede-lined cinema room.

On February 21, the entourage of blacked-out cars parked on Seif's driveway had disappeared and there was less need for the forest of CCTV cameras or the private security team who had been on hand to protect him at all times.


During his time in London Qadhafi mixed socially with Lord Mandelson and the financier Nathaniel Rothschild, and was said to be on friendly terms with the Duke of York. He played a leading role in talks that led to the 2009 release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the man convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing in which 270 people died. While flying Megrahi home to Libya on a private jet, Qadhafi Jr gave a television interview in which he said the release had been linked to lucrative business deals.

Mandelson later insisted any suggestion that the British government had struck a deal and then instructed the Scottish government to release Megrahi was wrong, implausible “and actually quite offensive.”

A review of documentation relating to the release conducted by the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O'Donnell, reported earlier this month that the British government had been anxious to avoiding harming the country's commercial interests, and that there would be “severe ramifications for U.K. interests” if Megrahi was to die in prison.— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.