The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist" said Kevin Spacey's character, Verbal Kint, during the film. Well, I think the world has just woken up to the magic that has been played upon them by the son of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, and I must applaud both father and son, it was magnificent.
Last May Gaddafi junior gave a speech at the London School of Economics (LSE) outlining his vision of Libya moving towards a "participatory democracy" and a "free society". Last week, the same man gave a speech in Libya promising that his father's regime would fight to the "last man, the last woman, the last bullet." Among those taken by surprise by this ideological U-turn were Peter Mandelson, Prince Andrew and Tony Blair. But it wasn't just these three - whom we know to be more interested than normal in money and/or power. It was, for instance, the entire management team of the LSE. How did he do it?
The story is laid out in this week's Sunday Times - In 2003, Saif Gaddafi enrolled at the LSE to study for an MSc, following his father's decision (negotiated by Tony Blair through Saif) to renounce terrorism and dismantle nuclear weapons after the West had shown in their invasion of Iraq what might happen to the so called "rogue states". Senior academics at the LSE have commented that he seemed committed to liberal principles, asking questions about democratic theory and human rights then forming a foundation to lobby for reforms inside Libya and pushing for human rights abuses to be addressed.
He then wrote a PhD thesis which was submitted in 2008 entitled ""The Role Of Civil Society In The Democratisation Of Global Governance Institutions: From ‘Soft Power’ to Collective Decision-Making?" and included, on page 41 - the following passage, which is rather relevant to his present attitude:
"Locke saw people as being able to live together in the state of nature under natural law, irrespective of the policies of the state. This self-sufficiency of society, outside the control of the state, was given weight by the growing power of the economic sphere which was considered part of civil society, not the state. The state is therefore constructed out of, and given legitimacy by, society, which also retains the authority to dissolve the government if it acted unjustly. Other writers continued with this distinction of civil society and government. The state kept its function of maintaining law and order that Hobbes had stressed, but was considered to be separate from society, and the relationship between the two of them was seen to be subject to laws that gained their legitimacy from society, not from the state. For example, Montesquieu saw the state as the governor and society as the governed, with civil law acting as the regulator of the relationship. The importance of law in regulating the way the state and society interacted was obvious to many writers who considered that a government that did not recognise the limitations of law would extend to become an over-reaching tyranny similar to that described by Hobbes in Leviathan."
(OR, you might say, similar to Libya under his father)
The financier, Nat Rothschild, threw a party for Gaddafi to celebrate his PhD and through him he met Peter Mandelson and Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska - who was investing in Libya. Saif was also a front man for the Libyan Investment authority which set up a London Hedge fund which invested in a London Hotel, Deripaska's Russian Aluminum company, Juventus football club, Pearson (who own the Financial Times) and an Italian defence company. Through all this he met Blair again and also Prince Andrew - who hosted a Libyan trade function in 2007.
Politically he seemed committed to reform in Libya even up to last year where he claimed he wanted a "level of freedom like in Holland" in Libya and wouldn't take a role in his father's government unless he was democractically elected.
So what has gone wrong? Was the last 7 years just a conversion of convenience so that the West's eyes (and missiles) were turned away from what was really happening in Libya? Or was it internal pressure in Libya for him to change his focus. Or was it - as the LSE academic David Held suggested, that he has ditched his principles out of misplaced family loyalty?
I hope, to retain my faith in human nature, that it is the latter. I fear, because the motives and gains from it were so clear, that it was the former.
(Cue final shot of Saif Gaddafi walking off into the distance shaking off his fake limp and straightening out his deformed hand).