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LONDON -- Col. Moammar Gadhafi isn't the only one facing international condemnation for events in Libya. On Wednesday, the London School of Economics announced that it was cutting ties with the Libyan leader's second son, Saif al-Islam, and suspending a program financed by his charity.
Saif attended LSE from 2003 to 2008, where he earned both a master of science degree and a doctorate. His dissertation -- which can be found here -- examined the role of civil society in securing more democratic institutions of global governance.
In what now reads like a cruel twist of irony, the dissertation criticizes undemocratic states whose governments are "authoritarian, abusive and unrepresentative." While the focus is on international -- not domestic -- bodies, Gadhafi argues for creating more just and democratic institutions of governance. The dissertation concludes by calling, on moral grounds, for "a collective decision-making approach [which] has real potential and deserves further examination."
Until quite recently, the sort of peaceful, pro-democratic, pro-Western values laid out in Saif's thesis are precisely what made him stand out as the most promising heir to his quixotic, violent and often anti-Western father.
Indeed, while leaked diplomatic cables revealed several of Saif's siblings to be extravagant, greedy and abusive, Saif was the straight man. He ran the Gadhafi International Charity and Development Foundation, which sent hundreds of tons of aid materials to Haiti following the earthquake there in January 2010.
According to the New York Times, a 2010 WikiLeaks cable said that young Libyans considered Saif the "hope" of "Libya al-Ghad" ("Libya of Tomorrow"). Men in their twenties aspired to be like him and thought that he was the right person to run the country: clean-cut, educated, cultured.
So much for that.
On Sunday, Saif appeared on Libyan television, declaring that Libya faced a civil war. He warned that there would be "rivers of blood" if his countrymen did not rally around his father, who would fight to "the last man, the last woman, the last bullet."
At that point LSE began to re-appraise its relationship with its benefactor, who recently donated 1.5 million pounds ($2.4 million) to help develop a research program on politics, economics and society in North Africa. (Some of the donation was to finance a "virtual democracy center.") The university has so far spent about 300,000 pounds, a fifth of the total.
On Monday, LSE issued a statement acknowledging its links with Libya, but noting that "in view of the highly distressing news from Libya over the weekend of 19-20 February, the school has reconsidered those links as a matter of urgency." Effective immediately, the school would stop new research under the North Africa program.
(Disclosure: My husband teaches at the university.)
According to David Held, a prominent scholar of democratization and one of Saif's dissertation advisers, the issue came down to values. "Watching Saif 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."
Held added: "When this man came to his test, he failed and he is culpable for his failures."
On Wednesday morning, student protesters took over the university president's office, demanding that LSE management "repay" the Libyan money already spent by creating a scholarship fund for underprivileged Libyan students. "It's reprehensible that the university continues to benefit from money that was stolen from the Libyan people," said one student. Students also urged the university to revoke Saif's alumni status.
Meanwhile, back in Libya, the Gadhafi clan continues to defend their father's legacy. Even as the country teeters on the edge of civil war with hundreds -- possibly more than a thousand -- dead, Saif was on television again on Thursday, insisting that "life in Tripoli is normal." He blamed the media for "spreading lies."
According to one of his brothers, Saif is busy working on a new constitution for their nation.
I wonder if he'll go back and read his dissertation in the process.
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