One of Muammar Gaddafi’s five surviving children was kidnapped in Lebanon on Friday.
Hannibal Gaddafi, who was the late Libyan dictator’s fifth son, appeared in a video broadcast on Lebanese television exhorting Libyan officials to release information about the fate of Musa Sadr, the prominent Lebanese Shi’ite cleric and communal leader who vanished when Muammar Gaddafi invited him to Libya in 1978.
The Gaddafi children who survived the Libyan civil war are far from sympathetic figures. Saif al-Islam Gaddafi had a ghostwriter complete his PhD dissertation at the London School of Economics. Ayesha Gaddafi was a member of Saddam Huseein’s legal defence team, while Saad Gaddafi bribed and intimidated his way into a soccer career. For his part, Hannibal was arrested in Switzerland in 2008 on suspicion of beating two of his servants.
But they have had a rough few years after the death of their father, who was lynched by an angry mob in drainage ditch in Sirte, Libya, on October 20, 2011. Saif was arrested before he could escape Libya and sentenced to death earlier this year. Saadi was arrested in Niger and then extradited to Libya, where he may have been tortured. Ayesha was stripped of her UN goodwill ambassadorship, and has been living in exile in Oman after being kicked out of Algeria. After the fall of Tripoli in mid-2011, Hannibal was credibly accused of torturing an Ethiopian maid by pouring scalding water on her.
The Arab Spring protests precipitated the fall of governments in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen, and sparked the still-ongoing civil war in Syria. Today, the protests often viewed as a prelude to wider regional disorder, rather than a turning point in the Middle East’s democratization.
But the fortunes of the Gaddafi family show that the Arab Spring did have at least one result that might eventually be considered positive.
The protests and the resulting conflicts unsettled regimes and even entire social and political orders that had seemed immovable. In Libya, a dictator who had ruled for decades was killed by a mob of the very same people he oppressed. His children, who had been groomed for leading roles in a flourishing and deeply thuggish autocracy — a status that allowed them to cheat, buy or abuse their way through lives of seemingly absolute privilege and comfort — instead became exiles and fugitives.
This isn’t much of a moral victory, and as one Twitter user put it, Hannibal’s kidnapping might be considered an example of karma, rather than justice.
But the fall of the Gaddafi family is still an especially dramatic microcosm of how the broader Middle East has changed this decade.
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