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Saif al-Qaddafi’s fall from grace

Saif al-Islam, Muammar al-Qaddafi’s favored son, is shown in the video above rallying a pro-Qaddafi crowd into a frenzy. At one point, he leads the crowd in a chant of "Only God, Muammar, and Libya … we need no other than our leader Qaddafi." As he departs, he promises the mob to return later that ...

Saif al-Islam, Muammar al-Qaddafi’s favored son, is shown in the video above rallying a pro-Qaddafi crowd into a frenzy. At one point, he leads the crowd in a chant of "Only God, Muammar, and Libya … we need no other than our leader Qaddafi." As he departs, he promises the mob to return later that night "with more people and weapons."

The fall from grace of Saif, who holds a doctorate from the London School of Economics and had been seen as Libya’s primary hope for reform, has been swift. What’s more, he threatens to bring down the reputation of some of the most respected Western institutions with him. The LSE is backtracking furiously from its connection with Saif, announcing yesterday that it would return almost $500,000 that it had received from his foundation. It has also opened an investigation into growing evidence of plagiarism in his doctoral thesis.

Saif’s bloodcurdling speeches, in which he threatened the Libyan opposition and accused its members of being drug addicts, have come as a shock to those closest to him "All you can say is that this is a display in the mold of his father," Prof. David Held, who served as an informal advisor to Saif at LSE, told me. "I myself have never heard him speak like this in my life."

Saif’s doctoral thesis, a dense 429-page tome on the creation of "more just … global governing institutions," represents the academic centerpiece of his effort to establish himself as the Western-friendly face of the Qaddafi regime. "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," he writes in his introduction.

But the doctoral thesis’s path toward eventual acceptance was far from smooth. "The drafts that I saw over the first year or two years were very weak," said Held, who mentioned that he was skeptical that Saif had received any outside assistance in part because the material was so poor. "If someone was helping him, they were doing a very bad job."

Saif commissioned the Monitor Group, a consulting firm that also shuttled respected academics and policymakers to Libya in an effort to burnish the country’s international reputation, to conduct a survey of the leading theorists and practitioners in international governance. While the survey’s results were included in the thesis, his LSE examiners did not credit the work toward Saif in awarding him his doctorate — because it was obviously not his own.

Saif may have retreated to Tripoli, but he has left his erstwhile supporters in Europe and the United States grappling with difficult questions about how they misread him so badly. "I always detected within him a conflict between loyalty to his father and his commitment to the transformation of his society," said Held, a respected political theorist who initially supported LSE’s decision to accept a £1.5 million donation from Saif’s foundation. "[A]s as far as I am concerned, he has irrevocably damaged himself as a person in my eyes — but much more importantly, as a prospect for reform in his country."

Nevertheless, Saif has only doubled down on his attacks on the Libyan opposition in recent days. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times on Monday, he denied that the Libyan air force had been used to attack the protesters, whom he derided as "terrorists."

It seems you can buy a degree, but not an education.

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