The son of the late dictator Muammar Gaddafi is running for president in the upcoming Libyan election

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The son of Libya’s late dictator Muammar Gaddafi has appeared for almost the first time in a decade to register as a presidential candidate in a December election scheduled to help end the years of chaos since his father was overthrown.

Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, 49, appeared in an election commission video on Sunday in a traditional brown suit and turban, and with a gray beard and glasses, signing documents at the polling station in the southern city of Sebha.

Mr Gaddafi is one of the most prominent – and controversial – people expected to run for president.

But even though his name is one of the most famous in Libya, and although he once played a major role in shaping the policy ahead of the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that destroyed his family’s regime, he has barely been seen in a decade.

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi is seen through a blocked witness box as he participates in a hearing in Zintan, May 2014.
Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi has been out of the public eye since he was arrested by warriors after his father’s death in 2011.(Reuters: Stringer / file photo)

Educated at the London School of Economics and a fluent English speaker, Saif al-Islam was once seen by many governments as Libya’s acceptable, Western-friendly face and a possible successor.

But when an uprising broke out in 2011 against his father Muammar Gaddafi’s long rule, Saif al-Islam immediately chose family and clan loyalties over his many friendships in the West, telling Reuters:

His formal entry into an election whose rules are still being questioned by Libya’s squabbling factions may also raise new questions about a contest that presents candidates who are considered unacceptable in some regions.

Despite public support from most Libyan factions and foreign powers ahead of the December 24 election, voting is still questionable as rival entities quarrel over the rules and schedule.

A major conference in Paris on Friday agreed to sanction anyone who disturbs or prevents the vote, but with less than six weeks left, there is still no agreement on rules for who should be able to run.

While Gaddafi is likely to play on nostalgia for the era before the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that swept his father from power and ushered in a decade of chaos and violence, analysts say he may not prove to be a pioneer.

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi at the 58th Berlin Film Festival 2008.(AFP: Peer Grimm / DPA / Stock Photo)

The Gaddafi era is still remembered by many Libyans as one of harsh autocracy, while Saif al-Islam and other former regime figures have been without power for so long, they may have difficulty mobilizing as much support as major rivals.

Muammar al-Gaddafi was captured outside his hometown of Sirte by opposition fighters in October 2011 and was briefly shot.

Saif al-Islam was arrested days later by fighters from the mountainous Zintan region as he tried to flee Libya for Niger.

One son is running for president, another has been released from prison

More than a decade later, Saif al-Islam is now something of a figure for Libyans.

Zintan fighters kept him out of sight for six years and his view of the crisis is unknown.

He gave an interview to the New York Times earlier this year, but has not yet made any public appearance and has spoken directly to Libyans.

To complicate his presidential ambitions, Gaddafi was tried in the absence in 2015 by a court in Tripoli where he appeared via video link from Zintan, and who sentenced him to death for war crimes including killing protesters during the 2011 revolt.

He would probably be subjected to arrest or other dangers if he appeared in public in the capital Tripoli.

He is also wanted by the International Criminal Court.

At the same time, the younger son of the late Gaddafi was released from prison in September, a decade after the uprising that overthrew his father’s regime.

Local media reported that Saadi Gaddafi was released after being released from charges dating back to the uprising, when he led a special forces brigade that beat down protesters and rebels.