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March 9th, 2011
11:30 AM ET

Family helps Gadhafi stay in power

Tom Foreman
AC360° Correspondent

(CNN) - The embattled Libyan leader, Moammar Gadhafi, is one of those rare figures in the world who manages to not only seize power, but also hold onto it for decades. Despite the inevitable mythology that grows up around such figures, however, it is worth noting that he has not done it alone. He has had a large, if at times quarrelsome, family to help him hold onto the reins.

Gadhafi has nine grown children. One is the result of a short marriage to his first wife, seven are with his second wife, and one is adopted. They hold many positions of influence in Libya's security forces, military, telecommunications, and other industries, and plenty of Libya watchers believe Gadhafi uses them not only as agents of his will, but also his eyes and ears.

The most noted power player is Saif Al-Islam. He is the one who shows up relatively often in TV interviews. He is the second oldest son, the oldest from the second wife. He was educated at the London School of Economics. He speaks fluent English, is a fastidious dresser, and he paints. An exhibition of his work was displayed in Moscow.

More importantly, he has long been seen as a possible successor to his father. He has denied any such desire, but others were interested in the idea for quite some time because he was considered more modern in his thinking, even reform minded by many Libya watchers. But that was before his recent and very public vows to fight the protestors to the end.

Another possible successor to the family throne is Mutassim, and accordingly his relationship with Saif Al-Islam is believed to be tense. Mutassim once allegedly helped plot a coup against his father and had to flee the country when it failed. He was eventually forgiven and is now his father's national security adviser. Mutassim was involved in official talks with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2009 about improving U.S./Libyan relations.

Ayesha, who is 34, is the only daughter. In many photos she looks like a blond model, and she is believed to play the role of peacekeeper among the brothers. Yet she also toes a very tough political line. She has been a longtime, loud supporter of anti-government groups (except at home) including the IRA and the insurgents in Iraq. She was famously part of Saddam Hussein's defense team when he was tried and hanged. When The Telegraph asked her how she felt about Iraqis who say he slaughtered thousands of their countrymen, she replied, "You are bound to meet people who may be against your policies."

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