Khalid is not the only Libyan I have heard speak of Saif al-Islam with a mixture of fondness and sympathy, even among those who support the overthrow of the Qaddafi regime. "He's not a bad kid, really," said one Libyan I spoke with in Tubruq in April. "But he got everything he ever wanted growing up. Anyone who grows up like that will have problems. And you know, in the end, he just wanted too much to be like his dad." Even to some Libyans who supported the revolution against him, Saif al-Islam was just a spoiled kid who needed some therapy. To others, of course, he was a monster -- and the International Criminal Court, which indicted him in June for crimes against humanity, agreed.
When the uprising broke out in Benghazi in February, Khalid says he and his volunteer guard unit refused to obey government orders to clear protesters out of government-owned apartments they were occupying. "As Saif al-Islam's guard unit, it wasn't our duty to do that kind of thing anyway," he says. "It was the police's job." The regime was swept out of Benghazi days later. Still, Khalid has a few good things to say about Qaddafi père, though he concedes that "under the present circumstances, it's hard to talk about the positive things that al-Qaddafi did. But after all, he built the country up. And he built the military." But Khalid also points to the corruption that infested the Qaddafi regime -- and he wonders if perhaps he was wrong about Saif al-Islam, after all. "On the outside, he was cultured and a moderate," he says. "But on the inside... I don't know."
Turning his attention to Libya's post-Qaddafi situation, Khalid is rueful. "There is chaos. There is no government, no security, no police. Everybody has guns and weapons." As if to make his point, more celebratory gunfire erupts outside the cafe. When I ask about Libya's future, Khalid immediately identifies three challenges to political stability. "First of all," he says, "there could be civil war in the west, especially around Misrata. Second, you have the ongoing presence of many Qaddafi supporters. And third, there is the desire for revenge."
Later, as our discussion comes to a close, I ask how these three men -- an Islamist, a liberal economist, and a recent volunteer for the regime -- manage to get along. Do they just avoid talking politics? Osama smiles at the question. "No way," he says. "We talk politics all the time." But they have a system: "When we get together, each of us gives his opinion. We talk it over. Sometimes the conversation ends with a laugh, and sometimes it just ends with us saying, 'Well, let's quit talking about it and all go out together.'" Perhaps Libya could use such a system, too.