Idris of Libya
|King of Libya|
|Reign||24 December 1951 – 1 September 1969|
|Muhammad Idris bin Muhammad al-Mahdi as-Senussi|
|Father||Muhammad al-Mahdi as-Senussi|
|Mother||Aisha bint Muqarrib al-Barasa|
|Born||12 March 1889
Al-Jaghbub, Ottoman Cyrenaica
|Died||25 May 1983
|Burial||Jannat al-Baqi, Medina, Saudi Arabia|
Idris, GBE (Arabic: إدريس الأول), also known as King Idris I of Libya (born El Sayyid Prince Muhammad Idris bin Muhammad al-Mahdi as-Senussi; 12 March 1889 – 25 May 1983), was the first and only king of Libya, reigning from 1951 to 1969, and the Chief of the Senussi Muslim order. While in Turkey for medical treatment, Idris was deposed in a 1969 coup d'etat by army officers led by Muammar Gaddafi.
Born at Al-Jaghbub, the headquarters of the Senussi movement, on 12 March 1889, the son of Sayyid Muhammad al-Mahdi bin Sayyid Muhammad al-Senussi and his third wife Aisha bint Muqarrib al-Barasa, Idris was a grandson of Sayyid Muhammad bin 'Ali as-Senussi, the founder of the Senussi Muslim Sufi order and the Senussi tribe in North Africa. His lineage is considered to be descendant of the Prophet Mohammed. He became Chief of the Senussi order in 1916 following the abdication of his cousin Sayyid Ahmed Sharif es Senussi. He was recognized by the British under the new title Emir of the territory of Cyrenaica, a position also confirmed by the Italians in 1920. He was also installed as Emir of Tripolitania on 28 July 1922.
Idris spent the early part of his career attempting to negotiate independence for Cyrenaica. In 1922, following the Italian military campaigns against Libya, he went into exile. Egypt then served as his base in a guerrilla war against the colonial Italian authorities.
World War II
As Europe prepared for war, Libyan nationalists at home and in exile perceived that the best chance for liberation from colonial domination lay in Italy's defeat in a larger conflict. Such an opportunity seemed to arise when Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935, but Mussolini's defiance of the League of Nations and the feeble reaction of Britain and France dashed Libyan hopes for the time being. Planning for liberation resumed, however, with the outbreak of war in Europe in September 1939. Libyan political leaders met in Alexandria, Egypt, in October to resolve past differences in the interest of future unity. Idris was accepted as leader of the nationalist cause by Tripolitanians as well as Cyrenaicans, with the proviso that he designate an advisory committee with representatives from both regions to assist him. Differences between the two groups were too deep and long held, however, for the committee to work well.
When Italy entered the war on the side of Germany on June 10, 1940, the Cyrenaican leaders, who for some months had been in contact with British military officers in Egypt, immediately declared their support for the Allies. In Tripolitania, where Italian control was strongest, some opinion initially opposed cooperation with Britain on the ground that if the Allies lost-- which seemed highly possible in 1940--retribution would be severe. But the Cyrenaicans, with their long history of resistance to the Italians, were anxious to resume the conflict and reminded the timid Tripolitanians that conditions in the country could be no worse than they already were. Idris pointed out that it would be of little use to expect the British to support Libyan independence after the war if Libyans had not cooperated actively with them during the war.
Idris presided over a meeting of Libyan leaders hastily summoned to Cairo in August 1940, at which formal arrangements for cooperation with British military authorities were initiated. Delegates to the conference expressed full confidence in Idris in a resolution and granted him extensive powers to negotiate with the British for Libya's independence. The resolution stated further that Libyan participation with British forces should be "under the banner of the Sanusi Amirate" and that a "provisional Sanusi government" should be established.
Although a number of Tripolitanian representatives agreed to participate, the resolution was essentially a Cyrenaican measure adopted over the objections of the Tripolitanian nationalists. The Tripolitanians, suspicious of the ties between Idris and the British, held that a definite statement endorsing Libyan independence should have been obtained from Britain before Idris committed Libya to full-scale military cooperation. Also, although the Tripolitanians were reluctantly willing to accept Idris as their political chief, they rejected any religious connection with the Sanusi order. Hence they objected to the use of the term Sanusi throughout the resolution in place of Libya or even Cyrenaica. These two areas of objection--the extent of the commitment to Britain and the role of the Sanusi order in an independent, united Libya--constituted the main elements of internal political dissension during the war and early postwar years.
British officials maintained that major postwar agreements or guarantees could not be undertaken while the war was still in progress. Although he endeavored from time to time to secure a more favorable British commitment, Idris generally accepted this position and counseled his followers to have patience. Clearly, many of them were not enthusiastic about Libyan unity and would have been satisfied with the promise of a Sanusi government in Cyrenaica. After the August 1940 resolution, five Libyan battalions were organized by the British, recruited largely from Cyrenaican veterans of the Italo-Sanusi wars. The Libyan Arab Force, better known as the Sanusi Army, served with distinction under British command through the campaigns of the desert war that ended in the liberation of Cyrenaica.
In a speech in the House of Commons in January 1942, British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden acknowledged and welcomed "the contribution which Sayid Idris as Sanusi and his followers have made and are making" to the Allied war effort. He added that the British government was determined that the Sanusis in Cyrenaica should "in no circumstances again fall under Italian domination." No further commitment was made, and this statement, which made no mention of an independent Libya, remained the official British position during the war.
North Africa was a major theater of operations in World War II, and the war shifted three times across the face of Cyrenaica, a region described by one German general as a "tactician's paradise and a quartermaster's hell" because there were no natural defense positions between Al Agheila and Al Alamein to obstruct the tanks that fought fluid battles in the desert like warships at sea, and there was only one major highway on the coast along which to supply the quick-moving armies. Aiding the the Allied powers, Idris and his forces fought with a vengeance during military confrontations in Cyrenaica and another province, Tripolitania, according to contemporary accounts. The Italians invaded Egypt in September 1940, but the drive stalled at Sidi Barrani for want of logistical support. British Empire forces of the Army of the Nile, under General Archibald Wavell, counterattacked sharply in December, advancing as far as Tobruk by the end of the month. In February 1941, the Italian Tenth Army surrendered, netting Wavell 150,000 prisoners and leaving all of Cyrenaica in British hands. At no time during the campaign did Wavell have more than two full divisions at his disposal against as many as ten Italian divisions.
In March and April, Axis forces, stiffened by the arrival of the German Afrika Korps commanded by Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel, launched an offensive into Cyrenaica that cut off British troops at Tobruk. The battle seesawed back and forth in the desert as Rommel attempted to stabilize his lines along the Egyptian frontier before dealing with Tobruk in his rear, but in November British Eighth Army commander General Claude Auchinleck caught him off balance with a thrust into Cyrenaica that succeeded in relieving Tobruk, where the garrison had held out for seven months behind its defense perimeter. Auchinleck's offensive failed in its second objective--cutting off Rommel from his line of retreat.
Rommel pulled back in good order to Al Agheila, where his troops refitted for a new offensive in January 1942 that was intended to take the Axis forces to the Suez Canal. Rommel's initial attack was devastating in its boldness and swiftness. Cyrenaica had been retaken by June; Tobruk fell in a day. Rommel drove into Egypt, but his offensive was halted at Al Alamein, 100 kilometers from Alexandria. The opposing armies settled down into a stalemate in the desert as British naval and air power interdicted German convoys and road transport, gradually starving Rommel of supplies and reinforcements.
Late in October the Eighth Army, under the command of General Bernard Montgomery, broke through the Axis lines at Al Alamein in a massive offensive that sent German and Italian forces into a headlong retreat. The liberation of Cyrenaica was completed for the second time in November. Tripoli fell to the British in January 1943, and by mid-February the last Axis troops had been driven from Libya.
King of Libya
With the help of the British Military Administration of Cyrenaica and the backing of London, Idris as-Senussi was rewarded for the help the Senussi tribe provided in ridding Libya of the Italian and German occupation and was proclaimed an independent Emirate of Cyrenaica in 1949. He was also invited to become Emir of Tripolitania, another of the three traditional regions that now constitute modern Libya (the third being Fezzan). By accepting he began the process of uniting Libya under a single monarchy. A constitution was enacted in 1949 and adopted in October 1951. A National Congress elected Idris as King of Libya, and as Idris I he proclaimed the independence of the United Kingdom of Libya as a sovereign state on 24 December 1951.
From Benghazi, Idris led the team negotiating over independence with the United Kingdom and the United Nations under UN special adviser to Libya Dutch born Adrian Pelt, which was achieved on 24 December 1951 with the proclamation of the federal United Libyan Kingdom with Idris as king. In 1963 the constitution was revised and the state became a unitary state as the Kingdom of Libya. Earl Mountbatten was a very close friend of King Idris and used to visit him in Libya often and stay at the Royal Palace. Both King Idris and Earl Mountbatten used to go together on excursion trips into the Sahara desert which Earl Mountbatten enjoyed.
Idris had the same principles that formed part of his Sufi heritage namely peaceful co-existence, tolerance and a live and let live philosophy of life that was also held by the likes of Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.
In 1955, failing to have produced a male heir, he convinced Fatima, his wife for 20 years, to let him marry a second wife, Aliya Abdel Lamloun, daughter of a wealthy Bedouin chief. The second marriage took place on 5 June 1955. Ironically both wives then became pregnant, and both bore him a son.
In regional affairs, Libya enjoyed the advantage of not having aggravated boundary disputes with its neighbors. As development of petroleum resources progressed in the early 1960s and the once impoverished country into a independently wealthy nation with potential for extensive development, Libya launched its first Five-Year Plan, 1963-68. One negative result of the new wealth from petroleum, however, was a decline in agricultural production, largely through neglect. Internal stability, however, was further assured in through passage of the 1963 constitution, which successfully eliminated the historical divisions of Cyrenaica, Tripolitania, and Fezzan and divided the country into ten new provinces, each headed by an appointed governor. Libya was one of the thirty founding members of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), established in 1963, and in November 1964 participated with Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia in forming a joint consultative committee aimed at economic cooperation among North African states. Although he supported Arab causes, including the Moroccan and Algerian independence movements, Idris took little active part in the Arab-Israeli dispute or the tumultuous inter-Arab politics of the 1950s and the early 1960s.
The brand of Arab nationalism propounded by Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser exercised an increasing influence, particularly among the younger generation. To the chagrin of Arab nationalists at home and supporters of Pan-Arabism in neighboring states, Idris maintained close ties with the United Kingdom and the United States and was more ambitious about growing Libya's economy through aid from Western nations rather than through assistance from the regional Arab states. In response to the growing anti-Western agitation in 1964, Libya's essentially pro-Western government requested the evacuation of British and American bases before the dates specified in the treaties. Most British forces were in fact withdrawn in 1966, although the evacuation of foreign military installations, including Wheelus Air Base, was not completed until March 1970.
After the forming of the Libyan state in 1963, Idris' government had tried--not very successfully--to promote a sense of Libyan nationalism built around the institution of the monarchy. Idris himself was first and foremost a Cyrenaican, never at ease in Tripolitania. His political interests were essentially Cyrenaican, and he understood that whatever real power he had--and it was more considerable than what he derived from the constitution--lay in the loyalty he commanded as amir of Cyrenaica and head of the Senussi order. Idris' pro-Western sympathies and identification with the conservative Arab bloc were especially resented by an increasingly politicized urban elite that favored nonalignment. Aware of the potential of their country's natural wealth, many Libyans had also become conscious that its benefits reached very few of the population. An ominous undercurrent of dissatisfaction with corruption and malfeasance in the bureaucracy began to appear as well, particularly among young officers of the armed forces who were influenced by Nasser's Arab nationalist ideology.
The June 1967 War between Israel and its Arab neighbors aroused a strong reaction in Libya, particularly in Tripoli and Benghazi, where dock and oil workers as well as students were involved in violent demonstrations. The United States and British embassies and oil company offices were damaged in rioting. Members of the small Jewish community were also attacked, prompting the emigration of almost all remaining Libyan Jews. The government restored order, but thereafter attempts to modernize the small and ineffective Libyan armed forces and to reform the grossly inefficient Libyan bureaucracy foundered upon conservative opposition to the nature and pace of the proposed reforms.
Although Libya was clearly on record as supporting Arab causes in general, the country did not play an important role in Arab politics. At the Arab summit conference held at Khartoum in September 1967, however, Libya, along with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, agreed to provide generous subsidies from oil revenues to aid Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, defeated in June by Israel. Also, Idris first broached the idea of taking collective action to increase the price of oil on the world market. Libya, nonetheless, continued its close association with the West, while Idris' government steered an essentially conservative course at home.
Another threat to his kingdom was his failure to produce a surviving male heir to succeed to the throne. To remedy this situation, Idris in 1953 designated his sixty-year-old brother to succeed him. In 1956, the original heir died and Idris designated his brother's son, Prince Sayyid Hasan ar-Rida al-Mahdi as-Senussi, as the Black Prince or crown prince.
The economy prospered from its oil fields and the presence of the United States Air Force's Wheelus Air Base near Tripoli, but the king's health began to falter and the crown prince assumed a greater role in the government and from time to time acted as regent. Alienated from the most populous part of the country, from the cities, and from a younger generation of Libyans, Idris spent more and more time at his palace in Darnah, near the British military base. In June 1969, the king left the country for rest and medical treatment in Greece and Turkey, leaving Crown Prince Hasan ar Rida as regent.
Overthrow and exile
On 1 September 1969, while Idris was in Turkey for medical treatment, he was deposed in a coup d'état by a group of Libyan army officers under the leadership of Muammar Gaddafi. The monarchy was abolished and a republic proclaimed. The coup pre-empted Idris' abdication and the succession of his heir the following day. From Turkey, he and the queen travelled to Kamena Vourla, Greece, by ship and went into exile in Egypt. After the coup of 1969, Idris was placed on trial in absentia in the Libyan People's Court and sentenced to death in November 1971.
Libyan civil war
Although the king died in exile and most Libyans were born after his reign, during the Libyan civil war, many demonstrators opposing Colonel Gaddafi carried portraits of the king, especially in the traditional Sanussi stronghold of Cyrenaica. The tricolour flag used during the era of the monarchy was frequently used as a symbol of the revolution and was re-adopted by the National Transitional Council as the official flag of Libya.
Idris married five times:
- At Kufra, 1896/1897, his cousin, Sayyida Aisha binti Sayyid Muhammad as-Sharif al-Sanussi (1873 Jaghbub – 1905 or 1907 Kufra), eldest daughter of Sayyid Muhammad as-Sharif bin Sayyid Muhammad al-Sanussi, by his fourth wife, Fatima, daughter of 'Umar bin Muhammad al-Ashhab, of Fezzan, by whom he had one son who died in infancy;
- At Kufra, 1907 (divorced 1922), his cousin, Sakina, daughter of Muhammad as-Sharif, by whom he had one son and one daughter, both of whom died in infancy;
- At Kufra, 1911 (divorced 1915), Nafisa, daughter of Ahmad Abu al-Qasim al-Isawi, by whom he had one son who died in infancy;
- At Siwa, Egypt, 1931, Sayyida Fatima al-Shi'fa binti Sayyid Ahmad as-Sharif al-Sanussi Fatima el-Sharif (1910 Kufra – 3 October 2009, Cairo, buried in Jannat al-Baqi, Medina, Saudi Arabia), fifth daughter of Field Marshal H.H. Sayyid Ahmad as-Sharif Pasha bin Sayyid Muhammad as-Sharif al-Sanussi, 3rd Grand Sanussi, by his second wife, Khadija, daughter of Ahmad al-Rifi, by whom he had one son who died in infancy;
- At the Libyan Embassy, Cairo, 6 June 1955 (divorced 20 May 1958), Aliya Khanum Effendi (1913 Guney, Egypt), daughter of Abdul-Qadir Lamlun Asadi Pasha.
For two short periods (1911–1922 and 1955–1958) Idris kept two wives, marrying his fifth wife with a view to providing a direct heir.
Idris fathered five sons and one daughter, none of whom survived childhood. He and Queen Fatima adopted a daughter, Suleima, an Algerian orphan, who survived them.
- Order of Idris I
- High Order of Sayyid Muhammad ibn Ali al-Senussi
- Order of Independence
- Al-Senussi National Service Star
- Al-Senussi Army Liberation Medal
He was a recipient of the following foreign honors:
- Imperial Order of the House of Osman 1st class (Turkey) (1918)
- Nobility (Nishan-i-Majidieh) 2nd class (Turkey) (1918)
- Collar of the Order of Hussein ibn Ali (Jordan)
- Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire (1954 – KBE in 1946) (United Kingdom)
- Collar of the Order of Muhammadiya (Morocco)
- Grand Cordon of the Order of the Nile (Egypt)
- Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour (France)
- Grand Cordon of the Order of Independence (Tunisia)
- Grand Cordon of the National Order of the Cedar (Lebanon)
- Grand Cross of the Order of Merit (Italy)
- Grand Cross of the Order of the Redeemer (Greece)
|Ancestors of Idris of Libya|
- "Royal Ark". Royalark.net. Retrieved 29 July 2012.
- Royal Ark. Royalark.net. Retrieved 26 October 2013.
- Vandewalle, Dirk (2006). A history of modern Libya. Cambridge University Press. p. 36. ISBN 978-0-521-85048-3.
- Oliver, Roland; Atmore, Anthony (2005). Africa since 1800. Cambridge University Press. p. 236.
- LIBYA-WORLD WAR II AND INDEPENDENCE Country Studies, US Library of Congress
- Libya-The Desert War Country Studies, US Library of Congress
- Albin Krebs (May 26, 1983). "King Idris, Ousted in '69 by Qaddafi, Dies in Cairo". New York Times. Retrieved February 25, 1983.
- Diller, Daniel; Moore, John (1995). The Middle East. Congressional Quarterly. p. 308.
- Daily Mirror 23 September 1955
- INDEPENDENT LIBYA, Country Studies, US Library of Congress, Accessed February 22, 2014
- Bloodless coup in Libya. BBC News On This Day. 1 September 1969.
- "The liberated east: Building a new Libya". The Economist. 24 February 2011. Retrieved 26 February 2011.
- "Libya: Senussi Dynasty Orders and Decorations". royalark.com. Retrieved 12 June 2011.
- Royal Ark
Media related to Idris of Libya at Wikimedia Commons
Idris of Libya
Senussi dynastyBorn: 12 March 1889 Died: 25 May 1983
New states created
|Emir of Cyrenaica
1920 – 24 December 1951
Countries merged into Kingdom of Libya
|Emir of Tripolitania
1922 – 24 December 1951
|King of Libya
24 December 1951 – 1 September 1969
||Head of State of Libya
24 December 1951 – 1 September 1969
as de facto leader of Libya
Ahmed Sharif es Senussi
|Chief of the Senussi order
1916 – 4 August 1969
Crown Prince Hasan
|Titles in pretence|
|Loss of title
||— TITULAR —
King of Libya
1–2 September 1969
Crown Prince Hasan