Mohammed el-Senussi, Crown Prince of Libya

As war rages on in Europe and looms elsewhere, Libya and Libyans are facing yet another choice and another potential cataclysm. 

I know my countrymen can prevent another conflict and create a durable system reflective of Libyan history, culture, and values that is authentically and vibrantly democratic. 

Without engagement, however, at every level of Libyan society and the support of international partners, Libya risks losing again its opportunity to join the family of free nations as its people have always craved.

Unlike nearly every other state in the Middle East and North Africa, Libya emerged organically as a democracy. 

It is not a primordial nation, stemming from some deep-seated concept of Libyan-ness that stretches back 10 thousand years. Indeed, the concept of Libyan identity does not rest upon such an eternal justification. Rather, Libyans chose to exist. 

Unity and democracy are deeply rooted in Libya’s history

They were forged out of North African chaos in the 19th century when Libyans collectively decided to resist the brigandage that defined their territory and reject the slave-trading emirs of the southern Mediterranean coastline.

In turn, Libyans fought for their identity, their right to be defined as a people with an ambition to live peacefully and prosperously, resisting colonial occupation and Nazism in equal measure.

My late father, Hasan el-Senussi, Libya’s Crown Prince, is key to this lineage of nationhood, as is our family. Our family history is one of tenacious defence of the Libyan nation. 

They chose … a democratic constitution, one that protected the rights of minorities and guaranteed freedom of conscience.

Libyan fighter shows a graffiti they wrote on a wall in Al Ajaylat, 120 km west of Tripoli, 7 September 2011Francois Mori/AP

His predecessor, the Libyan King Idris, presented Libyans with a choice after World War II. They chose unity, bringing together the region’s three political subdivisions into one kingdom. 

And they chose — with the full endorsement and utter personal commitment of their new king, his advisors, and his family — a democratic constitution, one that protected the rights of minorities and guaranteed freedom of conscience. 

They created the structure within which parliamentary democracy and representative government could flourish.

As a kingdom, Libya was democratic to the core

This makes Libya unique. Idris did not assent to concessions on his royal prerogative. 

Indeed, Idris never considered himself to be a monarch with any sort of fundamental right to power. 

He was the leader of the Senussi order, the Sufi religious order that came to Libya more than a century before and that had earned the trust of Libyans through their honesty, even-handedness, and tenacious defence of their independence from foreign domination. 

The fact that an independent Libya was a kingdom did not contradict its democratic essence.

Rather, the Libyan monarchy was a fundamental part of Libyan democracy embedded into a constitutional political framework that matched Libyan history, culture, and political will. 

It was the unifying symbol of national identity that made a functioning democracy possible. 

Libya’s troubles since the 1969 coup stem from the elimination of this democracy. 

Yet Libyans still remember their democratic instincts, even though a decade has passed since the 2011 revolution, with the country remaining fractious and unstable, having suffered through two brutal civil wars.

International peace initiatives have failed because they ignored Libya’s history

There is no apparent path forward because external actors have not understood that Libyans are the key to lasting peace in their country. 

Multiple political initiatives have failed to generate a constructive settlement precisely because they have all ignored Libyan history. 

Using an authentically Libyan consultative mechanism, headed by a Libyan, and employing a ready-made template for the country’s stability in the pre-1969 Constitution would be a far more effective approach.

Indeed, all polling and public sentiment indicate the pre-1969 Constitution remains highly popular amongst Libyans, and King Idris continues to be revered as the father of the Libyan nation. 

Libya’s democratic constitutional monarchy need not win back popular support; that support already exists.

The most effective way for the European powers to support the development of a democratic Libya is through the modification of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF). 

The Libyan question is also European

The EU should consider backing a new forum that explicitly includes the pre-1969 Constitution as its objective and has a variety of consultative mechanisms within it for a long-term transition period.

Europe must take the lead internationally, for the Libyan question is indelibly European. Libyan history is bound up with Europe’s. 

Not only did European imperial and fascist powers hope to conquer Libya. The Libyan people also ultimately stood alongside free Europe in its fight against fascism. 

If Libya again suffers under dictatorship, it will inevitably become aligned with the authoritarian revisionist powers that will use the country’s resources as a pawn in their geopolitical games.

Members of a British tank crew dig into their Christmas pudding during a rest in the drive on Bardia, 5 January 1941AP/AP

Hence the establishment of a democratic Libya in 1951 stems, much like the resurrection of the French Republic and the creation of Western Germany, from the victory of democracy over tyranny in Europe.

Libya’s European linkages continued throughout the past century as it became a major energy exporter to the continent.

The current situation demonstrates the dangers of a hostile or divided Libya. If Libya again suffers under dictatorship, it will inevitably become aligned with the authoritarian revisionist powers that will use the country’s resources as a pawn in their geopolitical games. 

Europe can’t keep turning a blind eye until North Africa blows up once more

But more likely, and more dangerous, is another spasm of violence that destroys Libyan hope for the future and provides further space for extremists, sectarians, and private militias alike, sparking yet another refugee crisis as well as a security crisis across the region that sits on the southern shores of Europe.

War has defined the past year. It will again define this one as the world enters another period of military contestation and ideological rivalry. 

A sniper from Misrata fires towards the so-called Islamic State militant positions in Sirte, Libya, September 2016AP Photo/Manu Brabo

Europe must seize the opportunity to ensure North African democratic stability, not ignore the problem until it explodes once again. 

Strategic ignorance will not only condemn the people of Libya to further suffering. It will do the same to Europe.


Mohammed el-Senussi is the Crown Prince of Libya and an active commentator on Libyan affairs since the start of the Libyan Civil War.


Related Articles