In 2009 when Fatima Ahmed al-Sharif, the last queen of Libya and widow of King Idris, passed away, she was in exile with her family in Egypt. Her husband, Idris, had died years earlier in 1983. Idris had been the only king to ever rule post-independent Libya at a time it was a poor nation destroyed by war.
Libya started prospering with the discovery of oil in 1959 but in 1969, while Idris was in Turkey for medical treatment, a group of soldiers led by Muammar Gaddafi deposed him following complaints of excesses by him. Once deposed, the monarchy was abolished and a republic reinstated. Idris went into exile in Egypt, where he stayed until his death in 1983.
Throughout these throbbing last moments was his wife, Fatima. Before the family went into exile in Egypt, Fatima, as queen consort, was very visible, attending scores of public events while being a role model for many Libyan women and a foster-parent to many children of relatives, a report said.
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Born in 1911 in what was Italian Libya in the Oasis of Kufra to parents who were instrumental in the fight against the colonial forces in Libya at the time, Fatima did have a son with Idris in 1953, more than 20 years after they got married. At the time the two got married in 1931 in Siwa, Egypt, Fatima was just 20. Idris, then the Emir of Cyrenaica — one of the three provinces of Libya — was her cousin and her father’s successor.
The two had a joyous union but things turned sour following the death of their only son in 1953, at just one day old. The couple went on to adopt an Algerian orphan girl named Suleima, whose father had been killed in Algeria’s war of independence. Fatima and Idris fostered other children but with Idris having ascended the Libyan throne in 1951, Fatima threw his weight behind him to marry again to enable him to secure an heir. She even selected two women for him to choose from though Idris ignored those two women and married an Egyptian woman, Alia Abdel Kader Lamloum, in 1955, upon the advice of his premier.
Fatima did not leave the family residence in Tobruk, however. She stayed married to Idris. She was with him when he was forced to form alliances with the West, including allowing the establishment of military bases for the UK and U.S. in return for funding for the development of Libya. But her husband was soon accused of endemic cronyism and corruption, and with his health deteriorating, he slowly retreated from governance and public life, leaving his nephew in charge. Fatima was in Turkey with Idris when he was deposed by Gaddafi in 1969.
The couple, with no money, were only able to get to Greece with the help of the Turkish government which took care of their hotel and travel. She would later write to a friend stating how frustrated she was that she could not perform the fasting for Ramadan in European countries. Later, the couple were able to travel to Cairo, Egypt, where she remained until her death.
Media reports said Fatima lived in a house provided for Libyan royals by former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. There, she kept a low profile and avoided politics and the media. Before her death on October 3, 2009, at the age of 99, the Libyan People’s Court tried her in absentia in November 1971. The court froze her assets and sentenced her to five years in prison, a sentence she did not serve as she was still out of the country.
Fatima is buried in the Hamza Cemetery in Medina, close to Mount Uhud.