Idris, the forgotten Libyan king overthrown by Gaddafi

December 24, 2018 at 10:00 am | History

Nduta Waweru

Nduta Waweru | Contributor

December 24, 2018 at 10:00 am | History

In 1969, Muammar Gaddafi overthrew the only king to ever rule post-independent Libya, Muhammad Idris bin Muhammad al-Mahdi as-Senussi, just 18-years into his reign.

Idris, who saw the independence of the North African country was born on
12 March 1889. He was the grandson of the founder of the Senussi  Muslim  Sufi Order and the Senussi tribe in North Africa and thus was considered one of the privileged members of the community. 

Photo: Wiki CC 

Idris, who took over the leadership of the Senussi after his cousin’s abdication, established a tacit with the British. He would also be instrumental in establishing an agreement with Italy upon the handover of Libya by the Ottoman Empire. He was made the Emir of Cyrenaica– one of the three provinces of Libya- and the people of Libya were allowed to hold dual citizenship (Libya and Italy) until the 1920s when the relationship between the two countries deteriorated.

Photo: Wiki CC

Following the death of Tripolitania leader in 1920, Idris was approached to extend his rule to the region to bring peace and stability.  He accepted the proposal despite Italy’s opposition of the unification of the two regions. The fear was so strong that Idris went into exile in Egypt in 1922.

World War II saw the defeat of Italy even in Libya, which was put under British and French forces. Idris supported the British hoping they would rid his country of Italians, but he had hoped Libya would become a British protectorate instead of an independent country.

By 1949, the agitation for an independent Libya had peaked, with the United Nations General Assembly passing a resolution that independence should be fully granted to Libya by 1952.

On this day in 1951, Idris was declared the king of the United Kingdom of Libya, with his headquarters at Benghazi. At the point, Libya was a poor nation destroyed by war. This forced Idris to form alliances with West, including allowing the establishment of military bases for the UK and U.S. in return for funding for development.


King Idris with then-U.S. Vice-President Richard Nixon. Photo: Wiki CC

The country started prospering with the discovery of oil in 1959. At this time, Idris’ health had started deteriorating and he slowly retreated from governance and public life, leaving his nephew in charge. In 1969, while in Turkey for medical treatment, a group of soldiers led by Gaddafi deposed him. 

The deposition followed a series of complaint of excesses by Libya’s only king. Reports indicate that Idris used the proceeds from oil to strengthen his family’s status and alliances.  He was accused of endemic cronyism and corruption, leading to loss of support from Tripolitania and Fezzan. 

Once deposed, the monarchy was abolished and republic reinstated. Idris went into exile in Egypt, where he stayed until his death in 1983.

Most viewed

Conversations

Must Read