Libya: [ 21 November, 1949 - 24 December, 1951 ]
The Making of State ; Libya's Independance

Thousands fought for Libya's independence in many ways .. click here for photos of few of them

Libya achieved her independance on the 24th of December 1951. After years of local resistance to the Italian occupation and years of political work locally and internationally following Italy's defeat in World War II, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution on 21 November 1949 granting Libya its independance no later than 1 January 1952. In accordance with the General Assembly's resolution, the United Nations was to keep a watchful eye on the internal devolopment of Libya and was to be fully informed by reports presented by its commissioner.

On 10 December 1949, the general assembly appointed Adrian Pelt, Assistant Secretary-General of the UN, as the UN Commissioner in Libya. Pelt went to Libya for a preliminary study of the situatioon. He arrived in Tripoli on 18 January 1950 and visited the three Libyan provinces, Tripolitania, Cerinaica and Fazzan. In a statement issued in Tripoli, he outlined the purpose of his mission as follows: "... the commissioner was also instructed, after consultation with the administrating powers, the members of the Council, and the leaders and representatives of the political parties in Libya, to appoint the representatives of Libya in the Council.".

Pelt spent three weeks in Libya. In order to set up the Advisory Council, he concentrated his major efforts on consultation with the administrating powers, the Amir of Cerinaica (Idris al-Sanousi) and the principal political parties and leaders of the three provinces. He requested Libyan leaders to submit to him the name of one agreed candidate for each of the four seats specified in the UN resolution. Only Fazzan submitted the name of an agreed candidate, selected by the Assembly and representatives. After a prolonged discussion and consultation, the Amir of Cerinaica on 28 March 1950 submitted eight names and invited Pelt to select on of them. In Tripolitania the political parties submitted seven names, and the minorities four names. From these, Pelt selected four representatives [The four Libyan representatives were as follows: Cerinaica, Ali al-Jerbi (replaced later by Ali al-Unaizi); Tripolitania, Mustafa Maizran; Fazzan, Ahmed al-Hajj al-Sanousi (replaced later by Mohammed Ben Uthman; the Minorities, Giacomo Marchino.]

After consultation with Libyan leaders, Pelt decided that a Preparatory Committee should be formed, in which the three provinces would be equally represented, as a step toward the preparation of the constitution by a National Constituent Assembly. To achieve this purpose, Pelt submitted to the Council of Ten a plan. The text of the plan follows:
  1. Election of local assemblies in Cerinaica and Tripolitania during June 1950;
  2. Selection of a Preparatory Committee of the National Assembly no later than July 1950 for the purpose of recommending the method of election, including composition of Libyan National Assembly, and of drafting a resolution;
  3. Election and convening of the Libya National Assembly during the fall of 1950;
  4. Establishmen, by the National Assembly, of a provisional Libyan government early in 1951;
  5. Adoption of a constitution, including the form of government for Libya, by the National Assembly during 1951;
  6. Proclamation of independance by Libya and formation of a definitive Libyan government before 1 January 1952.
Tripolitania leaders objected to the establishment of an elected Preparatory Committee on the ground that an electon in Tripolitania under British military aministration would select representatives likely to be swayed by British influence. Mustafa Maizran, the representative of Tripolitania in the Council of Ten, maintained that elections in Tripolitania should not be held and instead, suggested an appointed body. After prolonged discussion in the Council of Ten it was finally agreed to select the Tripolitanian representatives by consultation with the party leaders, since Tripolitania had a number of established political parties.
On 14 June 1950, a draft resolution was adopted. The text of the resolution reads:
The Council advised the Commissioner by the resolution to take the following action:
  1. Request the Amir to propose the names of seven representatives from Cerinaica;
  2. Consult the political leaders in Tripolitania, and, after obtaining their views in the subject, propose, for the advice of the Counsil, the names of seven outstanding personalities of Tripolitania to be invited by the commissioner to join the representatives of Cerinaica;
  3. Request to the Chief of the Territory of Fazzan to nominate seven representatives from Fazzan who should consult the representative of Cerinaica and Tripolitania, meeting in Tripoli not later than 1 July 1950, and prepare a plan whereby the representatives of the inhabitants of Cerinaica, Tripolitania and Fazzan should meet in a National Assembly for the purposes stated in paragraph 3 of the resolution of the General Assembly.
The next step was to form the Preparatory Committee, coposed of twenty-one members. Pelt began his consultations with those in control of Tripolitania's political parties and its leading personalities concerning the choice of the seven representatives. Before the parties could reach an agreement, prolonged negotiations were conducted in which Bashir al-Sa'dawi used his persuasiveness. Some party leaders in Tripolitania refused to present lists of candidates on the premise that representation on the Committee of Twenty-One should be based on the size of the population of each territory. It was not until 11 July 1950 that Pelt was able to submit his findings and representatives lists to the Council and the Council by a vote of six to one, with four absentions, approved Pelt's list of candidates.

On 25 July 1950, Pelt invited the persons approved by the Advisory Council to sit on the Committee of Twenty-One. The Committee, so formed, held its first meeting on 27 July 1950 and adopted its rules of procrdure. As its Chairman, it elected Mohammad Abu al-As'ad al-Alim, the Mufti of Tripolitania, and two secretaries - Khalil al-Qallal of Cerinaica and Mohammad Bin Uthman al-Sayd of Fazzan.

The first issue discussed was, what should be the number of members in the National Assembly? Some expressed the opinion that Tripolitania should have a larger representation due to its superiority in population. However, after some discussion, the principle of equal representation was accepted. It was decided that the Libyan National Assembly should be composed of sixty representatives, twenty from each province. The decision, made on 7 August 1950 was carried by seventeen votes, with three abstentions and one absent member.

The second issue discussed was, should the members of the National Assembly be elected or selected? Representatives of Fazzan and one representative from Tripolitania, Ali Rajab, supported the principle of election while the representatives of Tripolitania and Cerinaica upheld the principle of selection. After prolonged discussions, negotiations and compromise it had been agreed that the Amir of Cerinaica [Mohammad Idris Al-Sanousi] would select the representatives of Cerinaica, the Chief of Fazzan [Ahmed Saif al-Nasr] would select the representatives of Fazzan, the Mufti of Tripolitania [Mohammad Abo al-As'ad Al-Alim] would select the representatives of Tripolitania and the nonnational minorities will not be allowed to participate or to be represented in the National Assembly, however, a genuine intention and a general feeling that the civil, religous, and social rights of minorities and foreigners should be fully safeguarded in the future constitution of Libya.

Finally, at its meeting on 15 October 1950, the Committee of Twenty-One discussed the date and place of the first meeting of the National assembly. It was agreed that the date of the openning session should be 25 November 1950 and that the headquarters of the Assembly should be in Tripoli, but that the assembly would be free to decide where to meet later. Pelt submitted his annual report to the UN early September 1950 and a draft resolution was adopted by the UN on 19 October 1950, it reads:
The Commissioner, aided by the Council of Libya, would make the necessary steps toward the achievement of the independance and unity of Libya, in cooperation with the administrating powers, to ensure the early, full, and effective implementation of the General Assembly resolution of 1949. The draft resolution was passed by fifty-three votes to one (Ethiopia), with five absentions (Soviet bloc).

Before the Libyan National Assembly set to work, Pelt had to face another storm of criticism in the Advisory Council of Libya. On 15 December 1950, he represented to the Advisory Council a memorandum on the work of the Committee of Twenty-One which was discussed on 10-11 March 1951. Mustafa Maizran , the representitative of Tripolitania, opened the discussion by questioning the competence of the Committee of Twenty-One and it was brought to the attension of the meeting that the Cerinaican and Fazzanese members of the Committee of Twenty-One, who together represented less than one-third of the inhabitants of Libya, would be able to dominate the majority. The criticism levelled at the Committee of Twenty-One were challenged by other members of the Council and the representative of Cerinaica, Ali al-Jerbi, stated that no objections were made about the Committee of Twenty-One until the names of the Tripolitanian members of the National assembly were announced, and it was therefore permissible to wonder whether the present objections were not based on personalities rather than on principles. The representative of Fazzan, Mohammad Bin Uthman, observed that since he had been a member of the Comittee of Twenty-One, he was able to testify that the outcome of its work represented a compromise in the interests of Libyan unity and that concessions had been made on all sides. The discussion on the work of the Committee of Twenty-One ended without any formal vote been taken, but Pelt requested the advice of the Council on several proposals he had made to the UN General Assembly , the presentation of which was intended to be an advice to the Libyan National Assembly.

On 23 January 1951, Pelt, after consultation with various Libyan leaders, submitted to the Counscil a letter to be communicated to the Libyan National Assembly as advice, the text of which reads:
  1. The constitution to be prepared by the National Assembly should be enacted in a provisional form, would require final approval and ammendment, if necessary, by a parliment to be elected by the Libyan people as a whole.
  2. Provisions should be made in the constitution for a parliment consisting of two chambers, a small senate composed of elected representatives of the three territories on a basis of equality and a popular chamber to be elected by the people of Libya as a whole.
  3. The popular chamber should have amongst its competencies the sole control over the budget.
  4. The Libyan government, that is the Libyan Cabinet, should be responsible to the popular chamber.
These points imply that the Federal system is to be the system of government in Libya.
Prior to the establishment of a Libyan national government several preliminary steps had taken place to transfer provisional administration from foreign to native control. In June 1949, an Arab administration had already been authorized in Cerinaica which gave this province a self-governing regime; but no such institutions were possible in Tripolitania and Fazzan under foreign military rule. When the UN passed a resolution (21 November 1949) granting Libya independance, Amir Idris impressed upon Bashir al-Sa'dawi the need of establishing a prototype Arab self-governing regime in Tripolitania. Bashir al-Sa'dawi seemed to have agreed with the Amir at a meeting in Benghazi (2 February 1950) and promised to discuss the plan with Tripolatanian political leaders. However, after his arrival to Tripoli on 7 February, al-Sa'dawi changed his mind because he believed that establishing separate Tripolitanian regime would be a prior acknowledgment of the federal system by Tripolitania.

When the Libyan National Assembly met in November 1950, it was keenly felt that steps should be taken to integrate the three provinces before a provisional national government was established. The initiative for forming separate regimes in Tripolitania and Fazzan was taken by the National Assembly itself in its meeting on 21 February 1951 when the Assembly adopted a resolution inviting the King-designate, who had been proclaimed the future King of the country on 2 December 1950, to select the members of local provisional goverments in Tripolitania and Fazzan to exercise their powers as a preliminary step toward the establishment of the Libyan federal government. The local provisional governments were created in March 1951. Steps for the establishment of a provisional government of Libya and who is to be named its head, however, proved to be more complicated.

When the National Assembly discussed this matter (March 17-24 1951), it decided to name a committee (composed of three members, one of each province) to proceed to Benghazi and discuss with the King-designate the establishment of a provisional givernment before 1 April 1951. When the committee returned to Tripoli, the National Assembly met on 29 March 1951 and adopted a resolution embedying the names of the provisional federal government. The National Assembly appointed the following ministers:

Mahmoud al-Muntasir-Prime Minister, Minister of Justice, and Minister of Education.
Omar Shinneeb-Minister of Defense.
Mansour Qadara-Minister of Finance.
Ibrahim Bin Sha'ban-Minister of Communications.
Mohammad Bin Uthman-Minister of State.

Next step was the composition of an assembly which to prepare a constitution for the newly created state of Libya, and that became a subject of a heated controversy both in national and international circles. When Abou al-As'ad al-Alim, the Mufti of Tripolitania, submitted a list of representatives to the Council of Twenty-One which did not meet the approval of the National Congress Party (lead by Bashir al-Sa'dawi), members of the NCP and others demonstrated in Tripoli against the the actions of the Committee of Twenty-One. Bashir al-Sa'dawi appealed to the UN and the Arab League, disputing the competence of the Libyan National Assembly to draw up a constitution for Libya. Al-Sa'dawi also made statements in which he declared that the whole question of Libyan independance should be reconsidered by the UN General Assembly so that a fresh decision compatible with the wishes of the Libyan people could be obtained. Also, the Secretary-General of the Arab League, Abdulrahman Azzam, told the Italian newspaper Tempo that the constitution of the new state [of Libya] must be proclaimed by a freely elected Assembly representing the Libyan people in numerical proportion, Azzam said, otherwise the new state would be based on a false foundation and we [the Arab League] would be unable to recognize it. The National Assembly sent a delegation to the Arab League (22 January 1951) to protest Azzam's statements in the press and to explain the National Assembly's views.

Before the National Assembly began to consider the steps necssary for the drafting of the constitution, two fundamental laws were enacted at the outset, because these were deemed necessary to determine the future of the Libyan state. The first, stipulating that Libya, should be a federal state, was supported by Cerinaican and Fazzanese representatives and only reluctantly by Tripolitanean members, in the hope that such a system wuld be a step toward a more perfect union. The federal system was attacked by its opponents, especially the Tripolitanian National Congress Party lead by Bashir al-Sa'dawi and the Cerinaican Omar al-Muktar Group, as a scheme designed by the imperialists to divide Libya into three states.

Convinced that federalism was but a transitory system, the Libyan National Assembly adopted it. Federalism having been accepted, it did not take long to pass the second law proclaiming the form of government to be monarchical and offering the throne of Libya to the Amir Idris al-Sanousi of Cerinaica. This law was unanimously adopted, amid the applause and acclamation of the National Assembly. On 2 December 1950 it was resolved that a message should be sent to the Amir to inform him of the decision taken by the Assembly and that it considered him King as of that day. A delegation composed of all members of the National Assembly went to Benghazi and presented the Assembly's resolution to the Amir on 17 December 1950, in the presence of al-Saqizli, the Prime Minister of Cerinaica, Bashir al-Sa'dawi, leader of the National Congress Party, and other dignitaries. The Amir, in a short speech, thanked the delegation; Abdulazeez al-Zaghalla'i, made a statement in which he said that while he shared the honor of proclaiming the Amir as a King of Libya, he was still in favor of the unitary-not the federal-form of government and resigned. The King replied that full unity was the ultimate objective of all.

The National Assembly then returned to Tripoli and proceeded in its following meeting (4 December 1950) to appoint a drafting committee known as the Committee of the Constitution, composed of 18 members, to prepare a draft constitution. On 6 December 1950, the Committee held its first meeting; its working group held its first meeting on 11 December. The working group, which held ninety-six meetings, forwarded each chapter to the Committee of the Constitution for approval. The Committee of the constitution, which held twenty-five meetings, made no important changes in the draft prepared by the Working Group.

It was in the National assembly that some of the controversal clauses were finally adopted. The discussion on the draft constitution in the National Assembly began on 10 September 1951 and could not reach a decision for a week. Because of the opposition pressure in Tripoli city the National Assembly moved to Benghazi. On 7 October 1951, the National Assembly completed its adoption of all the articles one by one and unanimously passed a resolution to adopt the whole constitution. The National Assembly at its forty-third meeting (6 November 1951) adopted unanimously the electoral law.
The Assembly remained in session until the proclamation of the independance of Libya
on the 24th of December 1951.
References: Modern Libya, Majeed Khaddouri and Pelt's Annual Reports to the UN.
To send comments, please click here
Back to: Libya: Our Home