بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
The Libyan Constitutional Union :
Its Establishment and Development (9)
A Documentary Article by Mohamed Ben Ghalbon
(Summary Translation from Arabic)
Readers of this series of documentary articles will be able to examine a narrative of historical events that took place in an important period in the history of our country. I am of the opinion that it is a duty to the homeland to record and publish these historical events, so that we do not lose contact with that important part of our contemporary history. As the narrative of these events deal with the stances of some individuals who were active participants in them, it becomes essential that these stances be recorded in their proper contexts. The intention behind the publication of these accounts, almost a quarter of a century after their occurrences, is not to criticise or denigrate the individuals who were active participants in them. Rather, this publication is a modest attempt to uncover and clarify part of our history that is passed over in silence. Thus, I hope that this aim should not be misconstrued and the writer of this article should not bear the responsibility for the cynical interpretations by others of its content.
(First published in Arabic on 22nd September 2006)
(2) Announcing the Establishment of the
Libyan Constitutional Union
Cont. Mohamed Ben-Younis
* * *
In the previous part of this article I stopped at the invitation from Mr. Yusuf Al-Shaibani to Mohamed Ben-Younis, Sami El-Jerbi, Dr. Mohamed El-Gandooz and myself which he extended at the end of our meeting at Mr. Ben-Younis’s home.
I considered Mr. Al-Shaibani’s invitation to me as an attempt to continue the conversation about the Libyan Constitutional Union, which was so rudely hijacked by Sami El-Jerbi’s irrelevant provocation(1).
On the set date I was warmly and courteously received by Mr. Yusuf Al-Shaibani. Mr. Ben-Younis was already there when I arrived but neither Mr. El-Jerbi nor Dr El-Gandooz showed up. It occurred to me at the time that their absence was possibly by instruction from Mr. Ben-Younis, who perhaps wanted to give our prospective meeting a better chance of developing into a productive session.
* * *
I talked to Mohamed Ben-Younis about the idea of the Libyan Constitutional Union, and found him fully acquainted with all its aspects through the LCU’s publications and our previous meeting. He showed his abundant admiration for the idea, which he considered to carry within it the solution to the Libyan ordeal. He also expressed his sadness at the lack of support it received from the significant and influential figures of the Libyan opposition.
* * *
After an elaborate introduction in which he liberally praised the direction of the Libyan Constitutional Union, Mr. Ben-Younis said that he feared that the opportunity to benefit from the LCU’s brilliant idea would be squandered after certain sections of the Libyan opposition had successfully disfigured its wider aim, of restoring constitutional legitimacy to the country, and deformed it to a limited call for the restoration of the monarchy.
Mr. Ben-Younis further expressed his concerns that this false linkage, which had effectively been achieved by those who were spreading it, would inevitably hamper the sincere and honourable efforts of the LCU and would ultimately result in the total dissipation of such a wonderful opportunity. For it was no secret that the monarchy was not among proposed solutions on the agenda of the then current Libyan opposition scene. Nor was it considered a favoured system of government by anyone as a replacement to the dictatorship that is ruling the country at the present time(2).
In other words, the Libyan opposition was at that time(3) not prepared to consider the struggle for restoring the monarchy, and was in fact working towards forming a new political regime which would be made up of ambitious personalities from within its ranks to take control of the country in place of the wretched regime it aimed to oust.
Mr. Ben-Younis deliberately continued his carefully prepared speech in a well rehearsed pace to state that those “malicious lot” had in fact succeeded in achieving their calculated goal of firmly tying the aim of the LCU with the restoration of the monarchy. They, consequently, deprived the LCU from a platform from which it could continue working towards achieving its noble target. As a result its idea of restoring constitutional legitimacy to Libya would be left blowing in the wind.
He then told me in his articulate manner that he had a proposition which contained not only the way out of this difficult trap, and in accepting it I would record for myself a grand deed of performing a distinguished patriotic service to the national struggle, which would benefit all parties involved.
I listened very intently to his proposal. He went on to persuasively explain in length the details of his offer, which could be summed up as a patriotic deed. I would publicly announce that the true concept the Libyan Constitutional Union revolved around the call for the return of the monarchy to rule the country, rather than a call for the restoration of the constitutional legitimacy. In other words endorse the malicious rumours labelled against me.
Mr. Ben-Younis continued by arguing that doing so was the only way to preserve the opportunity of benefiting from the LCU’s original concept which has suffered from the saboteurs who succeeded in confining the LCU to an organisation essentially aspiring to restore the monarchy.
He and other good patriots would then, adopt the initial idea which calls for the restoration of the constitutional legitimacy in a new formation and attempt to rally everybody around it in order to achieve what is good for the country.
At that moment Mr. Ben-Younis became very small in my eyes for daring to try to sweet talk me into adopting such a ridiculous proposition. To make sure that I understood what he was trying to sell me, I enquired “do you want me to publicly concede to the “malicious lot”, betray myself and my collegues at the LCU who have joined this campaign under the attraction of its original and clear idea and change course to become a Royal party?”
* * *
I further added, if I ever followed such a perverse approach, I would truly deserve all the stigmas and rumours that have been levelled at me by those antagonists, which they have thrown at me since the establishment of the Libyan Constitutional Union until this very day.
I told him that I found myself forced to afford him valuable advice in return for his deviant and eccentric proposal. I advised him to go ahead with establishing –together with the patriotic colleagues he mentioned - a body whose declared aim is the restoration of constitutional legitimacy to the country. I elaborated by saying that he didn’t need permission from me or anybody else in this regard. And that there was nothing wrong with the existence of organisations that work for similar agendas, as the success of one is a gain for all.
I further clarified by saying that no one has a monopoly on this idea or any idea in the field of national duty. And that I wish him and his collegues well in their patriotic endeavour.
I continued by asking him to leave the LCU alone and to never worry about its competition. For –as he stated earlier- the “malicious lot” have already taken care of it by trapping its idea and aspiration inside a narrow political horizon, which –according to his own calculations- would not take it further than a few steps on the road of the national struggle before it collapses.
I concluded by saying that I came to him with high hopes of gaining his support for the direction of the Libyan Constitutional Union when it seemed to me that he fathomed the intricacies of its idea in a fashion only few others could match. And that I came with expectations that he would join the LCU to add to it his considerable weight which was rich in polished political experience, as well as his pool of personal contacts with significant people. I asked him for the sake of all this to wish us well in what we strife to achieve.
On that note our discussion about the LCU came to an end, and we spent the rest of the meeting chatting about current social affairs. I left shortly afterward to return to my place of residence in Cairo.
I never saw Mr. Ben-Younis again until the death of my father in late July of 1984 when he came to my family’s house in Alexandria to offer his condolences to me and my family.
* * *
During that occasion Mr. Ben-Younis tried to talk to me about his National Covenant of Honour project(4) which he mentioned during our meeting in Manchester in the autumn of 1982, but was quick to realise that it was not an appropriate time to discuss such matters.
It is relevant to mention in this context that I received a letter in April 1984 inviting me to express my opinion on the National Covenant of Honour project which it enclosed a copy of. The letter was of unknown origin and showed just "The Preparatory Committee to Draft a National Covenant of Honour” as signature without disclosing any name of the said committees. Its sender never bothered to mention his name or address in order to reply to. I had no other alternative but to ignore that letter.
Three months later I received a phone call on 23rd July 1984 from Mr. Yusuf Al-Shaibani enquiring about my lack of response to the letter he sent me! I explained to him that now after learning from him that it was he who sent that letter I will respond to it in writing.
The sudden death of my father led to the delay in my response which was in the form of a letter I addressed to Mr. Mohamed Ben-Younis dated 20th September 1984 in which I expressed my views on his proposed covenant of honour, which did not differ in the slightest from the discussions we had in my house in Manchester in 1982 (copies of those letters are attached below).
To be continued
Mohamed Ben Ghalbon
30th October 2006
Publication of this series will stop during the month of Ramadan.
It will resume immediately after Eid El-Fitr
Warm greetings and Ramadan Mubarak to all.
(1) See part 8 of this series under Mohamed Ben-Younis : * * *
(2) It is perhaps worth mentioning that all this took place in December 1982.
(3) In the early years of the 1980’s
(4) The National Covenant of Honour was an idea by Mohamed Ben-Younis, in which he tried to rally figures of the exiled Libyan opposition around it.
Copy of the covering letter to Draft National Covenant of Honour
Translation of the covering letter to Draft a National Covenant of Honour
The resolve of all Libyans inside and outside the homeland has united on the necessity to adopt a way that leads to a formula to meet and unite. Inspired by the people’s said desire and prompted by your endeavour and in order to save time, a “preparatory committee for formulating the necessary requirement of unity” has been established to formulate the necessary requirements needed for unification. In the present stage of the struggle, the committee is guided by similar precedents in this field and by the thoughts of all Libyan national forces active inside and outside the country.
Implementing all the above and by the help of Allah, the enclosed draft “Covenant of Honour”, was contrived. It contains the minimum of unifying ideas to establish a collective leadership in the present stage of the struggle and to guide it within the requirements of this stage. This project was initially introduced through the National Libyan League. However, the confinement of the activities of the said League to social work only led the committee to progress in this path away from the League, within what is possible and in the legal ways.
In any case, they are ideas we propose to you with the hope that they will gain your approval, and to let us know if you have any thoughts that enhance the effectiveness of this charter. The committee is prepared to meet with you in an agreed time and place. We hope that this would be at the earliest possible time. May God Grant success.
"The Preparatory Committee to Draft a National Covenant of Honour”
9th Rajab 1404
11th April 1984
Translation from Arabic of the Libyan Constitutional Union’s Response To the
Draft National Covenant of Honour
20 September 1984
To: Mr. Mohammad Benyounis
Cairo - Egypt
Re: Draft National Covenant of Honour
When we met in Britain during 1982, I remember that one of the few topics we discussed was your plan to proclaim a certain covenant or Covenant; and we told you our opinion about it at the time. As we parted, we were under the impression that you had been fully convinced by the Libyan Constitutional Union's argument against the idea.
Some two years later, however, we received a letter dated 11 April 1984, bearing an illegible signature on behalf of a "Preparatory Committee to draft a National Covenant of Honour". To our surprise, we discovered that the draft copy attached to it was identical to the suggestion you had verbally put forth at our previous meeting—a notion about which we had already expounded our reservations for a number of obvious reasons.
The covering letter was just another invitation to consider the same subject, albeit on a wider scale, whereas the enclosed text contained absolutely nothing new. Furthermore, the letter made no reference to the membership of the "Preparatory Committee" or the date of its formation; nor was there any clue as to where it could be contacted in case of reply or inquiry. And, since the Libyan Constitutional Union had never been informed of the activities of any such committee, we were actually at a loss to find out just how it could be reached.
We could not very well rely on mere conjecture or guessing in an important matter like this. Eventually, however, we received a telephone call from Mr. Yousef Sheibani on 23 July 1984. He invited us to attend a convention to be held in Cairo within a few days of that date; and we also learned from him unofficially the names of some members of the committee in question.
Now that we have ascertained that the draft Covenant presented through the said preparatory committee is exactly the same as your own original scheme, we find it necessary to make our comments known once again as briefly as possible.
We must also be quite blunt in this matter, because we are all dealing with a highly sensitive public issue which admits of no private considerations or personal courtesies. Still, we do hope that "difference of opinion will not sour friendship", as so auspiciously put in the context of your proposal.
Perhaps the most objectionable aspect of this proposed “Covenant of National Honour" is that it hardly conceives of the Libyan people taking any active or effective part in changing the status quo. The whole idea is based on the expectation of some kind-hearted, military coup; and we are all supposed to just sit back and wait, pledging right now that the moment it happens, we shall rush out to shout our support for it with a deluge of "telegrams, letters and memorandums" full of the national demands "listed in this Covenant above all". Then the "gentlemen of the foreseen coup" would graciously condescend to hand over the reins of power to a civilian government in return for "membership of the constituent assembly" as laid down in the Covenant.
Such, in a nutshell, is the overall picture which emerges from this code of "honour". Regrettably, it depicts an outlook that is both very naive and extremely depressing.
Looking back on all the atrocities suffered by our wretched people in the wake of one destructive military coup, how on earth could the "Libyan resistance forces" be invited to come together for the first time merely to pledge their recognition in advance of any fresh coup that might be tempted to consider some beggarly petition for the equitable rights of the people? The entire history of military coups, including the infernal one that dominates our nation today, clearly indicates that (no matter how well-intentioned, some individuals might be at the outset) the ruling junta would invariably turn into an absolute, repressive authority that would not hesitate to back out of whatever promises or commitments made earlier on.
Indeed, the arrogance of easy power could become so strong that some coup leaders might even make the absurd boast that if it were not for them, the nation would never have been able to bring about anything like their so-called revolution, as is the case in our own country.
Now then, is it not utterly disgraceful that the Libyan opposition "forces" should be called upon to place their future plans totally at the risk of once more exposing all Libyans to such humiliation?
This proposed Covenant of yours is asking us all to “commit ourselves to definite things and goals in the current phase of National struggle. After the expected coup d'état has been carried out by the “forces of good” in our armed forces.....” Are we to understand from this prophecy that the “preparatory committee” itself has made preparations for an impending coup? Otherwise, how would you know that any potential coup would be staged by none but the “forces of good”? And what if they were to be outstripped by some other forces of “less” good?
A quick glance at the record of contemporary coups -of which the coup of our own national army is a prominent example -should be enough to show us that most 'forces of good' are either eliminated by violent means once they have played out their role in consolidating the junta's authority; or they too, may turn willingly or unwillingly into mere tools to serve the new oppressive regime.
This, of course, does not mean that the Libyan Armed Forces have ever been short of excellent patriots who share their people's pains and aspirations.
Such men will inevitably turn against the regime sooner or later. They probably feel the brunt of its oppression much more acutely than a lot of people may think who are out of touch with the realities of constant confrontation and daily conflict. Therefore, a sudden military coup is always a distinct possibility; and, despite all adverse conditions, the civilian population may very well be surprised by such an eventuality at any time.
But the desired fundamental change must not take place in isolation from the indomitable forces of the people as a whole. Otherwise, the nation may only get out of one ordeal to be plunged into another vicious circle of a similar chain of events.
In other words, if the armed forces were to take the initiative in bringing down the present dictatorship out of a sense of national responsibility to fulfill the people's expectations, they would be doing nothing more than their normal duty. There is no reason why the military should then be idolized as heroic saviours to such an extent that any special or exceptional privileges would have to be conceded to them in sharp contrast with the lot of ordinary citizens—as your proposed "Code of Honour" seems to suggest.
After all, the armed forces' contribution to any democratic change would be a great service to their benefit as well. It would be an opportunity to redeem their sullied military honour and wipe off the shame inflicted upon them by the rule of armed gangsters over the past fifteen years.
Besides, those who are solely motivated by the dictates of honour do not usually expect to be rewarded for the performance of patriotic duties.
The second objective in the proposed "Covenant of Honour" provides for the election of a constituent assembly during a transition period. At the end of the plan, however, we find another paragraph which guarantees to the "men of the anticipated coup" that they themselves would become members of the constituent assembly "by virtue of their leadership of the military movement". How can such an explicit assurance be reconciled with any call for free elections, unless we actually intend to manipulate our future electoral system for the sake of this "prospective coup"?
We can understand, for instance, how the whole country has been forced, to abandon its Constitution and all democratic institutions since the people suddenly found themselves in the face of an overpowering military regime which usurped their rights at gun-point. But to give up any democratic right or principle so voluntarily (even before it has been regained by the people) is a very strange requirement indeed. We shall leave it here without further comment.
Let us now move on to the speech delivered by the preparatory committee at the conference held in Cairo on 4th August 1984. It contends that “those who call themselves independent..... often have no objection to flirting with the gangs; and unless this proposed national Covenant of honour is adopted, such flirtation and rapprochement will develop even further; and we shall have given them the chance do so”.
We take it that the above passages refer to those émigrés who remain basically unattached to any of the existing opposition factions. In this sense, we see no justification for criticising all “independents” en masse. As a matter of fact, such a strong attack on these people is rather illusive and even inconsistent with the very concept of political democracy.
The truth is that the Libyans now living abroad do not have to “flirt” or come to terms with the regime in any way, unless they are actually among its puppets or merely trying not to antagonize it. On the other hand, those who do have certain dealings with the regime -whether directly or indirectly- are not in need of encouragement from anyone; nor could, they be dissuaded by any "code of honour", since they do not seem to have any sense of honour in the first place. Their false pretensions to patriotic fervour cannot fool all the people all the time. They need not even be considered in the context of codes of honour.
Nevertheless, we believe that earnest patriotic endeavour could not and should not be monopolised, or controlled, by any individual or group. All sincere Libyans are fully entitled as a matter of course to choose whatever method they deem fit to oppose the dictatorship that dominates their country and the fate of their nation. It is by no means discreditable for any person to decide not to belong to any particular one of the dissident organisnations now in existence.
The slogan "No independents henceforth" (as verbalised in the speech by the committee) looks like another side of the same familiar coin. It is essentially no different from the declaration of "no political parties after today" which is a great favourite of military regimes in general. What the Libyan of today needs most of all is the freedom of original and independent thinking as an indispensable democratic weapon to fight against fascism and crack the hard shells of monochrome thought, autocratic rule and arbitrary opinion.
In conclusion, we wish to go back once more to the text of your proposed Covenant; for it harps on the theme of a "prospective coup" in a decidedly worrying tone. The standpoint of the Libyan Constitutional Union has been made abundantly clear in warning against the dangers of classic military coups. They usually have the effect of a temporary drug, distracting the people from their real aspirations in a sudden exuberance of joy for getting rid of some former oppression. But, sure enough, they soon turn against the very same people they are supposed to have delivered from all evil.
We, Libyans, had better not gamble on any "expected" or unexpected coup d'état.
Let us, instead, remember one recent event in the history of our Arab region. Only 20 years ago, the unarmed Sudanese people managed to overthrow a fierce military government without having recourse to any "Covenant" of this sort.
We certainly do not think that our own people will ever stand in need of publicly documenting their “national honour” in readiness for a coup d'état.
Mohamed A. Ben Ghalbon
Libyan Constitutional Union
Manchester / UK
Please follow this link to view the Arabic original document: