* * *
As soon as I returned to Manchester from my initial meeting with King Idris, I decided to visit my cousin, the former Libyan Prime Minister Mr. Mustafa Bin-Halim in his home in London. For many years I had maintained a habit of paying him social visits since his exile on every opportunity that I was in London either on business or on holiday. This custom never stopped even when I was still living in Libya where the oppressive Libyan regime made it known that contacts with exiled political figures of the monarchist regime would be met with severe punishment.
The main reason for this particular visit was to inform him of my plans to form the Libyan Constitutional Union. This would make him one of the first Libyan dignitaries to learn of this matter.
After having lunch with Mr. Bin-Halim and his family, I asked to talk to him privately about a particular subject.
He led me to his private study where I disclosed to him my intention to establish the Libyan Constitutional Union with the aim of restoring Constitutional legitimacy to Libya under the banner of its rightful symbol and legal representative King Idris I.
We had a very long and extensive conversation, which I will convey here to the readers in all its meanings and conclusions, rather than literally word by word as it took place some quarter of a century ago.
I began by elaborating in my explanation to Mr. Bin-Halim the idea of the LCU in all its political, legal and spiritual aspects without referring to my actual encounters with King Idris and my success in obtaining his consent.
My reason for this was that I had not yet reported the full details of the outcome of my meeting with the King to my colleagues at the Libyan Constitutional Union.
This was in accordance with the organisational obligation towards my colleagues and out of moral duty and professional courtesy towards them. I therefore decided not to divulge the news of that important event to anybody before informing my colleagues in order that a collective decision in that regard be made.
Mr Bin-Halim fully comprehended all aspects of the idea upon which the LCU was based. He expressed his utter admiration of it and said to me; “Listen grand pa(1) this idea doesn’t just offer the Libyan people the chance to break free from Gaddafi’s regime alone; but it is also the lifeline that will pull them out of the quagmire caused by their deprivation of the blessings of this holy man(2).
* * *
He went further to say, “If there was ever a real chance of success to solve the Libyan problem, bring an end to the ruling military regime and restore the constitutional legitimacy to the homeland, it would be through this brilliant idea, which the LCU is founded on. But the great predicament lies in implementing it and converting it into a reality on the ground, which was an absolutely impossible task”.
I interrupted him to ask what made him deem the LCU’s idea impractical and impossible to realise.
He continued to say that if this idea had any grain of hope of success he would, himself, have carried it out a long time a go, and not waited until I grew in age to come and present it to him as I was doing now(3).
He paused for a second and then went on to say that “the obvious reason which makes this idea impossible to realise lies in its most important factor. Namely the consent of King Idris, who, as you are probably aware, is reluctant to practice politics in any form or shape. And that he himself knows this fact more than anybody else for he had first hand experience of it”.
He went on to tell me, “ Even if, for the sake of argument, we assumed that you went ahead with your plan without the king’s approval on the basis that you are undertaking a vital patriotic duty to rescue an entire nation, and therefore you don’t need the king’s approval. The king would, at that particular point, pull the rug from under you by declaring to the whole world that he did not give you a mandate to deal in this matter in his name. He might even go further than that by declaring to the whole world that he is bitter about the Libyans who betrayed him after he spent his entire life serving them, and consequently he wouldn’t want to give them a helping hand.
I quickly interrupted him by asking, “What if we managed to surmount this obstacle by securing the King’s approval? What would your personal position be then? And what could you offer –in this context- to the national struggle?
He replied by saying, “This was a fantastic hypothesis which had no solid ground. So keep us from unrealistic suppositions, as I am talking to you out of first hand experience. I have previously talked to the king, on more than one occasion in this regard and he refused it categorically. All my attempts have ended in total failure”.
At that time I did not have any reason not to believe what Mr. Bin-Halim was saying, yet the facts on the ground forced me not to accept what he had just told me in his long and articulate speech about the King’s emphatic refusal to the numerous approaches made by him in this regard.
* * *
I found myself in a real dilemma, for on the one hand I have just secured the King’s consent without having any previous contact or connection of any sort with him. Nor was I ever his prime minister or an official in his regime. While on the other hand, I was listening to this veteran politician who had served the King for many years and as a result developed a strong link to him, telling me that all his similar attempts with the King ended in failure!
During the course of the conversation I began to notice then that Mr. Bin-Halim, for a reason unknown to me, was using all his renowned persuasive skills to put me off the idea of establishing the Libyan Constitutional Union. I thought that he was possibly doing so out of concern for my personal safety in the face of the prospective gravity and dangers associated with such a task.
I recall him telling me, in his demoralising speech “Even if we hypothetically assumed that you managed, somehow, to obtain the King’s approval, you would stumble on another obstacle which you have no answer for or power to overcome. You would be faced with the negativity and lack of support of the Libyan people, for “your folk are womenfolk”(4).
In-spite of all this, I did not give up on trying to extract his viewpoint, and appraise his stand with regard to the establishment of the LCU in case we announced it in the near future.
I, calmly and patiently, asked him to indulge me by hypothetically assuming that we managed the impossible, and obtained the consent of the King and his support for the establishment of the LCU. What would be his personal position towards it? Would he support it as the body that advocates the national ideals that he reveres and sees as the way to salvation? Or would other personal considerations in his life dissuade him from such a stand?
* * *
At this point Mr. Bin-Halim was cornered into giving an answer to my persistent query. He told me, “Listen grandpa; I shall venture with you in this journey into this impossible hypothesis and assume that you managed the unmanageable. If you actually obtain the King’s consent you would then have in your hands the key to resolving the Libyan case and you would have succeeded in accomplishing something I personally tried and failed to accomplish. As for my stance towards this patriotic endeavour and how much support I could give to it, I am now, as you are aware, a Saudi national. I have, due to my exceptional circumstances, forsaken practicing politics all together. I also have personal interests which I would not want to jeopardise. However, I will be ready to provide you with advice and all the assistance within my capability. For, firstly you are my cousin, and secondly I am still a Libyan and the interest of my homeland is of the utmost concern to me. I do, however, have one condition”.
I asked what this condition was.
He replied by saying, “This matter remains a secret between you and me only, without involving anybody else. Meaning that the two of us sit together like we are doing now, I provide you with the needed advice and arrange for the required assistance”.
I accepted his generous offer and thanked him profusely for it and said to him that I have one more request which I think lies within his capacity. He asked what it was. I told him, “When I come to establish the LCU, I would be in great need of his wide range of contacts with the leading and influential political figures in the Arab world. He warmly said to me “I would not spare any effort in this context”. I left the residence of Mustafa Bin-Halim fully content and happy with his promises.
Shortly after that meeting, my colleagues at the LCU and myself set a date to publicly announce the establishment of the Libyan Constitutional Union. We chose the 7th October 1981, which marked the 30th anniversary of the declaration of the Libyan Constitution, and which coincided that year with the Muslim event of “Eid Al-Adha”. We printed the proclamation of the LCU on a greeting card for that auspicious occasion, and included with it a rare photo of King Idris, which until recently sat on a table at the entrance of the King’s residence, and which he bestowed on me to use in the proclamation of the LCU.
* * *
I sent one of these cards to Mr. Bin-Halim, as we did with other Libyan notables in exile(5), and on the morning of the day of Eid Al-Adha I rang him, as was my custom, to pay my respects and wish him Eid Mubarak. He interrupted my greetings with extreme frostiness, which stopped me from continuing my compliments. He told me in an angry tone, “I received your piece of paper” referring scornfully to the greeting card I had sent him. I could hardly believe my ears, for this was far from the response I had anticipated or the etiquette expected from this veteran and articulate speaker. I wrongly guessed that he might be angry with me because I announced the LCU before telling him in advance. Something I could explain and hopefully justify to him. However, I could not for one moment imagine that the matter would go far beyond all that, and that that frostiness and anger would be the start of an animosity which would extend to the next 25 years.
My astonishment was compounded when his words started to hysterically flow in total contrast to the image I had of him in all those years. His hard words felt like a heavyweight boxer’s blows and were a cause of grave stress and disappointment to me which took me a very long time to recover from. To this day I can not find a logical explanation to what made him feel that way(7).
He continued, “I want you never to call me again after this time! Never to send me any cards or letters, in this context or any other matter. I want you to also forget that we are relatives, and tear out the pages that contain my contact details from your diary. . From this moment on, I do not want to see you or know you!!”
I replied “Eid Mubarak Mustafa Bey” and put the phone down.
My direct contact with him ended that day. I thought then that each of us would go his own way, but that our blood relation would preserve a degree of respect for one another. I was completely wrong. For Mr. Bin-Halim chose a course which was totally unbecoming of his character, age or rank. With no apparent reasons or justification he took me for a bitter enemy and unleashed a vicious campaign to tarnish my image on three fronts, relatives, friends and on the general level. He made the task of my character assassination a priority to which he unscrupulously employed all measures.
He began by spreading rumours among members of the Libyan Opposition, with some of whom I had friendships and mutual respect, that I had fabricated the King’s consent, that I was mentally disturbed and that I was a disobedient son who defied the family’s elders, who did not approve of the idea of the Libyan Constitutional Union.
* * *
He then turned his attention towards my late father, who held him in high esteem and had faith in his political astuteness and judgement. He thought of him as a veteran politician who held political office over long periods during the monarchist era of Libya, and who was skilled in the tricks and mischief of the world of politics.
He employed his brother Mr. Abdulhameed Bin-Halim, a lawyer, whose esteem with my father was not inferior to that of his brother, and who was a very sweet and smooth talker with an ability to captivate his audience.
The two alternated in attempts to convince my father to put me off continuing with the path I had chosen in my quest to liberate our country. They took turns in spreading fear and anxiety in my father’s mind, and tried to convince him that what I was doing would bring grave consequences not only on myself but on all the Ben-Ghalbon family. They used the regime’s notorious record of brutality and bloodshed against its opponents to convince my father that his entire family would suffer as a result of my reckless action.
It is also worth mentioning in this context that Mr. Abdelhameed Bin-Halim, was one of the founders of the Libyan Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL) and among its prominent figures in Egypt, he did not stop at scaring my father with tales about the wrath of the military regime, but he went further to “advise his uncle” that the future of Libya is definitely with the National Front, which was not looking with satisfaction at what his son is doing, something which would inevitably jeopardise my father’s long term plans when he returns to Libya. Thankfully, my father’s solid faith in my judgement spoilt their scheme.
I must admit, however, that Mr. Bin-Halim’s wider campaign generally caused much harm and hampered my efforts. Some relatives and friends took a negative stance towards me as a result of the doubts he spread amongst them. On top of that, Mr. Bin-Halim’s negative reports of me when consulted by various Arab governments had a major influence on their decision not to stretch a helping hand to the LCU.
Away from falling into forming opinions coloured by sentiments or personal stances. If we calmly analyse what happened we would come to the logical conclusion that the Libyan Constitutional Union had yet again lost the contribution of a prominent and capable figure, who might have made a significant difference in our country’s struggle to rid itself from the brutal and backward military regime, and realised the Libyan people’s dream of regaining its dignity and freedom. The loss of the vital services of former P.M. Bin-Halim, who unjustifiably took a hostile stand from this patriotic endeavour, was no less significant than the loss of the contribution of P.M. Bakoosh.
To be continued
Mohamed Ben Ghalbon
5th October 2006