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Libyan Constitutional Union

Saturday, 14 October, 2006

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Part 17                                                                                                                  

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

The Libyan Constitutional Union :
Its Establishment and Development (7)

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.

Part (7)
(First published in Arabic on 29th August 2006)

(2) Announcing the Establishment of the
Libyan Constitutional Union

Ramadan Salim El-Kikhia

Haj Ramadan El-Kikhia (God bless his soul) was considered among the most prominent of Libyan nationalist figures in the city of Benghazi. He was renowned in his generation for his true patriotism and concern for the good of his country. He never refrained nor was unwilling to give his utmost for the cause of the homeland and securing its desired nationalistic goals.

He was also one of those nationalist activists who established the Omar Mokhtar Association, which was famed for its sincere aspirations for the Libyan nation. The Association achieved significant gains in the field of spreading political awareness and cultivating a general patriotic sense amongst the ordinary Libyan citizens within the domain of its purposeful social and political activities.

Although Haj Ramadan had, in the years that followed the country’s independence, some reservations about the flaws in some aspects of the ruling system of the new born state which stemmed from the tribalistic domination and bigotry that blemished some corners of government then. He was at the same time an ardent believer in the necessity of holding on to the constitutional legitimacy which extracts its sanctity from the constitution that was written by representatives of the Libyan people in the years that led to the country’s independence.

As such, Haj Ramadan’s admiration of the idea that formed the core of the Libyan Constitutional Union, and his total support of its aims came as absolutely no surprise. It was only natural that this nationalistic seasoned veteran fully comprehended and fathomed the depth of the goals of this idea in all its aspects.

Haj Ramadan El-Kikhia immediately recognised the genuine goal that formed the basis of this idea as being the return to the Constitutional legitimacy, making it the backbone upon which the ruling system of Libya should rest. He did not confuse it for being a call for the return of monarchist rule as a target in itself, as did many others, who due to a deficient and myopic vision limited the call of the LCU to merely a call for the restoration of the monarchy.

El-Kikhia was not the only person to deduce the true aim of the proposed idea of the LCU. A few others shared his clear understanding; among them were veterans such Abdulhameed El-Bakoosh, Mustafa Bin-Halim, Mansur El-Kikhia and Mohammad Benyounis. They all fully grasped that the objective of the idea of the LCU was to work towards restoring the constitutional legitimacy which was chosen by the entire Libyan nation prior to the declaration of independence. The Libyan people then chose the monarchist system as a form of government, which was a prevalent form of modern government in those days. They then elected Mohammad Idris El-Senussi as King, in a parliamentarian framework that draws its legitimacy from articles of the constitution which were written by representatives of the Libyan people in the period that preceded the declaration of the country’s independence. As such, King Idris became the legitimate representative of the constitutional authority that reigned in the state.

This could not be abrogated by the military coup d'état which came to power through illegitimate means. Nor could those bandits annul the authority of its bearer; King Idris. For although the army rebels have, in effect secured power through the force of arms, and consequently managed to rule the country with an iron fist, they remain in the eyes of international law an illegitimate government.

Equally, it was the right of the Libyan people –at that time- to combat this illegitimate regime and work towards restoring the lost constitutional legitimacy by re-instating its surviving bearer, King Idris, to resume his role as ruler of the country. That would be in accordance with the will and choice of the Libyan people, who bestowed this legal status, emanating from the national constitution, upon His Majesty from the outset.

Consequently the task of restoring this constitutional legitimacy to the country became the duty and responsibility of the segment of Libyan society which enjoyed a level of political awareness. At the pinnacle of this segment were individuals who had a proven record of tirelessly and sincerely serving their country and who are usually referred to as the “wise and influential”(1) of society. It is widely known that people in general, although more commonly in third world societies, tend to look towards these sincere, patriotic, educated and experienced elite for help in leading the struggle towards achieving their aspirations.

*   *   *

As such, the task of restoring constitutional legitimacy to Libya had to be led by these peers of the Libyan society who would take it upon themselves to combat the despotic and illegal regime that is ruling Libya. This could be achieved through various means including the legal channels where pressure could be exerted in international legal congregations to show that the incumbent regime in Libya is illegitimate and non-representative of the aspirations of the people. And thus demand that the international community take the side of the Libyan masses and help them restore their plundered constitutional legitimacy. The case is particularly solid given the fact that this constitutional legitimacy was born through a United Nations’ resolution.

In addition to this fundamental channel, other effective means to make the Libyan masses more aware of their legitimate and fundamental right to live in the protection of their constitution should simultaneously be pursued. Raising the awareness that this constitution was the cornerstone upon which the first Libyan state, throughout history, was built, and subsequently urging them to fight the rule of the junta which usurped power through illegal means.

Furthermore, a considerable number of Libya’s “wise and influential” should renew allegiance to King Idris – while he was still alive – as the symbol of this legitimacy. This would be in full compliance with the power and authority of the constitutional legitimacy which granted him the post of ruler of the country when it was established in the era immediately prior to independence.

In the case of the impossibility of the king’s return to resume his role, it would return to the Libyan people to choose the system of government they see fit and suitable for them. And also to elect the person whom they see fit to rule the country.

That is to say, the presence of the king on the forefront of this endeavour would bolster the call for the restoration of constitutional legitimacy before the International community, for he is its living symbol. However, on the other hand, the absence of the king would not mean in any way the diminishing of this legitimacy which originates and extracts its power and vitality from the people through the constitution.

Unfortunately some failed to see this distinction when the idea of the Libyan Constitutional Union was introduced to them linking it instead to the restoration of the monarchy, or even with the return of the King himself. They failed to recognise the fact that the constitutional legitimacy which was established by the entire Libyan people on the eve of independence is in fact a vital cornerstone in the build up of the Libyan state. And therefore, it is not tied to a person or a particular ruler, nor linked to one form of government in particular. No one person has the power to revoke it, because it is a collective contract delivered by the entire Libyan nation, which fashioned its basis and articles within a constitution that was written to serve as the guardian of the rights of its citizens and regulator of its prospective rulers.

Therefore, in the case of the presence of the King, he would be afforded a new pledge of allegiance to resume his role through the constitutional legitimacy which he represents by a mandate from the Libyan people. However, in case of the King’s reluctance, or absence, the constitutional legitimacy would force itself through a referendum to be conducted in a democratic way in which the people at large would determine the form of government they so desire (monarchy, republic etc....), as well as the person or persons who should be entrusted with leadership according the constitution, which would be amended and updated to accommodate the new choices of the people.

Haj Ramadan El-Kikhia, as I mentioned above, was not the only “Wise and Influential” Libyan personality to accurately recognise and comprehend this concept of the LCU as elaborated upon above. Few other peers of the Libyan society shared this understanding.

I maintained a habit of calling on Haj Ramadan El-Kikhia in Alexandria whenever I travelled there to visit my father, the two had a very close long standing friendship. We would talk about the Libyan Constitutional Union and its activities. He very generously passed on his observations and remarks which were rich in experience. He was (may Allah bless his soul and make heaven his final abode) among the very few who awarded me moral support in a time when many others didn’t find it in themselves to be so generous.

*   *   *

Sheikh Mansur El-Mahjoob

From the outset, the founders of Libyan Constitutional Union made a conscious effort to approach the Libyan personalities who enjoyed a special status in the Libyan society and who were collectively accepted as belonging to “the wise and influential”, as they were considered to possess the vision to determine the right path that could be followed by the people to achieve their aspirations.

With this in mind, we contacted former Prime Minsiters; Mr Mohammad Othman Essaid, Mr. Abulhameed El-Bakoosh, Mr. Mustafa Bin-Halim, as well as prominent figures such as Haj Muhammad El-Saifaat, Mr. Mansur Rashid El-Kikhia, Haj. Rajab Bin-Katu, Haj. Ramadan Salim El-Kikhia, Mr. Mohammad Benyounis and Sheikh Mansur El-Mahjoob. They were followed by other notables whom we shall cover in detail in later parts of this series.

Sheikh Mansur El-Mahjoob, who occupied several prestigious positions during the monarchy in Libya(2) , was at the time a political refugee in Saudi Arabia. He lived in Makka in the vicinity of the holy shrine.

I dispatched the LCU’s booklets which announced the establishment of the LCU and elaborated its motives, aims and aspirations by post to his address in Saudi Arabia. I shortly followed those with a personal letter to appraise his impressions of the LCU’s idea. I received a reply from Sheikh Mansur informing me that he did not receive any publications from the LCU(3) . I passed on to him a new set of copies through a trusted courier who handed them to him personally. He told my envoy that he thought this was a commendable idea and “May Allah bless those who are responsible for it.”

He went on to tell my messenger that after receiving my initial letter and his reply to it, he learnt more about the Libyan Constitutional Union from some people who were aware of its formation. He said that he fully appreciated the crux of its idea, and that he admired it, and immediately thought that it was the brainchild of Mustafa Bin-Halim, or at least that Bin-Halim was the motivating force behind its coming into the open(4). El-Mahjoob linked my relationship to Mustafa Bin-Halim to the establishment of the LCU, and thought that Bin-Halim must have used me as a front for the strife to restore the constitutional legitimacy to Libya!

On the one hand, El-Mahjoob reasoned, Bin-Halim would admire such an idea, and on the other hand, the fact that he was my relative would have obliged him to lend his support.

Furthermore, Sheikh Mansur El-Mahjoob went on to tell my messenger that, according to this wrong assumption, he went on to congratulate Mustafa Bin-Halim on the first occasion he met him afterwards. He was shocked by Bin-Halim’s angry reaction. He deplored him for daring to assume a link between him and the Libyan Constitutional Union, which he described as a ridiculous proposal and described its leader as insane.

Sheikh Mansur continued to state that he had never seen Mustafa Bin-Halim this angry in all the years he knew him. In his rage he advised Sheikh Mansur to stay away from the LCU, and to never forget that he was a political refugee in Saudi Arabia, where political activities by its guests are intolerable.

He offered his apologies to my emissary for not being able to join the LCU or provide it with any assistance, in-spite of him holding it in high esteem and praying for its success in achieving its goals.

I had no further contact with Sheikh Mansur El-Mahjoob until 1997 when I met him for the first time during a trip to the holy city of Makka. He welcomed me warmly and jokingly told me “Why did you not keep your black hair as appeared in your photograph with King Idris ?(5) The case for restoring constitutional legitimacy is in need of the young people of Libya not the old ones with grey hair. In the past decades the prevailing belief was that the monarchy in Libya –which represented the constitutional legitimacy in the country-, was always linked to the elderly. Your call for its restoration through the LCU came about to dispel this belief and prove that constitutional legitimacy was aspired to even by young Libyans.”

*   *   *

Rajab Bin-Katu

Haj Rajab Bin-Katu was also one of the prominent personalities of Libya. He filled a ministerial post during the monarchy, and was among the decision makers in parts of that era. He was known among his contemporaries to be resolute and of strong mind in what he believed in.

I contacted Haj Rajab at the early stage of announcing the establishment of the LCU to inform him of the crux of its idea and principles through the hitherto mentioned booklets and publications in a similar fashion to other Libyan notables whom I have mentioned previously.

Mr. Bin-Katu’s reply came in a very warm letter in which he expressed his deep affection towards me and his moral support to my goals(6) as manifested by the idea of the LCU.

Although Haj Rajab Bin-Katu never joined the LCU, nor did he participate in, or provide for its activities, he maintained a constant moral support to it. Furthermore, he was of colossal support to my late father(7) in the face of the vehement campaign led by Haj Mohammad El-Saifaat and Abdulhameed Bin Halim, which we mentioned earlier (part 5).

It is worth mentioning in this context a particular incident which took place in Alexandria to illustrate the depth of Haj Rajab’s backing of my father at that time. They were both guests at a dinner banquet attended by most Libyans living in Alexandria at that time. At the head of that banquet were Haj Mohammad El-Saifaat and Mr. Abdulhameed Bin Halim. The two and a few of their followers began their usual barrage of provocative criticisms directed at my father regarding my political activities. The comments soon turned to condemnation and were far from objective or constructive criticism. After failing to convince them to maintain subjectivity and courtesy, my father found himself forced to abandon the social gathering and leave the scene. Haj Rajab was the only one among the attendants who departed in solidarity with my father, as a protest to that unacceptable behaviour.

To be Continued....

Mohamed Ben Ghalbon

12 October 2006

(1) I have used this term as a translation of what is known in the Arabic language as: “أهل الحل والعقد “
(2) Sheikh Mansur El-Mahjoob was the head of Libya’s Supreme Court as well as the Dean of the University of Mohamed Ibn-Ali El-Senussi for Islamic Studies.
(3) A copy of Sheikh Mansur El-Mahjoob’s letter is attached below (Appendix No.1).
(4) Sheikh Mansur El-Mahjoob was not alone in believing that the idea behind the establishment of the LCU was of Bin-Halim’s design, or at least that he fully supports it. This notion was shared by many others.
(5) He was referring to the change in my appearance since that photo which was taken with the King in the beginning of the Eighties. My hair and beard were black with no single grey hair then, while when I met him my hair was all grey.
(6) A copy of Mr. Bin-Katu’s letter is attached below (Appendix No.2)
(7) Haj Rajab Bin-Katu and my father had a very close and durable friendship which went back many decades.

*   *   *

Appendix No. 1

In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.

Brother Mohamed Ben Ghalbon (May Allah protect him)

Salaam and Greetings,
I have gratefully received your kind letter dated 25/07/1982. I was very pleased by your news. I wish you and all sincere workers success and guidance from Allah in your efforts to serve the religion and the homeland.
I did not receive anything from you prior to this letter, which shows from its heading the sincerity of your intentions. May Allah help you to what he desires and what would please him.

Peace and mercy of Allah be upon you.
Mansur El-Mahjoob
Makka Mukarrama
20th Shawal 1402

*   *   *

Appendix No. 2

My dear son

In the Arabic tradition, and especially so in our beloved country, which God willing shall return to what it was and better, no father or uncle had ever abandoned his son. Therefore, I have always considered myself to be among the earliest members of the LCU if not one of the founders.

Regards to all family members and the respected members of the LCU.

May God help you and grant you success.

Your Uncle,
Rajab Bin Katu

This is a response to your letter dated 17/01/82

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