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Libyan Constitutional Union

Sunday, 18 March, 2007

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Part 17                                                                                                                  

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

The Libyan Constitutional Union :
Its Establishment and Development (14)

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 (14)
(First published in Arabic on 1 March 2007)

(2) Announcing the Establishment of the
Libyan Constitutional Union

Ahmad Langhi:

My friendship with Ahmad Langhi went back to when we were youths in our home town of Benghazi. It was, therefore, only natural that I was quick to visit him in his home in London - where he chose to live in exile - to present to him the idea and aims of the Libyan Constitutional Union and invite him to join its ranks.

The narrative of my visit to Ahmad Langhi was a repeat of that in which I approached friends to inform them of the establishment of the LCU and discuss the possibility of their joining it or offering their support to its efforts. Ahmad Langhi listened tentatively to my presentation, and immediately expressed his admiration of the crux of the idea of the LCU and its ultimate goals. However, he apologised for his inability to take part in its proposed activities.

*   *   *

Ahmad Langhi elaborated that he was unable to join the LCU because he was fully occupied in promoting the Khaliliya(1) order (tariqa) to which he belonged and the spreading of its message amongst the Libyan community in Britain and other country’s were Libyans were in exile; a task that required all his time and energy.

He added that he had no intention of being linked to any political orientation of the Libyan opposition groups in exile. This was due to the fact that the nature of the path which he adopted through the Khaliliya order was purely religious and spiritual, and has no association with the political inclinations of the Libyan opposition groups. He preferred to stay away from such activities in order not to subject himself or his collegues to the dangers of confrontation with the ruling regime in Libya.

He concluded that his belief in the soundness of the idea and direction of the LCU, as well as his genuine love of king Idris, which he derived from his grandfather Yusuf Langhi(2), obligated him – as a national duty - to provide financial aid from his own funds to support the efforts of the LCU to achieve its aims; and that was the least he could do.

Although I had hoped that this prominent friend would join us in the LCU to enhance it through his wide connections, I took on board his reasons and his commitment towards advancing the Khaliliyah order. Furthermore, I was pleased with his promise to contribute to financing the LCU from his own purse, as well as attempting to raise funds from his affluent contacts.

*   *   *

In a repeat of what had happened with other Libyan personalities, who I have mentioned in previous parts of this article, all Ahmad Langhi’s promises to provide and raise funds for the LCU never materialised.

*   *   *

Not long after, I came to know of the real reason behind Ahmad Langhi’s breaking of his promise to me. It was his concern that financial support to the LCU’s endeavour would ultimately lead to the revival of the Sennusiya movement which would put it back in a position of rivalry with the Khaliliya order, a contest - in his view - that would definitely not be favourable to his order. In other words, Ahmad Langhi and the followers of the Khaliliya order saw the call for King Idris as a symbol of constitutional legitimacy as one face of the coin; the other being the revival of the Sennusiya movement to resume its activities in Libya. This would hinder the fortunes of any other religious movement active in the same field. Subsequently, in their calculations, this would hamper the ambitions of their group and eventually paralyse it if the LCU succeeded in realising its goals.

Any observer with knowledge of Libyan history would immediately notice the flaw and naivety of such perception, which guided the thinking of Ahmad Langhi and his superiors in the Khaliliyah order such as Sheikh Habib El-Saabri and Major Ahmad Bin-Halim(3) in this regard and shaped their attitude towards me.

Ahmad Langhi and his associates in the Khaliliya order used all means available to them to steer me away from initiating my plans to activate the LCU. They used the carrot and stick technique in dealing with me. Sheikh Habib El-Saabri took the lenient and inducement approach, while Major Ahmad Bin-Halim adopted the threatening and intimidating side of it.
Sheikh Habib El-Saabri promised me the highest spiritual statuses in their Sufi order, where I would be made the head of their branch in the UK as soon as I joined their ranks, while Major Ahmad Bin-Halim let loose a barrage of fiery threats, and made clear that only my immediate joining of their order and the cessation of any other activity would spare me his wrath!

The matter did not end here, rather it went further until I became a subject of scorn in their gatherings during the time when Ahmad Langhi was head of the order in London and continued to the period when Wanis El-Tajouri succeeded him following the former’s move to Egypt. It then turned into slander and personal attacks on my character during the time of its current head Salem Badr.

*   *   *

It is worth listing the facts that repudiate the above short-sighted vision of the Khaliliya hierarchy and prove it false so that my views would not depart from the objectivity which I have adhered to and made my guide since I started recording this documentary article.

The facts I am about to introduce would be intertwined and overlap with another stand adopted by another group; the “Muslim Brotherhood” in similar circumstances in this context, which I will deal with in the next part of this article when I discuss Haj. Abdallah Busenn.

1- The Sennusiya Movement is different both in essence and aims from most other religious movements and organisations that were prevalent in the Arab world. Notwithstanding the limited similarities it shared with fundamental liberation movements which existed in the Arab world in the nineteenth century such as the Wahabiya movement in the Arab peninsula and the Mehdiya movement in the Sudan, which both aspired to a return to Islamic roots, worked to unify the feuding tribes and mobilising the people to fight against colonisation. When looking closely at the conduct of the Sennusiya movement, the careful observer would soon notice that it varied from that of almost all the religious movements that were prominent in the Arab world over the past two centuries. In the sense that it revolved around and aimed for enlightening the Libyan populace and teaching them the true basis of their religion to help them establish a strong and civilised society governed by the fundamentals of the noble Islamic principles. Without aiming to gain a controlling role in the future state, notwithstanding the movement’s pioneering role in leading the struggle against the occupation forces.

2- The Senussiya movement had fully accomplished its goals of enlightening the Libyan population and raising their awareness of the fundamentals of their religion in the period from its establishment by Sayyid Mohammad Ibn-Ali El-Sennusi towards the end of the nineteenth century until the Italian invasion in 1911. As a result of its efforts its followers were quick to rally around the banner of resistance to the occupying forces.
It was not possible for the Sennusiya movement to achieve that consensus around its ideals without first its success in spreading the religious consciousness among many in the Libyan society. This achievement took place under the guidance and the supervision of its founder and his off-springs who succeeded him for many decades.
By virtue of these efforts, it was possible to successfully counteract the distorting effects that marked the final years of the Turkish reign, which led to the misrepresentation of the pure and genuine concepts of Islam in the Libyan society.

3- The role of the Sennusi Movement gradually diminished after the struggle of the Libyan people, was crowned by gaining independence. This was the wish of the late King Idris, who, after becoming the ruler of the country in 1951, saw the necessity of this curtailment for the following two reasons:

o There was no longer a need for the existence of the Sennusiya movement(4) that led the resistance, after Libya had gained its independence and its society had evolved into the modern state with its institution and legislations taking care of all the needs of its inhabitants and its various structures.

o After independence, the responsibility of raising and supervising the religious consciousness among the people had become one of the functions of the new state through its specialised organisations (Religious Endowments Administration, Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Information).

One can only appreciate very highly the role played by King Idris (Allah bless his soul), his farsightedness and his political acumen in not creating a role for the Sennusiya movement within the Libyan state after independence.

That might have been the reason behind the Sennusiya movement neither becoming an elitist group nor a political party favoured with influence and authority inside the framework of the newly independent Libyan state. This is in contradistinction to what happened in many old colonies when they were led, during their struggle for independence, by movements (religious or non-religious) which became monopolising powers after independence by virtue of their role in the historical struggle.

Some might exclude the possibility of a similar scenario occurring in Libya with its constitution which had been formulated to codify the exercise of power and authority and to guarantee the separation of its three branches.

However, this can be answered by citing a recent example in modern history when, in neighbouring Algeria, the Liberation Front of Algeria placed it-self on top of the power pyramid as a result of their having led their people in the resistance against colonialism and their subsequent independence.

It is to be noted that lack of political and cultural maturity, which was a common factor among the people of most of the former colonies, meant that they only gained their national freedom when they achieved independence after their fierce struggle against the colonial powers. They lacked the intellectual, political and cultural awareness that was very much needed to achieve their total renaissance in the post independence period. The absence of these vital ingredients among the peoples of these newly liberated countries was not just the reason behind the usurping of power by the groups that had led the resistance against the colonial forces, but also the primary one which made them easy prey for the distortion of government rule and the ensuing rampant corruption and nepotism. This environment proved to be an ideal breeding ground for the storm of military coup d'état that swept the area. Petty army officers were afforded the opportunity to stage their illegal coups and overthrow governments in a calculated risk to achieve wealth, fame and power at the expense of the interest of the population at large.

In contrast this scenario is highly unlikely to happen in countries where society is armed with a high level of political consciousness, and where their awareness of their legitimate rights and national aspirations acts as a deterrent to any group of army adventurers staging a coup d'état and overthrowing the government.
These circumspect people keep a watchful eye over these putschists, pirates and conspirators and are always ready to return them to their barracks to face trial and be punished for their transgression against the legitimate people’s rights. The events in Greece during the 1970’s might be the best example that could be referred to in this regard.

*   *   *

To return to the main subject concerning Ahmad Langhi and his friends and associates in the Khaliliya order and their apprehension of the competition by the Sennusiya movement they would face if King Idris returned to rule the country.

The aforementioned facts show clearly and without any doubt that the Sennusiya movement, during the monarchy period, was not a source of any threat to any other religious movement in Libya for the following reasons:

o The activities of the Sennusiya movement, before the independence, had ceased immediately after it, because there was no longer a need for them, as explained above. Nothing remained, in this regard, except the symbols of Sennusiya movement heritage as embodied in some of its zawias (lodges) - the main one being at Al-Jaghbub(5). The Sennusiya movement abandoned its role as a radical and a leading movement to continue as a Sufi order in a similar fashion to other Sufi orders all over Libya which have been in Libya for a long time maintaining and protecting the country’s Islamic identity.

o King Idris had never been an obstacle in the way of any religious movement whose activities were purely religious. This could be shown very clearly by the activities of numerous Sufi orders and groups all over Libya, before and after independence (as examples: Riffaiya, Madaniya, Aisawiya, Qadriya, Derqawiya, Salamiya and Arousiya).

*   *   *

Some time later, Ahmad Langhi and his friends joined the National Front for the Salvation of Libya and he became in a very short time one of its most prominent members. His close friendship with Dr. Mohammad Al-Megarief, the former secretary of NFSL resulted in the marriage of his daughter to Dr. Al-megarief’s son.

To be continued

Mohamed Ben Ghalbon

18 March 2007

(1) The Khaliliyah Order is a Sufi order formed in the beginning of the 20th Century in the Egyptian village of El-Zagazig. It was named after its founder Sayyed Mohammad Abu-Khalil (God bless his soul). It entered Libya through teachers and Imams of mosques which the Libyan government imported from Egypt following the country’s independence.
(2) Yusuf Langhi was a well known and prominent figure in the city of Benghazi. He was one of the most recognised Heads of the Municipality of the city. Ahmad Langhi was very proud of his family’s rooted relationship with King Idris which goes back to the time of his grandfather.
(3) A high ranking officer in the so called “Organisation of the Free Officers”, and head of the military court of the Gaddafi regime.
(4) That did not stop it from continuing as a Sufi Order like the rest of the numerous Sufi Orders which have existed in Libya for a very long time.
(5) In 1984 Gaddafi ordered the demolition of this ancient Zawia (Lodge). All the valuable books and manuscripts it contained were burned. The grave of the founder Sayyid Mohammad Ibn-Ali El-Sennusi was ransacked and his body was removed to an unknown location.

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  Part 9    Part 10  Part 11  Part 12  Part 13  Part 14  Part 15  Part 16
Part 17                                                                                                                  

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