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Libyan Constitutional Union

Saturday, 30 September, 2006

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Part 17                                                                                                                  

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

The Libyan Constitutional Union :
Its Establishment and Development (5)

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 (5)
(First published in Arabic on 15th July 2006)

(2) Announcing the Establishment of the
Libyan Constitutional Union

Before going any further in narrating details of the meetings which took place between the Libyan Constitutional Union and various Libyan notables and heads of Libyan opposition groups, I wish to mention that during our intense campaign of contacting those personalities to announce the establishment of the LCU, we spared no effort to convince them of its essential idea of restoring constitutional legitimacy to Libya. Furthermore, we had tried all the means at our disposal to urge these people to adopt this idea and unite under its banner.

We made conscious efforts in this regard, to afford each one of those personalities all the due respect, courtesy and recognition of past and potential prominent future status. On certain occasions we offered some of these personalities leadership of the LCU. This was prompted by our keenness to advance the national interest ahead of our own personal or partisan gains.

However, what had been hoped for from these personalities was not realised and the results from dealing with them, were not only disappointing, but shocking for the LCU. Some declared their enmity towards me, the LCU and its founders (this will be dealt with in greater detail when the subject of these personalities is raised in its proper place in this article). This feeling of hostility was one-sided. We did not reciprocate nor did we respond in kind

On the other hand, some of these Libyan personalities chose to ignore the LCU completely, not only in their discussions and press interviews but also in the text of their leaflets and distributed publications. Among this last group one may mention the following: Mr Mansour Alkikhia (may Allah bestow His mercies on him dead or alive), Dr Muhammad Almegrief(1), Mr Abdulhamid El-bakoosh and Mr Mustafa Bin-Halim(2).

*   *   *

Muhammad El-Saifaat

As mentioned in the first part of this series, I came across Haj El-Saifaat when I had contacted him (in August 1981) to ask him if he would inform the intermediary between King Idris and myself about my stay at my father’s house in Alexandria and my telephone number there(3)

Mr. El-Saifaat did not like, at all, the fact that I had bypassed him and contacted the late King through a person other than himself without consulting him or seeking his permission. El-Saifaat saw himself, as we said earlier, as the warden of the King’s private and public affairs. He thought that any contact with the King concerning any matter, big or small, should only be through him, with his personal agreement and consent.

And from then on, this veteran Libyan personality, who enjoyed widespread popularity among many Libyans, declared his enmity towards me unnecessarily and without any justification. He was responsible for an intense campaign of vilification and slander against me personally and my political orientation as embodied in the establishment of the Libyan Constitutional Union, and rarely missed a chance when he met a group of Libyans, on any occasion, to attack me and the idea of the LCU.

He was able to spread his campaign due to his numerous contacts with Libyan personalities and families that immigrated to Egypt at that time. He enjoyed these contacts due to the special status that he had during the monarchist era, which endeared him to many Libyan opponents of the military regime which had toppled it.

The affection that many Libyans had for Haj Mohammad El-Saifaat not only made them listen to him, but made him their centre of attention and their main source of information. In connection with this matter, a contemporary of that era once disclosed to me that he considered El-Saifaat a mobile news agency, who could through his exceptional conversational skills convince his audience of whatever he wanted to spread among them.

With this background which was characterised and dominated by his limiting vision of the national interest, Haj Mohammad El-Saifaat took me for an enemy. He thought that I had made an unforgivable mistake when I did not consult with him concerning my contact with King Idris, and that I had not followed the protocol, that he himself had set.

Moreover, El-Saifaat, who was born, raised and later worked in an environment dominated by a tribal mentality, which dictates that there should be no political change outside its area of influence. An important factor which should not be overlooked, and which is at the crux of the Libyan make-up is the tribalistic nature of the country. During the monarchy era certain tribes earned privileged positions through their distinguished role in the armed struggle which - coupled with the political campaigning that followed at a later stage - led to the independence of the country and its liberation from the hated Italian colonialism. El-Saifaat’s tribe enjoyed a prominent role in assuming positions of power which influenced events throughout the monarchy

Through this mindset, El-Saifaat saw in the emergence and coming to prominence, of the LCU a political movement seeking to unite the popular base around the Constitution and under the constitutionally legitimate leader. Under these circumstances he saw the establishment of the LCU as a violation of the rule upon which the power structure of the monarchy regime was based.

This particular concept of haj Mohammad El-Saifaat was shared by many monarchy era personalities of tribal ancestry, whose tribes participated in the struggle for independence. Furthermore, this concept was the reason behind the dislike, which some Libyan personalities had for the establishment in spite of their love, affection and strong loyalty they felt for the King.

In other words, the imposition of certain personalities to assume positions of responsibility in the new born state, as recognition of the role their tribes had played in the struggle during the Italian occupation, gave rise to the feeling of antipathy among some segments of the Libyan people including the intelligentsia and those who belonged to the urban areas. This happened after some of the tribal personalities emphasised their tribal loyalty at the expense of their loyalty to the state through advancing their tribes’ interests in preference to the general interest of the country in certain affairs.

The dissatisfaction of these groups arose because of the favouritism, which the tribal elements were trying to impose within the Monarchy regime. This dissatisfaction developed into a political hatred between the two groups. This hatred was intensified by the unconstitutional actions of certain tribal elements which led, with the passing of time, to distort and undermine this refined political system which unified the nation under a civilized and honourable banner, immediately after its independence.

On the other hand, this impassioned hatred ignited the flames of discord inside the governing authority as embodied in some actions which exceeded the proper bounds. These actions resulted from the tribal intolerance and zealotry which found its clearest expression in the uncompromising tribal stance leading to unacceptable political positions. The most prominent of these positions took shape in the 1964 events which expressed very clearly the intensity of difference in thinking between the city dwellers and some of the rural populace who played an active role in the exercise of power in that era.

With this in mind I will now return to the main subject of Haj Mohammad El-Saifaat’s hostile stance towards me following his discovery of my direct contact with the King without involving him in the matter. And more importantly, his stand towards the proposition that I outlined to the King in relation to the establishment of the Libyan Constitutional Union whose core idea is concerned with the return of the constitutional legitimacy to the country.

Haj El-Saifaat was dominated in this matter by his tribal bigotry. He perceived this as an attempt to engulf the King in a national struggle aimed at changing the government through an idea carrying within it the seeds of success if the various currents of the Libyan opposition would rally around it.

Therefore, according to his line of reasoning, the success of the LCU through elements belonging to the urban dwellers would lead to the exclusion of the tribalistic elements, and so according to his assumption, power would pass on to those who would be responsible for change, as had been the case with some of the personalities of the tribal entity following the country’s independence.

In this way, Haj Mohammad El-Saifaat continued waging his attacks on my person and The Libyan Constitutional Union in all the Libyan milieus that he used to frequent at that time. His popularity among the Libyan residents in Egypt helped him in his campaign, for almost never a day passed without him being invited as a guest of honour by one of the Libyan families in Egypt, and he took the opportunity to slander me and the Libyan Constitutional Union to his hosts and audience. To the extent that whenever he met my late father in a social gathering of Libyans, resident in Egypt, he would start venting his vehement criticism of my political orientations to him, and condemn my efforts to achieve the desired general consensus on the goals of the Libyan Constitutional Union. He actually went as far as blaming my father for not forcing me to desist this “incitement”.

In one such occasion, my father had enough of hearing Haj El-Saifaat’s repeated and exaggerated criticism, which were untruthful and distorted. He said to him, “Please, Haj Muhammad, don’t talk to me about this matter again. If you have any reservations or criticism against my son’s political views go and speak to him by yourself! My son is responsible for his actions. This is a matter of his personal freedom and he is responsible for the political views that he thinks suitable for the realisation of the national interest.”

El-Saifaat said to my father “but what your son is doing is in vain and will not achieve anything for him. The Americans(4) are on our side. Who is supporting your son?”

My father replied “Allah and King Idris El-Senusi, are on the side of my son. And if you think that he will not achieve anything and that his efforts are in vain then let him alone and no harm or wrong will befall anybody. Further, he will not harm you, especially, when you are sure that you will achieve your desired aim by being allied with the Americans.”

El-Saifaat responded with indignation, “He is dispersing the efforts and hindering our work”

My letter to Haj Mohamad El-Saifaat, which was dated 17th January 1982 and contained an insistent call for his cooperation and support for the declared aims of the LCU(5) did not change his stance toward me and the LCU

To be continued…

Muhammad Ben Ghalbon
30 September 2006

(1) Many years after leaving the "National Front for the Salvation of Libya”, Dr Mohammad Almegrief referred to The LCU in his Book, “Libya Between The Past And The Present….Pages From The Political History”. This mention of the Libyan Constitutional Union is necessary in the context of the nature of his subject, which in part deals with documenting the history of the struggle of organisations and groups of the opposition against the regime in Libya.

(2) In a press interview conducted by Mohammad Makhlouf with Mustafa Bin Halim, which was published in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper (issue number 5239, 2 April 1993) Mr. Bin Halim was asked about his opinion concerning the Libyan Opposition abroad at that time. In his answer Mr. Bin Halim mentioned the known opposition groups and deliberately ignored the Libyan Constitutional Union. Makhlouf followed that answer with the Question, “And what about the LCU?” Bin Halim answered, pretending his total ignorance of the LCU and lack of his personal knowledge of me, by saying, “Who are they? I do not know them, therefore I do not comment on them.”
What is so extraordinary and confounding in this matter is that Bin Halim, as we shall see later when we discuss his stance, was among the first personalities that had been contacted to be informed about the establishment of the LCU and was urged to support its idea. Furthermore, what makes Bin Halim’s stance confounding and eccentric, as is expressed in his misleading answer, is the fact that he is a relation of mine. He is in fact my cousin (my father’s sister’s son). This is really extraordinary and unusual and one can find for it neither an answer nor an explanation.

(3) Part 2 of this article:

(4) What is meant here is the American support for the “National Front for the Salvation of Libya” which Haj Mohammad El-Saifaat was one of its prominent founders.

(5) A letter had been sent to Haj Mohammad El-Saifaat, as a part of the above mentioned campaign to contact prominent national figures. His reply was negative. (Below are copies of all the correspondence we exchanged with him)

*   *   *

Many thanks to Mustafa for undertaking the arduous task of translating this document from Arabic Also, a big thank you to Obaid for editing it.

*   *   *


Appendix 1:
A translation of the LCU’s letter to
Haj Muhammad El-Saifaat dated 17th January 1982

In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful

The honourable Haj Mohammad El-Saifaat,

I wanted to contact you earlier, but was waiting for the Libyan Constitutional Union to complete introducing its idea through its three booklets, which I hope you are now familiar with.

We would be happy if there is a possibility of working together to serve the Libyan cause, and raise the banner of resistance aloft under the command of His Majesty King Muhammad Idris El-Senussi (May Allah give him a long life).

While waiting for your reply, please accept the respects of all members of the Libyan Constitutional Union, who would be honoured to work with you, and who all hold your person in high esteem.

Compliments, until we meet
Yours sincerely
Muhammad Abdu Ben Ghalbon

*   *   *

Appendix 2:
A translation of Haj Muhammad El-Saifaat’s reply dated 2nd February 1982
In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful

The honourable brother Muhammad Abdu Ben Ghalbon,

Cairo : 02/02/82

I gratefully received your letter dated 17th January 1982. I dearly wished that you opened this subject with me when you contacted me to request the phone number of our brother Haj (.....), or when you came to Cairo.

Honourable brother, God knows that I never loved anybody in my entire life as much as I loved King Idris, may Allah help us all to repay him for at least some of his services to our beloved Libya, which he offered the country without asking anything in return. Also, I never bowed to any flag more than the real Libyan flag with its three colours, which I consider myself among those who selected and approved it, as I was honoured to be a member of the original Libyan body which formed Libya’s Constitution.

Honourable brother Muhammad; it would have been more courteous had you contacted the Libyan brothers prior to announcing your esteemed establishment. On my part, if I may comment, I would say that your contact came too late, not just for me, but for many others. The truth is, I have never in my whole life heard of contacts regarding such a vital issue, that concerns the future of the homeland and the nation, being made by correspondence.

Honourable brother Muhammad; some of the obstacles that prevent me from joining your esteemed establishment are those I mentioned above. More importantly, however, the part that is beyond doubt or trickery is that I am committed to some Libyan brothers whose concern for Libya, I would not say is superior to yours, but I would say is not inferior. The record of sacrifice for Libya and its monarch is the best witness.

May god help you
Respectfully; Your brother
Mohammad El-Saifaat

(.....) Omitted from document to protect identity of the person

Appendix 3:
A translation of LCU Letter to Haj Muhammad El-Saifaat dated 4th March 1982

In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful

The honourable Haj Mohammad El-saifaat


I have today received your letter (dated 2/2/82) and I would like to comment on its content.

When I contacted you in Cairo and asked you to get in touch with (.....) to tell them that I was in Alexandria and I would like them to get in touch with me as I had a message from (.....), I did not discuss any subject with you. Furthermore, I did not have the honour of meeting you when I was in Cairo, simply because we did not know each other, nor had we met at any occasion beforehand. Therefore it was not easy to talk about the subject. However, all of the LCU members thought that your response was unquestionably guaranteed to be positive, as a result of what everybody knows about your past loyalty to the King and your being a former member of the National Constituent Assembly which wrote the country’s constitution. This Constitution is what The Libyan Constitutional Union is calling for.

The belief was that this call would make you particularly proud of the fact that some young people from Libya are grateful to their forefathers and are not denying their glorious deeds. This was especially so as the National Constituent Assembly was the target of ingratitude and slander, firstly from the coup d’etat government, and then from all the opposition groups with the exception of the LCU.

Please permit me to direct your attention to the fact that before announcing the establishment of the LCU we had contacted many Libyans known for their vocal opinion, patriotism and courage and who dedicated themselves to the service of the homeland without adulation or claims of leadership. Lack of personal knowledge of many others and the inability to obtain their addresses prevented us from contacting them.

Furthermore, the LCU booklets and publications are considered an invitation for all to participate, work and sacrifice - not necessarily within the framework of the LCU, for those who do not want to co-operate with it - but under the banner of His Majesty King Mohammad Idris El-Mahdy El-Sennusi, raising the only flag that Libya ever had during its short history and coordinating the relations among themselves according to the Libyan Constitution. Most of the people, who participated in the writing of the Constitution, were united in following these ideals. These are the same men who chose the colours of that beautiful flag.

You referred in your letter to your wish for the help of Allah (SWT) to enable you to repay the debt to the King and return his favour, which he bestowed on all the Libyan people with neither boasting nor asking them for anything in return, and which made all the Libyans indebted to him.

I am relying on your magnanimity to allow me to ask you when this debt will be repaid if not now by advising and convincing the Libyan brothers, who you stated in your letter are conscientious about the interests of the homeland, to make themselves and services – with yourself at the forefront - at the immediate disposal of his majesty the King. For the King, is the master of all Libya, Urban, Bedouin, West and South. In this way we combat the opportunists who saw in the ease with which Gaddafi tightened his grip on Libya an invitation for them to be its next rulers.

Furthermore, this is also the way to prevent the sad state of lawlessness prevailing in Libya from ever happening again.

It is also to be noted that according to International Law and legal customs, anybody who attempts, or claims to be attempting, to rescue Libya from its current woes by establishing an organisation that calls for justice, right and democracy while ignoring and bypassing the King, whose rights and entitlement were granted by the whole country, as you can personally attest to - or one who dispenses with the Constitution which was written by men, including you yourself, who were legally chosen by the Libyan people as their representatives - is not that much different to the one who staged the coup d’etat. The only difference is they lack the army, as of yet, to impose their will.

May you always be well,

Your brother

Muhammad Abdu Ben Ghalbon

(.....) Omitted from document to protect identity of the person.

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