With the fall of the Gaddafi regime, the obvious question about Libya is “What’s next?”
The answer is unknown in what is sure to be a complex regime change. As Business Week concluded last week, “The rebels, a coalition including longtime Gaddafi opponents and former regime figures, say they intend to establish a democracy, though Libya has neither a political party nor a constitution. Even Mustafa Abdul Jalil, head of the rebels’ National Transitional Council (NTC), warned on Aug. 22 that governing in the post-Gaddafi era will ‘not be a bed of roses.’ ”
But there is one ongoing scene from news reports of the uprising and eventual triumph of the freedom fighters against the 42-year-old dictatorship that may provide a clue: the ceremony following the conquest of a town formerly held by the Gaddafi forces in which the dictator’s solid green ensign is torn down and replaced by the black, red and green flag bearing a white crescent and star—the flag of King Idris I, who ruled Libya from when it became an independent country in 1951 until he was overthrown in a military coup led by the young Muammar Gaddafi in 1969. Idris was a strong friend of the U.S., and Wheelus Air Force Base in Libya was a key U.S. outpost until his overthrow, when Gaddafi ordered all U.S. troops out of the country. Idris went into exile in Eqypt and died in 1983.
Could the next step, then, of the nation suddenly free from Gaddafi’s rule be a restoration of the constitutional monarchy that preceded the tyrant, with Idris’ grand-nephew and heir, Mohammed El Senussi, as a royal ruler presiding over a parliamentary system of government much like Great Britain or Spain?
Again, no one can say for certain what the future holds. But there are signs that, at the very least, a constitutional monarchy is an option.
New Affection for Old King
The ceremony of raising the royal flag—out of sight since Gaddafi came to power—has often been accompanied by a mounting of King Idris’ portrait and the singing of the anthem of his government. These rituals are particularly impressive because more than half the Libyan population is under 25 and has no memory of Idris. Nonetheless, they raise his flag, hoist his portrait, and sing his anthem about sacrifice, liberation and never going back to living in chains (which refers to the struggle led by Idris against Italian colonizers).
“There is an obvious affection for the old king,” wrote Michael Cousins in ArabNews.com. “Articles about him appear in the new press. With no stain of political or financial corruption attached to him, he is now seen as a man of integrity and honor— the complete antithesis of Gaddafi. Twice he tried to abdicate to devote himself to study and prayer. Moreover, despite Gaddafi’s efforts to eradicate every last memory of the Senussi order—to the point of smashing the graves of its members at Al-Jaghbub and scattering their bones in the desert—it is still greatly revered. Support for the house of Senussi is powerfully strong in eastern Libya, probably stronger than at any time since the early 1960s.”
From Benghazi, Cousins reports a movement within the NTC headquarters for a Libyan government with a monarchy, “but a strictly limited constitutional one, with the king as a living symbol of Libyan unity, but who would not be allowed to take part in political affairs.”
In London, where he was raised and educated, Crown Prince Mohammed El Senussi has been interviewed by Al Jazeera, France 24 and other media outlets. On April 20, he addressed the European Parliament. On each occasion, he has indicated his desire to finally return to the land from which Gadaffi drove out his family, and said that he would support whatever form of government, monarchy or republic the Libyan people decide on.
When Elizabeth Braw of The Huffington Post recalled how former Bulgarian King Simeon II ran as a political candidate and was elected prime minister, she asked the crown prince-in-exile whether he would do the same if Libya became a republic.
“I look at myself as a servant of Libya,” replied the 49-year-old Senussi. “I respect the choice of the Libyan people, so I’m not pushing them to accept me as king. My great-uncle didn’t impose himself on the people of Libya either. They elected him king.”
He went on to suggest to Braw that educating the Libyan people over a period of time was the best avenue to democracy, noting, “It has taken Britain 800 years to establish the kind of democracy they have today. We have to do it step by step.”
Mahmoud Jibril, head of the NTC in Benghazi, told reporters last month that it would be up to the people to decide whether there would be return to a monarchy.
At this point, no one truly knows what’s next for Libya. But based on recent developments, notably the revival of a flag and anthem not seen or heard in four decades, a constitutional monarchy is at least a possibility.