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A Constitutional Restoration of Libya’s Monarchy May Help Break Political Impasse


One of the most interesting accounts on Twitter may be a relatively new one: that of His Excellency Mohammed El Senussi, the pretender to the throne of Libya, who established a presence on Twitter earlier this month. Twitter has thus far had little resonance in Libya, which is home to one of the lowest Twitter account numbers per capita in the Arab world. Yet, his account has been surprisingly successful, with some posts getting thousands of interactions.

El Senussi made his intention to claim his birthright in a video released this year on the 71st anniversary of Libyan Independence Day. Since that holiday falls on December 24, the announcement was eclipsed by the Christmas and New Years holidays and received little attention outside the Arabic-speaking world.

More importantly in the Libyan political context, Libya's House of Representatives (HOR) had set aside that date for the first round of Libya's presidential election. However, due to the intractable political impasse, presidential elections have been repeatedly delayed since 2018.

With this impasse in mind of citizens, El Senussi has been increasingly seen by some as the most viable option to lead the country. "The constitutional legitimacy represented by the kingdom of Libya is still the most important umbrella for uniting our nation," El Senussi said during the speech (in the official translation into English). Since the fall of Muammer Qadaffi in 2011, civil strife in Libya has caused humanitarian disaster and prevented the oil-rich country from achieving its potential.

For too long, Libya has not taken its rightful place as a nation that increases global stability. It has looked inward and has been saddled with civil war and large numbers of foreign troops on its soil. Prior to that, under dictatorship, Libya was a source of global instability, funding terrorism and backing coups from Gambia to Grenada.

Yet, El Senussi has an entirely different model in mind. "We want what suits our nature and provides citizens with the full opportunity to exercise their rights and duties, and with a quick look, we find that other developed countries such as Japan, Malaysia, Norway, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and others, adopted the monarchy, while we do not see anyone describing them as reactionary," he said in a recent media statement.

His call for the restoration of his throne, at first glance, may be a bold move — but it is not the first time it has been suggested. In 2014, Libya's Foreign Minister speculated about the return of the monarchy. The Constitutional Drafting Authority (CDA) called for a return to the 1951 constitution in a 2015 petition. Overall, growing support for a return by the king has been documented in Libya over the past decade. A return to the 1951 constitution may offer a solution. If the king returned to power, new parliamentary elections could be held to elect a new prime minister.

The situation is analogous to Post-World War II Libya. Though craved by Soviet Leader as a colony, the United Nations set about trying to make the country into a republic. However, regional differences led to years of political deadlock. In this context, King Idris al-Senusi, who had been in exile in Egypt, returned to assume the throne in 1951. His father, the leader of the Sufism focused Senussi Order, had been a key figure in Libya's resistance to Italian occupation. These are the ancestors of the current crown prince.

Currently, the country is ruled under the Libyan Interim Constitutional Declaration of 2011, which has been amended but remains an intentionally temporary document in which some permanent solution is needed. The CDA, founded in 2014, labored on a Libyan constitution until 2017; however, it was not adopted. With the drafting process of a new constitution having dragged out for years, the 1951 constitution has the legitimacy of a possible way forward. Moreover, the recent ordeal of the Chilean constitution offers a cautionary tale. Here again, the drafting of a modern constitution became a mess after special interest groups got involved. Despite initially being popular with the voters according to opinion polls, the newly proposed constitution was voted down in a referendum in September 2022. With this context, some argue to consider the 1951 constitution of Libya, which provides for a constitutional monarchy.

Last year, UN-brokered talks between the eastern-dominated HOR and the Tripoli-based High Council of State (HCS) reached a deadlock in part to the latter's favor of the 2017 draft constitution while the former seems to favor a new draft entirely. This month, a group of Libyan representatives met in Cairo, Egypt in yet another attempt to clear a path forward for the country's often stalled elections. The Speaker of Libya's House of Representatives Aguila Saleh and Chairman of the Higher Council of State Khaled Al-Mishri attended the meeting and issued a joint declaration that they would continue to try to find a way forward following their meeting in Cairo. Regardless of recent activities and gridlock, a return to a functioning constitution in which neither side feels the other side "won" might offer the best path forward.

Ultimately, the issue should be decided by Libyan voters, but there are many reasons why a return to parliamentary democracy might be ideal. Who knows, perhaps one day, El Senussi will return to the throne, and Libya will join the world's constitutional monarchies with genuine parliamentary democracy. On that day, the ideas of Muammar Gaddafi will have truly been defeated.

Joseph Hammond has reported extensively in the Middle East and Africa. He is an iDove Fellow with the African Union and former Fulbright Fellow in Malawi.

Photo Credit: A young Benghazian carrying King Idris' photo by Maher27777/Wikimedia Commons.

The opinions expressed on this blog are solely those of the authors. They do not reflect the views of the Wilson Center or those of Carnegie Corporation of New York. The Wilson Center's Africa Program provides a safe space for various perspectives to be shared and discussed on critical issues of importance to both Africa and the United States.

About the Author

Joseph Hammond

Africa Program

The Africa Program works to address the most critical issues facing Africa and U.S.-Africa relations, build mutually beneficial U.S.-Africa relations, and enhance knowledge and understanding about Africa in the United States. The Program achieves its mission through in-depth research and analyses, public discussion, working groups, and briefings that bring together policymakers, practitioners, and subject matter experts to analyze and offer practical options for tackling key challenges in Africa and in U.S.-Africa relations.    Read more