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ASHARQ AL-AWSAT”

Arabic daily Newspaper (London)

Friday 10/7/92  

Translation from Arabic of an interview with LCU chairman by Huda AI-Husaini

The chairman of the Libyan Constitutional Union, Sheikh Mohamed  Ben-Ghalbon :

 

 GADAFI’S POLICIES PUT THE LIBYANS IN DANGER OF CIVIL WAR.

 

  The Libyan opposition is not ready to govern.   Gadafi's survival is conditional on his services to international interests.  The Libyan people chose the Kingdom system in a referendum.  King Idris Sanussi was the leader of the Libyan struggle for independence.  We call on the Libyan opposition groups to form a new Libyan National Assembly.  Arms are widely available in Libya.  We refused to campaign for freedom from Baghdad.  We depend on ourselves financially, and do not trade in Gadafi's conflicts.

 


 

Recently, despite the move of the spotlight away from Libya, international demands await implementation.  The Libyan leadership announced that they have "yielded" to the decisions made by the "General People's Congress" and have agreed to hand over the two Libyans accused in the Lockerbie affair.  The leadership added that they prefer the trials to take place in Scotland, where the Pan Am plane incident happened.  At the same time the UN Secretary General, Dr Boutros Ghali said that Libya was ready to receive UN inspectors to confirm that Libya has closed down all terrorist camps.  Observers began to talk of the conditions Gadafi has accepted in order to keep in power.  Although, as Sheikh Ben Ghalbon (the chairman of the L C U) points out the "serial" of events never intended to destroy Gadafi because "countries whose interests Gadafi served since coming to power are protecting him" King Idris before his death bestowed upon Ben Ghalbon the title of "Sheikh".  Ben Ghalbon said "I am particularly honoured with the title because it is from King Idris". After imprisonment twice in Libya on fabricated charges where he suffered considerable physical torture, Ben Ghalbon decided to leave his country. He waited for a favourable opportunity before leaving with his family to the UK.

 

In 1981, Sheikh Ben Ghalbon, announced the establishment of the L C U, which campaigned for the return to the 1951 Constitution and renewed allegiance to King Idris.   Ben Ghalbon insists on the Libyan Constitution because as he said "the Constitution was formulated first and on its basis the Libyan state was founded". In the Asharq Al-Awsat's weekly interview, Sheikh Ben Ghalbon spoke about Libya, the Kingdom of Libya chosen by the Libyans as a government system and added that "it may return if the Libyans took the decision in a referendum ".  Sheikh Ben Ghalbon said that the road was long and difficult and for the time being Gadafi would remain in power. However, now due to pressure from outside " he will pretend to be constructive to win sympathy in the West and to gain time". Ben Ghalbon added "the expected coming change, despite its pretentious nature, will benefit the Libyans and give them a breather after the many years of hardship".  He said that the opposition was fragmented and that there was no hope for it reaching position of power, and disagreed with the view that the fundamentalists may take power when Gadafi's regime collapses.  He said "because the opposition is not ready to take charge and govern, civil wars will break out between the many tribes".

 

He added that the vacuum resulting from Gadafi's reign forced the various tribes to arm themselves, particularly after learning that both Gadafi and Jallude have been arming their respective tribes.  In this interview, Ben Ghalbon dismissed naming the September military coup a revolution.   In order to rescue Libya from the cycle of military coups he called for a return to the Kingdom system.  However, he expressed reservations about the new Crown Prince, Prince Mohamed Sanussi, whom he knows and was a close friend of his father. Prince Al-Hassan Al-Rida Sanussi.  Ben Ghalbon maintains that  "no joint programme exists between the L C U and Mohamed Sanusi".  

Here is an account of the interview:  

     Are you a realist?

     I always live with facts and therefore I am totally realistic.  

     As a realistic man, do you seriously think that the return to the Kingdom system in Libya is possible?

    Yes it is possible. The Kingdom system was the result of the nation's wish based on a referendum and therefore it has greater legality and democratic value than any republic in the region. There was a general referendum in 1951 under the UN supervision, and 75 of the Libyans chose the Kingdom system at a time when Libya the Kingdom did not exist and the Sanussi family were not a ruling family.  Idris Sanussi was then the leader of the Libyan struggle for independence, not a King.  After the collapse of the Italian colonisation, Libya became under the British administration and had no national government system.  One of the conditions set for granting independence was to conduct a referendum so that the Libyans demonstrate their ability to practice democracy.  Accordingly in 1951 the Libyans chose, by majority, the Kingdom system and also chose the King. At that time several political parties were known, about ten of them, only one of which actually voted against the Kingdom system and against Idris Sanussi, the Congress Party headed by Bashir El-Sedawi. The Congress Party disliked the Sanussis and planned to have El-Sadawi as the future head of state. However, all other parties wished to have Idris Sanussi as a King, if the Kingdom system was chosen or as a president if a republican system of government was chosen instead.

When the coup took place in 1969, it presented nothing of value, on the contrary, it became preoccupied with falsifying history and destroying the achievement of the nation.  It never put forward any kind of political base to the country.  Therefore, when the regime collapses, the Libyans will remain only with their original   political ground.  It would be impossible to return to the Kingdom system had the coup been constructive or presented a particular ideology. The coup only led to confusion and disruption.

     Perhaps the coup will be replaced by a republic ?

     There are two possibilities.  The regime collapses and the nation goes back to their original base and make a fresh start from there. Or another coup occurs deposing the old. If another coup occurs we will force it, armed with our efforts over 12 years, to take into account seriously the Libyan Constitution, the 1951 Constitution.  It should be remembered always that the special feature of the Libyan Constitution is that, it existed before the state.  Libya gained its independence in accordance to the Constitution.

     The political vacuum may continue?

     In that case change is possible because political vacuum is merely a continuation of Gadafi's era. We will depose Gadafi sooner or later.

     How?

     We in the LCU oppose military coups and it pains us to witness the tragic consequences of the military coups which have plagued the Arab world. We consider that the failures and defeats of the Arab nations are the consequences of military coups.   We depend on the Libyan public in removing Gadafi and his regime. Our efforts are such that the concept of change be from the Libyan public not from the military or from a single political party. During the past years we focused on returning democracy and modern political concepts to the minds of the Libyans.   Our hope is that the change will be forced by the Libyan street and tribes in the direction of the Constitution.

     But this route requires time and patience?

     We are not in a hurry.  Gadafi remains in power, we move accordingly.  We may not delude ourselves.

It is clear to us that Gadafi is serving certain international interests, he is protected by the beneficiaries, therefore he will remain in power for some time yet.

     Have you tried to lead the Libyan public in large demonstrations demanding the reinstatement of 1951 Constitution?

     No.  Circumstances are not suitable for such a step.  Perhaps in the future, when changes are forced on Gadafi, we may be able to undertake such a step.  Before the necessary changes, such a call would endanger the lives of people and lead to no positive  outcome, only to blood shed.. I point here to the fact that the L C U does not offer itself as an alternative to govern and therefore we do not advertise influence or exercise muscles.

     Why the LCU then?

     Because we wish to liberate our country and take it back to the civilised free world.  We wish to live in our country as free citizens with a constitution that stands between us and the ruler, giving each his responsibilities and rights.  However, if events and circumstances called upon us to play a political role we will be obliged to comply and serve. 

     Do you have significant    popular weight inside Libya?

     Our influence on the Libyan people is our weight, we perceive total positive response. Today because of the efforts of the LCU the constitutional call dominates.  Now, the desire for the 1951 Constitution to be the reference in the interim period, and for the system of government after Gadafi falls to be decided through a national referendum, have become public demands. The evidence for this is that the opposition groups, who completely rejected this call at first because it conflicted with their interests since they aimed to reach position of power and govern, found that they can no longer avoid adopting the constitutional call. However, attempting to avoid the issue they say "we would prepare a constitution". The opposition ought to remember that Libya has a Constitution and no one has the right to make any amendments to it except an elected parliament.  Gadafi considers the green book as his constitution.   If the opposition sat outside Libya and drafted a new constitution, what difference would there be between the green book and such a constitution?

Any how the opposition have now recognised the need for the Constitution.  Some unreservedly say the 1951 Constitution and fly the national flag but others remain ambiguous and talk about a constitution to be prepared.   However, the main thing is that the constitutional theme has become a primary talking point.  We, the LCU, formed our movement in 1981 on the basis of the 1951 Constitution and raised the Libyan national flag as our banner.  Our colleagues in the opposition described it as a "reactionary flag" and called our movement a "step backwards". We called all to rally round King Idris, the only man with the international legitimacy and the only constitutionally elected Libyan ruler.

     Why did the King not defend his throne?

     With what ? A military coup took place, the King did not wish to shed Libyan blood. When we announced the formation of the LCU our objectives conflicted with the aspirations of certain opposition parties who believed that Gadafi would fall within a year leaving them to take power and therefore why bother to declare allegiance to the King?  The LCU was the only party which publicly declared its allegiance to King Idris.

      You have said in one of your publications "we renewed allegiance to the King to show our gratitude and to defend him".  This seems to suggest that the LCU is for public relations and not for political activities?

     In our first launch announcement, we called for rallying round the King in order to depose the present regime.  This was a political step calling for active participation from which resulted a gesture to the King. We saw rallying round the King as the step preventing Libyans getting into the cycle of military coups. I return to the opposition, the constitution and the national flag. Some (the National Front for the Salvation of Libya) raised a different flag (blue and gold) during the 80's.     However, after the popularity of the constitutional wave, they took up the national flag and the King's portrait.

     This means- that they stand-by you?

     No, they had to compromise and ride the band wagon.

     It seems the relations are strained among the opposition?

     There are no relations to strain. The opposition groups have come to realise that in order to   remain politically viable, they must call for the Constitution or for a constitution, and raise the national flag and salute the hero of the Libyan struggle for independence. King Idris Sanussi.

      In one of your publications you stated that "King Idris was betrayed by the military".  If the Kingdom system returns to Libya, as the LCU wishes, would a strong army be formed, or would there be fears from a strong army to initiate another coup?

     If Libya returns to be a civilised society, which is prosperous and stable there will be no fears from a strong army. Gadafi's regime has taught all sections of the Libyan society a lesson where for centuries to come there will be no coups or departure from the Constitution.

     Has Gadafi maintained a strong army?

     No. The incompetence of Gadafi's army was demonstrated in Chad.  Gadafi sent the best units of the army with the most advanced of equipment, and despite the fact that Chad is one of the poorest countries in Africa, the army came out with a most humiliating defeat.

     We noticed that Gadafi added female soldier units to the army, are these actually fighting forces?

     No. They are merely for publicity. He calls them the "revolutionary nuns".  They act as his personal bodyguards, and to pose to other leaders in the region as a man of new ideas. As for the competence of these "nuns" as soldiers and as bodyguards was shown during the non-aligned countries summit in Yugoslavia when one of them bit a Yugoslav security man.  Such practices are major embarrassments to us.  We feel ashamed of having Colonel Gadafi as the leader of our country.  His "revolutionary nuns" bite people and his strongest army units failed to defeat Chad.

     Did Libya intended to take over all of Chad?

     Gadafi sent his forces to Chad for that purpose.

     What about the Auozo strip?

     The Auozo strip was an excuse.  His forces went deep into Chad. But they failed to even capture Auozo. The Chadian forces chased the Libyan army deep into Libyan territories.  It was a disgrace.

     Who is the new Crown Prince and what are his plans?

     I do not know.  There is no working plan connecting the LCU and the pretender to the throne.

      But do you not know who the new crown prince is ?

     We in the LCU have stated, since the formation of the Union, the necessity for a national referendum to consider the type of government system followed by the selection of a leader, exactly as was the selection of King Idris.

     The Libyans may choose a different system, a non-kingdom system?

     Possibly, and we stand by the people's choice.

     This means that you do not agree with the appointment of the new Crown Prince through the Will left by his father?

      I neither disagree nor agree.  It does not concern us, it is a family affair. We have no views in the matter. We and Prince Mohamed Sanussi do not have any joint political programme.  Naturally I know him, his late father was a personal friend.  Till the day of his death we held intensive meetings with him, he held a legitimate constitutional position.

     Would the new Crown Prince have a legitimate constitutional right if his father had been a King?

     He would as a proposed crown prince only. This legitimacy would distinguish him from other candidates.  The LCU did not acclaim any one individual after King Idris including the late Crown Prince, Al-Hassan Al-Rida Sanussi.  We maintained our position regarding the call for a national referendum to decide. The late Prince Al-Hassan had the distinction of having been proposed by the King, he was constitutionally appointed Crown Prince.  But he was not confirmed by the parliament. However if he had wished to claim his right to the throne, we would have supported him because he held more rights to it than any other Libyan. As for his sons, they do not have this privilege. He was not a king to pass on the right of succession to them.   Even if we suppose that he had, this would still require confirmation by the parliament.  For this reason we hold reservations on the contents of the Will regarding the inheritance by Prince Mohamed Sanussi of the position of Crown Prince.

     Did  your  friend  the  Prince  Al-Hassan not show you the Will?

     No, despite the fact that we were close friends.

     After the death of King Idris, did you ask the opposition to declare allegiance to Crown Prince Al-Hassan?

     The LCU did not say "The King is dead, long leave the King", but we did say to the opposition groups let us re-form the National Assembly, like the one in 1951.  However, the opposition parties wasted two opportunities :

The first was when they failed to declare allegiance to King Idris when he was alive where they could have eradicated their differences and formed an internationally recognised body since the King's legitimacy was internationally unchallenged.   Had the opposition groups taken that step, they would now have the status of a government in exile enjoying international recognition.

The second opportunity was on the day King Idris died when the opposition groups rejected our call to form a National Assembly incorporating all groups, so that it becomes the nucleus for future national political parties.  At any rate I am now hopeful that such a step may still be possible because the constitutional thought has become very strong among the Libyan public. Furthermore, opposition parties have now come to realise that Gadafi is not about to leave.   It is now well understood that the situation is more complex than had been estimated and that there is a need for each other's support.

     It seems that you have neither trust nor hope in the opposition groups?

     If it continued to be as it is now, no,.I do not have any hope in it.  It can not play any effective role.  However, at present discussions are going on to make use of the opportunity and form a National Assembly. Commonly shared views are now many.

     How many opposition parties are there?

     Many parties.

     Are you still threatened by Gadafi?

     Gadafi now is not capable of harming any one except those who live under his rule, all of the Libyan public could be regarded as hostages. Libyan exiles living abroad are now safe from his terrorist activities because his claws have been clipped.  Gadafi's international problems are now such that he can no longer freely move as he did during the eighties. I faced Gadafi's danger in the past though. There was an attempt to assassinate me in 1981, and another in 1984.   We lived for a long period under armed protection by British Police.   At one time we were under their protection for two months, we were more or less prisoners.  One of Gadafi's hit squads managed to enter the UK   with the objective of assassinating me.   The group could not be traced by the police who became very concerned about our safety and decided to provide us with "close" protection, till this group could be located.  We, my family, my brother and myself became effectively prisoners for a time.  When relations between Libya and Britain worsened and it became difficult for suspect Libyans to enter the UK, we regained our freedom.

     Who provides financial support for the LCU?

     The LCU since its establishment received no financial support from anyone or any country.   Our activities were supported from within the organisation, from our own private funds.  It is for this reason that some claim that the LCU is a small organisation not requiring financial support.  This is not correct.  Certain other opposition parties made these claims in order to facilitate financial support exclusively for them. For instance in 1984 when relations between Gadafi and Saddam Hussein deteriorated, the Iraqi president adopted the Libyan opposition groups and provided facilities for them to hold a conference in Baghdad.  All groups, except the LCU, received considerable financial help from Saddam. We declined the invitation and refused to attend the conference.  It was difficult for us to campaign for the freedom of the Libyans from Baghdad, where the Iraqi's own freedom had no value or meaning. We found it impossible to travel to Baghdad and oppose Gadafi from there while our Iraqi brothers live in exile all over the world. Actually they experienced living in exile before us.  We therefore refused to stand up in Baghdad, which suffers from Sadam's oppression and campaign for the independence of Libya.

     It seems that the Libyan opposition parties, much like all other Arab opposition, failed to keep their independence.  They are influenced by relations between Libya and other countries?

     Except the LCU.   We have not committed ourselves to any one.  We did not build a reputation at the expense of Gadafi's conflicts and suddenly lost it when relations improved.    Our pace may be slow but it is firm and steady.

     Do you have access to a broadcasting service directed to Libya?

     No, we decline use of one. We were offered part use of a broadcasting facility operated from Khartoom during Numeiri's rule. We do not think as politicians, we think as concerned Arab nationals who refuse to take advantages of fellow Arab's difficulties.  We refuse to operate from an Arab country ruled by a military coup.  We are attempting to introduce a new political thought which may be used to break out of the cycle of military coups.

     Do you now expect an open policy from Libya towards the US and Britain as was recently suggested by newspapers in Libya?

     I am sure this will happen.   Gadafi has embarked on a new policy.    He made substantial concessions to the British government regarding his connections with the IRA as he did to the US and the West by kicking the Palastinians out, naming them terrorist and leaking their confidential information and plans.  He has also accepted, seemingly according to the recommendations made by "Libyan General Assembly", to hand over the two suspects of the Lockerbie incident.   The West now is seriously considering improving relations with Gadafi, since he is complying with all demands made of him.   In the past it was rather difficult for the West to deal openly with him, now he declared that he ceased his terrorist activities and would no longer finance terrorist organisations, thus making the situation much more easy for the West. However; he is incapable of change, he was born a terrorist and he will die a terrorist. He was forced to compromise to bargain for survival. We expect the step he will take to show the West that he is becoming more democratic and constructive will be to accommodate, in the name of all Libyan opposition, a certain category of the opposition, those who never actually rejected him and considered him as a leader of a revolution rather than the organiser of a coup.  The opposition who believed that the revolution deviated from its path.   Gadafi is now in discussions with Abdul Mounim Al-Hooni (ex member of the Revolutionary Command Council), Mr Ezzideen Al-Ghadamsi (ex Libyan Ambassador) and with Dr. Mahmood Al-Maghrabi (the first Prime Minister after the coup d'etat).  It is entirely possible that these figures will soon form an opposition forum inside the country and reconcile differences with Gadafi, thus the West will be led to believe that he made peace with the Libyan opposition and its leaders.

     It is said that the West made an offer to Gadafi to remain as a non-executive leader and appoint a government incorporating known personalities from the opposition such as Mr Hooni?

     The world forgets that those who worked with Gadafi at one time or another, even after moving to the opposition side, remain trained to obey him.   Gadafi rules alone and has shadows around him.   No body of substance can exist beside him.  There are suggestions that Jallude is in dispute with Gadafi.   If Jallude was capable of differing with Gadafi, he would have been dead long ago.   The publicised dispute is merely a play designed by Gadafi. All who actually differed with Gadafi are either dead or left the country. Jallude is still the "second man", because he salutes Gadafi day and night. The opposition who will be accepted by Gadafi is not in reality an opposition, it extends from the system and its leaders used to be employees with Gadafi, well disciplined to obey.

     Why did Gadafi not have the two Lockerbie suspects killed thus avoiding the demands made by the West to hand them over?

     The reason is, had he done so he would frighten his intelligence officers and shake their loyalty to him.   If the intelligence services see that he began to have them killed, the system would collapse.   He does not give his own people away.  He is always anxious to demonstrate that who serves him will benefit. At one time, he managed to have two Libyans charged by German courts freed. He paid heavily to have them freed and returned to Libya. This type of action raises the spirits and resolute of his terrorists.

     Some observers suggest that an agreement was reached between the West and Gadafi whereby he will be allowed to remain in power and all the peoples committees will continue to function in return for contorlling the out put and export levels of Libyan crude oil and its price ?

     Since 1985 Gadafi has strived to improve relations with the US and win their approval and recognition and therefore the Americans do not need actually to concede any thing. He yearns to have this wish fulfilled.  What has been happening is a play to demoralise Gadafi and force him into making greater concessions thus making it possible for the West to deal with him without having to answer difficult questions from their own respective parliaments and oppositions benches. Now, the international community will offer Gadafi another lease to remain in power.

     After the assassination of the Algerian president (Budiaf) and the accusation of the Islamic Salvation Front with the assassination, some observers say that it may be wiser to contend with Gadafi in Libya and leave him in power because the opposition is not ready and if Gadafi was to fall religious extremist may take power in Libya ?

     The opposition is not ready to govern. This is a fact.  If Gadafi falls now, neither religious extremists nor opposition parties will take over power, civil war may break out in the country. Libya is now on the brink of civil war.

     Between who?

     Between Libyan tribes.    The years of political vacuum have eroded the strength and ties of the Libyan society and taken it back to more or less how it was before World War One as far as tribal friction and lack of state authority are concerned.   Tribal power and allegiances have returned to the way they were before independence. Now, Libyan tribes are busy forming alliances.   Absence of state authorities led individual tribes to provide their own protection.   Tribes are now actively arming themselves.

     Where do tribes obtain the arms from?

     Today  in Libya  one  can  acquire a Kalashnikoff rifle for 200 Dinars. Army personnel trade in arms, and besides, the authority is arming certain tribes.  Gadafi is arming his own tribe (Gadadifa tribe) and their allies (WerfallaTribe).   Some of the strongest army units, based in Sirt (the Middle province), come from these two tribes.   These tribes consider the army as their own force and not really a national Libyan army.   Gadadfa and Warfalla tribes are particularly active in forging alliances with many smaller tribes.    Jallude is officially arming his own tribe (Magarha). Other tribes in the country are anxiously monitoring these activities and come to realise that if the regime falls and all traces of security disappeared, they will be overwhelmed by the heavily armed Gadadfa and Magarha and their allies.    For this reason all other tribes are busy arming their own. It is worth noting here that Libya has a history of civil wars, it lived through more than one civil war.  There was a war in the Western region between Warfalla and Misrata tribes which continued for several years and resulted in much destruction and bloodshed. Another war broke between Awlad Sulaiman and Al-Hosoon tribes in the West.   In the East there was a war between the West Line tribes and the East Line tribes which lasted for tens of years.

     Why did these wars not spread all over Libya? 

     At that time Libya did not exist as a united state.   Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan existed as separate states.  It was King Idris who united them.  Going back to the subject of civil war, there was one in Cyrenaica between the Saadi tribes.   Sections of the same tribes broke away and fought each other.   Cousins killed each other in wars between Barasa and Dersa on the one side and Obeidat tribes on the other. Much Libyan blood was shed in civil wars. The situation only settled down with the First and Second World Wars because of the incoming of foreign forces to the region. One of the most important achievement of King Idris when he first took charge was stopping civil wars between Libyan tribes.  We should not forget the major war in Cyrenaica which lasted for almost forty years between Saadi tribes and their sub-tribe, the Awlad Ali tribes. Saadi tribes expelled all of Awlad Ali to Egypt.   They now Live in Salloum and Matrouh in Egypt.    They wear Libyan national dress and have Egyptian nationality.

     Do you mean that if Col. Gadafi fell several civil wars will break out in Libya?

     Libya is at present on the brink of civil war.   The clouds of civil war have been darkening since 1985.

 

     That is so if Gadafi fell, but if the West decided to keep him in power what kind of future awaits Libya? 

     If the West decided to keep him in power then the Libyans will get some temporary relief from the usual oppression and injustice because Gadafi will want to prove to the West that he seriously intends to fulfill his undertakings to improve conditions starting with his own position.  He will take full advantages of the readiness of the West to have open dealings with him and strengthen these relations . He could only achieve this through relieving the oppressions and constraints on the Libyan public to appear forgiving and win time. This will be an enormous change to those living in Libya.

     Will he hand over the two Lockerbie suspects?

     Yes.

     Why did Gadafi not speak at the end of the "General People's Congress"?

     So as to give the impression that the Libyan public make the decisions, he only implements.   The "Congress" was actually held to approve the surrender of the two suspects.  The astonishing thing about Gadafi is this.   Normally when states face crisis, their leaders accept full responsibilities to save the states' reputation and standing. Gadafi does the opposite. He blames the state and its people and charges them with responsibility to save himself.

     Has he actually closed down the terrorist camps?

     He has, and kicked out all those who were in them.    He handed over all of their confidential materials and plans to the countries concerned.   He turned them into exposed cards.

 


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