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King of Libya
Personal details
Born (1889-03-12)March 12, 1889
Al-Jaghbub, Ottoman Cyrenaica
Died 25 May 1983(1983-05-25) (aged 94)
Cairo, Egypt
Resting place Jannat al-Baqi, Medina, Saudi Arabia
Spouse(s) Fatima el-Sharif

Idris, GBE (Arabic language: إدريس الأول‎), also known as King Idris I of Libya (born El Sayyid Prince Muhammad Idris bin Muhammad al-Mahdi as-Senussi 12 March 1889 – 25 May 1983),[1] was the first and only king of Libya, reigning from 1951 to 1969, and the Chief of the Senussi Muslim order. While in Turkey for medical treatment, Idris was deposed in a 1969 coup d'etat by army officers led by Muammar Gaddafi.

Early life

Born at Al-Jaghbub, the headquarters of the Senussi movement, on 12 March 1889, the son of Sayyid Muhammad al-Mahdi bin Sayyid Muhammad al-Senussi and his third wife Aisha bint Muqarrib al-Barasa,[2] Idris was a grandson of Sayyid Muhammad bin 'Ali as-Senussi, the founder of the Senussi Muslim Sufi order and the Senussi tribe in North Africa. His lineage is considered to be descendant of the Prophet Mohammed. He became Chief of the Senussi order in 1916 following the abdication of his cousin Sayyid Ahmed Sharif es Senussi. He was recognized by the British under the new title Emir of the territory of Cyrenaica, a position also confirmed by the Italians in 1920. He was also installed as Emir of Tripolitania on 28 July 1922.

Idris spent the early part of his career attempting to negotiate independence for Cyrenaica.[3] In 1922, following the Italian military campaigns against Libya, he went into exile. Egypt then served as his base in a guerrilla war against the colonial Italian authorities.[4]

World War II

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During World War II, Idris supported the United Kingdom in the hope of ridding his country once and for all from Italian occupation and brought the Senussi tribe and the Cyrenaican nationalists to fight alongside the Allies against the Axis. The Senussi tribesmen provided the British 8th Army in North Africa with vital intelligence[citation needed] on German and Italian troop movements. With the defeat of the German and Italian forces led by Erwin Rommel, and with the help of the British Military Administration of Cyrenaica he was finally able to return to his capital, Benghazi, as Emir of Cyrenaica and form an official government. In 1946 King Idris was honoured and awarded the British Order of Grand Cross of the British Empire for his support in the defeat of German and Italian forces in North Africa during World War II.

King of Libya

King Idris with then- Richard Nixon (March 1957). He sought cordial relations with the West.

King Idris meeting president Nasser of Egypt

King Idris I on the cover of the Libyan Al Iza'a magazine, 15 August 1965

With the help of the British Military Administration of Cyrenaica and the backing of London, Idris as-Senussi was rewarded for the help the Senussi tribe provided in ridding Libya of the Italian and German occupation and was proclaimed an independent Emirate of Cyrenaica in 1949. He was also invited to become Emir of Tripolitania, another of the three traditional regions that now constitute modern Libya (the third being Fezzan).[5] By accepting he began the process of uniting Libya under a single monarchy. A constitution was enacted in 1949 and adopted in October 1951. A National Congress elected Idris as King of Libya, and as Idris I he proclaimed the independence of the United Kingdom of Libya as a sovereign state on 24 December 1951.

From Benghazi, Idris led the team negotiating over independence with the United Kingdom and the United Nations under UN special adviser to Libya Dutch born Adrian Pelt, which was achieved on 24 December 1951 with the proclamation of the federal United Libyan Kingdom with Idris as king. In 1963 the constitution was revised and the state became a unitary state as the Kingdom of Libya. Earl Mountbatten was a very close friend of King Idris and used to visit him in Libya often and stay at the Royal Palace. Both King Idris and Earl Mountbatten used to go together on excursion trips into the Sahara desert which Earl Mountbatten enjoyed.

Idris had the same principles that formed part of his Sufi heritage namely peaceful co-existence, tolerance and a live and let live philosophy of life that was also held by the likes of Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.

In 1955, failing to have produced a male heir, he convinced Fatima, his wife for 20 years, to let him marry a second wife, Aliya Abdel Lamloun, daughter of a wealthy Bedouin chief. The second marriage took place on 5 June 1955. Ironically both wives then became pregnant, and both bore him a son.[6]

To the chagrin of Arab nationalists at home and supporters of Pan-Arabism in neighbouring states, Idris maintained close ties with the United Kingdom and the United States, even after the former intervened against Egypt during the 1956 Suez Crisis.[citation needed] Another threat to his kingdom was his failure to produce a surviving male heir to succeed to the throne. In 1956, Idris designated his brother's son, Prince Hasan as-Senussi, as the Black Prince or crown prince.

The economy prospered from its oil fields and the presence of the United States Air Force's Wheelus Air Base near Tripoli, but the king's health began to falter and the crown prince assumed a greater role in the government and from time to time acted as regent. On 4 August 1969, Idris signed an Instrument of Abdication in favour of Crown Prince Hasan as-Senussi, to take effect on 2 September that year.[citation needed]

Overthrow and exile

On 1 September 1969, while Idris was in Turkey for medical treatment, he was deposed in a coup d'état by a group of Libyan army officers under the leadership of Muammar Gaddafi. The monarchy was abolished and a republic proclaimed.[7] The coup pre-empted Idris' abdication and the succession of his heir the following day. From Turkey, he and the queen travelled to Kamena Vourla, Greece, by ship and went into exile in Egypt. After the coup of 1969, Idris was placed on trial in absentia in the Libyan People's Court and sentenced to death in November 1971.

Idris died at the Sultan Palace in Dokki, Cairo in 1983, aged 94. He was buried at Jannat al-Baqi, Medina, Saudi Arabia.

A young Benghazian carrying King Idris's photo during the 2011 revolution

Libyan civil war

Although the king died in exile and most Libyans were born after his reign, during the Libyan civil war, many demonstrators opposing Colonel Gaddafi carried portraits of the king, especially in the traditional Sanussi stronghold of Cyrenaica. The tricolour flag used during the era of the monarchy was frequently used as a symbol of the revolution and was re-adopted by the National Transitional Council as the official flag of Libya.[8]


Idris married five times:

  1. At Kufra, 1896/1897, his cousin, Sayyida Aisha binti Sayyid Muhammad as-Sharif al-Sanussi (1873 Jaghbub – 1905 or 1907 Kufra), eldest daughter of Sayyid Muhammad as-Sharif bin Sayyid Muhammad al-Sanussi, by his fourth wife, Fatima, daughter of 'Umar bin Muhammad al-Ashhab, of Fezzan, by whom he had one son who died in infancy;
  2. At Kufra, 1907 (divorced 1922), his cousin, Sakina, daughter of Muhammad as-Sharif, by whom he had one son and one daughter, both of whom died in infancy;
  3. At Kufra, 1911 (divorced 1915), Nafisa, daughter of Ahmad Abu al-Qasim al-Isawi, by whom he had one son who died in infancy;
  4. At Siwa, Egypt, 1931, Sayyida Fatima al-Shi'fa binti Sayyid Ahmad as-Sharif al-Sanussi Fatima el-Sharif (1910 Kufra – 3 October 2009, Cairo, buried in Jannat al-Baqi, Medina, Saudi Arabia), fifth daughter of Field Marshal H.H. Sayyid Ahmad as-Sharif Pasha bin Sayyid Muhammad as-Sharif al-Sanussi, 3rd Grand Sanussi, by his second wife, Khadija, daughter of Ahmad al-Rifi, by whom he had one son who died in infancy;
  5. At the Libyan Embassy, Cairo, 6 June 1955 (divorced 20 May 1958), Aliya Khanum Effendi (1913 Guney, Egypt), daughter of Abdul-Qadir Lamlun Asadi Pasha.

For two short periods (1911–1922 and 1955–1958) Idris kept two wives, marrying his fifth wife with a view to providing a direct heir.

Idris fathered five sons and one daughter, none of whom survived childhood. He and Queen Fatima adopted a daughter, Suleima, an Algerian orphan, who survived them.


Royal Standard of the King of Libya

King Idris was Grand Master of the following Libyan Orders:[9]

  • Libya Order of Idris I
  • Libya High Order of Sayyid Muhammad ibn Ali al-Senussi
  • Libya Order of Independence
  • Libya Al-Senussi National Service Star
  • Libya Al-Senussi Army Liberation Medal

He was a recipient of the following foreign honors:


  1. "Royal Ark". Retrieved 29 July 2012. 
  2. Royal Ark. Retrieved 26 October 2013.
  3. Vandewalle, Dirk (2006). A history of modern Libya. Cambridge University Press. p. 36. ISBN 978-0-521-85048-3.
  4. Oliver, Roland; Atmore, Anthony (2005). Africa since 1800. Cambridge University Press. p. 236.
  5. Diller, Daniel; Moore, John (1995). The Middle East. Congressional Quarterly. p. 308.
  6. Daily Mirror 23 September 1955
  7. Bloodless coup in Libya. BBC News On This Day. 1 September 1969.
  8. "The liberated east: Building a new Libya". The Economist. 24 February 2011. Retrieved 26 February 2011. 
  9. "Libya: Senussi Dynasty Orders and Decorations". Retrieved 12 June 2011. 

External links

Idris of Libya
Senussi dynasty
Born: 12 March 1889 Died: 25 May 1983
Regnal titles
New title
New states created
Emir of Cyrenaica
1920 – 24 December 1951
Titles dissolved
Countries merged into Kingdom of Libya
Emir of Tripolitania
1922 – 24 December 1951
King of Libya
24 December 1951 – 1 September 1969
Monarchy abolished
Political offices
New title
Libyan independence
Head of State of Libya
24 December 1951 – 1 September 1969
Succeeded by
Muammar Gaddafi
as de facto leader of Libya
Religious titles
Preceded by
Ahmed Sharif es Senussi
Chief of the Senussi order
1916 – 4 August 1969
Succeeded by
Crown Prince Hasan
Titles in pretence
Loss of title
Libyan revolution
King of Libya
1–2 September 1969
Succeeded by
Crown Prince Hasan

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