Idris of Libya

Idris of Libya

King of Libya
Reign 24 December 1951 – 1 September 1969
Born 12 March 1889
Al-Jaghbub, Ottoman Cyrenaica
Died 25 May 1983(1983-05-25) (aged 94)
Cairo, Egypt
Burial Al-Baqi' Cemetery, Medina, Saudi Arabia
Spouse Fatimah el-Sharif
Full name
Muhammad Idris bin Muhammad al-Mahdi as-Senussi
House Senussi
Father Muhammad al-Mahdi as-Senussi
Mother Aisha bint Muqarrib al-Barasa
Religion Sunni Islam

Idris, GBE (Arabic: 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 1
  • World War II 2
  • King of Libya 3
  • Overthrow and exile 4
  • Legacy 5
  • Family 6
  • Honours 7
  • Ancestry 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

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 ibn Ali as-Senussi, the founder of the Senussi Muslim Sufi order and the Senussi tribe in North Africa. His lineage is considered to be descended from 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

During World War II, Idris supported the United Kingdom in the hope of ridding his country of 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 valuable intelligence 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 able to return to his capital, Benghazi, as Emir of Cyrenaica, and form an official government. In 1946, 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.

King of Libya

King Idris with then-U.S. Vice-President Richard Nixon (March 1957)
King Idris meeting President Nasser of Egypt
King Idris on the cover of the Libyan Al Iza'a magazine, 15 August 1965

With the help of the British Military Administration of Cyrenaica, Idris 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 to become a unitary state as the Kingdom of Libya. Earl Mountbatten was a close friend of Idris and used to visit him in Libya often and stay at the palace. Both Idris and Earl Mountbatten used to enjoy going together on excursion trips into the Sahara Desert.

In 1955, failing to have produced a male heir, he convinced Fatima, his wife of 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. Both wives then became pregnant, and each 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. 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.

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's 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 1969 coup, Idris was put on trial in absentia in the Libyan People's Court and sentenced to death in November 1971.

In 1983, at age 94, Idris died at the Sultan Palace in the district of Dokki in Cairo. He was buried at Al-Baqi' Cemetery, Medina, Saudi Arabia.


Although the King died in exile and most Libyans were born after his reign, during the Libyan Civil War, many demonstrators opposing 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, his cousin, Sayyida Fatima al-Shi'fa binti Sayyid Ahmad as-Sharif al-Sanussi, Fatimah el-Sharif (1911 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 Fatima adopted a daughter, Suleima, an Algerian orphan, who survived them.


Royal Standard of the King of Libya

Idris was grand master of the following Libyan orders:[9]

He was a recipient of the following foreign honours:



  1. ^
  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. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ Royal Ark

External links

Media related to at Wikimedia Commons

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
Political offices
New title
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
King of Libya
1–2 September 1969
Succeeded by
Crown Prince Hasan