Same month, same airport, same Benghazi?
Going home. The resonance of that phrase is universal. The happy homecoming. The poignant or sad one. The unsure one. The second chance one.
For His Royal Highness Prince Mahdi A Al-Senussi that ultimate appellation of his “going home” remains to be determined. Forty-two years to the month that Prince Mahdi was forced to leave Libya, he has returned. Armed with a template from the past and an eye to the realities of the 21st century, the Prince is ready to make his homecoming to Libya one of a storybook ending for his people and his nation.
It was the same airport from which he departed Benghazi. Little had changed, it seemed.
There was, of course, the expected feelings of overwhelmingly joy, trumpeting a cavalcade of emotions being forged on the anvil of what can he do – he of royal blood – to help restore prosperity, dignity, happiness and hope to his nation.
He touts the great Libya of the past and its promise of return and already some are listening.
Malta will be investing heavily to boost its diplomatic and consular presence in Libya in the coming months and has already acquired more than €1 million in EU funding for this purpose.
Brussels has acknowledged Malta’s role to act as a bridge between the EU and Libya and has already given the green light for this plan to materialize – a major boost for Libya.
Since toppling Gaddafi regime, Libya has begun rebuilding the country on the cornerstone laid decades ago by King Idris. In July, the country accomplished its first democratic election seating the 200-member General National Congress that quickly and peacefully assumed power from the National Transition Council. The GNC without haste elected Mohammed Magarief as its new President.
The Prince was able to return. There were lines of relatives to greet him. the Prince saw the flag of his Libya, the flag that flew when his uncle was king and his father was a vibrant part of helping to guide Libya.
He knows that flag well – in particular one that his aunt had brought with her as she left the country, akin to Dolly Madison saving the portrait of George Washington that hung in the White House away from the oncoming British troops. “This particular flag belonged to the king,” the Prince said. “It is a powerful thing.
“During the reign of the King, Libyans had economic development, rule of law, a strong media, education and health care,” the Prince said during an interview. He recalled the U.S. air base at Tripoli, an anchor of a strong, vibrant and two-way relationship with the United States.
The Prince wants all that back.
There is a pot of $580 billion in the Libyan budget, a central geographic location and a bounty of resources as a lure for prime investments, he says. There are three big players in the world, according to the Prince – Russia, China and the U.S. – and he wants to U.S. to move quickly to once again be the champion of Libya.
Some say it is worth a look: the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development projected 20.1 percent in growth in Libya for 2012 and almost10 percent in 2013.
The Prince repeats the word of his father reminding him that it is business and philanthropy, not politics, in which he serves Libya best. “Here is a people that not only love you but believe in you,” he said in the interview. You have to come back they say. It’s a beautiful feeling when you hear than say we hope you are coming to stay.”
He recalls how Libyans were treated with scorn around the world because of Gaddafi and how he did whatever he could when meeting them, recalling a time in an Amsterdam airport where he saw authorities verbally hectoring a Libyan woman with children as a terrorist. When he intervened to help, they asked who she was and he said clearly he was helping her because” she is my wife, my daughter, my mother and my sister.”
Others have noted the actual pro-western history of Libya, pre Gaddafi. For example The Weekly Standard detailed why Libya did not vote for the Muslim Brotherhood, unlike Egypt and Tunisia, and how Libyans actually seek bonds with the west. Wrote Stephen Swartz:
“Many Libyans remember the tradition of their ‘Sufi king’ with affection. King Idris created a pro-Western state, erected modern universities in Tripoli and Benghazi, and established a Senussi religious university, which Qaddafi shut down in 1984 in an effort to extirpate the memory of the Senussis. Ahmad Ibn Idris was notable both in his reforming concepts—he called for abandonment of the traditional sharia schools of Islamic law—and for his active opposition to Wahhabism. The flag of King Idris, which was adopted by the anti-Qaddafi Libyan rebels and has been restored as Libya’s national banner, includes a central black stripe with a white crescent and star, representing the Senussi Sufis, and the Idrisi legacy.”
“When I was there, a lot of things got done,” the Prince said of his recent trip. “I was reminded that the people needed me.” He is already returning.
The attack on the U.S compound in Benghazi left the wrong image of the city and its feeling for the U.S., the prince said. He insists the city and the country are eager for U.S. friendship.
“Make no mistake the potential of greatness is real,” the Prince said. “There is no turning back.”
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