Dammam, Asharq Al-Awsat – There have been significant developments on the ground in Libya since 17 February 2011 when the current popular uprising against Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi and his regime first began. This protest has adopted the red, black, and green flag of the monarchist regime toppled by Colonel Gaddafi in 1969 as their symbol. Gaddafi’s green flag has been replaced by the old monarchist flag, with this flag currently being flown openly in many Libyan cities under the control of Gaddafi’s opposition, most notably Benghazi in Libya’s east, as well as at some of Libya’s embassies abroad.
Muhammad al-Rida Bin Sayyid Hassan al-Rida al-Mahdi as-Senussi is the son of Crown Prince Hasan as-Senussi, who himself was the nephew of the first and last and indeed only King of Libya, Idris I, who was overthrown by Colonel Gaddafi in 1969. He is recognized as being the legitimate heir to the Senussi Crown of Libya by Libyan royalists. He was born on 20 October 1962, and was held under house arrest in Libya by Gaddafi until 1988, when the Libyan leader allowed the ousted royal family to travel to the United Kingdom.
In the first public statement about what has been happening in the country, and the Libyan protestors raising the flag of the old monarchist regime as a symbol of defiance, Muhammad al-Rida as-Senussi, the great-nephew of the last King, and heir apparent to his throne, said on 22 February 2011 that Gaddafi’s “fight to stay in power will not last long, because of the desire for freedom by the Libyan people. This great revolution will be victorious in the end, because of the unity of the Libyan people.” He added “the Libyan people have now chosen to challenge this regime peacefully until it is gone from Libya, and the people will not return to their homes until justice is delivered.” He also stressed that “the Libyan people have raised their voices in Benghazi and Tripoli and all other cities across Libya. They have made the whole world listen to them.”
Asharq Al-Awsat spoke with the self-proclaimed Libyan Crown Prince Muhammad al-Rida al-Mahdi as-Senussi about what is happening in Libya.
The following is the full text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What has the situation been like in Libya since 17 February?
[as-Senussi] The situation in Libya is tragic. Although parts of the country have been liberated [from Gaddafi control], we are facing catastrophic conditions. We are witnessing Libyan citizens being massacred on a daily basis by mercenaries in the employ of Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi. Over the years, he [Gaddafi] recruited these mercenaries to protect him and maintain his autocratic regime. These mercenaries pursue a policy of indiscriminate killing and strike terror into the hearts of innocent Libyans, especially during the night. Libyans inside the country have informed me that they are unable to leave their homes or walk through their streets after dark for fear of these mercenaries. Everybody is remaining in-doors in a state of terror.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In what regions of Libya is this happening?
[as-Senussi] This is happening in the western cities. After the sun sets, these cities turn into ghost towns. Streets and roads empty of traffic and pedestrians, even worse than this, the streets are full of corpses and burnt bodies which have remained unburied for days. The hospitals in these cities are also full of corpses and wounded, and a state of utter chaos prevails. However we have high hopes that the people of Libya will continue their peaceful demonstrations until Gaddafi and his family are forced from power.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you or the Libyan political elite outside of Libya, putting pressure on the international community, and the West in particular, to protect the unarmed Libyan citizens who are being massacred in this way?
[as-Senussi] Earnest endeavours are being made by Libyans abroad to support their compatriots in Libya. Ever since the start of the uprising we have been calling upon the international community to bring pressure to bear on Gaddafi and his regime to stop the massacring of the Libyan people. We are also calling upon the international community to put more pressure on Gaddafi to relinquish power.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How many Libyans do you think have been killed since the uprisings began on 17 February?
[as-Senussi] The death toll is huge. Figures coming from inside Libya via our contacts with Libyan citizens estimate that until now around 2,000 people have lost their lives, and this is not to mention the massive number of people who have been injured. These frightening figures are due to peaceful protestors being confronted by destructive military machinery. In addition to this, there is a state of panic and horror because experienced by women and children in Libyan towns who are facing difficult circumstances due to the presence of the pro-regime militias and mercenary. Although, in my opinion, the death toll stands at 2,000, this is increasing rapidly due to the militias and mercenary troops continued attacks, and due to the lack of medical services at hospitals which cannot accommodate large numbers of people. The longer Gaddafi remains in power, the heavier the death toll will be.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your opinion, how much of Libya is Colonel Gaddafi actually in control of, and what is the internal situation inside the country?
[as-Senussi] I am sure that Gaddafi’s end is drawing near. I can tell you that Colonel Gaddafi has entirely lost control over Libya’s eastern province and that whole region has been completely liberated. Right now, he is entrenched in the [military] camp he built in Tripoli, the Bab al-Azizia camp. Gaddafi, his family members, and his followers, are only in control of this camp.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you think Gaddafi’s brutal attempts to suppress the protests will success, weakening the protestors resolve and allowing him to regain control of Libya?
[as-Senussi] On the contrary, the Libyan people, of different backgrounds and regions and tribes, are united as one hand. These exceptional conditions have brought them all together. We are not talking here about popular division or failure of the protestors resolve, we are not afraid of this, rather we are talking about a humanitarian catastrophe which is unarmed Libyans being massacred, not to mention a media blackout imposed by the Gaddafi regime. We are in communication with the outside world and are attempting to urge the international community to take a stand and protect the unarmed and innocent civilians. We call upon the international community to put more pressure on the Gaddafi regime to put an end to these killings, and for him to leave power.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your assessment of the Libyan army’s position? What role will it play in the coming days?
[as-Senussi] The Libyan people are certain of the army’s loyalty and hold the military establishment in high esteem. All Libyans have confidence that the army will take the side of the people and not side with Gaddafi, his family, his cronies and his regime. Everybody knows that the killing [of civilians] in Libya is not being carried out by the Libyan army which is made up of our tribal sons and who enjoy everybody’s respect. Rather, these killings are being carried out by the mercenary troops which Gaddafi levied and trained over the years. In the end, we are certain that the people will not stand alone in confronting these mercenaries, and we are calling upon the [Libyan] army to protect the Libyan people from Gaddafi’s mercenaries and militias, and put an end to them for the sake of the unarmed and innocent people of Libya.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your response to the threats issued by Colonel Gaddafi and his son Saif al-Islam with regards to Libya potentially sliding into a state of civil war?
[as-Senussi] Colonel Gaddafi and his family are the source of all the problems Libyans have suffered and are suffering from today. What Libya has descended to in terms of unprecedented slaughter and bloodshed is because of Gaddafi and his cronies clinging to power. We believe that the only guarantee for the end of the killings, destruction, and terrorization of the Libyan people is Gaddafi’s departure. We also stress that Colonel Gaddafi’s belief that tribalism will drag the country into a devastating civil war should he relinquish his grip on power exists only in his own mind, and the minds of his sons and family. Gaddafi is attempting to spread these rumours in order to stay in power.
We hear him speaking about tribal vendettas and LSD, but in fact he is the one who is hallucinating at the moment by attempting to incite sedition among the different tribes. Gaddafi is doing all of this in order to remain in power and stay in control for as long as he can, nothing more. Now he is trying to fan the flames of tribal strife in order to benefit from this on the ground, by setting Libyans against each other. This is something that Gaddafi has been doing over the past 40 years.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There has been a lot of talk about Gaddafi’s mercenary troops, with some estimates claiming that he has hired as many as 10,000 African mercenaries. Can you tell us if this is accurate?
[as-Senussi] The actual numbers of the mercenary forces are not as large as some figures being circulated. It is not their numbers that is so frightening, but rather that these forces are heavily armed and well trained. Again, we reiterate that our primary concern at this moment is to pressure the international community to put an end to the horrifying massacres taking place in Libya, in addition to Gaddafi being removed from power. To be honest, we don’t have an accurate estimate of the mercenary forces exact numbers, but we do know that these mercenaries are roaming the country and killing and slaughtering unarmed civilians.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] As a Libyan opposition figure, can you tell us if there is any coordination between the Libyan political opposition with regards to forming a government in the post-Gaddafi era?
[as-Senussi] I think any Libyan politician observing what is happening now in the country will be solely concerned with putting an end to the bloodshed. This is our primary goal. Any [Libyan] patriot concerned for the welfare of the country cannot think about anything but ending the massacres that are being carried out against the citizens of Libya.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your interpretation of the Libyan youth raising the flag of the Libyan monarchy, which was established by your great-uncle King Idris as-Senussi?
[as-Senussi] The flag being raised by the youth inside and outside of Libya is the banner of freedom. This gesture gladdened everyone and filled my heart with joy because this is the flag upon which Libya was first established. Today, Libya has been reunited with this flag and it has become the symbol of the youth’s uprising.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you intend to attempt to re-establish the Libyan monarchy or engage in Libyan politics, should Gaddafi’s regime be ousted?
[as-Senussi] It is too early to answer such questions. This will all be revealed in time. Our objective right now is to stop the bloodshed taking place on the streets of Libya.