By Sam M. Hadi*
Royal imposters are nothing new. Perhaps today’s most high-profile fake royal is Idris al-Senussi, Libya’s pretend ‘Black Prince’. His is a fascinating story of gullibility and greed, and echoes other mendacious models in history.
Modern history’s most famous imposter is Anna Anderson, who surfaced in a Berlin mental asylum in 1920. After the 1918 murder of the last Czar and his family by Bolshevik rebels, rumors that circulated that Anastasia, the Tsar’s daughter, survived. A series of imposters then claimed to be the youngest daughter of the deceased Czar.
The so-called “Prince” Idris is not quite an Anna Anderson. He is admittedly a relative of King Idris, the last King of Libya. Debrett’s Peerage called him the “second son of the sixth son of the younger brother of King Idris’s father”. So while he may be a relative, he is certainly too distant a relative of the deposed King to make a career out of it.
For context, the Libyan monarchy became defunct in 1969, when Colonel Ghadaffi launched a coup and deposed King Idris, Libya’s first and last King. In 1953, before he was overthrown, Idris appointed Prince Muhammad el-Rida– “Prince” Idris’s grandfather’s nephew– to succeed him. After Muhammad’s death, his son Hassan el-Rida-– “Prince” Idris’s grandfather’s nephew’s son– became Crown Prince in 1956. When Idris died in exile in 1969, Hassan became head of the Senussi Family. After Hassan’s death in 1992, the title passed to “Prince” Idris’s grandfather’s nephew’s grandson, Muhammad el-Senussi.
“Prince” Idris must know this history but has gotten rich ignoring it. “Prince” Idris has used his fabricated title. Marketing himself to companies and high-rollers as a gateway to the Libyan market, Idris has earned significant sums in directorship fees across a wide range of industries. In 1995, his lavish lifestyle and increasingly high profile won him a high profile, catching the attention of The Sunday Times, which ran a front-page expose on the “phoney Libyan prince”.
Before the Times ended his party in 1995, Idris spent a small fortune on British lobbying firms to organise his publicity stunts, including getting a handful of Members of Parliament reaffirm his position as “heir presumptive of the Libyan throne”, a 1995 court case brought against those who questioned his title (thrown out by the Thames Magistrate Court), and a bizzare attempt to construe Prince Michael of Kent– the Queen’s second cousin– as his “best friend”
But far more dangerous than Idris’s publicity stunts are his megalomaniac attempts to gain power in Libya.
Idris has attempted to market himself to the international community as an interlocutor on the Libyan issue and as specifically, a “consensus figure to lead transition to rebuild (sic) state”. But leaked communications show Idris as being no different to Libya’s other gangsters. Most infamous of these attempts is his attempt to reach a backroom deal with Saif-al-Islam al-Ghaddafi, son and former Prime Minister of Libya’s deposed tyrant who has an outstanding ICC warrant for crimes against humanity.
Idris may have skulked into the background, but he is far from finished. As Libya sinks deeper into political quagmire, swindlers like Idris will inevitably rear their heads in search of personal gain, such. If anything can be learned from the story of Anna Anderson, it’s that those who seek to stuff their pockets at others’ expense are never satisfied.
*Sam M. Hadi is a graduate of Trisakti University in Jakarta where he studied management. He is now working as a freelance columnist and foreign policy analyst for North Africa based out of Jakarta.