|Biographical detail : ||The last queen of Libya
The Sanussi order, founded at Makkah in 1837, had come to have many adherents in Cyrenaica, the western desert region bordering Egypt, and led the resistance to first French and then Italian colonial aggrandisement there.
Fatima was married in 1931 to Idris, who had succeeded her father, his kinsman, as head of the order. After the Second World War Idris was recognised as Amir of Cyrenaica, in 1949, by the Allied Powers. In 1951, a vote at the UN created the new state of Libya comprising three ancient and diverse Saharan regions – Cyrenaica looked towards Egypt, Tripolitania towards Tunisia and the traditional Fezzan in the south.
Fatima along with proclaimed King Idris I, ruler of one of the poorest countries of the world, lived frugally as befitted his religious convictions. Their summer palace was a two-roomed bungalow with mud walls.
In the late 1950s Libya was changed for ever by the discovery of oil. The foreign policy of King Idris had been close ties with Britain and the US. But Arab nationalists, inside and outside Libya, directed a volley of criticism at Libya’s foreign policy, throughout 1960s.
Fatima al-Sanussi, Queen of Libya (1951-69), was a notable role model for Libya that gave women the right to vote. She neither took the veil not lived in seclusion but appeared regularly at trade fairs, school openings and other public events.
King Idris did, however, hope to hand on the throne to a nephew, Hasan, in August 1969. It was this that forced the hand of Colonel Gadaffi and his fellow military officers, who launched the coup the day before Hasan could take power. Almost penniless, King Indris and Fatima had little option but to accept Jamal Abd al-Nasser’s offer of a house in Cairo and lived on an Egyptian pension.
A woman of simple tastes, Fatima never showed any bitterness at the turn of fortune in her life. Fatima al-Shifa al-Sanussi was born at the oasis of Kufra. She passed away in Cairo.