Originally published in Metro www.metro.lu
Mohammed El Senussi is the opposite of Muammar Gaddafi. He's soft-spoken, nuanced, and dresses in business suits. He jogs daily to stay fit. El Senussi is also Gaddafi's main rival. Gaddafi deposed El Senussi's great-uncle, King Idris, in the 1969 coup that brought him to power. As the heir to the throne - King Idris died in 1983 -- Crown Prince Mohammed may very well take over Libya when Gadaffi falls.
Muammar Gaddafi didn't kill Libya's royal family. Instead he forced them to live a lower-middle class life in Libya, for a while even in a ramshackle housing. "It was very tough", says Crown Prince Mohammed. "Gaddafi treated our family very badly. But when I see how Libyan people are being killed as we speak, my problem is nothing. Innocent people are losing the lives because of one person. What's happening in Libya is not war; it's one crazy person attacking people. I even feel embarrassed to talk about our family's problems under Gaddafi when I see what's happening in Benghazi."
Before being forced into exile in 1988, Crown Prince Mohammed worked at Libya's Ministry of Agriculture. "I had to do it because otherwise I wouldn't have survived", he says. "Think of what happened to Jesus. I'm not Jesus, but it was a tough time. Normal people were always respectful, but the government burned down our house and other buildings that belonged to my family. But talking about my family's problem right now would be a bit embarrassing. One day everyone will read the real history of Libya, but right now we have to make sure that Gaddafi leaves the country."
For many years Crown Prince Mohammed has been trying to return to Libya, but always been denied a visa. If he were to return now, his life would be at risk in Gaddafi-controlled areas. Metro met Crown Prince Mohammed near his home in London, where he lives with his mother, Crown Princess Fawzia bint Tahir.
Is Muammar Gaddafi your enemy?
Not at all. I have nothing personal against Gaddafi. Everyone in Libya is against him not as a person but because of what he did. What he did against my family is wrong, but that doesn't mean I'll hate him as a person. He's a Libyan and he has a right to live. I'm not asking for revenge, and I'm asking my people not to revenge because that's something very bad.
What were your feelings when the rebellion broke out? Schadenfreude, perhaps?
I was happy, because it's something that gives hope to the Libyan people. I don't like revenge because it means that you don't have a goal. You just want to kill. The most important thing is to free Libya from Gaddafi. That's my goal.
If people hate him so much, why hasn't there been a coup against him?
He had money, he had oil, and he had the support of the international community. But now, thanks to technology, the people of Libya understand what's happening inside and outside the country. They have the internet, satellite phones and mobile phones. Especially young students are very well informed thanks to the internet, mobile phones and satellite phones.
So in the past, Libyans were also eager to get rid of Gaddafi but didn't dare to because he had the support of the international community?
No. This is just the right time. Of course he killed many people in the streets and broadcast it on TV to make people scared. He's very brutal.
The outside world knows Libya as Colonel Gaddafi. What does the real Libya look like?
Gaddafi has always just represented himself, not the people of Libya. Libyan people are very simple people. They'll help anyone who comes to Libya. And they're not terrorists. They just want to live like any other nation. They want to have a house, good education, a better life. They don't want war.
What should happen next in Libya?
Gaddafi and his family have to leave. His time has run out. Otherwise he'll be in danger. If he doesn't leave he'll put himself in a very dangerous situation. People will catch him. He has declared war against six million people. He says that some people support him, but the reality is that nobody does. He can't win six million people over by himself, with his militia.
So he should leave, but what should happen to him? Should he be put on trial?
That's for lawyers to decide, but at this point he has to leave the country, with his family. He's the main problem. The killings are happening because of him. If he leaves, these kinds of crimes will stop. As a Libyan, I want to see freedom and democracy in Libya.
His sons have suggested that he should leave and they take over leadership positions. Is that a feasible solution?
It's the same thing. Like son, like father. The killing has to stop and Gaddafi and his sons have to leave. He's trying to win time by advancing new ideas, but nobody believes him. He did it before and he always lied. Everybody knows he's a liar. It's better for him and Libya if he leaves.
What should happen after he leaves?
When Gaddafi leaves the Interim Transitional National Council [the rebel-led semi-official government] will represent all of Libya. The ITNC will organize democratic elections so the Libyan people can decide which type of system they want. It's very simple. We don't have the right to install neither a republic nor a monarchy right now. The people have to decide through a free election.
Are you in contact with the rebels?
Yes, because the ITNC looks after the interests of the Libyan people. But the ITNC is by nature temporary. When Gaddafi leaves the situation will be different.
A dilemma that countries emerging from dictatorships often face is that people who have expertise were also complicit with the dictatorship. Are Gaddafi allies who have defected to the rebels credible as potential future leaders?
The ITNC is temporary. Now we need unity. The most important thing is that the killing has to stop. The situation will be very different when Gaddafi leaves.
How do you see your own role?
My family has looked after the people of Libya for a long time, and I'll do the same thing. If the people choose monarchy, we're ready. If they choose republic, OK. I'll respect the choice of the Libyan people.
Did you think the day would ever come when Gaddafi would be forced out of power?
We had a similar situation when Italy invaded Libya in the beginning of the 20th century and stayed there for 40 years. People lost hope and said, the Italians will never leave. When WWII began, the people of Libya came together and liberated their country from the Italians. They created a new Libya and we had a good system for 18 years, with a monarchy.
Italy has been Gaddafi's closest friend in recent years. What do you think brought about Silvio Berlusconi's change of mind?
We have to make distinguish between the Italian government and the Italian people. The Italian government tried to do business with Libya and that's how they became close to Gaddafi, but they've realized they should stand side by side with the Libyan people and drop the dictator. We should look to the future. There's a chance for every country that supported Gaddafi to work with the new Libya. Everybody appreciates what France and the other countries have done for Libya in the past several weeks. Without France, Benghazi would be much messier now. They acted at the right time.
After Bulgaria's Communist rulers were ousted, King Simeon returned and ran as a political candidate. He was elected Prime Minister. If the people of Libya vote in favor of a republic, would you consider running as a political candidate?
I look at myself as a servant of Libya. I respect the choice of the Libyan people, so I'm not pushing them to accept me as King. My great-uncle didn't impose himself on the people of Libya, either. They elected him King.
Is democracy a good solution for Libya?
We can't bring the British or any other European system to Libya. Libya is too different. We need democracy that's suitable for the Middle East. We don't need a dictator, but people need to feel safe in their homes, have good schools and hospitals, have a constitution and have the right to speak. With good education, we'll be able to teach people to understand democracy. It has taken Britain 800 years to establish the kind of democracy they have today. We have to do it step by step.
And in the meantime?
For 18 years, when my great-uncle was King, we had democracy, with a constitution, a parliament and elections. It was one of the most advanced constitutions in the Middle East.
So Libya could become a democratic beacon in the Middle East?
Libya is very strategically located. We're very close to Europe and are a gate to Africa. We have everything that's needed for foreign investment, a population of only six million and lots of history. This is our chance to build a Libya that could become a role model for the Middle East.
When will you return to Libya?
I could go today, but I have work to do in Europe and Arab countries, speaking with leaders on behalf of Libya. And I have to make sure I'm safe. There are some parts of the country that are still under Gaddafi.
What are the leaders telling you?
Most of them support the people of Libya and want to see democracy in Libya. They also don't want to see Libya split into two countries.
So Arab leaders are on the side of the rebels?
Yes. On the side of the Libyan people.
When will Gaddafi leave?
I hope today. But the good thing is that the Libyan people continue fighting. They won't let him stay because they've had enough of him for 42 years. It's not just young people who are involved in this revolution. That's why it's so powerful.
If the people vote in favor of a republic, what will your reaction be?
That's democracy. I have to respect it.
And if they vote in favor of a monarchy, what will your role be?
I'll be the servant of the Libyan people. That's how my family has always described itself.