Former King Idris of Libya, 93, who created his nation by merging three North African provinces and reigned as its king from 1951 until 1969 when he was overthrown by a military coup whose leaders included Col. Muammar Qaddafi, died May 25 in a hospital in Cairo. The cause of death was not reported.
The king had been given asylum in Egypt in 1969, and the late President Anwar Sadat granted him and his family Egyptian nationality in 1974.
Sayid Mohammed Idris el-Mahdi es-Senussi was born in the remote desert oasis of Jarabub, in Cyrenaica, in Libya's eastern region, a direct descendent of the prophet Mohammed. His grandfather was the founder of Senussi sect, which advocated the purification and propagation of Islam. The orthodox-fundamentalist movement, a Sunni order of the Maliki school, was centered on the Cyrenaican plateau.
In 1917, the Senussi chiefs of Cyrenaica recognized the future King Idris as Grand Senussi. In 1920, the Italian government recognized him as Emir. After the fascist government of Benito Mussolini achieved power in Italy, it abrogated its agreement with the king. He led the struggle against Italian occupation for three years until fleeing to Cairo in 1924. For the next 20 years he lived in the Egyptian capital in near poverty, but continued to organize opposition to Italian colonial rule.
Armed struggle against Italian forces in Libya never entirely died out and the Senussi movement evolved from a religious movment into one with a political character.
During World War II, King Idris helped recruit scouts and irregular forces for the British. In 1942, Anthony Eden pledged on behalf of Great Britain that the Senussi would never again be subject to Italian rule. King Idris returned home in triumph in 1944.
The bearded and bespectacled monarch welded the provinces of Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan into a nation. He ruled his kingdom through a docile parliament and a series of prime ministers from a dozen or so families with links to the country's most powerful tribes.
The frail and remote monarch managed to govern successfully until after the discovery of vast oil deposits in 1958. Those discoveries were to transform Libya from an unpopulated economic backwater in a sea of swirling sand into a wealthy nation.
Libya is about four times the size of France and had about a million people. Before 1958, it had existed on a budget of about $10 million, half of which was supplied by foreign powers in the form of foreign aid and military base rentals, including Wheelus Air Force Base.
By the mid-1960s, Libya was the leading oil-producing nation of Africa. A crash education program turned out streams of newly educated youths. Its growing wealth also resulted in sharp economic convulsions. Internal pressures started to build up, with a hitherto docile parliament becoming more vocal as its financial dependence on foreign powers diminished.
The influence of King Idris had long been strongest with the tribal chiefs of Cyrenaica. However, he lost confidence among the new elites: youth, portions of the military, and many of his more worldly subjects in Tripolitania. By the mid-1960s, these disparate elements were pulling it apart. The original cause of internal cohesion, opposition to foreign occupation forces, was no longer an issue.
King Idris was overthrown in 1969 coup while vactioning and receiving medical treatment in Turkey for a leg ailment. The new Revolutionary Command Council, which replaced his government, was composed of men whose average age was 27. It sentenced the king to death in absentia.
King Idris married three times but none of his wives gave him an heir to the throne.