When did Libya grow so fond of the British monarchy?

For decades, Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gaddafi has railed against the colonial order that subjected his country to Italian rule, bankrolling liberation movements that struggled to drive Africa’s colonial masters back to their homelands. In his recent visit to the U.N. General Assembly in September, Gaddafi even demanded trillions of dollars in reparations from Britain ...

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For decades, Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gaddafi has railed against the colonial order that subjected his country to Italian rule, bankrolling liberation movements that struggled to drive Africa's colonial masters back to their homelands. In his recent visit to the U.N. General Assembly in September, Gaddafi even demanded trillions of dollars in reparations from Britain and other colonial powers that deprived Africans of their independence. 

But to hear the Libyan president of the U.N. General Assembly, Ali Abdussalam Treki, tell it, it was the Queen of England that brought about an end to colonialism. In a little noticed, and extremely effusive introduction to Queen Elizabeth II, who on Tuesday delivered her first address to the U.N. General Assembly since 1957, Treki gushed: "You presided over a remarkable global transformation which saw the birth of a multitude of independent nation states based on the principles of equal rights and the self-determination of all peoples as enshrined in the U.N. Charter."

"We are delighted to have you here with us on this momentous occasion and we are honored to have you address the General Assembly today," he added. "As Queen of the United Kingdom and 15 other countries and as head of the Commonwealth of Nations with its 54 member countries, you represent over two billion people from Asia and the Pacific to Africa, and from the Americas and the Caribbean to the British Isles. Your Majesty embodies the globalized world and shared humanity which also defines the United Nations and gives it purpose."

For decades, Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gaddafi has railed against the colonial order that subjected his country to Italian rule, bankrolling liberation movements that struggled to drive Africa’s colonial masters back to their homelands. In his recent visit to the U.N. General Assembly in September, Gaddafi even demanded trillions of dollars in reparations from Britain and other colonial powers that deprived Africans of their independence. 

But to hear the Libyan president of the U.N. General Assembly, Ali Abdussalam Treki, tell it, it was the Queen of England that brought about an end to colonialism. In a little noticed, and extremely effusive introduction to Queen Elizabeth II, who on Tuesday delivered her first address to the U.N. General Assembly since 1957, Treki gushed: "You presided over a remarkable global transformation which saw the birth of a multitude of independent nation states based on the principles of equal rights and the self-determination of all peoples as enshrined in the U.N. Charter."

"We are delighted to have you here with us on this momentous occasion and we are honored to have you address the General Assembly today," he added. "As Queen of the United Kingdom and 15 other countries and as head of the Commonwealth of Nations with its 54 member countries, you represent over two billion people from Asia and the Pacific to Africa, and from the Americas and the Caribbean to the British Isles. Your Majesty embodies the globalized world and shared humanity which also defines the United Nations and gives it purpose."

It didn’t stop there. Treki credited Queen Elizabeth with having "lifted the spirits" of victims of natural disasters and crushing poverty. "And in times of horror from acts of terrorism, your words of comfort and your steadfast presence in the face of uncertainty have brought solace and uncertainty."

Britain’s officials were pleased, and a bit surprised, at the warm reception, particularly since it came from an official from a country that carried out one of the deadliest terrorist attacks on British soil: the 1988 bombing of the Pan Am Flight 103, over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people, mostly American citizens." I guess he was delighted to be part of this historical moment," said Harriet Cross, spokeswoman for the British Mission to the United Nations. "A very high profile guest came to speak at his general assembly."

But perhaps Libya was indirectly expressing its gratitude to one of the Queen’s recent prime ministers. In March, 2004, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was one of the first western leaders to travel to Libya, where he met with Gaddafi. It was one of Libya’s first steps towards political rehabilitation, a development that restored massive foreign investment in Libya’s oil industry and permitted the former pariah state to gain membership to the world’s most exclusive clubs, including the U.N. Security Counciland the presidency of the U.N. General Assembly.

Follow me on Twitter @columlynch.  

Colum Lynch was a staff writer at Foreign Policy between 2010 and 2022. Twitter: @columlynch

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