The Minister in Egypt ( Kirk ) to the Secretary of State

No. 693

Sir: I have the honor to enclose a translation of a telegram addressed to me on November 2, 1942 by El Sayid Mohammed Idris El Senussi expressing approval of a statement reported to have been made by Mr. Wendell Willkie17 in respect of colonial policy in the East, giving assurance of the support of his compatriots in the war against the Axis, and requesting that his sentiments be made known to the President. There is also transmitted a copy of my telegraphic reply of today’s date.

Inasmuch as it was obvious that in sending this message the purpose of El Sayid Mohammed Idris El Senussi was to put out a feeler in respect of such attitude as the American Government might take regarding the satisfaction of nationalist aspirations of the Senussis in the post war settlement, I decided it advisable to discuss the matter with the British Embassy before drafting my reply in order to ascertain whether it had been similarly approached and what policy it might have seen it advisable to adopt.

In reply to the Legation’s informal and oral inquiry, Sir Walter Smart, Oriental Counselor of the Embassy, stated that the Embassy had been in touch with El Sayid Mohammed Idris El Senussi from time to time and, generally speaking, regarded him as the leader and spokesman of his people with whom, in the absence of any formal Senussi organization, it was appropriate and convenient to treat. Sir Walter emphasized, however, that Idris holds no position except that of religious head of the Senussis and that British relations with him had been in his capacity of “spiritual father” of his people rather than as having a political status. In fact, the Senussi movement had originated as a religious organization and had never developed to the point of having a political administration. Thus there was no thread of [Page 38] political tradition or continuity in present agitation of the Senussi for independence and, when the British had been approached in that regard, they had always made it a point to side-step the issue and to confine discussion to local matters in Cyrenaica, where the Senussi are much more influential than in the remainder of Libya. In fact, said Sir Walter, the only official assurance ever given the Senussis was contained in Eden’s declaration in the House of Commons on January 8, 1942 expressing appreciation of the contribution which El Sayid Idris El Senussi and the Senussi Force had made to the British war effort, and giving assurance “that at the end of the war the Senussis in Cyrenaica will in no circumstances again fall under Italian domination[.”] (See Legation’s No. 167, January 29, 3 p.m., and No. 168, January 29, 4 p.m.). Furthermore, said Sir Walter, in view of the unhappy consequences of certain pledges given by the British Government to the Arabs and Jews during the last war, an effort was being made to avoid such commitments in the course of this war.

Asked regarding the practical aspects of this problem during the several periods during which the British had occupied Cyrenaica, Sir Walter said that the principal subject of contention had been the desire of the Senussis to appropriate lands held by the Italians but that the British authorities had taken the view that in this, as in other matters, the status quo would have to be maintained until the end of the war.

In connection with the foregoing, reference is made to the Legation’s despatch No. 2364 of March 4, 1941,18 entitled “The Present Role of the Senussis in Libya” and also to London’s despatch No. 2755 of January 31, 1942,18 entitled “British Assurances to Senussi Tribe in Cyrenaica”, a copy of which was sent this Legation.

As regards my reply to El Sayid Idris El Senussi, it was deemed advisable to couch it in courteous but very general terms since the message addressed to me had been released to the press by the sender and it was to be assumed that the reply thereto might similarly be used for publicity purposes. Furthermore the reply was addressed to Idris in his religious title in order to avoid any political significance.

In conclusion, I may observe that due consideration was given in drafting my reply to the provisions of Chapter I–24 regarding the transmission of messages for foreign persons or organizations but the case was deemed sufficiently exceptional to merit other than routine treatment, particularly since a reply suggesting direct transmission would almost certainly have been construed as lacking in courtesy.

Respectfully yours,

Alexander Kirk
[Page 39]
[Enclosure 1—Translation]

Telegram From Mohammed Idris El Senussi, Dated November 2, 1942, to the American Minister in Egypt ( Kirk )

We read this morning in the newspapers the declaration made by Mr. Willkie and in which is found clearly the glorious principle of the Allies in connection with the freeing of nations and the ending of colonization. I and my Libyan Nation express our admiration for America and England and their allies in this war. Be sure, Your Excellency, that it was on these principles that my small Libyan Nation went into war with the Allies on December 9, 1940. We shall continue to the end. Long live liberty and long live the free nations which are defending it. I therefore beg you to express this, our feeling, to His Excellency President Roosevelt and to his great nation with many thanks.

[Enclosure 2]

Telegram From the American Minister in Egypt ( Kirk ), Dated November 11, 1942, to Mohammed Idris El Senussi

In acknowledging your telegram of November 2 in which you were good enough to express your confidence in the success of the cause of the United Nations I convey to Your Eminence an expression of sincere appreciation.

  1. Republican Presidential candidate in 1940, who made a world tour in 1942.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Not printed.