Musrati, Ali Mustafa al- (1926–)

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Musrati, Ali Mustafa al-

Ali Mustafa al-Musrati is a Libyan writer and cultural pioneer.


Al-Musrati was born in Alexandria, Egypt, on 18 August 1926, to a Libyan family fleeing the atrocities associated with Italian colonial rule in Libya in the early 1920s. While he was still a boy, his family moved to the Bulaj neighborhood of Cairo, where he entered secondary school. Al-Musrati obtained his university degree from the Faculty of Theology at al-Azhar University in Cairo in 1946, having attended the classes of well-known scholars, including Muhammad al-Bahey, Salih Sharaf, al-Khadr Husayn—the Tunisian who became the Shaykh of al-Azhar—and the writer Atiyya al-Abrashi, who taught him the methods of teaching. Al-Musrati qualified as a teacher, and spent two years as a member of the Faculty of Arabic language after graduation.


In 1948, al-Musrati participated in a public demonstration demanding the evacuation of foreign military forces from Egypt. His arrest by the police and subsequent jail sentence was his first experience with being a prisoner of conscience. He would repeat the experience three times, all for longer periods, while campaigning for the freedom of his native Libya. The campaign for Libyan independence was launched in Egypt in 1948 by the prominent Libyan political leader Bashir al-Sa'adawi. Upon his return to Tripoli, al-Sa'adawi joined forces with several existing political organizations to form the National Congress Party, the new largest party in Libya and the political force that led the people of Libya to independence. Al-Musrati rose to instant fame as the party's fiery public speaker and the voice of his people's yearning for liberation. From 1948 to 1951, he was a full-time political agitator and party activist, working under al-Sa'ada-wi's leadership and mobilizing the public toward achieving independence from the British military administration that had replaced Italian colonial rule after the defeat of Italian forces in North Africa in 1943. His catch phrases, including "I am here in answer to the call of the homeland," ignited the imagination of the masses.

Libyan independence, and the rule of King Idris I in a constitutional monarchy, were declared in 1951. Shortly afterward, however, political differences between the National Congress Party and the new ruling personalities led to the deportation and denationalization of al-Sa'adawi and his assistant Ahmad Zarim. Al-Musrati and a group of party activists were taken to prison after rioting and public demonstrations, accusing the newly appointed government of rigging the elections for the new house of representatives.

Following his release from prison a few months later, al-Musrati confined his activities to the cultural field. In 1954 he was an editor for Libyan radio's monthly magazine, Huna Tarabulus al-Gharb (This is Tripoli), and served for a short period as the head of Tripoli radio. But his main focus was his writing, and he contributed to most journals of the era, including the daily Tarabulus al-Gharb, al-Ra'id, and al-Masa. He also continued to write lighthearted programs for radio, such as his morning talk show, and was responsible for several radio dramas, including a series on the fables of Juha, a series on the travels of Ibn Battuta, and the series "al-Bukhari Says."

Coming from Cairo, the cultural capital of the Arab world, to a city like Tripoli, which was shedding the dust of a long colonial rule and still lacking cultural institutions, al-Musrati was able to be a pioneer in establishing the foundations of a cultural base. He saw his role as that of a writer with a mission to awaken the people of his country. Al-Musrati sought to fulfill this mission with his earliest books, such as Prominent People from Tripoli (published in 1955) and LamHāt adabīyah an Lībiyā (Literary glimpses of Libya, 1956). His JūHā fī Lībīyah (Juha in Libya, 1958) was a survey of how Libyans used the mythical personality of the comedian Juha in expressing their sense of humor. In the same year, he published his book on the history of the press in Libya from the beginning of the twentieth century. The Struggle of a Journalist, published in 1961, developed this subject further, focusing on one of the Libyan freedom fighters.

His 1960 work Ghūmah, fāris al-saHrā (Ghuma, the knight of the desert) was dramatized for the theater by the famous Egyptian writer Mustafa Mahmud, and was performed in Cairo. Al-Musrati also wrote books in social studies, including Libyan Society through Its Proverbs (1962). In 1963, he published a book on the literary history of Arabs in Italy through the poet Ibn Hamdis al-Siqilli, followed by a book highlighting the life of Asad ibn Furat, who led the Arab conquest of Sicily.

Al-Musrati continued to mine the wealth of Libyan history, particularly the history of struggle, to refresh the public's memories of historic moments of triumph and heroism. He published books on the freedom fighter Sa'adun, on Ibn Khaldun, the Libyan historian of the Qaramanli era, and on the shaykh of the poets of recent Libyan history, Ahmad al-Sharif. Al-Musrati also wrote on several historical Arab travelers who recorded the events of their journeys to Libya, reviving their work and analyzing some of it; his account of al-Hashayshi was published in 1965. He also republished, with introductions and analyses, the books of the religious poet Ahmad al-Bahlul and the nineteenth-century poet Mustafa bin Zikri.


Name: Ali Mustafa al-Musrati

Birth: 1926, Alexandria, Egypt

Nationality: Libyan

Education: University degree, Faculty of Theology, al-Azhar University, Cairo, 1946


  • 1948: Imprisoned for demonstration; begins working as political activist
  • 1954: Serves as editor of Libyan radio's monthly magazine, Huna Tarabulus al-Gharb
  • 1955: Publishes first book, Prominent People from Tripoli
  • 1960: Wins seat in Libyan parliament
  • 1970: Awarded the Certificate of Merit by the Libyan government

Al-Musrati did not, however, limit his writing to the arenas of research and history. He also ventured into the realm of creative writing. His book The Gathering of the Ignorants, from the earlier phase of his career, includes funny and satirical pieces commenting on various social and political deformities he saw in his society. Al-Musrati moved on to serious literature in the form of short stories, collected in Mirsal, Handful of Ashes, and The Torn Sail, among others. Al-Musrati's stories have the color and flavor of their author, who is famous for his sarcasm, satire, and sense of humor. His characters are mostly simple folk and inhabitants of run-down areas of the city, but they are full of energy and determination, with strong senses of dignity despite their poverty and destitution. His stories from the 1950s and early 1960s are social critiques of the political and economic systems that rule over the fate of those characters, and they document the social history of Libya in the process. In the later 1960s, however, his stories underwent a transformation, one that ran parallel to the deep changes effected in Libyan society as a result of the production of oil in large quantities. This also coincided with the revolution of 1969, led by mu'ammar al-qaddafi: a major transformation in Libya's system of government. Al-Musrati was one of the personalities who paved the way for the dawning of the revolutionary era and the collapse of the monarchy.

In 1960 al-Musrati returned to the political arena, fighting a strong battle against a government candidate in the parliamentary elections. He won the battle and joined the opposition, whose first priority was cutting the ties to the colonial era that still remained: namely, the British and American military bases occupying part of the country, which were governed by a political pact imposed on the Libyan government. The second major element of the opposition's national agenda was the unification of Libya, in place of the federal system that divided Libya into three states. During his time with the opposition, Al-Musrati established an antigovernment weekly newspaper called al-Sha'b (The people). Al-Sha'b was subject to censorship and bans until it was prevented from publication altogether.

A few years before the end of monarchical rule, al-Musrati was appointed secretary-general of the high committee of arts and literature to keep him away from political activities. He returned to writing his stories, which concentrated on the conflict between the old and the new in the human soul, and between traditional ways of behavior and modern modes and styles of living. He did not abandon his trademark satirical and sarcastic approach, which permeates the stories in the collections he issued in his later years, regardless of their subject matter. These include The General in Victoria Station, 2003, The Monkey in the Airport, and Abd al-Karim under the Bridge.

With the advent of the revolution in 1969, Al-Musrati took the opportunity of resuming his political activities, introducing himself as a candidate in the parliamentary elections of the Federation of Arab Republics, the union of Egypt, Syria, and Libya, which lasted only a few years in the 1970s. He also participated in numerous political, cultural, and literary seminars in Libya and abroad. He led the Libyan delegations to most of the meetings held by the Union of Arab Writers and Afro-Asian writers' associations, and in the mid-1980s, he became the secretary-general of the Union of Libyan Writers.


The high esteem in which the Arab world holds al-Musrati can be seen from the various awards granted to him. In 1970, the Libyan government awarded al-Musrati the Certificate of Merit on the first anniversary of the 1969 revolution, in recognition of his efforts prior to the revolution. He has received many other awards, including the Great al-Fatah Medal, the highest honor Libya has to offer, as well as medals from Tunisia and Yemen. The testimonials of other writers are also telling. From the early stages of his career he was encouraged by prominent Arab writers, including Taha Husay, Muhammad Farid Abu Hadid, Husayn Mu'anis, Anis Mansur, and Mustafa Mahmud, who have introduced his books and commented on them in the press.

Al-Musrati's eightieth birthday in 2006 was an occasion for celebration in literary circles throughout Libya, in recognition of the services he has rendered to Libya, its history, and its culture.


Al-Musrati is the most prolific writer in contemporary Libya. His published works exceed thirty books, with a similar number of expected to appear in book form after being published in journals. He will be remembered as a pioneer and supporter of Libyan history and culture.


Musrati, Ali Mustafa al-. The General in Victoria Station and Other Stories. Translated by Saadun Ismail Suayeh. New York: Global Humanities Press, 2003.

                                             Ahmad al-Fagih