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  History  
 
  Historical setting
  Early History
  Tripolitania and the Phoenicians
  Cyrenaica and the Greeks
  Fezzan and the Garamentes
  Libya and the Romans
  Islanm and the Arabs
  Fatimids
  Hafsids
  Medieval Cyrenaica and Fezzan
  Ottoman Regency
  Pashas and Deys
  Karamanlis
  The Ottoman Revival
  The Sanusi Order
  Italian Colonialism
  Italian rule and Arab resistance
  The second Italo-Sanusi War
  The fourth shore
  World War II and Indipendence
  The desert war
  Allied administration
  The United Nations and Libya
  Indipendent Libya
  The September 1969 Coup
  Quadhafi and the Revolutionary Command Council
  The Socialist People 's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
  Petroleum Politics
  Libya and Arab Unity
  Libyan ventures in Sub-Saharan Africa
 
     
  History  
 

Historical Setting

An arch from Leptis Magna , built by the Romans in the early third century A.D.

UNTIL LIBYA ACHIEVED independence in 1951, its history was essentially that of tribes, regions, and cities, and of the empires of which it was a part. Derived from the name by which a single Berber tribe was known to the ancient Egyptians, the name Libya was subsequently applied by the Greeks to most of North Africa and the term Libyan to all of its Berber inhabitants. Although ancient in origin, these names were not used to designate the specific territory of modern Libya and its people until the twentieth century, nor indeed was the whole area formed into a coherent political unit until then. Hence, despite the long and distinct histories of its regions, modern Libya must be viewed as a new country still developing national consciousness and institutions.

Geography was the principal determinant in the separate historical development of Libya's three traditional regions-- Tripolitania, Cyrenaica, and Fezzan. Cut off from each other by formidable deserts, each retained its separate identity into the 1960s. At the heart of Tripolitania was its metropolis, Tripoli, for centuries a terminal for caravans plying the Saharan trade routes and a port sheltering pirates and slave traders. Tripolitania's cultural ties were with the Maghrib, (see Glossary), of which it was a part geographically and culturally and with which it shared a common history. Tripolitanians developed their political consciousness in reaction to foreign domination, and it was from Tripolitania that the strongest impulses came for the unification of modern Libya.

In contrast to Tripolitania, Cyrenaica historically was oriented toward Egypt and the Mashriq (see Glossary). With the exception of some of its coastal towns, Cyrenaica was left relatively untouched by the political influence of the regimes that claimed it but were unable to assert their authority in the hinterland. An element of internal unity was brought to the region's tribal society in the nineteenth century by a Muslim religious order, the Sanusi, and many Cyrenaicans demonstrated a determination to retain their regional autonomy even after Libyan independence and unification.

Fezzan was less involved with either the Maghrib or the Mashriq. Its nomads traditionally looked for leadership to tribal dynasties that controlled the oases astride the desert trade routes. Throughout its history, Fezzan maintained close relations with sub-Saharan Africa as well as with the coast.

The most significant milestones in Libya's history were the introduction of Islam and the Arabization of the country in the Middle Ages, and, within the last two generations, national independence, the discovery of petroleum, and the September 1969 revolution that brought Muammar al Qadhafi to power. The era since 1969 has brought many important changes. The Qadhafi regime has made the first real attempt to unify Libya's diverse peoples and to create a distinct Libyan state and identity. It has created new political structures and made a determined effort at diversified economic development financed by oil revenues. The regime has also aspired to leadership in Arab and world affairs. As a consequence of these developments, Libyan society has been subjected to a significant degree of government direction and supervision, much of it at the behest of Qadhafi himself. Although the merits of the regime and its policies were much debated by Libyans and foreigners alike, there was no question that Libya in the 1980s was a significantly different country from the one it had been only two or three decades earlier.

 
 

Early History

Archaeological evidence indicates that from at least the eighth millennium B.C. Libya's coastal plain shared in a Neolithic culture, skilled in the domestication of cattle and cultivation of crops, that was common to the whole Mediterranean littoral. To the south, in what is now the Sahara Desert, nomadic hunters and herders roamed a vast, well-watered savanna that abounded in game and provided pastures for their stock. Their culture flourished until the region began to desiccate after 2000 B.C. Scattering before the encroaching desert and invading horsemen, the savanna people migrated into the Sudan (see Glossary) or were absorbed by the Berbers.

The origin of the Berbers is a mystery, the investigation of which has produced an abundance of educated speculation but no solution. Archaeological and linguistic evidence strongly suggests southwestern Asia as the point from which the ancestors of the Berbers may have begun their migration into North Africa early in the third millennium B.C. Over the succeeding centuries they extended their range from Egypt to the Niger Basin. Caucasians of predominantly Mediterranean stock, the Berbers present a broad range of physical types and speak a variety of mutually unintelligible dialects that belong to the Afro-Asiatic language family. They never developed a sense of nationhood and have historically identified themselves in terms of their tribe, clan, and family. Collectively, Berbers refer to themselves simply as imazighan, to which has been attributed the meaning "free men."

Inscriptions found in Egypt dating from the Old Kingdom (ca. 2700-2200 B.C.) are the earliest known recorded testimony of the Berber migration and also the earliest written documentation of Libyan history. At least as early as this period, troublesome Berber tribes, one of which was identified in Egyptian records as the Levu (or "Libyans"), were raiding eastward as far as the Nile Delta and attempting to settle there. During the Middle Kingdom (ca. 2200-1700 B.C.) the Egyptian pharaohs succeeded in imposing their overlordship on these eastern Berbers and extracted tribute from them. Many Berbers served in the army of the pharaohs, and some rose to positions of importance in the Egyptian state. One such Berber officer seized control of Egypt in about 950 B.C. and, as Shishonk I, ruled as pharaoh. His successors of the twentysecond and twenty-third dynasties--the so-called Libyan dynasties (ca. 945-730 B.C.)--are also believed to have been Berbers.

 
 

Tripolitania and the Phoenicians

Enterprising Phoenician traders were active throughout the Mediterranean area before the twelfth century B.C. The depots that they set up at safe harbors on the African coast to service, supply, and shelter their ships were the links in a maritime chain reaching from the Levant to Spain. Many North African cities and towns originated as Phoenician trading posts, where the merchants of Tyre (in present-day Lebanon) eventually developed commercial relations with the Berber tribes and made treaties with them to ensure their cooperation in the exploitation of raw materials. By the fifth century B.C., Carthage, the greatest of the overseas Phoenician colonies, had extended its hegemony across much of North Africa, where a distinctive civilization, known as Punic, came into being. Punic settlements on the Libyan coast included Oea ( Tripoli), Labdah (later Leptis Magna), and Sabratah, in an area that came to be known collectively as Tripolis, or " Three Cities" (see fig. 2).

Governed by a mercantile oligarchy, Carthage and its dependencies cultivated good relations with the Berber tribes in the hinterland, but the city-state was essentially a maritime power whose expansion along the western Mediterranean coast drew it into a confrontation with Rome in the third century B.C. Defeated in the long Punic Wars (264-241 and 218-201 B.C.), Carthage was reduced by Rome to the status of a small and vulnerable African state at the mercy of the Berbers. Fear of a Carthaginian revival, however, led Rome to renew the war, and Carthage was destroyed in 146 B.C. Tripolitania was assigned to Rome's ally, the Berber king of Numidia. A century later, Julius Caesar deposed the reigning Numidian king, who had sided with Pompey (Roman general and statesman, rival of Julius Caesar) in the Roman civil wars, and annexed his extensive territory to Rome, organizing Tripolitania as a Roman province.

The influence of Punic civilization on North Africa remained deep-seated. The Berbers displayed a remarkable gift for cultural assimilation, readily synthesizing Punic cults with their folk religion. The Punic language was still spoken in the towns of Tripolitania and by Berber farmers in the coastal countryside in the late Roman period.

 
 

Cyrenaica and the Greeks

Like the Phoenicians, Minoan and Greek seafarers had for centuries probed the North African coast, which at the nearest point lay 300 kilometers from Crete, but systematic Greek settlement there began only in the seventh century B.C. during the great age of Hellenic overseas colonization. According to tradition, emigrants from the crowded island of Thera were commanded by the oracle at Delphi to seek a new home in North Africa, where in 631 B.C. they founded the city of Cyrene. The site to which Berber guides had led them was in a fertile highland region about 20 kilometers inland from the sea at a place where, according to the Berbers, a "hole in the heavens" would provide ample rainfall for the colony.

Within 200 years of Cyrene's founding, four more important Greek cities were established in the area: Barce (Al Marj); Euhesperides (later Berenice, present-day Benghazi); Teuchira (later Arsinoe, present-day Tukrah); and Apollonia ( Susah), the port of Cyrene. Together with Cyrene, they were known as the Pentapolis (Five Cities). Often in competition, they found cooperation difficult even when confronted by common enemies. From Cyrene, the mother city and foremost of the five, derived the name of Cyrenaica for the whole region.

The Greeks of the Pentapolis resisted encroachments by the Egyptians from the east as well as by the Carthaginians from the west, but in 525 B.C. the army of Cambyses (son of Cyrus the Great, King of Persia), fresh from the conquest of Egypt, overran Cyrenaica, which for the next two centuries remained under Persian or Egyptian rule. Alexander the Great was greeted by the Greeks when he entered Cyrenaica in 331 B.C. When Alexander died in 323 B.C., his empire was divided among his Macedonian generals. Egypt, with Cyrene, went to Ptolemy, a general under Alexander who took over his African and Syrian possessions; the other Greek citystates of the Pentapolis retained their autonomy. However, the inability of the city-states to maintain stable governments led the Ptolemies to impose workable constitutions on them. Later, a federation of the Pentapolis was formed that was customarily ruled by a king drawn from the Ptolemaic royal house. Ptolemy Apion, the last Greek ruler, bequeathed Cyrenaica to Rome, which formally annexed the region in 74 B.C. and joined it to Crete as a Roman province.

The economic and cultural development of the Pentapolis was unaffected by the turmoil its political life generated. The region grew rich from grain, wine, wool, and stockbreeding and from silphium, an herb that grew only in Cyrenaica and was regarded as an aphrodisiac. Cyrene became one of the greatest intellectual and artistic centers of the Greek world, famous for its medical school, learned academies, and architecture, which included some of the finest examples of the Hellenistic style. The Cyrenaics, a school of thinkers who expounded a doctrine of moral cheerfulness that defined happiness as the sum of human pleasures, also made their home there and took inspiration from the city's pleasant climate.

 
 

Fezzan and the Garamentes

Throughout the period of Punic and Greek colonization of the coastal plain, the area known as Fezzan was dominated by the Garamentes, a tribal people who entered the region sometime before 1000 B.C. In the desert they established a powerful kingdom astride the trade route between the western Sudan and the Mediterranean coast. The Garamentes left numerous inscriptions in tifinagh, the ancient Berber form of writing still used by the Tuareg. Beyond these and the observations of Herodotus and other classical writers on their customs and dealings with the coastal settlements, little was known of this extraordinary and mysterious people until the advent of modern archaeological methods.

The Garamentes' political power was limited to a chain of oases about 400 kilometers long in the Wadi Ajal, but from their capital at Germa they controlled the desert caravan trade from Ghadamis south to the Niger River, eastward to Egypt, and west to Mauretania (see Glossary). The Carthaginians employed them as carriers of goods--gold and ivory purchased in exchange for salt--from the western Sudan to their depots on the Mediterranean coast. The Garamentes were also noted as horsebreeders and herders of longhorned cattle. They succeeded in irrigating portions of their arid lands for cultivation by using foggares, vast underground networks of stone-lined water channels. Their wealth and technical skill are also attested to by the remains of their towns, which were built of stone, and more than 50,000 of their pyramidal tombs. Rome sent several punitive expeditions against the Garamentes before concluding a lasting commercial and military alliance with them late in the first century A.D.

 
 

Libya and the Romans

A view of the ancient ruins at Germa in the Fezzan
Courtesy Keith Daber

For more than 400 years, Tripolitania and Cyrenaica were prosperous Roman provinces and part of a cosmopolitan state whose citizens shared a common language, legal system, and Roman identity. Roman ruins like those of Leptis Magna, extant in present-day Libya, attest to the vitality of the region, where populous cities and even smaller towns enjoyed the amenities of urban life--the forum, markets, public entertainments, and baths-- found in every corner of the Roman Empire. Merchants and artisans from many parts of the Roman world established themselves in North Africa, but the character of the cities of Tripolitania remained decidedly Punic and, in Cyrenaica, Greek. Tripolitania was a major exporter of olive oil, as well as being the entrepôt for the gold and slaves conveyed to the coast by the Garamentes, while Cyrenaica remained an important source of wines, drugs, and horses. The bulk of the population in the countryside consisted of Berber farmers, who in the west were thoroughly "Punicized" in language and customs.

Although the African provinces profited as much as any part of the empire from the imposition of the Pax Romana, the region was not without strife and threat of war. Only near the end of the first century A.D. did the army complete the pacification of the Sirtica, a desert refuge for the barbarian tribes that had impeded overland communications between Tripolitania and Cyrenaica. But for more than two centuries thereafter commerce flowed safely between markets and ports along a well-maintained road system and sea lanes policed by Roman forces who also guaranteed the security of settled areas against incursions by desert nomads. The vast territory was defended by one locally recruited legion (5,500 men) in Cyrenaica and the elements of another in Tripolitania, reinforced by tribal auxiliaries on the frontier. Although expeditions penetrated deep into Fezzan, in general Rome sought to control only those areas in the African provinces that were economically useful or could be garrisoned with the manpower available.

Under the Ptolemies, Cyrenaica had become the home of a large Jewish community, whose numbers were substantially increased by tens of thousands of Jews deported there after the failure of the rebellion against Roman rule in Palestine and the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Some of the refugees made their way into the desert, where they became nomads and nurtured their fierce hatred of Rome. They converted to Judaism many of the Berbers with whom they mingled, and in some cases whole tribes were identified as Jewish. In 115 the Jews raised a major revolt in Cyrenaica that quickly spread through Egypt back to Palestine. The uprising was put down by 118, but only after Jewish insurgents had laid waste to Cyrenaica and sacked the city of Cyrene. Contemporary observers counted the loss of life during those years at more than 200,000, and at least a century was required to restore Cyrenaica to the order and prosperity that had meanwhile prevailed in Tripolitania.

As part of his reorganization of the empire in 300, the Emperor Diocletian separated the administration of Crete from Cyrenaica and in the latter formed the new provinces of Upper Libya and Lower Libya, using the term Libya for the first time as an administrative designation. With the definitive partition of the empire in 395, the Libyans were assigned to the eastern empire; Tripolitania was attached to the western empire.

By the beginning of the second century, Christianity had been introduced among the Jewish community, and it soon gained converts in the towns and among slaves. Rome's African provinces were thoroughly Christianized by the end of the fourth century, and inroads had been made as well among the Berber tribes in the hinterland. From an early date, however, the churches in Tripolitania and Cyrenaica developed distinct characteristics that reflected their differing cultural orientations. The former came under the jurisdiction of the Latin patriarch, the bishop of Rome, and the latter under that of the Coptic (Egyptian) patriarch of Alexandria. In both areas, religious dissent became a vehicle for social revolt at a time of political deterioration and economic depression.

Invited to North Africa by a rebellious Roman official, the Vandals, a Germanic tribe, crossed from Spain in 429. They seized power and, under their leader, Gaiseric, established a kingdom that made its capital at Carthage. Although the Roman Empire eventually recognized their overlordship in much of North Africa, including Tripolitania, the Vandals confined their rule to the most economically profitable areas. There they constituted an isolated warrior caste, concerned with collecting taxes and exploiting the land but leaving civil administration in Roman hands. From their African base they conquered Sardinia and Corsica and launched raids on Italy, sacking the city of Rome in 455. In time, however, the Vandals lost much of their warlike spirit, and their kingdom fell to the armies of Belisarius, the Byzantine general who in 533 began the reconquest of North Africa for the Roman Empire.

Effective Byzantine control in Tripolitania was restricted to the coast, and even there the newly walled towns, strongholds, fortified farms, and watchtowers called attention to its tenuous nature. The region's prosperity had shrunk under Vandal domination, and the old Roman political and social order, disrupted by the Vandals, could not be restored. In outlying areas neglected by the Vandals, the inhabitants had sought the protection of tribal chieftains and, having grown accustomed to their autonomy, resisted reassimilation into the imperial system. Cyrenaica, which had remained an outpost of the Byzantine Empire during the Vandal period, also took on the characteristics of an armed camp. Unpopular Byzantine governors imposed burdensome taxation to meet military costs, but towns and public services--including the water system--were left to decay. Byzantine rule in Africa did prolong the Roman ideal of imperial unity there for another century and a half, however, and prevented the ascendancy of the Berber nomads in the coastal region.

 
 

Islanm and the Arabs

By the time of his death in A.D. 632, the Prophet Muhammad and his followers had brought most of the tribes and towns of the Arabian Peninsula under the banner of the new monotheistic religion of Islam (literally, "submission"), which was conceived of as uniting the individual believer and society under the omnipotent will of Allah (God). Islamic rulers therefore exercised both temporal and religious authority. Adherents of Islam, called Muslims ("those who submit" to the will of God), collectively formed the House of Islam (Dar al Islam).

Within a generation, Arab armies had carried Islam north and east from Arabia and westward into North Africa. In 642 Amr ibn al As, an Arab general under Caliph Umar I, conquered Cyrenaica, establishing his headquarters at Barce. Two years later, he moved into Tripolitania, where, by the end of the decade, the isolated Byzantine garrisons on the coast were overrun and Arab control of the region consolidated. Uqba bin Nafi, an Arab general under the ruling Caliph, invaded Fezzan in 663, forcing the capitulation of Germa. Stiff Berber resistance in Tripolitania had slowed the Arab advance to the west, however, and efforts at permanent conquest were resumed only when it became apparent that the Maghrib (see Glossary) could be opened up as a theater of operations in the Muslim campaign against the Byzantine Empire. In 670 the Arabs surged into the Roman province of Africa (transliterated Ifriqiya in Arabic; present-day Tunisia), where Uqba founded the city of Kairouan (present-day Al Qayrawan) as a military base for an assault on Byzantine-held Carthage. Twice the Berber tribes compelled them to retreat into Tripolitania, but each time the Arabs, employing recently converted Berber tribesmen recruited in Tripolitania, returned in greater force, and in 693 they took Carthage. The Arabs cautiously probed the western Maghrib and in 710 invaded Morocco, carrying their conquests to the Atlantic. In 712 they mounted an invasion of Spain and in three years had subdued all but the mountainous regions in the extreme north. Muslim Spain (called Andalusia), the Maghrib (including Tripolitania), and Cyrenaica were systematically organized under the political and religious leadership of the Umayyad caliph of Damascus.

Arab rule in North Africa--as elsewhere in the Islamic world in the eighth century--had as its ideal the establishment of political and religious unity under a caliphate (the office of the Prophet's successor as supreme earthly leader of Islam) governed in accord with sharia (a legal system) administered by qadis (religious judges) to which all other considerations, including tribal loyalties, were subordinated. The sharia was based primarily on the Quran and the hadith (see Glossary) and derived in part from Arab tribal and market law.

Arab rule was easily imposed in the coastal farming areas and on the towns, which prospered again under Arab patronage. Townsmen valued the security that permitted them to practice their commerce and trade in peace, while the Punicized farmers recognized their affinity with the Semitic Arabs to whom they looked to protect their lands; in Cyrenaica, Monophysite adherents of the Coptic Church had welcomed the Muslim Arabs as liberators from Byzantine oppression. Communal and representative Berber tribal institutions, however, contrasted sharply and frequently clashed with the personal and authoritarian government that the Arabs had adopted under Byzantine influence. While the Arabs abhorred the tribal Berbers as barbarians, the Berbers in the hinterland often saw the Arabs only as an arrogant and brutal soldiery bent on collecting taxes.

The Arabs formed an urban elite in North Africa, where they had come as conquerors and missionaries, not as colonists. Their armies had traveled without women and married among the indigenous population, transmitting Arab culture and Islamic religion over a period of time to the townspeople and farmers. Although the nomadic tribes of the hinterland had stoutly resisted Arab political domination, they rapidly accepted Islam. Once established as Muslims, however, the Berbers, with their characteristic love of independence and impassioned religious temperament, shaped Islam in their own image, enthusiastically embracing schismatic Muslim sects--often traditional folk religion barely distinguished as Islam--as a way of breaking from Arab control.

One such sect, the Kharijites (seceders; literally, "those who emerge from impropriety") surfaced in North Africa in the mideighth century, proclaiming its belief that any suitable Muslim candidate could be elected caliph without regard to his race, station, or descent from the Prophet. The attack on the Arab monopoly of the religious leadership of Islam was explicit in Kharijite doctrine, and Berbers across the Maghrib rose in revolt in the name of religion against Arab domination. The rise of the Kharijites coincided with a period of turmoil in the Arab world during which the Abbasid dynasty overthrew the Umayyads and relocated the caliphate in Baghdad. In the wake of the revolt, Kharijite sectarians established a number of theocratic tribal kingdoms, most of which had short and troubled histories. One such kingdom, however, founded by the Bani Khattab, succeeded in putting down roots in remote Fezzan, where the capital, Zawilah, developed into an important oasis trading center.

After the Arab conquest, North Africa was governed by a succession of amirs (commanders) who were subordinate to the caliph in Damascus and, after 750, in Baghdad. In 800 the Abbasid caliph Harun ar Rashid appointed as amir Ibrahim ibn Aghlab, who established a hereditary dynasty at Kairouan that ruled Ifriqiya and Tripolitania as an autonomous state that was subject to the caliph's spiritual jurisdiction and that nominally recognized him as its political suzerain. The Aghlabid amirs repaired the neglected Roman irrigation system, rebuilding the region's prosperity and restoring the vitality of its cities and towns with the agricultural surplus that was produced. At the top of the political and social hierarchy were the bureaucracy, the military caste, and an Arab urban elite that included merchants, scholars, and government officials who had come to Kairouan, Tunis, and Tripoli from many parts of the Islamic world. Members of the large Jewish communities that also resided in those cities held office under the amirs and engaged in commerce and the crafts. Converts to Islam often retained the positions of authority held traditionally by their families or class in Roman Africa, but a dwindling, Latinspeaking , Christian community lingered on in the towns until the eleventh century. The Aghlabids contested control of the central Mediterranean with the Byzantine Empire and, after conquering Sicily, played an active role in the internal politics of Italy.

 
 

Fatimids

By the seventh century, a conflict had developed between supporters of rival claimants to the caliphate that would split Islam into two branches--the orthodox Sunni and the Shia--which continued thereafter as the basic division among Muslims. The Shia (from Shiat Ali, or Party of Ali) supported the claims of the direct descendants of Ali, the fourth caliph and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, whereas the Sunni favored that of Ali's rival, the leader of a collateral branch of Muhammad's tribe, and the principle of election of the fittest from the ranks of the shurfa (see Glossary). The Shia had their greatest appeal among non-Arab Muslims, who, like the Berbers, were scorned by the aristocratic desert Arabs.

In the last decade of the ninth century, missionaries of the Ismaili sect of Shia Islam converted the Kutama Berbers of the Kabylie region to the militant brand of Shia Islam and led them on a crusade against the Sunni Aghlabids. Kairouan fell in 909, and the next year the Kutama installed the Ismaili grandmaster from Syria, Ubaidalla Said, as imam (see Glossary) of their movement and ruler over the territory they had conquered, which included Tripolitania. Recognized by his Berber followers as the Mahdi ("the divinely guided one"--see Glossary), the imam founded the Shia dynasty of the Fatimids, named for Fatima, daughter of Muhammad and wife of Ali, from whom the imam claimed descent.

Merchants of the coastal towns were the backbone of the Fatimid state that was founded by religious enthusiasts and imposed by Berber tribesmen. The slow but steady economic revival of Europe created a demand for goods from the East for which Fatimid ports in North Africa and Sicily were ideal distribution centers. Tripoli thrived on the trade in slaves and gold brought from the Sudan and on the sale of wool, leather, and salt shipped from its docks to Italy in exchange for wood and iron goods.

For many years the Fatimids threatened Morocco with invasion, but they eventually turned their armies eastward, where in the name of religion the Berbers took their revenge on the Arabs. By 969 the Fatimids had completed the conquest of Egypt and moved their capital to the new city that they founded at Cairo, where they established a Shia caliphate to rival that of the Sunni caliph at Baghdad. They left the Maghrib to their Berber vassals, the Zirids, but the Shia regime had already begun to crumble in Tripolitania as factions struggled indecisively for regional supremacy. The Zirids neglected the economy, except to pillage it for their personal gain. Agricultural production declined, and farmers and herdsmen became brigands. Shifting patterns of trade gradually depressed the once-thriving commerce of the towns. In an effort to hold the support of the urban Arabs, in 1049 the Zirid amir defiantly rejected the Shia creed, broke with the Fatimids, and initiated a Berber return to Sunni orthodoxy.

 
 

Hilalians

In Cairo the Fatimid caliph reacted by inviting the Bani Hilal and Bani Salim, beduin tribes from Arabia known collectively as the Hilalians, to migrate to the Maghrib and punish his rebellious vassals, the Zirids. The Arab nomads spread across the region, in the words of the historian Ibn Khaldun, like a "swarm of locusts," impoverishing it, destroying towns, and dramatically altering the face and culture of the countryside.

The Hilalian impact on Cyrenaica and Tripolitania was devastating in both economic and demographic terms. Tripoli was sacked, and what little remained of urban life in once-great cities like Cyrene was snuffed out, leaving only ruins. Over a long period of time, Arabs displaced Berbers (many of whom joined the Hilalians) from their traditional lands and converted farmland to pasturage. Land was neglected, and the steppe was allowed to intrude into the coastal plain.

The number of Hilalians who moved westward out of Egypt has been estimated as high as 200,000 families. The Bani Salim seem to have stopped in Libya, while the Bani Hilal continued across the Maghrib until they reached the Atlantic coast of Morocco and completed the Arabization of the region, imposing their social organization, values, and language on it. The process was particularly thorough in Cyrenaica, which is said to be more Arab than any place in the Arab world except for the interior of Arabia.

The Norman rulers of southern Italy took advantage of the Zirids' distress in North Africa to invade Sicily in 1060 and bring it back under Christian control. By 1150 the Normans held a string of ports and fortresses along the coast between Tunis and Tripoli, but their interests in North Africa were commercial rather than political, and no effort was made to extend the conquest inland.

 
 

Hafsids

The eleventh and twelfth centuries witnessed the rise in Morocco of two rival Berber tribal dynasties--the Almoravids and the Almohads, both founded by religious reformers--that dominated the Maghrib and Muslim Spain for more than two hundred years. The founder of the Almohad (literally, "one who proclaims" the oneness of God) movement was a member of the Sunni ulama (see Glossary), Ibn Tumart (d. 1130), who preached a doctrine of moral regeneration through reaffirmation of monotheism. As judge and political leader as well as spiritual director, Ibn Tumart gave the Almohads a hierarchical and theocratic centralized government, respecting but transcending the old tribal structure. His successor, the sultan Abdal Mumin (reigned 1130-63), subdued Morocco, extended the Muslim frontier in Spain, and by 1160 had swept eastward across the Maghrib and forced the withdrawal of the Normans from their strongholds in Ifriqiya and Tripolitania, which were added to the Almohad empire.

Mumin proclaimed an Almohad caliphate at Cordova, giving the sultan supreme religious as well as political authority within his domains, but theology gradually gave way to dynastic politics as the motivating force behind the movement. The Almohads had succeeded in unifying the Maghrib but, as its empire grew and the Almohad power base shifted to Spain, the dynasty became more remote from the Berber tribes that had launched it. By 1270 the Almohads in Morocco had succumbed to tribal warfare and in Spain to the steady advance of the Kingdom of Castile.

At the eastern end of the Almohad empire, the sultan left an autonomous viceroy whose office became hereditary in the line of Muhammad bin Abu Hafs (reigned 1207-21), a descendant of one of Ibn Tumart's companions. With the demise of the Almohad dynasty in Morocco, the Hafsids adopted the titles of caliph and sultan and considered themselves the Almohads' legitimate successors, keeping alive the memory of Ibn Tumart and the ideal of Maghribi unity from their capital in Tunis.

The Hafsids' political support and their realm's economy were rooted in coastal towns like Tripoli, while the hinterland was given up to the tribes that had made their nominal submission to the sultan. The Hafsids encouraged trade with Europe and forged close links with Aragon and the Italian maritime states. Despite these commercial ties, Hafsid relations with the European powers eventually deteriorated when the latter intrigued in the dynasty's increasingly troubled and complex internal politics. Theocratic republics, tribal states, and coastal enclaves seized by pirate captains defied the sultan's authority, and in 1460 Tripoli was declared an independent city-state by its merchant oligarchy.

During the Hafsid era, spanning more than 300 years, however, the Maghrib and Muslim Spain had shared a common higher culture-- called Moorish--that transcended the rise and fall of dynasties in creating new and unique forms of art, literature, and architecture. Its influence spread from Spain as far as Tripolitania, where Hafsid patronage had encouraged a flowering Arab creativity and scholarship.

 
 

Medieval Cyrenaica and Fezzan

Cyrenaica lay outside the orbit of the Maghribi dynasties, its orientation on Egypt. From the time when Saladin displaced the Fatimids in 1171 until the Ottoman occupation in 1517, Egypt was ruled by a succession of Mamluk (caste of "slave-soldiers," in Egypt often Kurds, Circassians, or Turks) dynasties that claimed suzerainty over Cyrenaica but exercised little more than nominal political control there. The beduin tribes of Baraqah, as Cyrenaica was known to the Arabs, willingly accepted no authority other than that of their own chieftains. In the fifteenth century, merchants from Tripoli revived the markets in some towns, but Cyrenaica's main source of income was from the pilgrims and caravans traveling between the Maghrib and Egypt, who purchased protection from the beduins.

Turbulent chieftains of the Bani Khattab dominated Fezzan. Their importance, like that of the Garamentes, derived from their control of the oases on the trade route over which caravans carried gold, ivory, and slaves from the western Sudan to markets on the Mediterranean. In the thirteenth century the king of Bornu, a Muslim state in the Lake Chad Basin, invaded Fezzan from the south and established a client regime that for a time commanded the trade route. Fezzan was always a target for adventurers, one of whom, the Moroccan Muhammad al Fazi, displaced the last of the Bani Khattab early in the sixteenth century and founded a line at Marzuq that remained as undisputed rulers of the region under Ottoman suzerainty.

 
 

Ottoman Regency

Part of an excavated Roman city at Sabratah, near Tripoli
Courtesy United Nations

Throughout the sixteenth century, Hapsburg Spain and the Ottoman Turks were pitted in a struggle for supremacy in the Mediterranean. Spanish forces had already occupied a number of other North African ports when in 1510 they captured Tripoli, destroyed the city, and constructed a fortified naval base from the rubble. Tripoli was of only marginal importance to Spain, however, and in 1524 the king-emperor Charles V entrusted its defense to the Knights of St. John of Malta.

Piracy, which for both Christians and Muslims was a dimension of the conflict between the opposing powers, lured adventurers from around the Mediterranean to the Maghribi coastal towns and islands. Among them was Khair ad Din, called Barbarossa, who in 1510 seized Algiers on the pretext of defending it from the Spaniards. Barbarossa subsequently recognized the suzerainty of the Ottoman sultan over the territory that he controlled and was in turn appointed the sultan's regent in the Maghrib. Using Algiers as their base, Barbarossa and his successors consolidated Ottoman authority in the central Maghrib, extended it to Tunisia and Tripolitania, and threatened Morocco. In 1551 the knights were driven out of Tripoli by the Turkish admiral, Sinan Pasha. In the next year Draughut Pasha, a Turkish pirate captain named governor by the sultan, restored order in the coastal towns and undertook the pacification of the Arab nomads in Tripolitania, although he admitted the difficulty of subduing a people "who carry their cities with them." Only in the 1580s did the rulers of Fezzan give their allegiance to the sultan, but the Turks refrained from trying to exercise any influence there. Ottoman authority was also absent in Cyrenaica, although a bey (commander) was stationed at Benghazi late in the next century to act as agent of the government in Tripoli.

 
 

Pashas and Deys

The Ottoman Maghrib was formally divided into three regencies-- at Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli. After 1565 authority as regent in Tripoli was vested in a pasha (see Glossary) appointed by the sultan. The regency was provided a corps of janissaries (see Glossary), recruited from Turkish peasants who were committed to a lifetime of military service. The corps was organized into companies, each commanded by a junior officer with the rank of dey (literally, "maternal uncle"). It formed a self-governing military guild, subject to its own laws, whose interests were protected by the Divan, a council of senior officers that also advised the pasha. In time the pasha's role was reduced to that of ceremonial head of state and figurehead representative of Ottoman suzerainty, as real power came to rest with the army.

Mutinies and coups were frequent, and generally the janissaries were loyal to whoever paid and fed them most regularly. In 1611 the deys staged a successful coup, forcing the pasha to appoint their leader, Suleiman Safar, as head of government--in which capacity he and his successors continued to bear the title dey. At various times the dey was also pasha-regent. His succession to office occurred generally amid intrigue and violence. The regency that he governed was autonomous in internal affairs and, although dependent on the sultan for fresh recruits to the corps of janissaries, his government was left to pursue a virtually independent foreign policy as well.

Tripoli, which had 30,000 inhabitants at the end of the seventeenth century, was the only city of any size in the regency. The bulk of its residents were Moors, as city-dwelling Arabs were known. Several hundred Turks and renegades formed a governing elite apart from the rest of the population. A larger component was the khouloughlis (literally, "sons of servants"), offspring of Turkish soldiers and Arab women who traditionally held high administrative posts and provided officers for the spahis, the provincial cavalry units that augmented the corps of janissaries. They identified themselves with local interests and were, in contrast to the Turks, respected by the Arabs. Regarded as a distinct caste, the khouloughlis lived in their menshia, a lush oasis located just outside the walls of the city. Jews and moriscos, descendants of Muslims expelled from Spain in the sixteenth century, were active as merchants and craftsmen, some of the moriscos also achieving notoriety as pirates. A small community of European traders clustered around the compounds of the foreign consuls, whose principal task was to sue for the release of captives brought to Tripoli by the corsairs. European slaves and larger numbers of enslaved blacks transported from the Sudan were a ubiquitous feature of the life of the city.

 
 

Karamanlis

Lacking direction from the Porte (Ottoman government), Tripoli lapsed into a period of military anarchy during which coup followed coup and few deys survived in office more than a year. In 1711 Ahmad Karamanli, a popular khouloughli cavalry officer, seized Tripoli and then purchased his confirmation by the sultan as pasha-regent with property confiscated from Turkish officials he had massacred during the coup. Although he continued to recognize nominal Ottoman suzerainty, Ahmad (reigned 1711-45) created an independent hereditary monarchy in Tripoli with a government that was essentially Arab in its composition. Intelligent and resourceful as well as ruthless, he increased his revenues from piracy, pursued an active foreign policy with European powers, used a loyal military establishment to win the allegiance of the tribes, and extended his authority into Cyrenaica.

The Karamanli regime, however, declined under Ahmad's successors. Then in 1793, a Turkish officer, Ali Benghul, overthrew the Karamanlis and restored Tripoli to Ottoman rule. With the aid of the bey of Tunis, Yusuf ibn Ali Karamanli (reigned 1795-1832) returned to Tripoli and installed himself as pasha. A throwback to the founder of the dynasty, he tamed the tribes and defied both the Porte and British naval power to assist Napoleon Bonaparte during his Egyptian campaign in 1799.

The effectiveness of Tripoli's corsairs had long since deteriorated, but their reputation alone was enough to prompt European maritime states to pay the tribute extorted by the pasha to ensure safe passage of their shipping through Tripolitanian waters. American merchant ships, no longer covered by British protection, were seized by Barbary pirates in the years after United States independence, and American crews were enslaved. In 1799 the United States agreed to pay Yusuf US$18,000 a year in return for a promise that Tripoli-based corsairs would not molest American ships. Similar agreements were made at the time with the rulers of Morocco, Algiers, and Tunis.

In the years immediately after the Napoleonic wars, which ended in 1815, the European powers forced an end to piracy and the payment of tribute in the Barbary states. Deprived of the basis of its economy, Tripoli was unable to pay for basic imports or to service its foreign debt. When France and Britain pressed for payment of debts on behalf of Tripoli's creditors, the Divan authorized extraordinary taxes to provide the needed revenue. The imposition of the taxes provoked an outcry in the towns and among the tribes that quickly degenerated into civil war. With the allegiance of the country split among rival claimants to the throne, Yusuf abdicated in favor of his son, Ali II (reigned 1832- 35). In response to Ali's appeal for assistance and out of fear of the European takeover in Tripoli, the Ottoman Sultan Muhammad II sent Turkish troops, ostensibly to put down the numerous rebellions against the pasha and to restore order. But Ali was packed aboard a Turkish warship, which carried him into exile, while the sultan's troops reinstated Ottoman rule in Tripoli.

 
 

The Ottoman Revival

The administrative system imposed by the Turks was typical of that found elsewhere in the Ottoman Empire. Tripolitania, as all three historic regions were collectively designated, became a Turkish vilayet (province) under a wali (governor general) appointed by the sultan. The province was composed of four sanjaks (subprovinces), each administered by a mutasarrif (lieutenant governor) responsible to the governor general. These subprovinces were each divided into about fifteen districts.

Executive officers from the governor general downward were Turks. The mutasarrif was in some cases assisted by an advisory council and, at the lower levels, Turkish officials relied on aid and counsel from the tribal shaykhs. Administrative districts below the subprovincial level corresponded to the tribal areas that remained the focus of the Arabs' identification.

Although the system was logical and appeared efficient on paper, it was never consistently applied throughout the country. The Turks encountered strong local opposition through the 1850s and showed little interest in implementing Ottoman control over Fezzan and the interior of Cyrenaica. In 1879 Cyrenaica was separated from Tripolitania, its mutasarrif reporting thereafter directly to Constantinople (present-day Istanbul). After the 1908 reform of the Ottoman government, both were entitled to send representatives to the Turkish parliament.

In an effort to provide the country with a tax base, the Turks attempted unsuccessfully to stimulate agriculture. However, in general, nineteenth-century Ottoman rule was characterized by corruption, revolt, and repression. The region was a backwater province in a decaying empire that had been dubbed the "sick man of Europe."

 
 

The Sanusi Order

Outside the towns, the ulama might often be replaced as the spiritual guides of the people by wandering holy men known as marabouts (see Glossary), mystics and seers whose tradition antedated Islam. Called "men of the soil," the marabouts of popular Islam were incorporated into intensely local cults of saints. They had traditionally acted as arbiters in tribal disputes and, whenever the authority of government waned in a particular locale, the people turned to the marabouts for political leadership as well as for spiritual guidance. Islam had thus taken shape as a coexisting blend of the scrupulous intellectualism of the ulama and the sometimes frenzied emotionalism of the masses.

The founder of the Sanusi religious order, Muhammad bin Ali as Sanusi (1787-1859), possessed both the popular appeal of a marabout and the prestige of a religious scholar. Early in his spiritual formation, he had come under the influence of the Sufi, a school of mystics who had inspired an Islamic revival in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and incorporated their asceticism into his own religious practices. Born near Oran in Algeria, he had traveled widely, studying and teaching at some of the outstanding Islamic centers of learning of his day, and his reputation as a scholar and holy man had spread throughout North Africa. In 1830 he was honored as the Grand Sanusi (as Sanusi al Kabir) by the tribes and towns of Tripolitania and Fezzan while passing through on his way to Mecca.

Disturbed by division and dissension within Islam, he believed that only a return to the purity of early Islam and its insistence on austerity in faith and morals could restore the religion to its rightful glory. On the basis of his perception of the state and needs of Islam, the Grand Sanusi organized a religious order, founding its first lodge ( zawiya; pl., zawaayaa--see Glossary) near Mecca in 1837. Disagreement with the Turkish authorities, however, forced his return to North Africa. He had originally intended to return to Algeria, but the expansion of the French occupation there determined that he settle in Cyrenaica, where the loose hold exercised by Turkish authorities permitted an atmosphere more congenial to his teaching. The tribesmen of the interior were particularly receptive to his ideas, and in 1843 he founded the first Cyrenaican lodge at Al Bayda.

The Grand Sanusi did not tolerate fanaticism. He forbade the use of stimulants as well as the practice of voluntary poverty. Lodge members were to eat and dress within the limits of religious law and, instead of depending on alms, were required to earn their living through work. No aids to contemplation, such as the processions, gyrations, and mutilations employed by Sufi dervishes, were permitted. The Grand Sanusi accepted neither the wholly intuitive ways described by the Sufis mystics nor the rationality of the orthodox ulama; rather, he attempted to adapt from both. The beduins had shown no interest in the ecstatic practices of the Sufi that were gaining adherents in the towns, but they were attracted in great numbers to the Sanusis. The relative austerity of the Sanusi message was especially suited to the character of the Cyrenaican beduins, whose way of life had not changed markedly in the centuries since the Arabs had first accepted the Prophet's teachings.

The leaders of the Sanusi movement encouraged the beduins to render to the Grand Sanusi a reverence that verged on veneration of him as a saint, an act forbidden in orthodox Islam. In fact, the tribesmen regarded him as a marabout and, indeed, this was the indispensable basis of their attachment to him. In no other way could an outsider like Muhammad bin Ali have won their allegiance. The Sanusi order ultimately permitted its leaders to transform their baraka (see Glossary) as holy men into a potent political force capable of holding together a national movement.

To the single lodge founded at Al Bayda in 1843 was eventually added a network of lodges throughout Cyrenaica that bound together the tribal system of the region. The lodge filled an important place in the lives of the tribesmen. Besides its obvious function as a religious center and conduit of baraka to the tribe, it was also a school, caravansary, social and commercial center, court of law, and haven for the poor. It provided a place of high culture and safety in the desert wilderness.

Before his death in 1859, the Grand Sanusi established the order's center at Al Jaghbub, which lay at the intersection of the pilgrimage route to Mecca and the main trade route between the Sudan and the coast. There he founded a respected Islamic school, as well as a training center for lodge shaykhs. He hoped by this move to facilitate expanded Sanusi missionary activities in the Sahel and in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Grand Sanusi's son, Muhammad, succeeded him as the order's leader. Because of his forceful personality and his outstanding organizational talents, Muhammad brought the order to the peak of its influence and was recognized as the Mahdi. In 1895 the Mahdi moved the order's headquarters 650 kilometers south from Al Jaghbub to the oasis of Al Kufrah. There he could better supervise missionary activities that were threatened by the advance of French colonialism in the Sudan, which he viewed in religious terms as Christian intervention into Muslim territory. Although the order had never used force in its missionary activities, the Mahdi proclaimed a holy war (jihad--see Glossary) to resist French inroads and brought the Sanusis into confrontation for the first time with a European power. When the Mahdi died in 1902, he left 146 lodges in Africa and Arabia and had brought virtually all the beduins of Cyrenaica under the order's influence. Under the aegis of the order, the tribes of Cyrenaica owed loyalty to a single leader, despite their otherwise extremely divisive rivalries and feuds. Thus a loose umbrella organization forged these otherwise disparate elements into a common unit bound by sentiment and loyalty.

Upon the Mahdi's death he was succeeded by Ahmad ash Sharif, who governed the order as regent for his young cousin, Muhammad Idris as Sanusi (later King Idris of Libya). Ahmad's campaign against French forces was a failure and brought on the destruction of many Sanusi missions in West Africa.

 
 

Italian Colonialism

Italy, which became a unified state only in 1860, was a late starter in the race for colonies. For the Italians, the marginal Turkish provinces in Libya seemed to offer an obvious compensation for their humiliating acquiescence to the establishment of a French protectorate in Tunisia, a country coveted by Italy as a potential colony. Italy intensified its long-standing commercial interests in Libya and, in a series of diplomatic manuevers, won from the major powers their recognition of an Italian sphere of influence there. It was assumed in European capitals that Italy would sooner or later seize the opportunity to take political and military action in Libya as well.

In September 1911 Italy engineered a crisis with Turkey charging that the Turks had committed a "hostile act" by arming Arab tribesmen in Libya. When Turkey refused to respond to an ultimatum calling for Italian military occupation to protect Italian interests in the region, Italy declared war. After a preliminary naval bombardment, Italian troops landed and captured Tripoli on October 3, encountering only slight resistance. Italian forces also occupied Tobruk, Al Khums, Darnah, and Benghazi.

In the ensuing months, the Italian expeditionary force, numbering 35,000, barely penetrated beyond its several beachheads. The 5,000 Turkish troops defending the provinces at the time of the invasion withdrew inland a few kilometers, where officers such as Enver Pasha and Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk) organized the Arab tribes in a resistance to the Italians that took on the aspects of a holy war. But with war threatening in the Balkans, Turkey was compelled to sue for peace with Italy. In accordance with the treaty signed at Lausanne in October 1912, the sultan issued a decree granting independence to Tripolitania and Cyrenaica while Italy simultaneously announced its formal annexation of those territories. The sultan, in his role as caliph (leader of Islam), was to retain his religious jurisdiction there and was permitted to appoint the qadi of Tripoli, who supervised the sharia courts. But the Italians were unable to appreciate that no distinction was made between civil and religious jurisdiction in Islamic law. Thus, through the courts, the Turks kept open a channel of influence over their former subjects and subverted Italian authority. Peace with Turkey meant for Italy the beginning of a twenty-year colonial war in Libya.

 
 

Italian Rule and Arab Resistance

For many Arabs, Turkey's surrender in Libya was a betrayal of Muslim interests to the infidels. The 1912 Treaty of Lausanne was meaningless to the beduin tribesmen who continued their war against the Italians, in some areas with the aid of Turkish troops left behind in the withdrawal. Fighting in Cyrenaica was conducted by Sanusi units under Ahmad ash Sharif, whose followers in Fezzan and southern Tripolitania prevented Italian consolidation in those areas as well. Lacking the unity imposed by the Sanusis, resistance in northern Tripolitania was isolated, and tribal rivalries made it less effective. Urban nationalists in Tripoli theorized about the possibility of establishing a Tripolitanian republic, perhaps associated with Italy, while Suleiman Baruni, a Berber and a former member of the Turkish parliament, proclaimed an independent but short-lived Berber state in the Gharyan region. For the beduins, however, unencumbered by any sense of nationhood, the purpose of the struggle against the colonial power was defending Islam and the free life they had always enjoyed in their tribal territory.

In 1914 the Sanusis counterattacked in Fezzan, quickly wiping out recent Italian gains there, and in April 1915 they inflicted heavy casualties on an Italian column at Qasr Bu Hadi in the Sirtica. Captured rifles, artillery, and munitions fueled a subsequent Sanusi strike into Tripolitania, but the success of the campaign was compromised by the traditional hostility that existed between the beduins and the nationalists.

When Italy joined the Allied Powers in 1915, the first ItaloSanusi war (1914-17) in Cyrenaica became part of the world war. Germany and Turkey sent arms and advisers to Ahmad, who aligned the Sanusis with the Central Powers with the objective of tying down Italian and British troops in North Africa. In 1916, however, Turkish officers led the Sanusis on a campaign into Egypt, where they were routed by British forces. Ahmad gave up Sanusi political and military leadership to Idris and fled to Turkey aboard a German submarine. The pro-British Idris opened negotiations with the Allies on behalf of Cyrenaica in 1917. The result was, in effect, a truce rather than a conclusive peace treaty, for neither the Italians nor the Sanusis fully surrendered their claims and control in the region. Britain and Italy recognized Idris as amir of interior Cyrenaica, with the condition that Sanusi attacks on coastal towns and into Egypt cease. Further consideration of Cyrenaica's status was deferred until after the war.

Although the victorious Allied Powers accepted Italy's sovereignty in Libya, Italian forces there at the end of World War I were still confined to the coastal enclaves, sometimes under conditions of siege. A campaign was initiated to consolidate and expand Italian-held territory in 1919, but the colonial policy pursued by the Italian government was moderate and accommodating. Steps were taken toward granting limited political rights to the people in occupied areas. The provinces of Cyrenaica and Tripolitania were treated as separate colonies, and Fezzan was organized as a military territory. The Fundamental Law approved by the Italian parliament in 1919 provided for provincial parliaments and for local advisory councils appointed by the Italian governors and district executives in the occupied areas.

The different settlements that Italy made in Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, however, did illustrate graphically the dissimilarities in the situations of the two provinces as they were perceived by Italian authorities. In 1920 an accord was reached between Italy and the Sanusi leaders that confirmed Idris as amir of Cyrenaica and recognized his virtual independence in an immense area in the interior that encompassed all the principal oases. Italy provided a subsidy to the amir's government, and Sanusi shaykhs, holding seats in the Cyrenaican parliament, participated in the government of the entire province. Idris was also allowed to retain the Sanusi army, although its units were to be stationed in "mixed camps" with Italian forces. By this arrangement, the Italian government officially accepted Idris as both secular and religious leader of the Cyrenaican tribes, but in effect it did not extend his political power beyond what he already exercised as head of the Sanusi order.

Clearly, the Rome government had not formulated a coherent policy toward a country that had not been conquered and whose people were dubious about the benefits of Italian rule. But because the Italians never faced a credible, united opposition in Tripolitania, they were not under comparable pressure there to yield the concessions they had made in Cyrenaica. Tripolitania lacked the leadership and organizational structure that Idris and the Sanusi order gave to Cyrenaica. The most prominent Tripolitanian nationalist was Ramadan as Suwaythi, who had by turns cooperated with the Italians, supported the Sanusis, and eventually fought against them both. His rival, Baruni, who had acted during the war as Ottoman "governor" in Tripolitania with German backing, was mistrusted by the Arab nationalists. Tribal rivalries were intense, and the aims of the beduin shaykhs and the nationalists were fundamentally different, the latter being concerned with forming a centralized republic while the former were interested primarily in creating tribal states.

A prominent pan-Arab nationalist, the Egyptian Abdar Rahman Azzam, persuaded Suwaythi and Baruni to cooperate in demanding Italian recognition of an independent republic that was called into being at Misratah in 1919. Talks with the Italians broke down when the Misratah republic's governing body, the so-called Reform Committee, claimed jurisdiction over Libya rather than over Tripolitania only. In 1920 delegates from both occupied and unoccupied zones convened the National Congress at Aziza. Claiming to represent the "Tripolitanian Nation," they called for the withdrawal of the Italian forces. No nationalist movement, however, was able to rally the country behind it.

Even delegates to the National Congress had been sharply divided on the degree of cooperation with Italy they would allow. Rival delegations beat a path to Rome with their petitions for recognition. Meanwhile, Count Giuseppe Volpi, a vigorous and determined governor, gave decisive direction to Italian policy in Tripolitania with his advocacy of military pacification rather than negotiation. The nationalists lost their most effective leaders when Baruni defected to the Italians as a result of hostility between Arabs and Berbers, which Volpi successfully exploited, and Suwaythi was killed by his political rivals.

In this situation, the Tripolitanian nationalists met with the Sanusis at Surt early in 1922 and offered to accept Idris as amir of Tripolitania. Idris had never sought any title other than the one he held in Cyrenaica, and he was not anxious to extend either his political influence or his religious leadership to northern Tripolitania, where neither he nor the Sanusi order was widely popular. He had always refused aid to Tripolitanian nationalists and under the circumstances considered their offer to have been made for reasons of expediency, that is, because there was no alternative candidate for leadership apparent at the time. Idris' acceptance, as the nationalists understood, would draw sharp Italian disapproval and be the signal for the resumption of open warfare. War with Italy, in any event, appeared likely sooner or later. For several months, Idris pondered the nationalist appeal. For whatever reason--perhaps to further the cause of total independence or perhaps out of a sense of religious obligation to resist the infidel--Idris accepted the amirate of all Libya in November and then, to avoid capture by the Italians, fled to Egypt, where he continued to guide the Sanusi order.

 
 

The Second Italo-Sanusi War

Italian colonial policy was abruptly altered with the accession to power of Mussolini's fascist government in October 1922. Mussolini, the one-time critic of colonialism, wholeheartedly endorsed Volpi's policy of military pacification and, although accurate intelligence was lacking in Rome, he fully supported the decisions made in the field by army commanders. The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne between the Allied Powers--including Italy--and Atatürk's new government in Turkey made final the dismemberment of the old Ottoman Empire and provided conclusive international sanction for Italy's annexation of Libya.

The second Italo-Sanusi war commenced early in 1923 with the Italian occupation of Sanusi territory in the Benghazi area. Resistance in Cyrenaica was fierce from the outset, but northern Tripolitania was subdued in 1923, and its southern region and Fezzan were gradually pacified over the next several years. During the whole period, however, the principal Italian theater of operations was Cyrenaica (see fig. 3).

In Idris' absence a hardy but aging shaykh, Umar al Mukhtar, had overall command of Sanusi fighting forces in Cyrenaica, never numbering more than a few thousand organized in tribal units. Mukhtar, a veteran of many campaigns, was a master of desert guerrilla tactics. Leading small, mobile bands, he attacked outposts, ambushed troop columns, cut lines of supply and communication, and then faded into the familiar terrain. Italian forces, under Rudolfo Graziani's command after 1929, were largely composed of Eritreans. Unable to fight a decisive battle with the Sanusis, Graziani imposed an exhausting war of attrition, conducting unremitting search-and-destroy missions with armored columns and air support against the oases and tribal camps that sheltered Mukhtar's men. Troops herded beduins into concentration camps, blocked wells, and slaughtered livestock. In 1930 Graziani directed construction of a barbed-wire barrier 9 meters wide and 1.5 meters high stretching 320 kilometers from the coast south along the Egyptian frontier to cut Mukhtar off from his sanctuaries and sources of supply across the border. The area around the barrier, constantly patrolled by armor and aircraft, was designated a free-fire zone. The Italians' superior manpower and technology began to take their toll on the Libyans, but Mukhtar fought on with his steadily dwindling numbers in a shrinking theater of operations, more from habit than from conviction that the Italians could be dislodged from Cyrenaica.

Al Kufrah, the last Sanusi stronghold, fell in 1931, and in September of that year Mukhtar was captured. After a summary courtmartial , he was hanged before a crowd of 20,000 Arabs assembled to witness the event. With the death of Mukhtar, Sanusi resistance collapsed, and the Italian pacification of Libya was completed. Even in defeat, Mukhtar remained a symbol of Arab defiance to colonial domination, and he was revered as a national hero.

 
 

The Fourth Shore

Once pacification had been accomplished, fascist Italy endeavored to convert Libya into an Italian province to be referred to popularly as Italy's Fourth Shore. In 1934 Tripolitania and Cyrenaica were divided into four provinces--Tripoli, Misratah, Benghazi, and Darnah--which were formally linked as a single colony known as Libya, thus officially resurrecting the name that Diocletian had applied nearly 1,500 years earlier. Fezzan, designated as South Tripolitania, remained a military territory. A governor general, called the first consul after 1937, was in overall direction of the colony, assisted by the General Consultative Council, on which Arabs were represented. Traditional tribal councils, formerly sanctioned by the Italian administration, were abolished, and all local officials were thereafter appointed by the governor general. Administrative posts at all levels were held by Italians.

An accord with Britain and Egypt obtained the transfer of a corner of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, known as the Sarra Triangle, to Italian control in 1934. The next year, a French-Italian agreement was negotiated that relocated the 1,000-kilometer border between Libya and Chad southward about 100 kilometers across the Aouzou Strip (see Glossary), but this territorial concession to Italy was never ratified by the French legislature. In 1939 Libya was incorporated into metropolitan Italy.

During the 1930s, impressive strides were made in improving the country's economic and transportation infrastructure. Italy invested capital and technology in public works projects, extension and modernization of cities, highway and railroad construction, expanded port facilities, and irrigation, but these measures were introduced to benefit the Italian-controlled modern sector of the economy. Italian development policy after World War I had called for capital-intensive "economic colonization" intended to promote the maximum exploitation of the resources available. One of the initial Italian objectives in Libya, however, had been the relief of overpopulation and unemployment in Italy through emigration to the undeveloped colony. With security established, systematic "demographic colonization" was encouraged by Mussolini's government. A project initiated by Libya's governor, Italo Balbo, brought the first 20,000 settlers--the ventimilli--to Libya in a single convoy in October 1938. More settlers followed in 1939, and by 1940 there were approximately 110,000 Italians in Libya, constituting about 12 percent of the total population. Plans envisioned an Italian colony of 500,000 settlers by the 1960s. Libya's best land was allocated to the settlers to be brought under productive cultivation, primarily in olive groves. Settlement was directed by a state corporation, the Libyan Colonization Society, which undertook land reclamation and the building of model villages and offered a grubstake and credit facilities to the settlers it had sponsored.

The Italians made modern medical care available for the first time in Libya, improved sanitary conditions in the towns, and undertook to replenish the herds and flocks that had been depleted during the war. But, although Mussolini liked to refer to the Libyans as "Muslim Italians," little more was accomplished that directly improved the living standards of the Arab population. Beduin life was disrupted as tribal grazing lands--considered underutilized by European standards but potentially fertile if reclaimed--were purchased or confiscated for distribution to Italian settlers. Complete neglect of education for Arabs prevented the development of professional and technical training, creating a shortage of skilled workers, technicians, and administrators that had not been alleviated in the late 1980s. Sanusi leaders were harried out of the country, lodges broken up, and the order suppressed, although not extinguished.

 
 

World War II and Indipendence

As Europe prepared for war, Libyan nationalists at home and in exile perceived that the best chance for liberation from colonial domination lay in Italy's defeat in a larger conflict. Such an opportunity seemed to arise when Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935, but Mussolini's defiance of the League of Nations and the feeble reaction of Britain and France dashed Libyan hopes for the time being. Planning for liberation resumed, however, with the outbreak of war in Europe in September 1939. Libyan political leaders met in Alexandria, Egypt, in October to resolve past differences in the interest of future unity. Idris was accepted as leader of the nationalist cause by Tripolitanians as well as Cyrenaicans, with the proviso that he designate an advisory committee with representatives from both regions to assist him. Differences between the two groups were too deep and long held, however, for the committee to work well.

When Italy entered the war on the side of Germany on June 10, 1940, the Cyrenaican leaders, who for some months had been in contact with British military officers in Egypt, immediately declared their support for the Allies. In Tripolitania, where Italian control was strongest, some opinion initially opposed cooperation with Britain on the ground that if the Allies lost-- which seemed highly possible in 1940--retribution would be severe. But the Cyrenaicans, with their long history of resistance to the Italians, were anxious to resume the conflict and reminded the timid Tripolitanians that conditions in the country could be no worse than they already were. Idris pointed out that it would be of little use to expect the British to support Libyan independence after the war if Libyans had not cooperated actively with them during the war.

Idris presided over a meeting of Libyan leaders hastily summoned to Cairo in August 1940, at which formal arrangements for cooperation with British military authorities were initiated. Delegates to the conference expressed full confidence in Idris in a resolution and granted him extensive powers to negotiate with the British for Libya's independence. The resolution stated further that Libyan participation with British forces should be "under the banner of the Sanusi Amirate" and that a "provisional Sanusi government" should be established.

Although a number of Tripolitanian representatives agreed to participate, the resolution was essentially a Cyrenaican measure adopted over the objections of the Tripolitanian nationalists. The Tripolitanians, suspicious of the ties between Idris and the British, held that a definite statement endorsing Libyan independence should have been obtained from Britain before Idris committed Libya to full-scale military cooperation. Also, although the Tripolitanians were reluctantly willing to accept Idris as their political chief, they rejected any religious connection with the Sanusi order. Hence they objected to the use of the term Sanusi throughout the resolution in place of Libya or even Cyrenaica. These two areas of objection--the extent of the commitment to Britain and the role of the Sanusi order in an independent, united Libya--constituted the main elements of internal political dissension during the war and early postwar years.

British officials maintained that major postwar agreements or guarantees could not be undertaken while the war was still in progress. Although he endeavored from time to time to secure a more favorable British commitment, Idris generally accepted this position and counseled his followers to have patience. Clearly, many of them were not enthusiastic about Libyan unity and would have been satisfied with the promise of a Sanusi government in Cyrenaica. After the August 1940 resolution, five Libyan battalions were organized by the British, recruited largely from Cyrenaican veterans of the Italo-Sanusi wars. The Libyan Arab Force, better known as the Sanusi Army, served with distinction under British command through the campaigns of the desert war that ended in the liberation of Cyrenaica.

In a speech in the House of Commons in January 1942, British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden acknowledged and welcomed "the contribution which Sayid Idris as Sanusi and his followers have made and are making" to the Allied war effort. He added that the British government was determined that the Sanusis in Cyrenaica should "in no circumstances again fall under Italian domination." No further commitment was made, and this statement, which made no mention of an independent Libya, remained the official British position during the war.

 
 

The Desert War

North Africa was a major theater of operations in World War II, and the war shifted three times across the face of Cyrenaica, a region described by one German general as a "tactician's paradise and a quartermaster's hell" because there were no natural defense positions between Al Agheila and Al Alamein to obstruct the tanks that fought fluid battles in the desert like warships at sea, and there was only one major highway on the coast along which to supply the quick-moving armies. The Italians invaded Egypt in September 1940, but the drive stalled at Sidi Barrani for want of logistical support. British Empire forces of the Army of the Nile, under General Archibald Wavell, counterattacked sharply in December, advancing as far as Tobruk by the end of the month. In February 1941, the Italian Tenth Army surrendered, netting Wavell 150,000 prisoners and leaving all of Cyrenaica in British hands. At no time during the campaign did Wavell have more than two full divisions at his disposal against as many as ten Italian divisions.

In March and April, Axis forces, stiffened by the arrival of the German Afrika Korps commanded by Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel, launched an offensive into Cyrenaica that cut off British troops at Tobruk. The battle seesawed back and forth in the desert as Rommel attempted to stabilize his lines along the Egyptian frontier before dealing with Tobruk in his rear, but in November British Eighth Army commander General Claude Auchinleck caught him off balance with a thrust into Cyrenaica that succeeded in relieving Tobruk, where the garrison had held out for seven months behind its defense perimeter. Auchinleck's offensive failed in its second objective--cutting off Rommel from his line of retreat.

Rommel pulled back in good order to Al Agheila, where his troops refitted for a new offensive in January 1942 that was intended to take the Axis forces to the Suez Canal. Rommel's initial attack was devastating in its boldness and swiftness. Cyrenaica had been retaken by June; Tobruk fell in a day. Rommel drove into Egypt, but his offensive was halted at Al Alamein, 100 kilometers from Alexandria. The opposing armies settled down into a stalemate in the desert as British naval and air power interdicted German convoys and road transport, gradually starving Rommel of supplies and reinforcements.

Late in October the Eighth Army, under the command of General Bernard Montgomery, broke through the Axis lines at Al Alamein in a massive offensive that sent German and Italian forces into a headlong retreat. The liberation of Cyrenaica was completed for the second time in November. Tripoli fell to the British in January 1943, and by mid-February the last Axis troops had been driven from Libya.

 
 

Allied Administration

Separate British military governments were established in Cyrenaica and in Tripolitania and continued to function until Libya achieved independence. Each was divided into several districts governed by civil affairs officers who reported to brigadiers at senior headquarters in Binghazi and Tripoli. British authority was exercised under the Hague Convention, which conveyed legislative, administrative, and judicial power to an occupying country. It was essentially a caretaker operation, the initial objective simply being to maintain peace and order and facilitate the war effort. British military officers and government emphatically stressed the nonpolitical character of the occupation government.

The British administration began the training of a badly needed Libyan civil service. Italian administrators continued to be employed in Tripoli, however. The Italian legal code remained in effect for the duration of the war. In the lightly populated Fezzan region, a French military administration formed a counterpart to the British operation. With British approval, Free French forces moved north from Chad to take control of the territory in January 1943. French administration was directed by a staff stationed in Sabha, but it was largely exercised through Fezzan notables of the family of Sayf an Nasr. At the lower echelons, French troop commanders acted in both military and civil capacities according to customary French practice in the Algerian Sahara. In the west, Ghat was attached to the French military region of southern Algeria and Ghadamis to the French command of southern Tunisia--giving rise to Libyan nationalist fears that French intentions might include the ultimate detachment of Fezzan from Libya.

 
 

The United Nations and Libya

Disposition of Italian colonial holdings was a question that had to be considered before the peace treaty officially ending the war with Italy could be completed. Technically, Libya remained an Italian possession administered by Britain and France, but at the Potsdam Conference in 1945 the Allies-- Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States--agreed that the Italian colonies seized during the war should not be returned to Italy. Further consideration of the question was delegated to the Allied Council of Foreign Ministers, which included a French representative; although all council members initially favored some form of trusteeship, no formula could be devised for disposing of Libya. The United States suggested a trusteeship for the whole country under control of the United Nations (UN), whose charter had become effective in October 1945, to prepare it for self-government. The Soviet Union proposed separate provincial trusteeships, claiming Tripolitania for itself and assigning Fezzan to France and Cyrenaica to Britain. France, seeing no end to the discussions, advocated the return of the territory to Italy. To break the impasse, Britain finally recommended immediate independence for Libya.

The peace treaty, in which Italy renounced all claims to its African possessions, was signed in February 1947 and became effective in September. The language of the treaty was vague on the subject of colonies, adding only that these territories should "remain in their present state until their future is decided." This indefinite proviso disappointed Libyan leaders, who had earlier been alarmed at Italian diplomatic agitation for return of the colonies. Libyans were apprehensive that Italian hegemony might return in some ostensibly nonpolitical guise if Italy were given responsibility for preparing the country for independence.

By mutual agreement the settlement of the Italian colonies was postponed for a year after the treaty became effective, during which time the Big Four ( Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States) were to search for a solution. If none could be found, the question was to be put before the UN General Assembly. A four-power commission of investigation was appointed to ascertain what the Libyan people desired. Although the various regional parties split over the question of the future status of their respective provinces, the majority of Libyans favored independence. The commission, however, decided that the country was not ready for self-government. Other governments interested in the settlement of the problem, notably Italy and Egypt, were consulted. In all cases, conflicting interests prevented any solution, and in due course the Libyan question was placed on the agenda of the General Assembly.

Idris had returned to Libya to a tumultuous welcome in 1944, but he declined to take up residence there until satisfied that all constraints of foreign control not subject to his agreement had been removed. At British urging, he resumed permanent residence in Cyrenaica in 1947; in 1949, with British backing, he unilaterally proclaimed Cyrenaica an independent amirate.

In the meantime, Britain and Italy had placed the Bevin-Sforza plan (after Ernest Bevin and Carlo Sforza, foreign ministers of its respective sponsors) before the UN for its consideration. Under this plan, Libya would come under UN trusteeship, and responsibility for administration in Tripolitania would be delegated to Italy, in Cyrenaica to Britain, and in Fezzan to France. At the end of ten years, Libya would become independent. Over Libyan protests, the plan was adopted by the UN Political Committee in May 1949, only to fall short by one vote of the twothirds majority required for adoption by the General Assembly. No further proposals were submitted, but protracted negotiations led to a compromise solution that was embodied in a UN resolution in November 1949. This resolution called for the establishment of a sovereign state including all three historic regions of Libya by January 1952. A UN commissioner and the so-called Council of Ten-- composed of a representative from each of the three provinces, one for the Libyan minorities, and one each for Egypt, France, Italy, Pakistan, Britain, and the United States--were to guide Libya through the period of transition to independence and to assist a Libyan national assembly in drawing up a constitution. In the final analysis, indecision on the part of the major powers had precipitated the creation of an independent state and forced the union of provinces hitherto divided by geography and history.

The General Assembly named Adrian Pelt of the Netherlands as commissioner for Libya. Severe problems confronted him and his staff in preparing for independence an economically backward and politically inexperienced country, almost totally lacking in trained managerial and technical personnel, physicians, and teachers. Of Libya's approximately 1 million inhabitants, at least 90 percent were illiterate. Libya's biggest source of income was from scrap metal salvaged from the World War II battlefields. There were no known natural resources--even Libya's sand was inadequate for glassmaking--and it was obvious that the country would be dependent on foreign economic aid for an indefinite period. Pelt argued forcefully that Italian settlers should be encouraged to remain in Libya, first, because the land they worked was private property that could not be expropriated legally, and, second, because their presence represented a long-term investment that was essential to any further economic development in the country.

Historically, the administration of Libya had been united for only a few years--and those under Italian rule. Many groups vied for influence over the people but, although all parties desired independence, there was no consensus as to what form of government was to be established. The social basis of political organization varied from region to region. In Cyrenaica and Fezzan, the tribe was the chief focus of social identification, even in an urban context. Idris had wide appeal in the former as head of the Sanusi order, while in the latter the Sayf an Nasr clan commanded a following as paramount tribal chieftains. In Tripolitania, by contrast, loyalty that in a social context was reserved largely to the family and kinship group could be transferred more easily to a political party and its leader. Tripolitanians, following the lead of Bashir as Sadawi's National Congress Party, pressed for a republican form of government in a unitary state. Inasmuch as their region had a significantly larger population and a relatively more advanced economy that the other two, they expected that under a unitary political system political power would gravitate automatically to Tripoli. Cyrenaicans, who had achieved a larger degree of cohesion under Sanusi leadership, feared the chaos they saw in Tripolitania and the threat of being swamped politically by the Tripolitanians in a unitary state. Guided by the National Front, endorsed by Idris initially to advocate unilateral independence for Cyrenaica, they backed formation of a federation with a weak central government that would permit local autonomy under Idris as amir. But even in Cyrenaica a cleavage existed between an older generation that thought instinctively in provincial terms and a younger generation--many of whom were influenced by their membership in the Umar al Mukhtar Club, a political action group first formed in 1942 with Idris' blessing but by 1947 tending toward republican and nationalist views--whose outlook reflected the rise of pan-Arab political nationalism, already a strong force in the Middle East and growing in Libya.

To implement the General Assembly's directive, Pelt approved the appointment of the Preparatory Committee of Twenty-One to determine the composition of a national constitutional convention. The committee included seven members from each province, nominated in Cyrenaica by Idris, in Fezzan by the Sayf an Nasr chieftains, and in Tripolitania by the grand mufti (chief religious judge) of Tripoli, who also acted as its chairman. Nationalists objected that the committee represented traditional regional interests and could not reflect the will of the Libyan people as the General Assembly had intended.

The product of the committee's deliberations was the creation of the National Constituent Assembly, in which each of the three provinces was equally represented. Meeting for the first time in November 1950, the assembly approved a federal system of government with a monarchy, despite dissent from Tripolitanian delegates, and offered the throne to Idris. Committees of the assembly drafted a constitution, which was duly adopted in October 1951. Meanwhile, internal administrative authority had already been transferred by British and French administrations to the regional governments--and in Cyrenaica to the independent Sanusi amirate. On December 24, 1951, King Idris I proclaimed the independence of the United Kingdom of Libya as a sovereign state.

 
 

Indipendent Libya

King Idris I, the first leader of independent Libya

Under the constitution of October 1951, the federal monarchy of Libya was headed by King Idris as chief of state, with succession to his designated heirs. Substantial political power resided with the king. The executive arm of the government consisted of a prime minister and Council of Ministers designated by the king but also responsible to the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of a bicameral legislature. The Senate, or upper house, consisted of eight representatives from each of the three provinces. Half of the senators were nominated by the king, who also had the right to veto legislation and to dissolve the lower house. Local autonomy in the provinces was exercised through provincial governments and legislatures. Benghazi and Tripoli served alternately as the national capital.

Several factors, rooted in Libya's history, affected the political development of the newly independent country. They reflected the differing political orientations of the provinces and the ambiguities inherent in Libya's monarchy. First, after the first general elections, which were held on February 19, 1952, political parties were abolished. The National Congress Party, which had campaigned against a federal form of government, was defeated throughout the country. The party was outlawed, and Sadawi was deported. Second, provincial ties continued to be more important than national ones, and the federal and provincial governments were constantly in dispute over their respective spheres of authority. A third problem derived from the lack of a direct heir to the throne. To remedy this situation, Idris in 1953 designated his sixty-year-old brother to succeed him. When the original heir apparent died, the king appointed his nephew, Prince Hasan ar Rida, his successor.

In its foreign policy, Libya maintained a pro-Western stance and was recognized as belonging to the conservative traditionalist bloc in the League of Arab States (Arab League), of which it became a member in 1953. The same year Libya concluded a twenty-year treaty of friendship and alliance with Britain under which the latter received military bases in exchange for financial and military assistance. The next year, Libya and the United States signed an agreement under which the United States also obtained military base rights, subject to renewal in 1970, in return for economic aid to Libya. The most important of the United States installations in Libya was Wheelus Air Base, near Tripoli, considered a strategically valuable installation in the 1950s and early 1960s. Reservations set aside in the desert were used by British and American military aircraft based in Europe as practice firing ranges. Libya forged close ties with France, Italy, Greece, and Turkey, and established full diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union in 1955, but declined a Soviet offer of economic aid.

As part of a broad assistance package, the UN Technical Assistance Board agreed to sponsor a technical aid program that emphasized the development of agriculture and education. Foreign powers, notably Britain and the United States, provided development aid. Steady economic improvement occurred, but the pace was slow, and Libya remained a poor and underdeveloped country heavily dependent on foreign aid.

This situation changed suddenly and dramatically in June 1959 when research prospectors from Esso (later renamed Exxon) confirmed the location of major petroleum deposits at Zaltan in Cyrenaica. Further discoveries followed, and commercial development was quickly initiated by concession holders who returned 50 percent of their profits to the Libyan government in taxes. In the petroleum market, Libya's advantages lay not only in the quantity but also in the high quality of its crude product. Libya's proximity and direct linkage to Europe by sea were further marketing advantages. The discovery and exploitation of petroleum turned the vast, sparsely populated, impoverished country into a independently wealthy nation with potential for extensive development and thus constituted a major turning point in Libyan history (see Hydrocarbons and Mining , ch. 3).

As development of petroleum resources progressed in the early 1960s, Libya launched its first Five-Year Plan, 1963-68. One negative result of the new wealth from petroleum, however, was a decline in agricultural production, largely through neglect. Internal Libyan politics continued to be stable, but the federal form of government had proven inefficient and cumbersome. In April 1963, Prime Minister Muhi ad Din Fakini secured adoption by parliament of a bill, endorsed by the king, that abolished the federal form of government, establishing in its place a unitary, monarchical state with a dominant central government. By legislation, the historical divisions of Cyrenaica, Tripolitania, and Fezzan were to be eliminated and the country divided into ten new provinces, each headed by an appointed governor. The legislature revised the constitution in 1963 to reflect the change from a federal to a unitary state.

In regional affairs, Libya enjoyed the advantage of not having aggravated boundary disputes with its neighbors. Libya was one of the thirty founding members of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), established in 1963, and in November 1964 participated with Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia in forming a joint consultative committee aimed at economic cooperation among North African states. Although it supported Arab causes, including the Moroccan and Algerian independence movements, Libya took little active part in the Arab-Israeli dispute or the tumultuous inter-Arab politics of the 1950s and the early 1960s.

Nevertheless, the brand of Arab nationalism propounded by Egypt's Gamal Abdul Nasser exercised an increasing influence, particularly among the younger generation. In response to antiWestern agitation in 1964, Libya's essentially pro-Western government requested the evacuation of British and American bases before the dates specified in the treaties. Most British forces were in fact withdrawn in 1966, although the evacuation of foreign military installations, including Wheelus Air Base, was not completed until March 1970.

The June 1967 War between Israel and its Arab neighbors aroused a strong reaction in Libya, particularly in Tripoli and Benghazi, where dock and oil workers as well as students were involved in violent demonstrations. The United States and British embassies and oil company offices were damaged in rioting. Members of the small Jewish community were also attacked, prompting the emigration of almost all remaining Libyan Jews. The government restored order, but thereafter attempts to modernize the small and ineffective Libyan armed forces and to reform the grossly inefficient Libyan bureaucracy foundered upon conservative opposition to the nature and pace of the proposed reforms.

Although Libya was clearly on record as supporting Arab causes in general, the country did not play an important role in Arab politics. At the Arab summit conference held at Khartoum in September 1967, however, Libya, along with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, agreed to provide generous subsidies from oil revenues to aid Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, defeated in June by Israel. Also, Idris first broached the idea of taking collective action to increase the price of oil on the world market. Libya, nonetheless, continued its close association with the West, while Idris' government steered an essentially conservative course at home.

After the forming of the Libyan state in 1963, Idris' government had tried--not very successfully--to promote a sense of Libyan nationalism built around the institution of the monarchy. But Idris himself was first and foremost a Cyrenaican, never at ease in Tripolitania. His political interests were essentially Cyrenaican, and he understood that whatever real power he had--and it was more considerable than what he derived from the constitution--lay in the loyalty he commanded as amir of Cyrenaica and head of the Sanusi order. Idris' pro-Western sympathies and identification with the conservative Arab bloc were especially resented by an increasingly politicized urban elite that favored nonalignment. Aware of the potential of their country's natural wealth, many Libyans had also become conscious that its benefits reached very few of the population. An ominous undercurrent of dissatisfaction with corruption and malfeasance in the bureaucracy began to appear as well, particularly among young officers of the armed forces who were influenced by Nasser's Arab nationalist ideology.

Alienated from the most populous part of the country, from the cities, and from a younger generation of Libyans, Idris spent more and more time at his palace in Darnah, near the British military base. In June 1969, the king left the country for rest and medical treatment in Greece and Turkey, leaving Crown Prince Hasan ar Rida as regent.

 
 

The September 1969 Coup

Wheelus Air Base, in the mid-1960s, before the United States turned over control to the Qadhafi regime
Courtesy United States Air Force

On September 1, 1969, in a daring coup d'état, a group of about seventy young army officers and enlisted men, mostly assigned to the Signal Corps, seized control of the government and in a stroke abolished the Libyan monarchy. The coup was launched at Benghazi, and within two hours the takeover was completed. Army units quickly rallied in support of the coup, and within a few days firmly established military control in Tripoli and elsewhere throughout the country. Popular reception of the coup, especially by younger people in the urban areas, was enthusiastic. Fears of resistance in Cyrenaica and Fezzan proved unfounded. No deaths or violent incidents related to the coup were reported.

The Free Officers Movement, which claimed credit for carrying out the coup, was headed by a twelve-member directorate that designated itself the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC). This body constituted the Libyan government after the coup. In its initial proclamation on September 1, the RCC declared the country to be a free and sovereign state called the Libyan Arab Republic, which would proceed, with the help of God, "in the path of freedom, unity, and social justice, guaranteeing the right of equality to its citizens, and opening before them the doors of honorable work." The rule of the Turks and Italians and the "reactionary" regime just overthrown were characterized as belonging to "dark ages," from which the Libyan people were called to move forward as "free brothers" to a new age of prosperity, equality, and honor.

The RCC advised diplomatic representatives in Libya that the revolutionary changes had not been directed from outside the country, that existing treaties and agreements would remain in effect, and that foreign lives and property would be protected. Diplomatic recognition of the new regime came quickly from countries throughout the world. United States recognition was officially extended on September 6.

In view of the lack of internal resistance, it appeared that the chief danger to the new regime lay in the possibility of a reaction inspired by the absent King Idris or his designated heir, Hasan ar Rida, who had been taken into custody at the time of the coup along with other senior civil and military officials of the royal government.

Within days of the coup, however, Hasan publicly renounced all rights to the throne, stated his support for the new regime, and called on the people to accept it without violence. Idris, in an exchange of messages with the RCC through Egypt's President Nasser, dissociated himself from reported attempts to secure British intervention and disclaimed any intention of coming back to Libya. In return, he was assured by the RCC of the safety of his family still in the country. At his own request and with Nasser's approval, Idris took up residence once again in Egypt, where he had spent his first exile and where he remained until his death in 1983.

On September 7, 1969, the RCC announced that it had appointed a cabinet to conduct the government of the new republic. An American-educated technician, Mahmud Sulayman al Maghrabi, who had been imprisoned since 1967 for his political activities, was designated prime minister. He presided over the eight-member Council of Ministers, of whom six, like Maghrabi, were civilians and two--Adam Said Hawwaz and Musa Ahmad--were military officers. Neither of the officers was a member of the RCC. The Council of Ministers was instructed to "implement the state's general policy as drawn up by the RCC," leaving no doubt where ultimate authority rested. The next day the RCC decided to promote Captain Muammar al Qadhafi to colonel and to appoint him commander in chief of the Libyan Armed Forces. Although RCC spokesmen declined until January 1970 to reveal any other names of RCC members, it was apparent from that date onward that the head of the RCC and new de facto head of state was the ascetic, deeply religious, twenty-seven-year-old Colonel Qadhafi.

Analysts were quick to point out the striking similarities between the Libyan military coup of 1969 and that in Egypt under Nasser in 1952, and it became clear that the Egyptian experience and the charismatic figure of Nasser had formed the model for the Free Officers Movement. As the RCC in the last months of 1969 moved vigorously to institute domestic reforms, it proclaimed neutrality in the confrontation between the superpowers and opposition to all forms of colonialism and "imperialism." It also made clear Libya's dedication to Arab unity and to the support of the Palestinian cause against Israel. The RCC reaffirmed the country's identity as part of the "Arab nation" and its state religion as Islam. It abolished parliamentary institutions, all legislative functions being assumed by the RCC, and continued the prohibition against political parties, in effect since 1952. The new regime categorically rejected communism--in large part because it was atheistic--and officially espoused an Arab interpretation of socialism that integrated Islamic principles with social, economic, and political reform. Libya had shifted, virtually overnight, from the camp of conservative Arab traditionalist states to that of the radical nationalist states.

 
 

Qadhafi and the Revolutionary Command Council

Muammar al Qadhafi was born in a beduin tent in the desert near Surt in 1942. His family belongs to a small tribe of Arabized Berbers, the Qadhafa, who are stockherders with holdings in the Hun Oasis. As a boy, Qadhafi attended a Muslim elementary school, during which time the major events occurring in the Arab world--the Arab defeat in Palestine in 1948 and Nasser's rise to power in Egypt in 1952--profoundly influenced him. He finished his secondary school studies under a private tutor in Misratah, paying particular attention to the study of history.

Qadhafi formed the essential elements of his political philosophy and his world view as a schoolboy. His education was entirely Arabic and strongly Islamic, much of it under Egyptian teachers. From this education and his desert background, Qadhafi derived his devoutness and his austere, even puritanical, code of personal conduct and morals. Essentially an Arab populist, Qadhafi held family ties to be important and upheld the beduin code of egalitarian simplicity and personal honor, distrusting sophisticated, axiomatically corrupt, urban politicians. Qadhafi's ideology, fed by Radio Cairo during his formative years, was an ideology of renascent Arab nationalism on the Egyptian model, with Nasser as hero and the Egyptian revolution as a guide.

In Libya, as in a number of other Arab countries, admission to the military academy and a career as an army officer became available to members of the lower economic strata only after independence. A military career offered a new opportunity for higher education, for upward economic and social mobility, and was for many the only available means of political action and rapid change. For Qadhafi and many of his fellow officers, who were animated by Nasser's brand of Arab nationalism as well as by an intense hatred of Israel, a military career was a revolutionary vocation.

Qadhafi entered the Libyan military academy at Binghazi in 1961 and, along with most of his colleagues from the RCC, graduated in the 1965-66 period. After receiving his commission, he was selected for several months of further training at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, England. Qadhafi's association with the Free Officers Movement began during his days as a cadet. The frustration and shame felt by Libyan officers who stood by helplessly at the time of Israel's swift and humiliating defeat of Arab armies on three fronts in 1967 fueled their determination to contribute to Arab unity by overthrowing the Libyan monarchy.

At the onset of RCC rule, Qadhafi and his associates insisted that their government would not rest on individual leadership, but rather on collegial decision making. However, Qadhafi's ascetic but colorful personality, striking appearance, energy, and intense ideological style soon created an impression of Qadhafi as dictator and the balance of the RCC as little more than his rubber stamp. This impression was inaccurate and although some members were more pragmatic, less demonstrative, or less ascetic than Qadhafi, the RCC showed a high degree of uniformity in political and economic outlook and in dedication. Fellow RCC members were loyal to Qadhafi as group leader, observers believed, not because of bureaucratic subservience to his dictatorial power, but because they were in basic agreement with him and with the revolutionary Arab nationalist ideals that he articulated.

Although the RCC's principle of conducting executive operations through a predominantly civilian cabinet of technicianadministrators remained strong, circumstances and pressures brought about modifications. The first major cabinet change occurred soon after the first challenge to the regime. In December 1969, Adam Said Hawwaz, the minister of defense, and Musa Ahmad, the minister of interior, were arrested and accused of planning a coup. In the new cabinet formed after the crisis, Qadhafi, retaining his post as chairman of the RCC, also became prime minister and defense minister. Major Abdel Salam Jallud, generally regarded as second only to Qadhafi in the RCC, became deputy prime minister and minister of interior. This cabinet totaled thirteen members, of whom five were RCC officers. The regime was challenged a second time in July 1970 when Abdullah Abid Sanusi, a distant cousin of former King Idris, and members of the Sayf an Nasr clan of Fezzan were accused of plotting to seize power for themselves. After the plot was foiled, a substantial cabinet change occurred, RCC officers for the first time forming a majority among new ministers.

From the start, RCC spokesmen had indicated a serious intent to bring the "defunct regime" to account. In 1971 and 1972 more than 200 former government officials--including 7 prime ministers and numerous cabinet ministers--as well as former King Idris and members of the royal family, were brought to trial on charges of treason and corruption. Many, who like Idris lived in exile, were tried in absentia. Although a large percentage of those charged were acquitted, sentences of up to fifteen years in prison and heavy fines were imposed on others. Five death sentences, all but one of them in absentia, were pronounced, among them, one against Idris. Fatima, the former queen, and Hasan ar Rida were sentenced to five and three years in prison, respectively.

Meanwhile, Qadhafi and the RCC had disbanded the Sanusi order and officially downgraded its historical role in achieving Libya's independence. They attacked regional and tribal differences as obstructions in the path of social advancement and Arab unity, dismissing traditional leaders and drawing administrative boundaries across tribal groupings. A broad-based political party, the Arab Socialist Union (ASU), was created in 1971 and modeled after Egypt's Arab Socialist Union. Its intent was to raise the political consciousness of Libyans and to aid the RCC in formulating public policy through debate in open forums. All other political parties were proscribed. Trade unions were incorporated into the ASU and strikes forbidden. The press, already subject to censorship, was officially conscripted in 1972 as an agent of the revolution. Italians and what remained of the Jewish community were expelled from the country and their property confiscated.

After the September coup, United States forces proceeded deliberately with the planned withdrawal from Wheelus Air Base under the agreement made with the previous regime. The last of the American contingent turned the facility over to the Libyans on June 11, 1970, a date thereafter celebrated in Libya as a national holiday. As relations with the United States steadily deteriorated, Qadhafi forged close links with the Soviet Union and other East European countries, all the while maintaining Libya's stance as a nonaligned country and opposing the spread of communism in the Arab world. Libya's army--sharply increased from the 6,000-man prerevolutionary force that had been trained and equipped by the British--was armed with Soviet-built armor and missiles (see Foreign Military Assistance , ch. 5).

As months passed, Qadhafi, caught up in his apocalyptic visions of revolutionary pan-Arabism and Islam locked in mortal struggle with what he termed the encircling, demonic forces of reaction, imperialism, and Zionism, increasingly devoted attention to international rather than internal affairs. As a result, routine administrative tasks fell to Major Jallud, who in 1972 became prime minister in place of Qadhafi. Two years later Jallud assumed Qadhafi's remaining administrative and protocol duties to allow Qadhafi to devote his time to revolutionary theorizing. Qadhafi remained commander in chief of the armed forces and effective head of state. The foreign press speculated about an eclipse of his authority and personality within the RCC, but Qadhafi soon dispelled such theories by his measures to restructure Libyan society.

 
 

The Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya

The remaking of Libyan society that Qadhafi envisioned and to which he devoted his energies after the early 1970s formally began in 1973 with a so-called cultural or popular revolution. The revolution was designed to combat bureaucratic inefficiency, lack of public interest and participation in the subnational governmental system, and problems of national political coordination. In an attempt to instill revolutionary fervor into his compatriots and to involve large numbers of them in political affairs, Qadhafi urged them to challenge traditional authority and to take over and run government organs themselves. The instrument for doing this was the "people's committee." Within a few months, such committees were found all across Libya. They were functionally and geographically based and eventually became responsible for local and regional administration.

People's committees were established in such widely divergent organizations as universities, private business firms, government bureaucracies, and the broadcast media. Geographically based committees were formed at the governorate, municipal, and zone (lowest) levels. Seats on the people's committees at the zone level were filled by direct popular election; members so elected could then be selected for service at higher levels. By mid-1973 estimates of the number of people's committees ranged above 2,000.

In the scope of their administrative and regulatory tasks and the method of their members' selection, the people's committees embodied the concept of direct democracy that Qadhafi propounded in the first volume of The Green Book, which appeared in 1976. The same concept lay behind proposals to create a new political structure composed of "people's congresses." The centerpiece of the new system was the General People's Congress (GPC--see Glossary), a national representative body intended to replace the RCC.

The new political order took shape in March 1977 when the GPC, at Qadhafi's behest, adopted the "Declaration of the Establishment of the People's Authority" and proclaimed the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. The term jamahiriya is difficult to translate, but American scholar Lisa Anderson has suggested "peopledom" or "state of the masses" as a reasonable approximation of Qadhafi's concept that the people should govern themselves free of any constraints, especially those of the modern bureaucratic state. The GPC also adopted resolutions designating Qadhafi as its general secretary and creating the General Secretariat of the GPC, comprising the remaining members of the defunct RCC. It also appointed the General People's Committee, which replaced the Council of Ministers, its members now called secretaries rather than ministers.

All legislative and executive authority was vested in the GPC. This body, however, delegated most of its important authority to its general secretary and General Secretariat and to the General People's Committee. Qadhafi, as general secretary of the GPC, remained the primary decision maker, just as he had been when chairman of the RCC. In turn, all adults had the right and duty to participate in the deliberation of their local Basic People's Congress (BPC), whose decisions were passed up to the GPC for consideration and implementation as national policy. The BPCs were in theory the repository of ultimate political authority and decision making, being the embodiment of what Qadhafi termed direct "people's power." The 1977 declaration and its accompanying resolutions amounted to a fundamental revision of the 1969 constitutional proclamation, especially with respect to the structure and organization of the government at both national and subnational levels.

Continuing to revamp Libya's political and administrative structure, Qadhafi introduced yet another element into the body politic. Beginning in 1977, "revolutionary committees" (see Glossary) were organized and assigned the task of "absolute revolutionary supervision of people's power"; that is, they were to guide the people's committees, raise the general level of political consciousness and devotion to revolutionary ideals, and guard against deviation and opposition in the BPCs. Filled with politically astute zealots, the ubiquitous revolutionary committees in 1979 assumed control of BPC elections. Although they were not official government organs, the revolutionary committees became another mainstay of the domestic political scene. As with the people's committees and other administrative innovations since the revolution, the revolutionary committees fit the pattern of imposing a new element on the existing subnational system of government rather than eliminating or consolidating already existing structures. By the late 1970s, the result was an unnecessarily complex system of overlapping jurisdictions in which cooperation and coordination among different elements were compromised by ill-defined grants of authority and responsibility.

The changes in Libyan leadership since 1976 culminated in March 1979, when the GPC declared that the "vesting of power in the masses" and the "separation of the state from the revolution" were complete. Qadhafi relinquished his duties as general secretary of the GPC, being known thereafter as "the leader" or "Leader of the Revolution." He remained supreme commander of the armed forces. His replacement was Abdallah Ubaydi, who in effect had been prime minister since 1979. The RCC was formally dissolved and the government was again reorganized into people's committees. A new General People's Committee (cabinet) was selected, each of its "secretaries" becoming head of a specialized people's committee; the exceptions were the "secretariats" of petroleum, foreign affairs, and heavy industry, where there were no people's committees. A proposal was also made to establish a "people's army" by substituting a national militia, being formed in the late 1970s, for the national army. Although the idea surfaced again in early 1982, it did not appear to be close to implementation (see Conscription and the People's Militia , ch. 5).

Remaking of the economy was parallel with the attempt to remold political and social institutions. Until the late 1970s, Libya's economy was mixed, with a large role for private enterprise except in the fields of oil production and distribution, banking, and insurance. But according to volume two of Qadhafi's Green Book, which appeared in 1978, private retail trade, rent, and wages were forms of "exploitation" that should be abolished. Instead, workers' self-management committees and profit participation partnerships were to function in public and private enterprises. A property law was passed that forbade ownership of more than one private dwelling, and Libyan workers took control of a large number of companies, turning them into state-run enterprises. Retail and wholesale trading operations were replaced by state-owned "people's supermarkets" (see Role of the Government , ch. 3), where Libyans in theory could purchase whatever they needed at low prices. By 1981 the state had also restricted access to individual bank accounts to draw upon privately held funds for government projects.

While measures such as these undoubtedly benefited poorer Libyans, they created resentment and opposition among the newly dispossessed. The latter joined those already alienated, some of whom had begun to leave the country. By 1982 perhaps 50,000 to 100,000 Libyans had gone abroad; because many of the emigrants were among the enterprising and better educated Libyans, they represented a significant loss of managerial and technical expertise.

Some of the exiles formed active opposition groups. Although the groups were generally ineffective, Qadhafi nevertheless in early 1979 warned opposition leaders to return home immediately or face "liquidation." A wave of assassinations of prominent Libyan exiles, mostly in Western Europe, followed. Few opponents responded to the 1979 call to "repentance" or to a similar one issued in October 1982 in which Qadhafi once again threatened liquidation of the recalcitrant, the GPC having already declared their personal property forfeit.

Internal opposition came from elements of the middle class who opposed Qadhafi's economic reforms and from students and intellectuals who criticized his ideology. He also incurred the anger of the Islamic community for his unorthodox interpretations of the doctrine and traditions of Islam, his challenge to the authority of the religious establishment, and his contention that the ideas in The Green Book were compatible with and based upon Islam. Endowed Islamic properties ( habus--see Glossary) were nationalized as part of Qadhafi's economic reforms, and he urged "the masses" to take over mosques.

The most serious challenges came from the armed forces, especially the officers' corps, and from the RCC. Perhaps the most important one occurred in 1975 when Minister of Planning and RCC member Major Umar Mihayshi and about thirty army officers attempted a coup after disagreements over political economic policies. The failure of the coup led to the flight of Mihayshi and part of the country's technocratic elite. In a move that signaled a new intolerance of dissent, the regime executed twenty-two of the accused army officers in 1977, the first such punishment in more than twenty years. Further executions of dissident army officers were reported in 1979, and in August 1980 several hundred people were allegedly killed in the wake of an unsuccessful army revolt centered in Tobruk.

 
 

Petroleum Politics

The economic base for Libya's revolution has been its oil revenues. However, Libya's petroleum reserves were small compared with those of other major Arab petroleum-producing states. As a consequence, Libya was more ready to ration output in order to conserve its natural wealth and less responsive to moderating its price-rise demands than the other countries. Petroleum was seen both as a means of financing the economic and social development of a woefully underdeveloped country and as a political weapon to brandish in the Arab struggle against Israel.

The increase in production that followed the 1969 revolution was accompanied by Libyan demands for higher petroleum prices, a greater share of revenues, and more control over the development of the country's petroleum industry (see Hydrocarbons and Mining , ch. 3). Foreign petroleum companies agreed to a price hike of more than three times the going rate (from US$0.90 to US$3.45 per barrel) early in 1971. In December the Libyan government suddenly nationalized the holdings of British Petroleum in Libya and withdrew funds amounting to approximately US$550 million invested in British banks as a result of a foreign policy dispute. British Petroleum rejected as inadequate a Libyan offer of compensation, and the British treasury banned Libya from participation in the sterling area. In 1973 the Libyan government announced the nationalization of a controlling interest in all other petroleum companies operating in the country. This step gave Libya control of about 60 percent of its domestic oil production by early 1974, a figure that subsequently rose to 70 percent. Total nationalization was out of the question, given the need for foreign expertise and funds in oil exploration, production, and distribution.

Insisting on the continued use of petroleum as leverage against Israel and its supporters in the West, Libya strongly supported formation of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 1973, and Libyan militancy was partially responsible for OPEC measures to raise oil prices, impose embargoes, and gain control of production. As a consequence of such policies, Libya's oil production declined by half between 1970 and 1974, while revenues from oil exports more than quadrupled. Production continued to fall, bottoming out at an eleven-year low in 1975 at a time when the government was preparing to invest large amounts of petroleum revenues in other sectors of the economy. Thereafter, output stabilized at about 2 million barrels per day. Production and hence income declined yet again in the early 1980s because of the high price of Libyan crude and because recession in the industrialized world reduced demand for oil from all sources.

Libya's Five-Year Economic and Social Transformation Plan (1976-80), announced in 1975, was programmed to pump US$20 billion into the development of a broad range of economic activities that would continue to provide income after Libya's petroleum reserves had been exhausted. Agriculture was slated to receive the largest share of aid in an effort to make Libya self-sufficient in food and to help keep the rural population on the land (see Agriculture , ch. 3). Industry, of which there was little before the revolution, also received a significant amount of funding in the first development plan as well as in the second, launched in 1981 (see Industry , ch. 3).

Libya continued to be plagued with a shortage of skilled labor, which had to be imported along with a broad range of consumer goods, both paid for with petroleum income. This same oil revenue, however, made possible a substantial improvement in the lives of virtually all Libyans. During the 1970s, the government succeeded in making major improvements in the general welfare of its citizens. By the 1980s Libyans enjoyed much improved housing and education, comprehensive social welfare services, and general standards of health that were among the highest in Africa (see Education; Health and Welfare, ch. 2).

 
 

Libya and Arab Unity

Qadhafi became the foremost exponent of Arab unity in the 1970s. Although all Arab governments endorsed the idea in principle, most observed that conditions were not right for putting it into practice or that unity would come only at the end of a long process of historical evolution. But Qadhafi rejected these views. As he conceived it, Arab unity was not an ideal but a realistic goal. He agreed that achieving Arab unity was a process that required sequential and intermediate stages of development, but the challenge he posed to other Arab leaders was that the process had to begin somewhere. Qadhafi expressed his determination to make a contribution to the process and offered Libya as the leavening agent (see Arab Relations , ch. 4).

Throughout 1970 Qadhafi consulted with Egyptian and Sudanese leaders about how to achieve some form of union. Nasser died in September 1970, but Egyptian participation in the unity talks continued under his successor, President Anwar as Sadat. It was the young Qadhafi, however, who moved to assume Nasser's mantle as the ideological leader of Arab nationalism.

At the request of its new head of state, Lieutenant General Hafiz al Assad, the unity talks were expanded to include Syria. After further meetings, Qadhafi, Sadat, and Assad simultaneously announced in April 1971 the formation of a federation of Libya, Egypt, and Syria. The three heads of state signed a draft constitution in August that was overwhelmingly approved in referenda in all three countries. Sadat was named the first president of a council of heads of state that was to be the governing body for the Federation of Arab Republics (FAR), which came into existence on paper on January 1, 1972. Broad plans were drawn up to provide for a full-fledged merger affecting the legal systems, laws, employment, armed forces, and foreign policies of all three countries. Agreement on specific measures, however, eluded the FAR leaders, and the federation never progressed beyond making symbolic gestures of unity, such as the adoption of a common flag.

For Qadhafi, the FAR was a step on the road to achieving his ultimate goal: the comprehensive union of the "Arab Nation." Although he remained the federation's most ardent backer, Qadhafi was never satisfied with the approach taken by his Egyptian and Syrian partners toward what he termed the "battle plan" for confrontation with Israel. Nonetheless, he initiated talks with Sadat on full political union between Egypt and Libya, which would merge the neighboring countries into a single state within the framework of the FAR.

At first glance, the proposed merger seemed like the mating of a whale with a minnow. Egypt's population was 34 million, Libya's under 2 million. But Libya's annual per capita income was fourteen times that of Egypt. Its fiscal reserves in 1972 were estimated at more than the equivalent of US$2.5 billion--at least ten times the amount held by Egypt.

Sadat pledged support for the project at the conclusion of a conference with Qadhafi in August 1972. Soon, however, real obstacles to the merger arose, including the serious personal disagreement that developed between the two leaders over a timetable for the union. Qadhafi called for immediate unification, the framing of a constitution to follow; Sadat insisted on step-by- step integration and thorough preparation of the instruments of union. During 1973 Qadhafi went so far as to offer to resign as Libyan head of state if his departure would placate Sadat, whose enthusiasm for the merger had waned conspicuously. Qadhafi also organized a "holy march" on Cairo by an estimated 30,000 Libyans to demonstrate Libyan support for the merger, but to no avail. The September 1, 1973, date that Sadat had set for final action to be taken on the merger passed without notice in Cairo, hardly a surprising development because many Egyptians as well as Libyans had come to oppose the project. Opposition stemmed from the historical antipathy between Egyptians and Libyans and such factors as the incompatibility of the two political systems, with Egypt being considerably more democratic than Libya as well as more secular in orientation.

Qadhafi envisioned the combination of Libya's wealth and Egypt's manpower and military capacity as the key element for the success of the Arab struggle against Israel. For example, to further this success, Libyan aircraft were secretly transferred to the Egyptian air force and subsequently saw action in the October 1973 War. It was that war with Israel, however, that proved to be the watershed in relations between the two Arab states. The joint Egyptian-Syrian operation came as a surprise to Qadhafi, who had been excluded from its planning by Sadat and Assad. The Libyan leader castigated his erstwhile FAR partners for wasting resources in fighting a war for limited objectives, and he was appalled by Sadat's agreement to a cease-fire after the successful Israeli counteroffensive. He accused the Egyptian leader of cowardice and of purposely sabotaging the federation. In response, Sadat revealed that he had intervened in 1973 to prevent a planned Libyan submarine attack on the S.S. Queen Elizabeth II while the British liner was carrying a Jewish tourist group in the Mediterranean. Thereafter, relations between the two leaders degenerated into a series of charges and countercharges that effectively ended any talk of merger.

In the mid-1970s, Qadhafi undertook a major armaments program paid for by the higher post-1973 oil revenues. He wished to play a major role in Middle East affairs based on military strength and increasing uneasiness with Sadat's policies. To acquire sophisticated weapons, Qadhafi turned to the Soviet Union, with which his relations grew closer as Sadat leaned more and more toward a peaceful solution of the Arab-Israeli problem. Mutual suspicion between Sadat and Qadhafi, plus Egyptian charges of Libyan subversion, led to a brief but sharp shooting war along their common frontier in July 1977. Egyptian forces advanced a short distance into Libya before Algerian mediation ended the fighting. The conflict occasioned the departure from Libya of thousands of Egyptians employed in the petroleum industry, agriculture, commerce, education, and the bureaucracy, causing disruption of Libyan economic activities and public services.

The major break between Egypt and Libya came over Sadat's journey to Jerusalem the following November and the conclusion of a separate peace with Israel in September 1978. Not only were diplomatic relations between Egypt and Libya broken, but Libya played a leading role in organizing the Steadfastness and Confrontation Front in December 1977. The front's members were Libya, Syria, Algeria, the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen ( South Yemen), and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), all of whom bitterly opposed Sadat's peace initiatives. Qadhafi favored the isolation of Egypt as punishment, because he adamantly rejected a peaceful solution with Israel. He subsequently toned down his more extreme rhetoric in the interest of forging unity among Arab states in opposing the policies of President Sadat and his successor, Husni Mubarak.

Qadhafi's quest for unity on his western border was similarly fruitless. A proposed union with Tunisia in 1974 was immediately repudiated by Habib Bourguiba, Tunisia's president. This incident, together with Tunisian accusations of Libyan subversion and a quarrel over demarcation of the continental shelf with its oil fields, thoroughly soured relations. Then in early 1980 a group of disgruntled Tunisians staged an abortive revolt at Gafsa in central Tunisia, disguised as a cross-border attack from Algeria. Bourguiba accused Qadhafi of engineering the incident and suspended diplomatic relations with Tripoli. Qadhafi denied involvement, but relations between Tripoli and Tunis remained at low ebb.

Having failed to achieve union with Egypt and Tunisia, Qadhafi turned once again to Syria. In September 1980, Assad agreed to yet another merger with Libya. This attempt at a unified state came at a time when both countries were diplomatically isolated. As part of the agreement, Libya undertook to pay a debt of US$1 billion that Syria owed the Soviet Union for weapons.

Ironically, this successful union with Syria confounded Qadhafi's pan-Arab ambitions. When war broke out between Iran and Iraq in September 1980, Libya and Syria were the only Arab states to give unqualified support to non-Arab Iran. At the same time, the war brought a break in Libya's relations with Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Yet another obstacle arose in December 1981 when Qadhafi had to contend with the first of two airline hijackings carried out by Lebanese Shias seeking information about their leader, Imam Musa Sadr, who had disappeared while on a visit to Libya in 1978. Both hijackings ended without release of or news about Musa Sadr, whose disappearance badly tarnished Libya's image among Shias in Lebanon, Iran, and elsewhere.

 
 

Libyan Ventures in Sub-Saharan Africa

Qadhafi's approach to sub-Saharan Africa revolved around several basic concerns: the attempt to increase Libyan influence in Muslim or partly Muslim states, promotion of Islamic unity, and support, often uncritical, for African liberation movements. One of Qadhafi's frequently stated goals was the creation of a Saharan Islamic state, but critics accused him of being more interested in empire than in fostering and promoting Islam. The aforementioned objectives governed his relations with African states, and nowhere more so than in neighboring Chad and Sudan.

Libya had been deeply involved in Chad since the early 1970s. Reasons for this involvement included tribal and religious affinities between northern Chad and southern Libya and a contested common border dating back to the colonial period. In 1973 Libya occupied the Aouzou Strip. The territory, which allegedly contains significant deposits of uranium and other minerals, gave the Libyans a solid foothold in Chad. From his Aouzou Strip base Qadhafi also gave moral and material aid to northern dissidents in the prolonged Chadian civil war. In the late 1970s, these dissidents were led Goukouni Oueddei, the leader of the Tebu (see Peoples of Libya , ch. 2).

After failure in the 1970s of mediation efforts in which Libya was deeply involved, Qadhafi provided equipment and troops to Goukouni that enabled him to capture N'Djamena, Chad's capital, in December 1980. In January the two leaders called for a merger of their countries, but the outcry among a number of West African states and from France, the former Chadian colonial power, was so great that the proposal was dropped. Even within Goukouni's own forces, there was considerable opposition to Libya's presence and tactics. Under persistent international pressure, Libya's estimated 10,000 to 15,000 troops withdrew to the Aouzou Strip in November 1981. Opposition forces under Hissein Habré subsequently drove Goukouni back north, leaving Habré in control of N'Djamena, from which he pressed unsuccessfully for Libya's withdrawal from Aouzou.

During the 1970s, relations between Libya and Sudan went from bad to worse. At the beginning of the decade, Qadhafi aided Sudanese President Jaafar an Numayri against leftist plotters. But by the mid-1970s, relations had turned hostile after Numayri accused Libya of subversion and of responsibility for several coup attempts. Thereafter, Sudan belonged to the camp of Qadhafi's sworn opponents. In 1980 Numayri condemned the Libyan invasion of Chad, being especially fearful of Libyan meddling in Sudan's troubled border province of Darfur. In early 1981, Numayri called for Libya's expulsion from the Arab League and for a joint effort to overthrow or kill Qadhafi. A few months later, he ordered Libyan diplomats to leave Khartoum in the wake of a bombing of the Chadian embassy linked to Libyan instigation.

Libyan intervention in Uganda in the 1970s constituted a special case. There Qadhafi was interested less in unity than in bolstering a friendly Islamic regime against both internal and external opposition. Beginning in 1972, Qadhafi gave financial and military backing to Idi Amin Dada in return for Amin's disavowal of Uganda's previously close relationship with Israel. Thereafter, Qadhafi continued to back Amin, despite the wide condemnation of Amin's brutal rule. In late 1978 and early 1979, when combined Tanzanian-Ugandan forces drove Amin from power, Qadhafi unsuccessfully airlifted troops and supplies in Amin's defense, and he granted the Ugandan leader temporary asylum in Tripoli

 
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