2.3.1 The First Ottoman Period (1551–1711)
After extending their imperial influence across Europe, the Ottomans diverted their attention towards the North African territories, aiming to occupy them and add them to their empire. Libya was well within this sphere of interest, and, as a result, the Ottoman sultan dispatched a fleet, led by Sinan Pasha and Dragut Pasha. These sought to take advantage of the inhabitants’ revolt, which was based in Tajoura, against the Knights of Saint John. Ultimately, the knights were expelled, and Tripoli was liberated.
Since 1551, Libya became part of the Ottoman Empire, and it was ruled by a succession of governors. Among the most prominent, was the first governor Murat Agha, who sought to fortify the city and its fortress, and who turned the church inside the fort into a mosque. He also built a mosque in Tajoura which still carries his name till this very day. Governor Dragut Pasha (1553–1565), in turn, also fortified Tripoli, and a mosque (Fig. 2.9) built a fortress which bears his name. He also established the gunpowder depot. The Governor Othman Saqizli (1649–1672) was responsible for the building of the markets, the public baths and a religious school. He also strengthened the naval fleet and entered into trade agreements with some European monarchies.
The last years of the first Ottoman period (1551–1711) were characterised by the control of the Janissaries over the ruling circles in the country. Their influence increased to the extent that they appointed and deposed governors according to their whims and interests. The country became corrupted, causing the local people, who were exhausted by heavy taxes to revolt against governors. This was a time characterised by great political instability and the struggle for power.
2.3.2 The Karamanli Period (1711–1835)
The eighteenth century witnessed the beginning of the reign of Ahmad al-Karamanli, who had managed to realise his dream and become the ruler of Libya that he achieved by taking advantage of the weakness of the preceding rulers. He took control of the affairs of the country and established a hereditary type rule which lasted from 1711 till 1835 and is referred to as the Karamanli period. This historical phase was characterised by its independence from the Ottoman state and the establishment of diplomatic and commercial relations with some European countries, engaging in direct interaction with them without resorting to the Ottoman authorities. During this period, fortresses were built to oppose the periodical European attacks from the sea, and shipyards were established to build a Libyan fleet. Within a short period of time, this fleet became quite important in the Mediterranean. Moreover, Arabic became the language of the state’s institutions. The Yusif al-Karamanli period (1795–1832) witnessed the Libyan-American conflict in the Mediterranean Sea, during which the Libyan people resisted the American attacks and attempts aimed at securing the passage of American commercial ships. History has recorded the story of the capture of the American vessel Philadelphia by the Libyan navy in 1830 (Fig. 2.8). This was the second largest American naval unit and carried 307 officers and troops. America took advantage of the presence of Ahmad al-Karamanli, the brother of Yusif Pasha, in Egypt and encouraged him to return to Libyan rule, supplying him with weapons and facilitating his attack against Tripoli, starting from Derna. Events followed in quick succession until a treaty was signed between Libya and America. On the basis of this treaty, Libya handed over the American captives and, in return, received compensation. Furthermore, America turned its back on its agent Ahmad al-Karamanli.
Towards the end of the Karamanli rule, Libya faced an economic crisis which came as a result of its weak financial resources, particularly after the decline in maritime activity and the abolition of slave trade. In an effort to curtail the budgetary deficit, Yusif Pasha borrowed money from foreign traders, burdened the population with taxes and changed the currency eleven times. On their part, the foreign consuls intervened in matters concerning the rule of the country and, as expected, a revolt broke out against Yusif Pasha in al-Manshia, calling for his deposition and for the appointment of his grandson Muhammad as ruler of the country. The Ottoman state sought to calm the situation in the governorate, whereas the French and English consuls seized the opportunity to interfere in the struggle for power. Conscious of his inability to handle the events, Yusif Pasha had no alternative but to renounce power in favour of his son, Ali Pasha (1832–1835) who managed to secure the approval of the Ottoman sultan for his appointment as governor. Nevertheless, the revolt of the inhabitants of al-Manshia continued unabated.
2.3.3 The Second Ottoman Period (1835–1911)
The Ottoman state decided to settle the Libyan question and restore its sovereignty over the governorate of Tripoli. It was anxious about the European ambitions concerning the occupation of Tripoli, particularly after the French occupation of Algeria in 1830. For this reason, the Ottoman sultan sent a fleet to secure Tripoli, which became, once again, an Ottoman governorate.
At this time, the country witnessed a number of revolts against Ottoman rule. Foremost among the Libyan resistance leaders were Ghuma al-Mahmudi and Abd al-Jalil Sayf an-Nasr, but these revolts were suppressed. Some governors, in an attempt to improve the conditions of the governorate, were able to introduce a number of reforms. For example, civil and military schools, hospitals and post and telegraph offices were built, wells were dug, and a printing press was imported for the publication of newspapers and magazines. Furthermore, it was a time in which Libya witnessed a considerable architectural boom (Fig. 2.11).
For its part, Italy’s ambitions to occupy Libya were evident. In order to pave the way for such an endeavour, Italy took a number of economic and political measures. Notwithstanding the attempts of some governors to resist these colonialist ambitions, Italy exploited the weakness and problems facing the Ottoman state and managed to occupy Libya on 7 October 1911.
2.3.4 The Italian Occupation
By the end of the nineteenth century, Italy’s occupation ambitions became clear. The governorate of Tripoli was the last governorate under Ottoman control. The Ottoman state had become unable to protect the integrity of its territories. At the same time, Italy prepared for the occupation of Tripoli. At exactly 2.30 in the afternoon of 28 September 1911, the Italian minister of foreign affairs, di San Giuliano, submitted a memorandum to the Turkish grand vizier which stated: “The Italian government … has decided to occupy Tripoli and Cyrenaica militarily”. Following this communication, Italy entered into a state of war with Turkey and took the necessary military steps to execute the occupation. On 3 October 1911, the Italian navy started to bombard the Libyan coastal cities, and, on 5 October, Italian forces landed on Libyan soil. The Libyans called for jihad, a war of resistance, against the invaders. Epical battles were fought in Jiliana, al-Hani, Shari ash-Shatt, al-Murgub and elsewhere, in an attempt to defend religion and the Libyan soil. Faced with such fierce opposition, Italy tried to evacuate the land of its inhabitants. To achieve this aim, it started to carry out the most brutal deportation in history. Thousands of Libyans were deported to remote Italian islands. The first of such deportation campaigns was put into effect on 26 October 1911. In the face of the huge Libyan resistance, and having suffered a number of humiliating defeats, the Italian forces were restricted to an area which did not exceed the shooting range of its fleet. In the meantime, on 18 October 1911 in Lausanne, Italy signed a treaty with the Ottomans by which the Ottomans renounced Libya. The Libyans had, by now, lost all hope of Ottoman support and had to rely on their own resources in their fight against the Italians.
The Italian forces occupied several Libyan cities, such as Gharian, Sirt, Zawia and Ujailat, and managed to reach as far as Marj, in the east. The Libyan freedom fighters engaged the Italians in many intense battles, such as the battles of Jdabia, Sidi Krem al-Girba, in the Green Mountain. The Libyan fighters also resisted the Italian forces in the Fezzan. The battles of ash-Shabb, Ishkda and Mahruga were heated battles in which the Italian troops were forced to retreat, particularly after the battle of al-Gara, in Sebha. Italy tried to re-occupy the Fezzan, the region which controlled trade movement and the most important caravan roads linking the Libyan ports with the African interior. However, Italy suffered a great defeat in the Gordabiya battle on 28 April 1915.
In 1922, the Fascist party came to power in Italy. This party adopted a policy of extreme brutality towards the Libyans and resorted to executions without trials. It sets up concentration camps in Libya, most renowned of which were those of al-Agila, al-Magrun and Slug, in which thousands of Libyan prisoners were crammed, in an attempt to isolate the population from the freedom fighters. The most prominent of these fighters was Sheikh Omar al-Mukhtar, who was arrested and later executed on 16 September 1931.
Italy confiscated Libyan land and distributed it among the Italian colonists (Fig. 2.10). The Libyans were recruited to take part in Italy’s colonialist wars in Ethiopia. They also formed part of the Italian army during the Second World War. Libyan lands were also converted into minefields which took their toll on man and greatly hampered the area’s development. At the end of the Second World War, Italy was forced to withdraw from Libya. Italy left a destroyed and devastated Libya behind, which at the time became one of the poorest countries in the world.
2.3.5 After the Second World War
After the Second World War, Tripoli and Cyrenaica came under the British mandate, whereas the Fezzan came under French mandate. In the meantime, the Italian community retained its control over the country’s economic resources. In the wake of the declaration of independence on the 24 of December 1951, Libya entered a new phase in its history as the United Kingdom of Libya. However, the country lacked state economic recourses and expertise. Poverty and illiteracy among the people were widespread. In fact, the Libyan state had to rely on foreign aid. The country witnessed a number of crises which left their mark on the country. Among them, was the assassination of the minister for Palace affairs, Ibrahim al-Shalhi, by a member of the royal family in 1954. This event had considerable negative implications on the state. Another issue facing the Libyan state problem derived from the lack of a direct heir.
The economic situation in Libya improved considerably with the discovery and exportation of petroleum in 1961. This development greatly influenced various sectors of life in Libya. Soon, a five-year plan was put in place. The oil revenues enabled Libya to support the Palestinian cause, on the one hand, and the Arab frontline countries after the June 1967 war, on the other.
A number of factors led to the fall of the Libyan monarchy. In the year 1964, popular protests were organised against the foreign bases on Libyan soil. Other demonstrations took to the streets, as a result of the conflict between Israel and Egypt in 1967. The internal situation within the Libyan regime, characterised by various crises and the proliferation of political blocs, resulted in the alternation of eleven governments in eighteen years. A number of military officers, belonging to the lower ranks, carried out a military coup on 1 September 1969. They soon set up the Revolutionary Command Council to administer the country, and in their first declaration, they stated that the official name of Libya would be the Libyan Arab Republic. They specified their guiding principles, namely freedom, socialism and unity. They also stated that they would be eradicating corruption, bribery and favouritism.
Libya was greatly influenced by the internal and external policies adopted by Muammar al Gaddafi as President of the Revolutionary Command Council. One could consider his speech in the city of Zuara in 1973 as a decisive juncture, which expressed the domination over power. In that speech, he declared the suspension of all Libyan laws, as well as the so-called Cultural Revolution. Subsequently, on 2 March 1977, al Gaddafi declared the ushering of the People’s Power, and the establishment of the Socialist Peoples Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (Fig. 2.12). Libya suffered great political and economic problems, among them, the suffocation of liberties, the control over commerce, the involvement in external wars, such as the war in Chad, confrontation with Egypt and the interference in internal affairs of other countries. A series of executions were announced via the mass media in the holy month of Ramadan, in addition to the infamous Abu Salim massacre.
On 17 February 2011, a number of factors led to the Libyan people rising up in peaceful demonstrations which were brutally confronted by the regime. This led to the people taking up arms and defending themselves. Faced with the people’s will, the regime had no other possibility but to give in. Tripoli, the capital city, was liberated on 20 August 2011. Subsequently, on 23 October 2011, the National Transitional Council, from the city of Benghazi, declared the total liberation of Libya.12
Schmidt-Colinet (1979), Kirsten (1961).
Di Vita et al. (1999).
Di Vita et al. (1999), Kirsten (1961).
Di Vita et al. (1999), Mattingly (1995); Reynolds and Ward Perkins (1952).
Di Vita et al. (1999), Mattingly (1995).
Di Vita et al. (1999), Mattingly (1995), Teutsch (1962), Charles-Picard (1962).
Al Hakam, Futuh misr wa-l-magrib, Al-Tijani (1958), Ghalbun (1960); al Ansari (1967) al manhal al adb fi tarihTarabuls al-Garb, Rossi (1974), Abbas (1970), Thiry (2004), at-Tillisi (1985), Hamid (1978), Vireau (1973), Az-Zawi (1963), al-Barghuthi (1973), Bernia (1969).
Al Ansari (1967) al manhal al adb fi tarih Tarabuls al-Garb, Rossi (1974), Abbas (1970), Thiry (2004), Tillisi (1985), Hamid (1978), Vireau (1973), Az Zawi (1963), al Barghuthi (1973), Bernia (1969).