Al-Jazeera English is releasing a multiple-part documentary about the political life and times of King Idris called ‘Libya’s Forgotten King‘. The episodes are available online and can be watched at AJE’s website or on Youtube (below).
In the first part of the documentary we hear from a number of local voices including historians based at the University of Benghazi, and political leaders and activists from the time of kingdom until today, such as former Prime Minister Mustafa bin Halim and Saleh al-Naeli. Historian Anna Baldinetti (who has written a book about the formation of Libya after the colonial period) was also interviewed for the documentary. Although the narration is a bit weak, including mispronunciation of names and places that could have been avoided, the documentary material gathered and interviews with Libyan historians more than make up for it. However, one has to ask, why King Idris is characterized as “forgotten”. I seriously doubt that any Libyan has forgotten him, and all scholars of Libya certainly haven’t either; so, is it only for the average Westerner that associates Libya only with what came after 1969 that Idris is “forgotten”?
Abstract: In this article, I examine the role of Sufism (and Sufi leaders) as they relate to anti-colonial political and military resistance movements. Sufism is often viewed as a non-violent and non-political branch of Islam. However, I argue that there are many historical examples to illustrate the presence of anti-colonialist Sufi military movements throughout the “Muslim World,” and I give particular attention to the cases of ‘Abd al-Qadir of the Qadiriyya movement and his anti-colonialist rebellion against France in Algeria in the 1800s, as well as that of Italian colonialism in Libya and the military response by the Sanussi order. Thus, while Sufism clearly has various teachings and principles that could be interpreted to promote non-violence, Sufi political movements have also developed as a response to colonialism and imperialism, and thus, one should not automatically assume a necessary separation from Sufism and notions of military resistance.
One of the most active fields of research with regard to the Fezzan is archaeology. A British team (The Fezzan Project) has been leading work there for several decades, culminating in the publication of a number of volumes.
“The Ishumar, a group of “new modern nomads” are borderliners who move between Niger, Algeria, and Libya, and in doing so not only cross territorial borders, but also social and societal boundaries and barriers. It is characteristic of the Ishumar that their way of life is one beyond traditional systems. They break away from traditional norms and values, select special elements, change them, and place them into a new context. Their ideas, concepts and ideals of beauty and aesthetics, values and morals, can be regarded as an indicator of sociocultural changes in the Sahara.”
You can see a number of pictures from the book and read an extract over at the site of Ines Kohl.
We continue our look at the Fezzan with the following work, a study of the Arabic spoken in different parts of the Fezzan by noted Arabist Philippe Marçais. Both he and his father, William Marçais, were participants in the French scientific missions to the Fezzan in the 1940s; they collected linguistic information in places in and around Sebha and Brak. In colonial French prisons in Algeria, he also met many people from the Fezzan and was able to interview them. Yet Philip Marçais’ work on these materials from the Fezzan was not completed in time to be published with other research from the French scientific mission, and ended up never being published. Only recently were his remaining papers edited and his work on Arabic in the Fezzan published posthumously.
Marçais, Philippe. 2001. Parlers arabes du Fezzân. Textes, traductions et éléments de morphologie, rassemblés et présentés par Dominique Caubet, Aubert Martin et Laurence Denooz. Geneva: Librairie Droz.
The texts gathered in the volume include i) prose recordings from everyday life, ii) poetry pertaining to special occasions, iii) epic poetry, and iv) songs. Much of this folk literature is no doubt hard to find these days. Then a second section gives a brief grammatical sketch of the dialects represented in the material and a lexicon. The material is exceedingly rich and full of interesting themes and words. Here is my dire attempt at translating an example of a camel-herders song (the ‘her’ refers to the camel):
طبّي المسارب و اشربي الرياحة و ان شاء الله بعد الشقا ترتحي
انا اللي انورّدها و انا اللي ما علَي انا اللي انورّدها في الفجّ اللي خالي
Follow the tracks and drink the winds, God-willing you’ll find rest after tribulations
I’m the one who waters her without worry, the one who waters her in the empty desert
During this month we will focus on the Fezzan, Libya’s southern region. This region is covered by so little Western journalism that a Twitter account was started simply to produce reliable information from and on it: the Fezzan Libya Media Group. It would be beneficial to focus on the Fezzan from an academic perspective, too. Like other parts of Libya, the Fezzan has interesting people, cultures, and histories. So to start off with, another open-access publication:
The book is divided into three sections, which discuss “the cities of the Fezzan between the State and crossroads”, “local dynamics framed by the State”, and “towards a Saharan urbanity”. An essay by the same author, also on urbanization in the Fezzan (also in French) titled “An urbanity without a city?” , is also available online.