Italian colonial rule and Muslim elites in Libya

Here, an article analyzing Muslim elites in Libya during the colonial period:

Baldinetti, Anna, “Italian colonial rule and Muslim elites in Libya: a relationship of antagonism and collaboration”, in ‘Ulama’ in the Middle East, edited by M. Hatina (Brill, 2009).

Abstract: “In Libya, under Italian rule, ‘ulama’ (علماء), Sufi shaykhs and other religious dignitaries played an important role, as Islam not only legitimated the resistance but also became a fundamental element in colonial policies. However, the relationships between the colonial authorities and the religious elites, beyond what the colonial laws prescribed, have as yet not been examined, except for the Sanusiyya order. This paper aims to fill this research gap, focusing mainly on the region of Tripolitania.”

The conclusion reads: “Islam constituted an important element in Italian colonial policy in Libya, and the colonial authorities always paid particular attention to indigenous Muslim elites. However, the “politics of chiefs,” which was based mainly on an exaggerated patronage polìcy, did not help to overcome sectarian, tribal and regional divisions.

The Italian colonial authorities did not develop a well-defined educational policy aimed at modernizing the traditional elites or forming a new “evolués” elite useful for meeting administrative and economic needs. As noted, the —the institution charged with reforming the local elite—was established only in the mid-1930s, in the closing phase of colonial rule. Even then, its impact on the emergence of new elites was negligible, due to the small number of students admitted each year. Moreover, the Institute of Islamic Studies in Tripoli (المدرسة الاسلامية العليا) was not very popular among native circles because its educational program was perceived as too “Westernized.” Hence the Italian administration did not significantly alter or influence the structure of the Muslim elites in Libya, nor did it contribute to the emergence of new ones.”

As always, those who are interested in reading the piece can drop me a line.

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