Article: Women in Libya

An article written by Libyan Amazigh activist Asma Khalifa has recently appeared in a collection on North African women and the recent revolutions.

Asma Khalifa, “Women in Libya: The Ongoing Armed Conflict, Political Instability and Radicalization”, in North African Women after the Arab Spring: In the Eye of the Storm, edited by Larbi Touaf, Soumia Boutkhil, Chourouq Nasri (Springer, 2017), 239–249.

About the book:

“This book looks with hindsight at the Arab Spring and sheds light on the debates it triggered within North African societies and the alarming developments in women’s rights. Although women played a key role in the success of the uprisings that wiped out long ruling oligarchies across the region, they remain excluded from decision-making circles and the formal political and electoral apparatus. Women’s rights are written off constitution drafts, and issues of gender equality are hardly addressed. The chapters that compose this volume present research and reflections from different perspectives to help the reader get a better picture of the profound turmoil that beset this part of the so-called “Arab” World. Adopting an interdisciplinary perspective, the contributors discuss a host of questions related to women and gender in the Arab world and address the broader question of why women’s efforts and momentum during the revolution did not seem to pay off the same way they did for men. This book provides an assessment of the situation from the inside. It is intended to help the general public as well as the academic world comprehend the significance of what is going on in this key part of the Islamic World.”

Article: Nineteenth-century Reform in Ottoman Libya

“The history of political change in Libya during the nineteenth century has been obscured by subsequent political events in the Middle East and North Africa. A relatively unimportant province of the Ottoman Empire, it went to the least important European colonial power in the region – Italy – and the Italian tenure destroyed much of the legacy of Ottoman reform. Even contemporary observers in the nineteenth century usually viewed the province through a prism whose primary focus was elsewhere, leaving distorted and partial accounts of the changes wrought by the Ottoman administration. This lacuna in the literature has hindered comprehensive assessment of the Ottoman reform period and, perhaps as seriously, distorted interpretation of Libya’s subsequent political history…”

Lisa Anderson, “Ninetheenth-century Reform in Ottoman Libya,” International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 16 (1984), pp. 324–348.

Book: Tunisian and Libyan Arabic Dialects

A new volume containing linguistic studies of Arabic dialects in Libya and Tunisia has just been published:

Tunisian and Libyan Arabic Dialects: Common Trends – Recent Developments – Diachronic Aspects, edited by Veronika Ritt-Benmimoun. Zaragoza: Prensas de la Universidad de Zaragoza, 2017.
The publisher’s description reads: “This tripartite volume with 18 contributions in English and French is dedicated to Tunisian and Libyan Arabic dialects which form part of the so-called Maghrebi or Western group of dialects. There are ten contributions that investigate aspects of Tunisian dialects, five contributions on Libyan dialects, and three comparative articles that go beyond the geographical and linguistic borders of Tunisia and Libya. The focus of “Tunisian and Libyan Arabic Dialects” is on linguistic aspects but a wider range of topics is also addressed, in particular questions regarding digital corpora and digital humanities. These foci and other subjects investi­gated, such as the syntactic studies and the presentation of recently gathered linguistic data, bear reference to the subtitle “Common Trends – Recent Developments – Diachronic Aspects”.”
 Several essays in the book deal with aspects of Libyan Arabic dialects, in particular the following:
  • Adam Benkato, “Vowels in Benghazi Arabic: Maghrebi or Bedouin?”, pp. 291-300.
  • Najah Benmoftah & Christophe Pereira, “Preliminary Remarks on the Arabic spoken in Al-Khums (Libya)”, pp. 301-326.
  • Dominique Caubet, “A Tentative Description of Aspect and Modality in the Fezzan: W. and Ph. Marçais’ Texts Revisited”, pp. 327-350.
  • Luca D’Anna, “On the Development of Conditional Particles in the Arabic Dialects of the Fezzān”, pp. 351-370.
  • Maciej Klimiuk, “The Particle rā- in Libyan Arabic Dialects (with emphasis on the Arabic dialect of Msallāta)”, pp. 371-386.

Mercantile Documents from Ghadames | وثائق تجارية من غدامس

ghadames-mss219th-century documents from the collection of the Yusha‘ family—one of the most important merchant families of Ghadames during the 18th and 19th centuries—were published by the Ghadamsi scholar Bashir Qasim Yusha‘ in 1983, shedding light for the first time on the extremely wide extent of the Ghadamsi mercantile network in Africa. Merchants from Ghadames were apparently so well-known in Saharan and western Africa that in Hausa the only North African group other than  Larabawa ‘Arabs’ to have a particular designation were the Adamusawa ‘Ghadamsis’. Yusha‘’s publication is the following: Yusha‘, Bashir Qasim. Ghadāmis. Wathā’iq tijāriyya tārikhiyya ijtimā‘iyya (1228-1310 hijri). Tripoli, 1983.

To my knowledge, the only Western scholar to engage with these sources was Ulrich Haarmann. His lengthy (94 pages, 492 footnotes!) and wide-ranging article based on the documents, “The Dead Ostrich: Life and Trade in Ghadames (Libya) in the Nineteenth Century“, was published in 1998 in Der Welt des Islams. Before his death in 1999 Haarmann had prepared translations and commentaries of many of the documents published by Yusha‘. This material was gathered and published posthumously in German:

Haarmann, Ulrich, edited by Stephan Connermann. Briefe aus der Wüste: Die private Korrespondenz der in Ġadāmis ansässigen Yūša‘-Familie (Letters from the Desert: the private correspondence of the Yusha‘ family resident in Ghadames). EB-Verlag, 2008.

Publisher’s blurb (German): “Im Jahre 1983 legte der Gadameser Gelehrte Basir Qasim Yusa der interessierten Öffentlichkeit 150 Privatpapiere – Briefe, Rechnungen, Warenlisten, Quittungen oder Geburtsregister – aus dem Besitz seiner Familie vor. Diese Dokumente, die in dem Zeitraum von 1813 bis 1917 entstanden sind, handeln alle in der einen oder anderen Weise von Mitgliedern der berberischen Familie Yusa. Geschrieben sind diese Schriftstücke in einem lokalen Umgangsarabisch, in dem sich verschiedentlich berberische oder hocharabische Einsprengsel finden. Als Verfasser kommen entweder die Absender selbst, deren schriftkundigen Bekannte oder aber bezahlte Briefschreiber in Frage. Kurz nachdem Basir Qasim Yusa seine Edition veröffentlicht hatte, begann Ulrich Haarmann sich mit den Texten zu befassen. Ein Aufenthalt am Berliner Wissenschaftskolleg im Frühjahr 1997 gab ihm Zeit und Gelegenheit, alle Befunde in einen geschlossenen Text zu gießen, der dann 1998 in der Zeitschrift Die Welt des Islams unter dem Titel „The Dead Ostrich: Life and Trade in Ghadames (Libya) in the Nineteenth Century“ publiziert wurde. Die von ihm weitgehend übersetzten Dokumente sollten einer späteren Veröffentlichung vorbehalten sein. Dazu kam es dann aber nicht mehr, denn Ulrich Haarmann verstarb 1999. Stephan Conermann hat die Übertragungen der schwierigen Texte nun zusammen mit einer längeren Einleitung in vorsichtiger Überarbeitung herausgegeben.”

The Ottoman Scramble for Africa

Minawi, Mostafa. 2016. The Ottoman Scramble for Africa: Empire and Diplomacy in the Sahara and the Hijaz. Stanford University Press.

The Ottoman Scramble for Africa is the first book to tell the story of the Ottoman Empire’s expansionist efforts during the age of high imperialism. Following key representatives of the sultan on their travels across Europe, Africa, and Arabia at the close of the nineteenth century, it takes the reader from Istanbul to Berlin, from Benghazi to Lake Chad Basin to the Hijaz, and then back to Istanbul. It turns the spotlight on the Ottoman Empire’s expansionist strategies in Africa and its increasingly vulnerable African and Arabian frontiers.

Drawing on previously untapped Ottoman archival evidence, Mostafa Minawi examines how the Ottoman participation in the Conference of Berlin and involvement in an aggressive competition for colonial possessions in Africa were part of a self-reimagining of this once powerful global empire. In so doing, Minawi redefines the parameters of agency in late-nineteenth-century colonialism to include the Ottoman Empire and turns the typical framework of a European colonizer and a non-European colonized on its head. Most importantly, Minawi offers a radical revision of nineteenth-century Middle East history by providing a counternarrative to the “Sick Man of Europe” trope, challenging the idea that the Ottomans were passive observers of the great European powers’ negotiations over solutions to the so-called Eastern Question.”

An episode of the Ottoman History Podcast with Minawi was also dedicated to this topic and is well worth a listen.

Islamic Sanctuaries in 17th-century Tripolitania

sanctuari-islamiciIslamic Sanctuaries in 17th-century Tripolitania is the translation of a work by the Libyan religious scholar ‘Abd as-Salām al-‘Ālam al-Tajouri.* It gives details about the many shrines and mosques in Tripolitania (western Libya), as they were known in the 17th-century. The Italian translation of the work, shown here, is the only scholarly work on the text that I know of. Antonio Cesàro, an Arabist who also wrote a grammar of the Tripoli dialect of Arabic, teamed up with the human geographer Enrico de Agostini to also track down the sites mentioned by al-Tajouri and document them in photos and with maps.

An interesting, though probably discouraging, project would be to go to these sites today, in and around Tripoli, Tajoura, Tarhuna, Zliten, and Misrata, and document as many as possible—both those that have survived the past five years of turmoil and those that have not.

*The full reference is Tajouri, A. Santuari Islamica nel secolo XVII in Tripolitania, tr. by Antonio Cesàro. Tripoli: Maggi, 1933.

مجلة البحوث التاريخية | Journal of Historical Research

Libya’s foremost research journal for history, in its broadest conception, is the مجلة البحوث التاريخية (Journal of Historical Research), published by the Libyan Center for Historical Studies.* Since 1979, the journal has consistently published articles by Libyan scholars, as well as several well-known European scholars writing in Arabic, on a very broad array of topics. In many cases, in fact, there is little or no research published outside of Libya on these topics, and the journal therefore offers extremely valuable insight into the range of possibilities for research as well as useful starting points for those who can read Arabic. Unfortunately, it is difficult to come by in European or American libraries (in London, the SOAS library has many of the issues)—a goal for the appropriate authority in Libya would be to make back issues available online. The website of the Center shows issues from 2013 as being the most recent. Although it seems not to have been updated for some time now, later issues are not known to me.

*The Center was previously called مركز جهاد الليبيين ضد الغزو الايطالي للدراسات التاريخية (The Libyan Resistance against the Italian Invader Center for Historical Studies), later shortened to مركز جهاد الليبين للدراسات التاريخية (The Libyan Resistance Center for Historical Studies).