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.

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.”

An old article about Tawargha

tawarghan-women
Tawarghan Women (Photo U. Paradisi, 1950s)

The inhabitants of the small oasis of Tawargha (تورغاء) outside of Misrata have suffered a great deal as a result of recent conflicts in Libya. The majority of Tawarghans are people often referred to in Libyan society as “black Libyans”, in order to draw attention to their sub- Saharan African ancestry (I prefer the term “Libyans”, since they are Libyans like everyone else). Unfort-unately, most people make little effort to understand them or their history.

Tawarghan Man (Photo U. Paradisi, 1950s)
Tawarghan Man (Photo U. Paradisi, 1950s)

This being the case, I thought it important to share an article written about Tawargha fifty years ago by the linguist Umberto Paradisi, known mainly for his work on Libyan Berber. He also apparently noticed that so many Tawarghans were of sub-Saharan African ancestry (about 4600 of a population of 5100 in 1936), and wrote an article for the popular magazine Le Vie del Mondo about it (he also wrote popular articles for them about Tripoli, Ghadames, and other places in Libya). That this particular social situation was the case fifty years ago, and goes back even long before the colonial period, further shows that the recent forced displacement of Tawarghans by local militias is based on scapegoating and racism—they have been a part of society for as long as the concept of ‘Libya’ has existed. The reason for the unique demographic of Tawargha goes back to an unfortunate, but inescapable, part of Libyan history: the slave trade. This much is implied by the pejorative term shushan (plural shawāshna) used, then as sometimes now, to refer to them and other Libyans ultimately descended from slaves. We need to understand these histories and work to rectify and not repeat them.

Here is a scan of the article (in Italian), entitled “I sudanesi di Tauórga” and published in Le Vie del Mondo (February 1956). It also has several photographs showing various aspects of life in Tawargha such as date cultivation and textile making.

Article: “Sokna re-examined”

A new article discussing some old materials about the Berber (Amazigh) language of Sokna, an oasis in central Libya:

Souag, Lameen, “Sokna re-examined: Two unedited Sokna Berber vocabularies from 1850”. Quaderni di Studi Berberi e Libico-Berberi 4 : La lingua nella vita e la vita della lingua. Itinerari e percorsi degli studi berberi. Naples: UNIOR, pp. 179-206, 2015 [actually appeared 2016].

Abstract: “The Berber variety of Sokna, in west-central Libya, is rather unusual and not very well described. In 1915 it already had only five fluent speakers, and today only the old still remember a few words. The two vocabularies gathered by the English traveller James Richardson in 1850, previously unpublished, are thus important for the study of this variety, and by extension for the study of Libyan Berber more broadly. This article presents them for the first time, with transcription, commentary, and comparisons with the few previously published materials.”

(Anyone interested in a copy of the article, please contact the author)

Article: Italian colonisation and the walled city of Tripoli

An article on the Italian period and its impact on the old city of Tripoli, available online:

Mia Fuller (2000), “Preservation and self-absorption: Italian colonisation and the walled city of Tripoli, Libya,” The Journal of North African Studies 5/4, pp. 121-154.

“Scholars periodically return to the study of how French administrators and architects handled the urban settings of North Africa – the ones they found and the ones they founded – beginning with the occupation of Algiers in 1830. Italian occupation of Libya began much later, in 1911, but in the 32 years of their effective rule, Italians had sufficient time to be both destructive and constructive in significant ways. Nonetheless, only a handful of scholarly efforts have been devoted to Italian architectural and urban policies in Tripoli;
and very few of those have been concerned with the walled city at all…”

The second Ottoman period in the writing of Libyan history | العهد العثماني الثاني في كتابة التاريخ الليبي

هنا نقدّم مقالةً عربيةً للمرة الاولى و هي مقالة “العهد العثمان الثاني في كتابة التاريخ الليبي” من الباحث الالماني ياكوب كرايس.

في مجال تاريخ الولايات العربية تحت السيطرة العثمانية تحتل ليبيا مكانة خاصة بالماقرنة مع البلدان الاخرى في شمال افريقيا لأنه كان ارتباطاً وثيقاً بين اعادة الاحتلال العثماني لليبيا و اعادة التنظيم للامبراطورية الشاملة. اذا من الممكن، في مشاريع التحديث العثمانية في ليبيا، اكتشاف التناقد بين التطور الاضطهاد. و لذلك يعتبر تيار من البحث التاريخي الدولة العثمانية كقوة استعمارية كغيرها، بينما يشير بعض العلماء الى اهمية التراث العثماني في العالم العربي. اما المؤمرخون الليبيون المعاصرون فلهم ايضاً وجهات نظر مختلفة: هناك باحثون مهتومون بالتأثيرات السلبية للاصلاحات العثمانية، من جهة اخرى ينوه مؤرخون اخرون بنتائجها اليجابية و في نفس الوقت هناك اتفاق بين التيارين بالنسبة الى التضامن الاسلامي ضد الغزو الاستعماري الايطالي.

Abstract: “In the history of the Ottoman Empire’s Arab provinces Libya occupies a special place, compared to the other North African countries, insofar as the Ottoman reoccupation of Libya went hand in hand with the reorganization of the empire as a whole. It is thus possible to trace, in the Ottoman reform projects, an opposition between development and repression. That is why one strand in historical research considers the Ottoman Empire as a regular colonial power, while some scholars, on the other hand, emphasize the importance of the Ottoman heritage in the Arab world. The contemporary Libyan historians, for their part, have also different points of view: there are those researchers who are interested, above all, in the negative influences of Ottoman reforms, whereas others stress the positive outcomes. At the same time, there exists a consensus as far as the Islamic solidarity against the Italian colonial aggression is concerned.”