Michael R. Ebner, “Fascist Violence and the ‘Ethnic Reconstruction’ of Cyrenaica (Libya), 1922–1934” in Violence, Colonialism and Empire in the Modern World, eds. Dwyer, Philip, Nettelbeck, Amanda, pp. 197-218 (Palgrave, 2017).
In the spring of 1931, Italian colonial authorities ordered the construction of a fence on the border between Libya and Egypt. By September, 270 kilometres of cement, chain-link fence, and barbwire stretched from the shores of the Mediterranean to the Oasis of Jaghbub. Italian authorities constructed the fence in order to deny Omar al-Mukhtar and his resistance fighters safe-havens and material support in neighbouring Egypt. Thus Cyrenaica, the eastern province of Libya, which was already completely separated from Tripolitania (Libya’s western province) by the desert of Sirtica, had now been also cut off from Egypt to the east of the fence. The peoples of Cyrenaica, particularly those living on the fertile highlands of the Jebel Akhdar, were the major source of support for Omar al-Mukhtar’s anti-colonial insurgency. The year before the fence went up, Italian authorities ordered the deportation and internment of between one-half and two-thirds of the civilian population of Cyrenaica—between 90,000 and 110,000 people
A new and entirely open-access collected volume on the African colonial role in the First World War, and one co-edited and co-published by African scholars:
Shiferaw Bekele, Uoldelul Chelati Dirar, Volterra, A., & Zaccaria, M. (Eds.), The First World War from Tripoli to Addis Ababa (1911-1924). Addis Abbaba: Centre français des études éthiopiennes, 2018.
For a long time now it has been common understanding that Africa played only a marginal role in the First World War. Its reduced theatre of operations appeared irrelevant to the strategic balance of the major powers. This volume is a contribution to the growing body of historical literature that explores the global and social history of the First World War. It questions the supposedly marginal role of Africa during the Great War with a special focus on Northeast Africa. In fact, between 1911 and 1924 a series of influential political and social upheavals took place in the vast expanse between Tripoli and Addis Ababa. The First World War was to profoundly change the local balance of power.
This volume consists of fifteen chapters divided into three sections. The essays examine the social, political and operational course of the war and assess its consequences in a region straddling Africa and the Middle East. The relationship between local events and global processes is explored, together with the regional protagonists and their agency. Contrary to the myth still prevailing, the First World War did have both immediate and long-term effects on the region. This book highlights some of the significant aspects associated with it.
The entire book is fascinating and opens up new areas of research tying into dynamics of which Libya was ultimately a part. The specific essays concerning Libya are:
Eileen Ryan, Religion as Resistance, Negotiating Authority in Italian Libya (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018).
From the description: “When Italian forces landed on the shores of Libya in 1911, many in Italy hailed it as an opportunity to embrace a Catholic national identity through imperial expansion. After decades of acrimony between an intransigent Church and the Italian state, enthusiasm for the imperial adventure helped incorporate Catholic interests in a new era of mass politics. Others among Italian imperialists-military officers and civil administrators-were more concerned with the challenges of governing a Muslim society, one in which the Sufi brotherhood of the Sanusiyya seemed dominant. Eileen Ryan illustrates what Italian imperialists thought would be the best methods to govern in Muslim North Africa and in turn highlights the contentious connection between religious and political authority in Italy.
Telling this story requires an unraveling of the history of the Sanusiyya. During the fall of Qaddafi, Libyan protestors took up the flag of the Libyan Kingdom of Idris al-Sanusi, signaling an opportunity to reexamine Libya’s colonial past. After decades of historiography discounting the influence of Sanusi elites in Libyan nationalism, the end of this regime opened up the possibility of reinterpreting the importance of religion, resistance, and Sanusi elites in Libya’s colonial history. Religion as Resistance provides new perspectives on the history of collaboration between the Italian state and Idris al-Sanusi and questions the dichotomy between resistance and collaboration in the colonial world.”
A recent dissertation explores the Ottoman resistance to the Italian conquest and colonization of Libya in 1911-1912:
The Italo-Turkish War (1911-1912), now remembered primarily as Italy’s war for what is now Libya, swelled from a localized colonial invasion into a significant Mediterranean conflict and a global cause célèbre that attracted support and aid for the embattled Ottoman regime from diverse locations both inside and outside the borders of the empire. This dissertation examines the means by which the Ottoman Empire erected an asymmetric defense of its last North African provinces to preserve its territory and empire from Italian occupation and annexation. Drawing on sources in Ottoman Turkish, Arabic, Greek, and Judeo-Spanish, this study demonstrates how the Sublime Porte and the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) initially deployed a rhetoric of unity, constitutionalism, and international law to protect the empire from the Italian invasion. Due to the efficacy of Italian diplomacy, the Ottomans, unable to enlist Great Power support for the preservation of imperial territory, developed a defensive strategy for its North African territories that relied primarily on humanitarianism and volunteerism. This dissertation, therefore, investigates the vital contribution of pan-Islamism and the broad appeal of a loose ideology of Muslim anticolonialism in the empire’s attempts to bolster its forces with international aid and volunteers. While many studies tend to brush aside the importance of early twentieth-century pan-Islamism as either a pipe dream of Wilhelmine champions of German imperialism and their Ottoman collaborators or as merely a rhetorical movement devoid of substantial consequence, this dissertation reveals how global appeals to Islamic unity to combat European expansionism translated into material benefits for Ottomans on the battlefield. Through an examination of documents from the Turkish Red Crescent and the Turkish General Staff archives, it highlights the crucial assistance of global Islamic humanitarian aid to the Ottoman war effort in the form of sizeable financial contributions to the Ottoman Red Crescent from Muslims over the duration of the conflict. The Red Crescent organization provided a means to funnel aid to the battlefield collected in mosques, mass meetings, newspaper subscriptions, and Islamic associations within and without the Ottoman Empire. This charitable aid facilitated the deployment to North Africa of multiple Red Crescent teams which assumed, in most cases, sole responsibility for the medical care of both soldiers and civilians of the Ottoman provinces. Simultaneously, the Ottoman ranks in Tripolitania and Cyrenaica swelled as calls for coreligionist volunteers to take up arms were heeded throughout Africa and Asia. Ultimately, the empire’s anticolonial ideology proved an effective unifier for the many Muslims around the world who shouldered a great deal of the cost of the conflict. While Italy’s expenses for its war for colonial expansion ballooned, the defense of North Africa cost the Ottoman treasury very little.
McCollum, Jonathan. The Anti-Colonial Empire: Ottoman Mobilization and Resistance in the Italo-Turkish War, 1911-1912. (PhD Dissertation, UCLA, 2018).
Nasser, Hala Khamis & Marco Boggero. 2008. “Omar al-Mukhtar: the formation of cultural memory and the case of the militant group that bears his name.” Journal of North African Studies 13(2), pp. 201–217.
“This paper investigates how the martyr figure of Omar al-Mukhtar (1858–1931) became a popular transnational icon in Africa, Asia and the Arab world. Originally part of the history of Cyrenaica, Omar al-Mukhtar became part of Arab culture during the struggle against colonialism and is now part of a suggested Arab ‘imagined community’. The paper explores how his memory has been shaped in new and multiple ways in contemporary culture and politics of Middle East and North Africa. Al-Mukhtar’s historic character has crossed the Libyan boundaries and the Cyrenaican leader became instrumental not only in the history of modern Libya, but contributed to the formation of different forms of Arab nationalism during their struggle against colonialism. The authors investigate how the construction of martyrdom developed and show that the pattern of collective memory did not proceed unambiguously. Further, they demonstrate how the martyr’s legacy has been and is still utilised for political mobilisation and make the case by studying the activities of transnational insurrection groups – the ‘brigades’ or ‘forces of Omar al-Mukhtar’ from its original inceptions to recent occurrences.”
Scarfone, Marianna. 2016. Italian colonial psychiatry: outlines of a discipline, and practical achievement in Libya and the Horn of Africa. History of Psychiatry 27(4), pp. 389–405.
This article describes the establishment of psychiatry in Italy’s former colonies during the period 1906–43, in terms of the clinical and institutional mechanisms, the underlying theories and the main individuals involved. ‘Colonial psychiatry’ (variously called ‘ethnographic’, ‘comparative’ or ‘racial’ psychiatry) – the object of which was both to care for mentally afflicted colonists and local people and also to understand and make sense of their pathologies – received most attention in colonial Libya, starting in the first months of the Italian occupation (1911–12) and then taking institutional form in the 1930s; in the colonies of what was known as ‘Italian East Africa’, on the other hand, less was said about psychiatric care, and practical achievements were correspondingly limited.
Matthew Ellis, Desert Borderland: The making of modern Egypt and Libya, Stanford University Press (coming 2018).
Publisher’s blurb: “Desert Borderland investigates the historical processes that transformed political identity in the easternmost reaches of the Sahara Desert in the half century before World War I. Adopting a view from the margins—illuminating the little-known history of the Egyptian-Libyan borderland—the book challenges prevailing notions of how Egypt and Libya were constituted as modern territorial nation-states.
Matthew H. Ellis draws on a wide array of archival sources to reconstruct the multiple layers and meanings of territoriality in this desert borderland. Throughout the decades, a heightened awareness of the existence of distinctive Egyptian and Ottoman Libyan territorial spheres began to develop despite any clear-cut boundary markers or cartographic evidence. National territoriality was not simply imposed on Egypt’s western—or Ottoman Libya’s eastern—domains by centralizing state power. Rather, it developed only through a complex and multilayered process of negotiation with local groups motivated by their own local conceptions of space, sovereignty, and political belonging. By the early twentieth century, distinctive “Egyptian” and “Libyan” territorial domains emerged—what would ultimately become the modern nation-states of Egypt and Libya.”