Studies on law and custom in sedentarizing societies

This post draws your attention to three book-length studies published on Islamic law as preserved in documents from the courts of Ajdābiya and Kufra, two cities that are home to mostly sedentarized Bedouin. The cases preserved in those court archives date from the 1930s to the 1970s—thus the studies reveal the nature of the interaction between law and custom as it was in mostly nomadic but sedentarizing societies, as opposed to how it is now.

Layish, Aharon. 1991. Divorce in the Libyan Family. A study based on the sijills of the sharī‘a courts of Ajdābiyya and Kufra. New York: NYU Press.

Layish, Aharon. 1998. Legal Documents on Libyan Tribal Society in Process of Sedentarization. A selection of decisions from the sijills of the sharī‘a courts of Ajdābiya and Kufra. Part 1: The documents in Arabic with a glossary of Arabic legal terms and phrases, with an anthropological critique by John Davis. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Layish, Aharon. 2005. Sharī‘a and custom in Libyan tribal society. An annotated translation of decisions from the Sharī‘a courts of Ajdābiya and Kufra, with a linguistic essay by Alexander Borg. Leiden: Brill.

 

 

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Two papers on Property and Law in Libya

Two recent articles, to my knowledge, attempt a discussion of property law in Libya and what recent changes in the political structure of the country may mean.

Jessica Carlisle. “‘We woke up and everything had gone to Qadhafi.’ Corruption, Rent-Seeking, and Struggle for Elite Status During Libyan Property Disputes.” Middle East Law and Governance 6 (2014), 93-122.

Abstract: “Since the 2011 revolution claimants in Libya have been lobbying to demand reinstatement of property confiscated from their families by Qadhafi under Law 4/1978. During this campaign they have forcefully argued that they have been impoverished and side-lined as victims of corruption. In particular, they highlight how their property enriched and empowered the Qadhafi regime’s corrupt elites as it was redistributed as a form of state controlled ‘rent’. However, in making this argument they have tried to limit retrospective evaluations of property rights to the Qadhafi period, preventing investigation of their own families’ accumulation of property under the Italian occupation or the monarchy. Property claimants’ preferred solution is for the democratically elected government to enforce property restitution and to allocate state funds for compensa-tion and for housing construction. The prospects for this are not good. In post- revolutionary Libya powerful militia have made land and property grabs, and other post-revolutionary elites are accused of engaging in corruption, in a continuing threat to property claimants’ future political and economic status.”

Mary Fitzgerald & Tarek Megerisi. Libya: Whose Land is it? Property Rights and Transition. Legatum Institute: Transitions Forum (2015).

Summary: “In 1978, Muammar Qaddafi decreed that no Libyan could own more than one house. All rental properties were subsequently reallocated to tenants or confiscated by the state. In 1986, he abolished land ownership altogether. These and other sweeping redistribution policies had farreaching consequences, creating the profound grievances, administrative chaos and economic imbalances that have hampered the reconstruction of Libya since 2011.

Without an understanding of the history of Libyan property rights, both before and after the revolution, it is impossible either to understand how Libyan politics came to deteriorate so quickly, or to design a realistic path out of the current crisis. Disputes over property helped spark the post-revolutionary fighting, and they continue to fuel conflict today.

The resolution of property rights issues also has a deeper significance. Before peace and prosperity can have any chance of succeeding in Libya, the country’s citizens will have to resolve longstanding historical grievances in a manner which all perceive to be just. The conversations that will be required to fix the chaos over land and housing are the same kinds of conversations that will be required to create a stable political and economic system.”