Najwa Bin Shatwan’s The Slave Pens | زرايب العبيد لنجوى بن شتوان

The latest work of Benghazi-born writer Najwa Bin Shatwan, The Slave Pens (زرايب العبيد) has been garnering praise across the Arab literary world. She was recently shortlisted for the 2017 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, and a translated excerpt from her book is featured in the current issue of Banipal magazine (#58 ‘Arab Literary Awards’).

The novel is set just outside of downtown Benghazi in the early 20th century. In this part of the city, known as al-Sabri (الصابري), both enslaved and free people lived in a dense network of rudimentary palm-leaf dwellings, essentially a ghetto. Bin Shatwan is the first writer or scholar to attempt to address this aspect of Benghazi’s history in particular, perhaps the first Libyan writer to deal deeply with slavery and its legacy in Libya.

Summary: The Slave Pens lifts the lid on the dark, untold history of slavery in Libya, of which the effects can still be felt today. Slave owner Mohammed and his slave Ta’awidha have fallen in love, but their relationship is considered taboo. Living in a community where masters take female slaves as lovers as they please, Mohammed’s father sends him on a trading mission in an attempt to distance him from Ta’awidha. During his absence, his mother forces her to miscarry by serving her a spiked drink, and she is married off to another slave. On his return from his trip, Mohammed learns of his family’s activities and he begins searching for his beloved.

Interviews with the author:

http://en.qantara.de/content/libyan-author-najwa-binshatwan-on-the-slave-pens-confronting-a-dark-chapter

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.

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.”

Libya between Ottomanism and Nationalism | ليبيا بين العثمانية و الوطنية

simon-libya-ottomanism-nationalismRachel Simon, Libya between Ottomanism and Nationalism: The Ottoman involvement in Libya during the War with Italy (1911–1919). Klaus Schwarz: Berlin (Islamkundliche Untersuchungen, vol. 105), 1987.

Libya between Ottomanism and Nationalism is a historical study dedicated to a period which saw the Ottoman empire’s control of North Africa wane while Italy attempted to establish a colony in Tripoli and Cyrenaica. It surveys the political makeup of the late Ottoman provinces that became Libya, the Ottoman involvement in Italy’s conquest of those territories, and chronicles the resistance against colonization in Libya, looking at both Tripoli and Cyrenaica as well as Libyan resistance movements and the Ottoman support thereof.

Since this title has been out of print for many years, the publisher (Klaus Schwarz Verlag in Berlin) has kindly given permission to put a PDF of the entire book on this blog. You can find it here.

A review of the book by Lisa Anderson can be found at this link.

The State and Social Transformation in Tunisia and Libya, 1830-1980

Lisa Anderson, The State and Social Transformation in Tunisia and Libya, 1830-1980. Princeton University Press (1986).

Publisher’s blurb: The book traces growing state intervention in the rural areas of Tunisia and Libya in the middle 1800s and the diverging development of the two countries during the period of European rule. State formation accelerated in Tunisia under the French with the result that, with independence, interest-based policy brokerage became the principal form of political organization. For Libya, where the Italians dismantled the pre-colonial administration, independence brought with it the revival of kinship as the basis for politics.

This is one of the few books (along with this one) about Libyan history to be based on extensive research with primary sources in Libyan, Ottoman, and European archives.

The Arab city and municipal administrative modernity: Tripoli (Libya)

For those who read French, here is another essay by Nora Lafi about the history of Tripoli. It is freely available online.

Nora Lafi, “Ville arabe et modernité administrative municipale : Tripoli (Libye actuelle), 1795-1911.” [The Arab city and municipal administrative modernity: Tripoli (Libya), 1795-1911] Histoire urbaine 1, no. 3 (2001), pp. 149-167.

Abstract: This paper aims both at presenting a short bibliographical essay on Arab towns and, from the case of Tripoli (Libya), at examining the matter of the administrative modernity of such towns. The role in this process of modernization of the various traditional institutions of urban government is studied with the help of new archives, mostly local. A presentation of the machîkha al-bilâd – the cheikh albilâd (chief of the town) and its jamâ’a al-bilâd (town council) – as an organization of municipal kind is proposed in this paper, and the forms of a possible comparatism with Ancien Régime European towns are explored. The 1867 Ottoman municipal reforms (tanzimât) are then studied in the context of the inheritance of traditional forms of urban government.

Complaints from Libya at the Turn of the 20th Century

With apologies for a series of posts of articles that are not easily accessible, though worth reading if you have access, I present the following:

Henning Sievert, “Intermediaries and Local Knowledge in a Changing Political Environment: Complaints from Libya at the Turn of the 20th Century”. Die Welt des Islams 54, 3-4 (2014), pp. 322–362. [Online behind paywall]

Abstract: As historiography on Ottoman Tripolitania and Benghazi focuses mainly on the Italian invasion and on the Sanūsiyya and pays little attention to Ottoman records, studies on political practice and change in that period are rare. However, the special circumstances of that remote and sparsely populated part of the empire enable us to focus on the role of intermediaries and complaints within the imperial framework. Complaints and related correspondence were crucial in the negotiation of order, both from the government’s and from the subjects’ point of view. With the 19th-century reforms, new notions of order emerged, and old notions were modified. The new mode of politics did not, however, consist of immutable prescriptions but could acquire new layers of meaning in a process of translation into the vernacular politics of the Libyan provinces and vice versa. Imperial notions of order were thus read and utilised in various ways. The key interpreters and translators in this process were intermediaries between imperial, provincial and local levels. This contribution suggests to study political communication within the imperial framework by focusing on these intermediaries.