Tag Archives: ottoman era

Article: 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.

Article: 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.

Article: Shakīb Arslān’s Libyan Dilemma

The essay “Shakīb Arslān’s Libyan Dilemma: Pro-fascism through anti-colonialism in La Nation Arabe” by Jakob Krais on the Ottoman administrator Shakīb Arslān’s writings about the Italian colonization of Libya is available online as part of the online publication Rethinking Totalitarianism and its Arab Readings. Proceedings of the Conference “European Totalitarianism in the Mirrors of Contemporary Arab Thought”, Beirut, October 6-8, 2010. Here is the introduction:

“Shakīb Arslān is considered one of the Arab world ‘s most important anti-colonial propagandists of the inter-war period. At the same time, he belongs to the few activists from the Middle East who actually tried to gain support from the fascist powers in the years preceding World War II. Apart from al-Ḥājj Amīn al-Ḥusaynī, the mufti of Jerusalem, with whom he collaborated, and the Iraqi Arab nationalist Rashīd ʿAlī al-Kaylānī, Arslān perhaps came closest to proclaiming unequivocal sympathy towards Italy and Germany. In this essay I will examine his views of Mussolini ‘s regime as expressed in the French-language journal La Nation Arabe which Arslān published in Geneva from 1930 to 1938. Italy represents a particularly interesting case insofar as it could be seen as an ally against the colonialist western powers Britain and France in the Middle East, but was itself an imperialist regime that ruled an Arab country, Libya. I will shed light on how Arslān dealt with this dilemma in his articles. Although a comprehensive account of Arslān ‘s assessment of fascism certainly would have to include other works of this prolific writer, as well as his correspondence with politicians in Europe and the Islamic world, here I shall concentrate on La Nation Arabe where he publicized his views for a larger audience, both western and Muslim. It is possible to distinguish two phases in his journalistic writings on Italy and Libya, one critical from 1930 to 1933 and one conciliatory, stretching from 1933 up to 1938.”

Read the rest of the piece here.

Book: A report on the 1874 plague in Benghazi

pesteI recently came across a small, old pamphlet entitled, in French, “Essai sur la peste de Benghazi en 1874” (Essay on the 1874 plague of Benghazi) written by a certain Dr. Léonard Arnaud (a “médécin sanitaire au service Ottomane”) and published by the Ottoman Health Administration in Constantinople in 1875.

The report deals with an interesting and practically unknown episode of eastern Libyan history: an outbreak of the plague in ‘Benghazi’—then used to indicate the eastern part of modern-day Libya in general—which followed an earlier outbreak in the same region in 1858. This particular outbreak occurred in the encampments of several groups of nomadic Bedouin in the plateaus between Benghazi and al-Merj. Of concern to the Ottoman officials, no doubt, was that Dr. Arnaud identified the disease as the same as the plague which had been occurring in the Levant (according to a report made in London, the Ottoman health service was apparently dealing with a number of plague outbreaks in their Middle Eastern provinces). A quick search for the author reveals that he seems to have been a specialist in dealing with the plague and other epidemics in various territories of the Ottoman empire.

Are there any other sources for this episode of history, Ottoman, Arabic, or European?

Book: Les annales tripolitaines

“The Tripolitanian Annals” is a work written by Laurent-Charles Féraud, a French Arabist and statesman, while he was consul general in Tripoli from 1879 to 1884. The work contains extremely important historical information about the region of Tripolitania, pertaining not just to the 19th century, but to the region’s history since the Arab conquest. Originally published posthumously in 1927, then largely forgotten, the manuscript was recently re-edited and published by Nora Lafi with a useful introduction.

Les annales tripolitaines de Charles Féraud, with an introduction by Nora Lafi, Paris: Bouchène, 2005.

Article: Late Ottoman Notables in Libya

In the edited book Être notable au Maghreb: dynamiques des configurations notabiliaires published by the Institut de recherche sur le Maghreb contemporain in 2006, there are two essays on notables in Libya during the late Ottoman period and just after the Italian conquest. Fortunately, the entire volume is available for free online, over at OpenEditions.org (of course, if you can read French). Both are highly recommended, as much for their unique views into lesser-studied subjects as well as for their very useful notes and references that are otherwise difficult to come across.

Lahmar, Mouldi. “Libyens et Italiens en Tripolitaine (1911-1928): Quels territoires d’allégeance politique?” [Libyans and Italians in Tripolitania: what grounds for political allegiance? | ليبيون و اطاليون في طرابلس: ما هو اساس الولاء السياسي؟] pp.  121–138.

Lafi, Nora. “L’affaire ‘Alî al-Qarqânî (Tripoli, 1872)” [The affair of Ali al-Qarqani in Tripoli, 1872 | قضية علي القرقاني في طرابلس ١٨٧٢] pp. 204–217. (Many of Nora Lafi’s articles can be read online, at her academia.edu page).

Book: A historical work on Ottoman Tripoli | دراسة تاريخية في مدينة طرابلس العثمانية

A landmark contribution to the study of North African urban history, the history of Tripoli, and the history of Ottoman Libya is “A North African City between ancien regime and Ottoman reforms: the birth of municipal institutions in Tripoli 1795-1911” [مدينة في المغرب بين العهد القديم و التنظيمات العثمانية: تكوين المؤسسات البلدية في طرابلس الغرب] by Nora Lafi (academia page), a scholar now based at the Zentrum Moderner Orient in Berlin:

Lafi, Nora. 2002. Une ville du Maghreb entre ancien régime et réformes ottomanes: genèse des institutions municipales à Tripoli de Barbarie (1795-1911). Paris: L’Harmattan, Tunis: Institut de recherche sur le Maghreb contemporain (IRMC), 305p.

From a review on H-Net: “Lafi’s … is the first work of western scholarship to be thoroughly grounded in documents held in Tripoli’s Municipal Archives. (Studies on Tripoli usually make use of Italian, French, and British archives and published sources in many languages, including Arabic.) These are supplemented by sources in the Ottoman archives and diplomatic papers in both France and Italy… At the heart of the book is its demonstration that the city was managed by an assembly (the jama’a(t) al-bilad), headed by the mayor-like “chief of the city” (shaykh al-bilad), a notable elected by the other members of the jama’a. This contradicts the impression conveyed by many historical works, that Arab cities did not generate stable civic institutions of this sort, and have instead followed amorphous, enigmatic, and/or disordered civic trajectories under their reign from above by Ottoman delegates or puppets. In Lafi’s analysis, instead, we find urban and civic self-management at the middle levels. As early as the eighteenth century, long before the Ottoman reforms (tanzimat) of the following century, or subsequent European incursions, Tripoli’s municipal organization operated on a well-functioning, autonomous system of its own making.”

Article: An Ottoman Pasha and the End of Empire

Related to the previous post is this article:

Ghazal, Amal. 2014. An Ottoman Pasha and the End of Empire: Sulayman al-Baruni and the Networks of Islamic Reform [باشا عثماني و نهاية الامبراطورية: سليمان الباروني و شبكات الاصلاح الاسلامي]. In Global Muslims in the Age of Steam and Print, eds. J. Gelvin & N. Green. Berkeley: University of California Press. 40–58.

From the article:

“In a photograph taken in 1913, Sulayman al-Baruni (1872/73-1940), a native of the Nafusa Mountains in what is now Libya, has donned an Ottoman army uniform and a fez and poses with an Ottoman officer. His appearance and his career epitomized the cosmopolitan Muslim reformer at the beginning of the twentieth century. Educated in Tunisia, Egypt, and Algeria, elected to the Ottoman parliament in Istanbul, dispatched to Tripolitania to fight Italian invaders, and spending the end of his life in exile in Oman with intermittent visits to Baghdad, al-Baruni had a career resembling that of many of his contemporaries who zigzagged the Ottoman realm, defended its borders, and then watched as their world crumbled into fragments. But al-Baruni was distinctive among Ottoman officials. He was a member of the minority Ibadi sect who turned into a modernist reformer, a pan-Ottomanist, and, later on, a pan-Arabist.”