Libya History in the 20th Century

By | December 24, 2021

The colonial period

With the formation of the Libyan kingdom in 1951, the constituent elements of the new independent state became Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan.

Tripolitania and Cyrenaica were annexed by Italy following the Italo-Turkish war (1911-12). The Italian occupation reached the Fezzan in 1913, but in the First World War it was rejected by the local guerrillas on the coastal area. Resumed from 1922, the Italian military penetration clashed, especially in Cyrenaica, with the Senussi(➔ # 10132;) led by ‛Omar al-Mukhtār. Only after the mass deportation of the population of Jebel, the active base of the resistance, the Italians, led by P. Badoglio, governor for Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, defeated the Arab-Berber forces and captured al-Mukhtār (1931), who was sentenced to hang. In 1934 the Libyan territories were united in a general governorate led by I. Balbo, and in 1939 the coastal area, divided into the provinces of Tripoli, Misurata, Bengasi and Derna, became part of the metropolitan territory. The construction of infrastructures was accompanied by the massive transfer of Italian colonists; the land properties of the Libyan population were repeatedly expropriated and the economic structure of the region was altered by the adoption of new crops and the forced interruption of trade with the Egyptian population. For Libya history, please check

During the Second World War, Tripolitan and Cyrenaica were occupied by Great Britain and Fezzan by France. In 1949, after the rejection of the so-called Bevin-Sforza plan (which provided for an Italian trust administration in Tripolitan, English in Cyrenaica and French in Fezzan), the UN set 1 January 1952 as the date of future Libyan independence.

The United Kingdom of Libya

Promulgated the Constitution in 1951, Muḥammad Idrīs as-Sanusi, Emir of Cyrenaica and Tripolitania designated king by the National Assembly, proclaimed the independence of the United Kingdom of Libya. In the aftermath of the first elections for the federal parliament (1952), the parties were banned. The international position of the new state, which joined the Arab League in 1953 and the UN in 1955, was conditioned by economic weakness and ties with Western powers, especially Great Britain and the USA, who had committed themselves, in exchange for the granting of bases military, the provision of economic aid and military assistance. The discovery of oil fields, in the second half of the 1950s, profoundly changed the economic prospects of Libya, albeit in the long term, at the same time strengthening ties with the West (the exploitation of the fields was entrusted to Western companies). In 1963 the federal form of government was abolished and a unitary state established. Internal conservatism and pro-Western foreign policy aroused widespread discontent in the country that made possible the bloodless overthrow of the monarchy and the proclamation of the Arab Republic of Libya on 1 September 1969.

The rise of Gaddafi

Within the new regime, of military composition, Colonel M. Gaddafi (al-Qadhdhāfī) emerged as leader; Idrīs went into exile in Egypt. In 1970 Gaddafi assumed the leadership of the government and in 1971 the Arab Socialist Union was formed, the only legal party. The proclamation of Islamic socialism as the guiding idea of ​​the new regime was followed by an equidistance between the two blocs at the international level. The presence of the state in the economy was strengthened, particularly in the banking, oil (nationalized in 1973) and commercial sectors. Negotiations were opened with the US and Great Britain for a quick restitution of their military bases and the assets of the Jews and Italians residing in Italy were expropriated, who almost completely abandoned the country. The pan-Arab ideal was long pursued by Libya, which repeatedly engaged in federative projects with other Arab states, which did not, however, pass the preliminary stages. The activity deployed on the regional level led to tensions with the Morocco and Sudan (1971), which was followed by involvement in the civil war in Chad with the claim and occupation of the Aozou strip (1973), which lasted until 1994.

The radicalization of the regime

A new Constitution, in 1977, on the basis of which the popular socialist Libyan Arab Jumāhīrīyah (“State of the masses”) was proclaimed, substantially changed the ideological structure and the legal systems of the Law, where a system of government inspired by the direct democracy; in reality, power remained concentrated in the hands of Gaddafi, who in 1979 assumed the role of ‘leader of the revolution’. The first years of the Jumāhīrīyah they saw further socialist reforms of the economic structures and the ideological radicalization of the regime was followed by a repressive stiffening on the domestic level. Foreign policy, marked by a strongly anti-Israeli and anti-Western Arab nationalism, was also oriented towards support for national liberation movements. Relations with Egypt, already very tense since 1973, deteriorated until diplomatic relations broke in 1979, following the signing of peace between Egypt and Israel.

Repeated tensions with other Arab countries, as well as with the PLO leadership, characterized regional relations. The strengthening of relations with the countries of the Communist bloc followed the worsening of relations with the USA and with other Western countries which accused Libya of being involved in episodes of international terrorism. Growing international isolation aggravated the economic difficulties of the Italian law, linked to the decline in oil exports and at the end of the decade, alongside some liberalization measures of the regime, an economic policy of partial reopening to private initiative was initiated. In 1992, new accusations of involvement in acts of international terrorism (in particular the Libya responsibility for the attack was attributed following which in 1988 an American plane exploded and crashed into the Scottish town of Lockerbie causing the death of 270 people) pushed the UN Security Council to launch the embargo against Libya. The economic crisis of the late 1990s favored the growth of Islamic fundamentalist groups, against which the regime adopted a repressive policy alternating with conciliatory measures and the Islamization of society, by virtue of a more strict application of measures inspired by the sharī´a. However, relations with the traditional religious elite remained difficult, claiming greater control over the religious life of the country.

After the attacks of 11 September 2001 in New York and Washington, Gaddafi has implemented a turning point aimed at getting the Libya out of international isolation. Underlining its opposition to Islamic terrorism, Tripoli resumed talks with the US and other Western countries. Subsequent steps were in 2003 the renunciation of condemning the invasion of Iraq, the acknowledgment of its responsibilities in international terrorist acts and the announcement of the abandonment of any plan for the construction of weapons of mass destruction. This led to the lifting of international sanctions and the resumption of political and economic relations with the West. With Italy the Libya in 2008 signed a treaty with which, in exchange for the strengthening of commercial exchanges and the fight against illegal immigration,

Libya The colonial period