Libya. During the year, Libya made a comeback on the international stage. In January, the country began dismantling its weapons of mass destruction under an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency IAEA and under the supervision of US and UK inspectors. Nuclear weapons equipment was shipped to the United States, while enriched uranium from a nuclear reactor near Tripoli was shipped to Russia. On February 4, Libya signed the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (CWC). According to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Libya had a comprehensive nuclear weapons program. In a March report, Libya revealed that it had over 20 tonnes of mustard gas in stock. On March 10, Libya signed an Additional Protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, thereby committing to allow IAEA inspectors to visit suspected facilities without warning.
According to CountryAAH, the total population in Libya is 6,871,303 people in 2020. Libya agreed January 9 to pay out a total of US $ 170 million in compensation to relatives of the 170 people killed when a French passenger plane blew up in the air during a flight over Chad and Niger in 1989. On August 10, Libya agreed to pay out $ 35 million to 163 victims of the bomb attack against a disco in Berlin in 1986. The victims were both persons injured in the act and partly the relatives of a Turkish woman who was killed.
The willingness to compromise vis-à-vis the Western world paid dividends. In January, a delegation from the US Congress visited Libya and met with leader Muammar al-Khadaffi. The Americans described the tone as “extremely positive”. On June 28, the United States re-established its diplomatic relations with Libya. During the year, al-Khadaffi was also visited by Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and French President Jacques Chirac. All the visits could be described as historic. Muammar al-Khadaffi visited Brussels on April 27-28. During this his first visit to Europe in 15 years, al-Khadaffi said that Libya would lead the “peace movement” in the world.
In September, the EU decided to lift its arms embargo on Libya. The decision was made following pressure from Italy, which wanted to provide Libya with military equipment to stop the hundreds of African refugees who left the Libyan coast each month hoping to reach Europe. Libya and Italy had already reached an agreement in August, in which Libya pledged to reject more refugees instead of allowing them to continue north. Libya said in October it had rejected 40,000 people to Other Countries in Africa.
The Western world thus seemed to have a lot to gain from welcoming Libya into the world community. Muammar al-Khadaffi was seen as a link that could be used to influence militant Islamists in other Arab countries. The country also has extensive oil reserves that Western companies were keen to access. First to sign an agreement with Libya was British-Dutch Royal Dutch/Shell on March 25. The US temporarily suspended its trade sanctions against Libya in April and permanently in September.
At the same time that Libya was opening outward, the regime’s iron grip was within the country. For example, five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor were sentenced to death on May 6 for blood transfusions with the intention of having infected over 400 Libyan children with HIV between 1997 and 1999. An expert witness claimed during the trial that the spread of infection was completely unintentional.
From the end of the 19th century, Libya became part of the Italian sphere of interest, as part of Italy’s attempt to create an African empire. After France took control of Tunisia in 1881, the three Turkish-controlled areas of Kyrenaika, Tripolitania and Fezzan were among the few areas in Africa that were not controlled by the great powers. At the same time, Libya was a natural area of interest for Italy, based on its geographical proximity and Roman prehistory. And with the opening of the Suez Canal – under British-Egyptian control – in 1869, the strategic value of eastern Libya, and not least Tobruk east of Kyrenaika, had increased.
Through diplomacy, Italy gained acceptance for its conquest of Libya. It was supposed to take place from the 1880s by peaceful means; with trade and investment. Italian shipping companies establish several routes to Libyan cities, and schools were built to spread Italian culture and languages. The first Italian bank established itself in Libya in 1907, gaining control of parts of its economic operations.
Italy used charges of Turkish hostility to its economic interests in Libya as an opportunity to invade Kyrenaika and Tripolitania in October 1911. Italian forces attacked and captured several cities along the coast, including Tripoli, Benghazi, Derna, Homs and Tobruk – and the Ottoman resistance became defeated. Many Libyans supported the Turks in the fight against the Italians and their Eritrean forces, but Italy defeated the Ottomans. On November 5, 1911, King Victor Emmanuel announced that Tripolitania and Kyrenaika were subject to the Italian crown; they were formally annexed in 1912.
As a result of a peace agreement signed in Lausanne, Italy gained control of the territories, and Turkey withdrew its forces. The two territories gained formal autonomy, but Italy was in full control, and the king issued a decree pointing out that the Libyans were Italian subjects. The great powers recognized Italian political, secular supremacy. At the same time, the Lausanne Treaty allowed Libyans to recognize the Turkish sultan as a caliph, as religious head. This strengthened the possibility of Turkish-Libyan opposition to the Italian regime. This resistance – the first Sanusi war – forced Italian forces to give up control of most of Libya, and they had to retreat to the coast. While the Sanusi Order organized military resistance in Kyrenaika, the Berbers revolted in Tripolitania. Italy’s occupation was also challenged by military resistance in Fezzan.
World war one
With the outbreak of World War I, Italy and Turkey ended up at war again, and Turkey increased its support for the rebels in Libya. The Sanusians also received support from Turkey’s allies, including from German officers smuggled into the country. However, they suffered defeat when they participated in a Turkish attack against British forces in Egypt in 1915. The invasion forces were defeated and driven back to Kyrenaika. Sanusi leader Ahmad al-Sharif al-Sanusi, as a result of the unsuccessful expedition, transferred the leadership to his cousin, Muhammad al-Idris – Libya’s later king – and went into exile in Turkey. Britain contributed to negotiations between Italy and the Sanusi leadership, which in 1917 led to a ceasefire. This (Acroma agreement) effectively gave Idris dominion over most of Kyrenaika.
Colonization and resistance
After the end of the First World War, Italy intensified its attention to Libya, having been promised sovereignty over the country as part of the post-war settlement. Italy had kept control of some areas of the coast, sending reinforcements. Kyrenaika and Tripolitania were treated as separate colonies; Fezzan as a military territory. Both colonies were open to indirect, internal self-government, with local parliaments and special Libyan-Italian citizenship, but they were under Italian control. Italy granted concessions to the opponents of Tripolitania, where a republic was proclaimed in 1918. In Kyrenaika, the sanusians in 1920 were given autonomy over certain areas, with Idris as emir. Tripolitan leaders who met at a national congress in 1920 demanded their own government and governed the Islamic law, and rejected all Italian supremacy.
A comprehensive colonization campaign was launched from 1921: la reconquista, the recapture. After the fascist takeover of Italy in the autumn of 1922, the colonization became a national and ideological prestige project, and dictator Benito Mussolini became personally engaged. He rejected the Acroma agreement and authorized General Rodolfo Gartziani’s new military commander in Libya to use all means to crush the resistance – in a new conquest war. Italy first took control of Tripolitania, while fighting continued inland in Kyrenaika, where the sanusians remained. Agreements were canceled and the Cyrenic parliament dissolved. The Italians’ march in Benghazi increased the will – and escalated the war.
A resistance movement was organized and led by sanusi leader Umar al-Mukhtar, and had broad popular support. The opposition in Tripolitania and Fezzan was not as well organized, and lacked a corresponding unifying leader. The Italians united the two provinces to better coordinate military efforts. In Kyrenaika, a large part of the nomadic civilian population, which supported the resistance, was interned in concentration camps, and the civilian losses were very large; several thousand were executed. While the rebels pursued a guerrilla war, the Italians used modern weapons, including air weapons. In 1931, the sanusi capital Kufra fell, then Mukhtar was captured, sentenced and hanged. The resistance was then almost crushed, and in January 1932 the Italians declared the uprising – the second Sanusi war – over.
Towards the end of the 1930s, Italy stepped up colonization, with large-scale infrastructure development, and with a program to get Italian farming families to emigrate to Libya. There they were offered houses and land. When Libya was incorporated into Italy in 1939 as one province, about 100,000 Italians lived there, corresponding to one-tenth of Libya’s population. Plans were made for the relocation of half a million Italians to Libya during the 1960s, but these were prevented by World War II.
The Italians conquered Libya to establish a settler colony, where the locals served most as labor. Some integration was part of the project, and from 1939 Muslims were allowed to join the national fascist party, and Arab units in the Italian army were made available. Some were enrolled in the Italian forces that fought in Abyssinia – such Eritrean forces were used by the Italians in Libya. Libyan units then fought for Italy in World War II.
As a result of the Italian investment, the country experienced economic development, and Tripoli was developed into one of the leading cities in North Africa. Industrial travel was initiated to make the colony more self-sufficient. Mussolini himself visited Libya in 1937, among other things to open the newly built main road that linked Libya to Tunisia in the west and Egypt in the east. The Sanusi order was banned, but it was religious freedom, and both Muslims and Jews had their own courts. The United Libyan Colony was ruled through four provinces: Tripoli, Misurata, Benghazi and Derna.
At the outbreak of World War II, some 70,000 Italians lived in Tripolitania and about 40,000 lived in Kyrenaika. There was still widespread opposition to the Italian regime, not least in Kyrenaika. Here the nationalists gathered about the emir, Idris – and gave their support to Britain. Libya and Egypt were the major fronts in Africa during the war, and one of the most important at all, with great strengths and strikes.
Italy declared the Allied war on June 10, 1940, and entered Egypt with its 10th army in September. Mussolini’s ambition was to secure Italian dominance over the Mediterranean; in North Africa through an expansion both west and east from Libya. Already in October 1939, Libyan leaders gathered in Alexandria, where they recognized Idris as emir, and informed the British ambassador that he would act on their behalf. This was the basis for the future loyalty King Idris had to the United Kingdom. Libyan leaders set up a Libyan military unit to fight with the British forces in Egypt. This, the Libyan Arab Force, was significantly recruited among Bedouins from Kyrenaika. On the other hand, Libyans fought with the Italians.
Already at first advance into Egypt, the Italian forces were defeated by the British, and driven back – to defeat new battles in Libya, Bardia and Tobruk. They were driven out of Kyrenaika in February 1941, after which the British established a military government in the province. The court brought Italy’s Allied Germany into the war in North Africa, with Gen. Erwin Rommel as leader of the Africa Corps, from February to March 1941. Rommel attacked in Kyrenaika and drove the British back to Egypt. Thereafter, a prolonged war between the Allies and the Axis forces continued, with German-Italian progress in 1941-1942, until the Allies, led by General Bernard Montgomery, were taken over towards the end of 1942, after holding the line at El Alamein. Then allied forces moved into Libya, taking Benghazi on November 19, 1942. Tripoli was captured on January 23, 1943, which meant the end of Italian rule in Libya. Free French forces from West Africa took control of Fezzan in January 1943.