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Libya Old History

 

The area that today constitutes the state of Libya has previously been controlled by, among others, Romans, Arabs and Turks, but historically has never been a united territory. Modern Libya was first created when, in 1912, Italy conquered the area as a colony. Libya became independent in 1951, but the new country was extremely poor and King Idris a weak ruler. When major oil resources were discovered in the 1960s, development finally took off, but then political turmoil increased.

Before the Arabs arrived in the 600s after Christ, North Africa was dominated by Berber people. One of the Greeks' names of the light-skinned Berbers was Libyans.

  • AbbreviationFinder.org: Comprehensive guide to and popular abbreviations of Libya, covering history, economy, and social conditions.

The city of Carthage, founded by Phoenicians and located in present-day Tunisia, had from the 600s BC set up trading stations along the coast of North Africa, including Oea (Tripoli) in Tripolitania. There, gold and ivory were sold as berber and other desert people transported from West Africa through the Sahara. At about the same time, Greeks settled in Cyrenaika (ancient Pentapolis) on the other, eastern side of the 50-mile-wide Sirtica Desert.

During the century before our era, both Cyrenaika and Tripolitania were incorporated into the Roman Empire. For more than 400 years, both provinces flourished as "Rome's grain stores" and as trading centers. When the Roman Empire was divided in 395, the border between the western and eastern Roman kingdoms was drawn straight through the Sirtica Desert, but from year 534 the whole area under Ístrom (Byzantium).

In 639, Egypt was invaded by Arabs who brought Islam to the new religion. From there, 642 conquered Cyrenaika and two years later Tripolitania. The fezzan in the south was invaded in 663, despite fierce Berber resistance. The coastal province's Christian culture was replaced by the Arab-Muslim, and even Berber converted to Islam. Tripolitania and Cyrenaika were subjugated to the Caliphate in Damascus.

Old History of Libya

The Ottoman Empire

In the 16th century, Tripolitania and Cyrenaika were conquered by the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire. However, the Ottoman regime ruled long periods only to the name. From 1843 the Senussi orders (see Religion) gained great influence in Cyrenaika. Independent Arab princes ruled Fezzan until the early 19th century, when the area was laid under Tripoli.

Italian troops occupied the Libyan provinces in 1911 and founded the colony Libia Italiana. The Senussi orders played a leading role in the resilient opposition to the colonial power, which was first crushed in the 1930s after the resistance leader Omar al-Mukhtar was executed by the Italians. To counter the resistance, the Italian fascist government set up concentration camps and the locals were brutally expelled from their homes, while encouraging poor Italians to emigrate to Libya. In Cyrenaika, nearly a third of the population was killed, the memory of these injustices is very much alive in Libya.

The Italians also left other traces behind. When in 1934 the regions of Tripolitania, Cyrenaika and Fezzan merged, the seed was sown to a Libyan nation state.

During World War II, violent armor battles were fought on Libyan soil between the Allies and the Axis powers. Libya was occupied by the Allies from 1943 to 1951. Disagreements over how the territory was to be managed led to the issue being put to the vote at the UN General Assembly, which led to the country becoming the first colony in Africa to gain independence. The leader of the Senussi Order became king under the name of Idris I.

Power Center in Cyrenaika

The kingdom was organized as a federation between the three regions of Libya, but King Idris gathered the most power in his home region of Cyrenaika, which angered many in the more populous Tripolitania. There was a national assembly at the federal level, but it sounded completely under court. The national feeling was weak, tensions were great between east and west and between different tribes. After the first elections in 1952, the king banned political parties.

Independent Libya was a poor country that received most of its revenues from foreign aid and from rents for US and British military bases. The money went to the king, and the court then distributed it. Even in 1954, the most important export products were alpha grass (or esparto; a kind of grass that constitutes the raw material in quality paper) and scrap from the Second World War battlefield.

However, from 1959 to 1960, large amounts of oil were discovered. The sudden wealth that the oil provided was unevenly distributed and the oil industry did little work for ordinary Libyans. By contrast, high-paying government positions were established, which usually went to the elite in Cyrenaika and others who had close ties to the court. Corruption increased. Economic and cultural gaps also began to emerge in Libya, which until then had been a traditionally controlled Bedouin community with evenly distributed poverty. The dissatisfaction spread. At the same time, visions of Arab unity swept across the Middle East. In Libya, the government's close ties to the Western powers sparked a concern that reached its peak after the six-day war between Israel and the Arab states in 1967.

 
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