American Indians and Indigenous Libyans

Again the first thing that popped into my head when I read the article, “State and Class Formation and Collaboration in Colonial Libya” had to do with American history, particularly America Indian history. The changes that the Libyans experienced was very similar to the changes that the American Indians experienced when European settlers colonized North America. One of the main issues that the American Indians faced was the transformation of their economy and livelihood from a open agricultural society based on the trading of goods to the large scale agriculture and monetary system of the Europeans. Particularly in the section, “Now, the weakening of the major tribal confederation in the hinterland caused many tribesmen to lose their livelihoods as guides, lessors of animals, and tribute recipients. Agriculture became the only major activity apart from herding.”

Margot’s Post on Ahmida’s “State and Class Formation and Collaboration”

The section of Ali Abdullatif Ahmida’s article, “State and Class Formation and Collaboration” that I found most interesting was when Ahmida discussed collaboration on the part of the upper class. He describes different types of collaborators, in particular compradore merchants, members of the Muntasir notable merchant class, Jewish middlemen tied to Italian interests, and what Ahmida calls “waverers.” Ahmida argues that these collaboration and factionalism between the notables ended up undermining the Tripolitanian resistance whose numbers rose to fifteen thousand fighters by 1913.

The compradore merchant were tied to the Bank of Rome and wanted to protect their economic interests. An example Ahmida gives is Mayor Hasuna who was in contact with the Italian government starting in 1890. He collaborated with the Italians because he thought they would make him ruler of Tripoli like his grandfather had been. He helped the Italian army by collecting Ottoman guns from the city. The Italians did not end up appointing him as ruler of the city.

The Muntasir notable merchant class were also working for the government and they justified their actions because they wanted to retain their fortune and influence in the region and were motivated by revenge against rivals in Tripolitania.

The Jewish middlemen were tied to Italian interests because they dominated the import-export trade with Italy and spoke some Italian. Poor Jews weren’t as enthusiastic, but like the other collaborators above, economic interest overruled any reservations they had.

Ahmida: The Relationship Between Capitalism and The Kinship Ideology

What I found most interesting was the underlying ideologies surrounding the relationship between social structure, resistance, and independence. There seems to be a direct relationship between the introduction of capitalism and tax collection into these once seminomadic tribes and the loss of independence. A loss of independence, further strengthen by the economic turbulence that led to reliance of employment surrounding British and Italian capital, which also facilitated class formation. The construct of class separation only generated more turbulence within communities as it formed a more complex society, consisting of multiple tribes. This idea takes me back to our conversations about good and bad colonialism, as well as the Azande tribes that Piaggia visited which were governed by the reciprocity rule. The parallel between Trioplitana and the Azande tribes is the collectivism within the tribal communities. And the difference between the two examples is the presence of colonialism. Had the Ottoman state authorities not forced tax collection, would have the kinship ideology survived the introduction of capitalism (regardless of the economic turmoil that Trioplitana faced)? Can either the experience with the Dodecanese islanders or Piaggia’s experience with the Azande tribes shed any light on this matter? Does the success of capitalism have a definate relationship to the creation of class separation?  If so, is it dependent on the employment generated by an outside force, such as Italian capital?  Could successful capitalism have been introduced to these tribes without the establishment of seperated classes and an urban workforce?

Mussolini and the Sword of Islam

Mussolini & the Sword of Islam


Mussolini’s visit to Libya in 1937 was a masterpiece of propaganda.  He inaugurated the “Litoranea” (an impressive highway completed in less than 18 months), deprived Italo Balbo of the glory and set himself up as a protector of Islam.  Very ironic since Italian colonialism in Cyrenaica had been very brutal.  An entire population of 100,000 had been marched to Cyrenaican concentration camps and an estimated 40,000 died. Only in 1931 after the capture and hanging of Omar al-Mukhtar did the situation end. In this region of Libya the “Sanusi order had become deeply rooted as a state and as a religion” (p.63). Even after years of fascist propaganda the tribes in Cyrenaica resisted Italian colonialism.

I can’t help but remember Gaddafi’s visit to Italy in 2009.  He arrived wearing a picture of al-Mukhtar pinned to his jacket. Berlusconi stated “A long painful chapter with Libya has been closed”, and Gaddafi  “praised this generation of Italians for having resolved the issues of the past with great courage”. But as is usually the case, economic  concerns and prestige were the main factors involved here. I just think it’s ironic that after over 70 years this “long painful chapter” as Berlusconi called it, is long from being over.  This course on Italian Colonialism should be taught in Italian schools at all levels and it is not. The censorship of documents or films relating to the colonial experience by Italian authorities creates a barrier to the truth. Italians need to know what happened during their colonial experience and to be able to judge using all information available.

Arch of the Fileni (Litoranea)

Mussolini’s visit to Libya in 1937:


Geddafi & Berlusconi 2009


This is a very good article explaining the relationship between Italy and Libya during the past 100 years:



“State and Class Formation and Collaboration in Colonial Libya”

I enjoyed the perspective shown within both of these articles, but more particularly the one in “State and Class Formation and Collaboration in Colonial Libya.” I thought it was important to take into consideration how Libya was not an ultimately unified state to begin with.  There were so many factors that contributed to how certain events occurred within Libya and I think that Italy was ignorant to a great many of the factions within Libya and how important they were.

This quote really concludes the article greatly:

“ Each faction sought allies as the safest means to protect their authority and interests, especially in the context of colonial rule.”

I found this article to connect greatly to a comment I made on my last blog post. It seems that many people collaborated with the fascists as a means of survival. Here, in Libya, many people interacted with the fascists to keep their economic strength, a factor that I believe Laura said was important to consider in our last class, and others collaborated with Italy in order to “get back” at their rivals. Both of these  actions would have ultimately led to the survival and continuance of the current lifestyles of those who conducted the interactions with the Italians.

Of course, not everyone collaborated with the Italians and there were many armed resistances to the new fascist rulers, so this matter of survival probably does not apply to every situation. It is also to point out that the fascist rule was just a means to an end. Those who wanted to get back at other rival families and groups simply used the Italians as a means to do so. This may mean that some groups and families in Libya did not truly hate the Italians but rather used them to get what they wanted.

In the end, there is a multitude of factors that contributed to the interactions between the two countries, many of which is seems that the Italians were ignorant to. Perhaps only for some was it a means to survival.