The Sanûsî Amîrs & Kings of Libya, 1837-1969 AD
Libya begins as two domains in the Ottoman Empire, Tripolitania in the west and Cyrenaica in the east. Eventually, lands in the deeper desert, Fezzan, were brought under control. Most of the desert, however, is uninhabitable. Cyrenaica entered history originally as a place of Greek colonies. It is mountainous and, especially in the past, reasonably well watered. Tripoltania clings to the Mediterranean coast around the city of Tripoli. Just a few miles down the coast from Tripoli is Labdah, Roman Leptis Magna, which was the home town of the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus (b.145).
This was a thinly populated backwater for the Turks, noteworthy mainly for Roman ruins and piracy (with U.S. Marines landing at Tripoli in 1801). It all achieved greater significance when Italy displaced the Ottomans in 1911 (ceded in 1912). Indeed, Libya became one of the most important strategic theaters of World War II. The Italians tried invading Egypt from Libya in September 1940 but by February 1941 had been thrown completely out of Cyrenaica, with 130,000 soldiers captured. Alarmed, Hitler sent Erwin Rommel with a couple of divisions to prevent the Italian position from collapsing completely. Rommel, however, went on the offensive. For more than a year, things surged back and forth, with Cyrenaica recovered, lost, and recovered again. By July 1942, Rommel was deep into Egypt, barely stopped at El Alamein, 60 miles from Alexandria. By then, however, the United States was in the War; and the strongly reinforced British began an offensive in October. They broke through and soon swept the Germans and Italians entirely out of Libya. Retreating into Tunisia, they were caught against the Americans who had landed in Morocco and Algeria in November.
After the War, Libya formally became independent in 1951, under the Sasûnî Amîr of Cyrenaica. The long lived King Idrîs was eventually overthrown in 1969. This was under the leadership of the eratic and megalomanaical Muammar Qaddafi. Along with armed clashes with Egypt and Chad,
Libya became a sponsor of terrorism. Blamed for a bombing in Berlin in 1986, Libya was bombed by
Ronald Reagan in retaliation. Later blamed for a bomb that brought down Pam Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, sanctions were imposed on Libya until accused operatives were surrendered. This eventually happened, Qaddafi may have thought better of his ways, and sanctions were lifted in 2003. Meanwhile, Qaddafi had dressed up his dictatorship with an idiosyncratic political theory. Libya became the "Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya." Jamahiriya, similar to the Arabic word for "republic," jumhûrîya, was a term coined by Qaddafi for his politcal system, which was supposed to be a kind of direct, mass democracy, but is probably no more democratic that similar arrangements in the Soviet Union. Like Mao's little red book, Qaddafi produced a little green book. Qaddafi seems secure enough, like many other dictators (one thinks of Castro), but increasingly anachronistic (Castro, again).