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Generational Country Study: Libya

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Map of Libya
Map of Libya

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Generational Crisis Wars

-- Libya: 1911-1931 Italian Invasion + Sanussi Resistance (Crisis)
-- Libya: 1932-1950 Italian Colony (Recovery)
-- Libya: 1951-1970 Gaddafi's Coup (Awakening)
-- Libya: 1971-Present Conflicts at Home and Abroad (Unraveling and Post-Unraveling)

Brief Generational History - updated 19-Jun-2008

From the 15th century through 1911, Libya was occupied by the Ottoman Empire. It appears that the generational cycles of the Libyan people and the Ottomans were merged. Unlike their neighbors in Egypt, Libyans never mounted concentrated resistance to the Ottoman Empire (whose study can be found on the Turkey page), but there is evidence of local fighting in the 1850s, which occurred as the Ottomans were participating in their own crisis, the Crimean War. Regardless, we'll pick up their generational cycle with the Italian invasion of Libya.

In September 1911, Italy initiated a conflict with the Ottoman Empire with the intent of invading and occupying Libya, thus liberating the nation from Ottoman rule. The Ottoman Empire, in the final years of its existence, proved a weak and disorganized foe; following heavy casualties in the year-long invasion, they were forced to grant concessions to Italy. A concurrent revolt was staged by Libyan tribesmen (particularly the traditionalist Sanussis) against the invaders, as they saw the Ottoman surrender as a surrender of Islam. A peace accord was reached in 1920, but following fascist dictator Benito Mussolini's rise to power in Italy, war broke out again upon the annexation of recognized Sanussi territory. What followed was fierce resistance and refusal to surrender on the part of the Libyan people and extreme brutality (including a war of attrition that featured the establishment of concentration camps) exhibited by the Italians.

However, in 1931, resistance collapsed and the country was unified. In the recovery era, attempts at modernization of Libyan infrastructure as well as Italian and Libyan integration were mostly successful, despite the bitterness felt from the crisis. When World War Two broke out, Mussolini and the Axis Powers used Libya as a base for operations against the British in Egypt. Many Cyrenaicans (the eastern-most portion of Libya), assisted the allies in the struggle. By 1943, the Italians and Germans had been pushed out of the country, and Libya was occupied by British and French forces.

Following a decree by the United Nations, Libya achieved independence in 1951. The nation was established as a constitutional monarchy which would be led by King Idris I. Shortly after elections in 1952, political parties were outlawed. Despite this, the order that was so strong for much of the 1930s and 1940s began to fracture in the awakening era (typically occurring approximately 20 years after the climax of the previous crisis), a time of generational conflict and shifting values. Disputes between various local governments intensified, as did opposition to Idris. Petroleum deposits were discovered in 1959, thus transforming Libya into a wealthy nation with an increasing population. Despite this, Idris could not promote support for his regime like Nasser had done in Egypt. Rather, the wealth brought in from petroleum sales failed to affect the lives of Libyans, and when combined with conservative opposition to Idris's pro-Western policies (feelings which were intensified following the Arab-Israeli war in 1967), created a climate inducive to change.

The awakening climaxed in 1969, when a group modeling themselves after Nasser's government in Egypt took control of the government and abolished a monarchy. Led by Muammar al-Gaddafi, the new leaders pursued a policy of socialism and strict adherence to Muslim doctrine. In the unraveling era, divisions continued, albeit of a different nature. Many educated Libyans left the country and formed opposition groups, leaving a lack of skilled workers. In addition, many students opposed Gaddafis reforms; and, perhaps fearful of another coup, Gaddifi had dissident members of the armed forces executed. Despite the opposition, economic conditions improved in the 1970s.

Gaddafi fashioned himself as a revolutionary, and he sought to support opposition to Western and Soviet territories throughout his rule. Some have speculated that Gaddafi was a major financier of terrorism in the 1980s and 1990s. His policies led to conflicts with the United States and a United Nations embargo on petroleum was placed following an incident over the Gulf of Sidra in 1981, crippling the economy for two decades. In 1986, the United States initiated bombing raids on the country. The following year, Libya invaded southern neighbor Chad, but was repulsed.

In 1999, Libya agreed to meet the demands posed by the United Nations, and the sanctions were removed. In 2003, Gaddafi renounced terrorism and has ended his weapons of mass destruction program. Currently, Libya is slightly overdue for a crisis and will likely be drawn into conflicts in surrounding countries, notwithstanding the current steps towards a less provocative foreign policy.

-- Matt Ignal

Article Cross-References

-- Muslim world boycotts Danish goods over offensive cartoons: This is a bizarre tale about how a small thing can lead to a major, real crisis. (31-Jan-06)

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