Italian Libya


In preparation for the peace conference that was expected to follow World War I, in the spring of 1917 the British Foreign Office established a special section responsible for preparing background information for use by British delegates to the conference. Italian Libya is Number 127 in a series of more than 160 studies produced by the section, most of which were published after the conclusion of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. The study covers physical and political geography, political history, social and political conditions, and economic conditions. It recounts how Libya was successively controlled by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, and Arabs. From the 14th century onward, it was mainly dominated by the Barbary pirates, who in 1518 accepted the sovereignty of the Ottoman Empire. Italy, which had long harbored colonial designs on North Africa, declared war on the Ottoman Empire in September 1911 and dispatched an expeditionary force to Libya. The Italians secured de facto control over the country in 1912. The study describes resistance to Italian rule, much of it centered in an Islamic religious movement, the Sanūsī Confraternity (Sanussi order). It stresses the importance of Islam and in particular the role of Sufism but also notes the presence of a community of some 20,000 Jews, mostly descendants of Jewish settlers from Roman times. The section on economic conditions contrasts the agricultural prosperity of Libya during ancient times with the desert conditions of the early 20th century and concludes: “ancient prosperity—such as it was—came only after centuries of effort; and modern development on any considerable scale is likely to be slow, costly, and laborious.”

Last updated: May 11, 2015