Many lives have been lost today. Once again, no significant territory has shifted hands. Unfortunate, but this gives us a chance to review the events that led up to the current situation in Libya, and a quick run down on the geographical and political entity that is now formally termed “Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab State of the Masses” – No, I didn’t just make that name up. Colonel Gaddafi did, after deposing the King. He wasn’t happy with the King, for a few reasons.
After the Second World War, and after a few years as a protectorate of the British Crown, it was decided that a single independant nation called “Libya” should be formed of the three old Ottoman-era provinces of Cyrenaica, Fezzan, and Tripolitania. This ancient land became colonized by Greeks starting about 2,600 years ago. Their descendants, still alive and well, include Arabs, Tuareg, and people termed “Berbers“.
Falling variously from Greek to Roman hands for a time, it was eventually taken from the Greek-speaking Eastern Roman Empire by the Arabs shortly after the advent of Islam. As the various Arab Caliphates gave way to the Ottoman Empire (that fell as a result of the First World War) the region came again under European influence.
After the Second World War, it was decided that three particular areas formerly defined as Ottoman Provinces and currently under British control ought to become a single independent nation. Elders of the area decided on a Constitutional Monarchy, and offered the crown to the leader of the Senussi movement of North Africa. He was also the Emir (or leader) of Cyrenaica. His name was Idris.
(Image Credit: Wikipedia)
So, congratulations to Libya achieving independence on December 24, 1951! Constitution that guarantees political freedoms and protects ethnic minorities? Check. Monarchy with limited power that will provide long-term stability and serve as spiritual and social role models for the nation? Check. Oil, discovered in the late 1950s? Check. What could possibly go wrong?
Oil, for one. Libyan oil wealth was not distributed evenly. The Saudi model of bribing one’s population into submission and loyalty had not yet come to be…
Wait…I just had a moment of realization. I’m not a professional journalist. I don’t need to hint, so I can say it: It is entirely possible to run a nation on an oil economy the way the Mafia formerly ran Chicago or the way Putin currently runs Russia.
Except that King Idris forgot the part about handing out vast quantities of bribes. Putin’s model involves few big bribes to big business, industry, and the organs of information (media, etc), the Saudi Kingdom’s model involves millions of more modest bribes. King Idris tried to simply not bribe anyone outside of a few buddies in Benghazi and surrounding areas. Whoops.
King Idris’ attempts to create a single sense of Nationalism centered around his Crown did not materialize. The King was modestly popular in his native Cyrenaica, but not particularly popular in the two Western areas. Idris also amassed far more power to himself than the Constitution ever authorized, something that was not popular with many of his young Army officers. These young men increasingly liked the Arabist ideology of Nasserism and wanted nothing to do with Foreigners. This ideology was especially attractive to young Libyan Soldiers in the late 1960s, a time when both the British and Americans had military bases on Libyan soil.
The 1969 coup involved both large segments of the military (let by Colonel Gaddafi), and the support of much of Libya’s youth. That part should sound familiar. Within a few hours, the monarchy and constitution had been abolished, and the junta assumed powers of state.
Gaddafi and his boys initially renamed the country from the “Kingdom of Libya” to the “Arab Republic of Libya”. The word “Republic” because everyone seems to do that, and the word “Arab” because of the Nasserist ideologies emphasizing that the Arab World ought to be run by Arabs and for Arabs. Remember the part in the old constitution about protecting ethnic minorities? Yeah, Gaddafi isn’t interested. The regime’s hostility to native Libyans that are not Arabs may have played a role in certain tribes choosing to side with the current Rebellion.
Well, that’s all for now. I hope tonight’s body count in Libya is minimal. We’ll cover how we went from “Arab Republic” to “Great Socialist People’s Ridiculously Named yada-yada-yada” tomorrow.