"yakhtar akhaf al-dararain" (the choice of the lighter of two evils)
Today the Libyan people are faced with the enormous task of rebuilding their country. They are faced with the struggle of past evils, the tyranny of 40 years of dictatorship, the recent destruction caused by the civil war against Gaddafi and the more substantial social devastation brought upon their country by the two Italian-Sanusi wars of colonial conquest that is a shadow on their future. Worse still is the looming crisis of oil riches and the vast conflicts that this has brought to other peoples in the world. The country's identity is split between Cyrenaica in the east, Tripoli in the west and the history of Fezzan and Kufra in the south. Its borders represent the divisions of Africa by the colonial powers after the defeat of the Ottomans. Is it one nation or several? Will it go the way of the Sudan? The name of the country has Greek origins. The country is populated sparsely, with some 6.5 million inhabitants. It has suffered terribly from the civil war and yet its oil producing capacity is substantial. The world has to understand these factors and their potential for stress and conflict.
In the Second Italo-Sanusi War (1923-1932) the Sanusi movement was essentially exterminated with almost all of its centers destroyed, or given over to Italian colonists, its leaders dead, exiled or imprisoned. The Bedouin were bombed and strafed from the air, they were chased by mobile units across the desert, their herds captured or killed, their families incarcerated in prison camps. Mussolini's military left no tactic or weapon idle in their effort to pacify the country. Libya became a concentration camp were no native could move from one place to another without military papers authorizing it. The aim of the program was to eliminate the Bedouin way of life entirely (see Vittorino Braida, "Memoria per l'Ufficiale dei Reparti inalgeni della Cirenaica," 1935 and Rodolfo Graziani, Cirenaica Pacificata, 1932).
The best lands were given over to a mass of urban Italian poor who had little knowledge or experience with farming or pastoralism (see E.E.E. Evans-Pritchard, The Sanusi of Cyrenaica, ACLS Humanities 1949). The Italian administration felt that the Bedouin needed complete state control and went about to systematically abolish the traditional powers of the tribal Shaikhs, reducing or making impossible tribal gatherings or administration. This program was continued by Gaddafi leaving a country without established social institutions. They abolished all tribal authority and organizations, replacing them with Italian military personnel. In 1927 the Fascist government in Rome created a General Council in Cyrenaica with little power and Consultative bodies of Shaikhs with little reason to exist than to be responsible when Bedouins failed to obey. These bodies were much like those allowed by Gaddafi.
The Bedouin ignored most of these actions by the Italians and most all laws including the 1939 incorporation of Libya into the Kingdom of Italy. They went about trying to live as they had always lived. It was said of their attitude, "Sama' min gher ta'a" or To hear without obeying. The Libyan people's struggle today surrounds these many evils of the past 100 years of colonial repression and dictatorship. How they decided to use their vast oil wealth is crucial, but how they decide to govern themselves is masked in the void separating them from their earlier history of self-government.