Current attempts at dividing Libya following the toppling of Muammar Qaddafi’s regime make it necessary to look into the history of the country’s different regions in order to gain insight into the possible political conflicts and the expected separatist initiatives.
Before gaining its independence in 1952, Libya was divided into three regions: Cyrenaica, Fezzan, and Tripolitania. Each of the three regions had its own colonial history. Even after the unification of Libya and the division of the country into smaller administrative units like governorates and municipalities, each of these regions retained its specificity.
Cyrenaica, the eastern part of Libya, was named as such in 644 A.D. after the city of Cyrene which became the capital of the region.
In 1919, Cyrenaica was declared an Italian colony and occupation authorities recognized Sheikh Sidi Idriss as the leader of the Senussi order and bestowed upon him the title Emir (Arabic for “prince”). In 1943, Cyrenaica, Fezzan, and Tripolitania all fell under Italian occupation and the three of them were grouped under the name Italian Libya.
When Italy was defeated in the Second World War, the Allied Forces occupied Libya and both Cyrenaica and Tripolitania became British colonies. In 1951, Cyrenaica, Tripolitania, and Fezzan formed a federal state and the regions retained their historic names. In 1963, this new country got divided into 10 governorates instead and its name became the Libyan Kingdom.
Fezzan, the southwestern part of Libya, is mostly a desert region that houses a lot of mountains and valleys as well as a considerable portion of the country’s oil reserves.
In 1911, Italy occupied Fezzan but during the Second World War, the Free French Troops kicked Italian forces out and occupied Murzuk, a main city in the region. The whole region remained under military French control until 1951.
After the unification, Fezzan became one of the kingdom’s three regions following a referendum in which the region’s residents agreed to be part of the kingdom. Like Cyrenaica, Fezzan was later divided into governorates.
Tripolitania is the first republic to be established in the Arab world. In 1918, the Ottoman Empire welcomed the independence of the Tripolitanian Republic from Italian occupation and which has a negative impact on Italy’s power.
Tripolitania’s declaration of independence announced the creation a consultative assembly and a republican assembly and the election of the members of both. The republican assembly started its first session with informing the world’s powers, including Italy, of the independence of Tripolitania.
At the time, members of the republican assembly preferred not to elect a president right away until stability prevails.
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)