Posts Tagged ‘Senussi’
The Zawiya tribe wields considerable clout in modern Libya because of the vast size and strategic importance of its homeland in the old eastern province of Cyrenaica. From Ajadabia its members are spread out across vast interior regions around major oil deposits and water sources. They also command the trade, legal and illegal, that passes through the Kufra oasis archipelago and along the only tarmac road from thence to Jalo in the north.
Desert traders and nomadic pastoralists the Zawiya conquered Kufra in 1840 subduing the indigenous Tebu which, at some time in antiquity, maintained a notable presence there. The remnants of their dwellings and forts are still visible. Since that time the Zawiya tribe has owned most of the date palm groves of the Kufra oases, employing the Tebu as labourers and extending its trading route into the Wadai, now part of Chad. It is said that Kufra under their rule was the most noted centre of brigandage in the Sahara. Plus ça change – plus c’est la même chose.
The Zawiya leadership promised the Grand Senussi, Mohamed Ben Ali as-Senussi, a liberal donation of dates and water if he would establish a religious community there. This he did and the Senussi order eventually moved its headquarters to Kufra from whence it exercised its moral and temporal suasion and commercial competence over the hitherto predatory Zawiya, establishing a profitable trade in slaves and arms between the south and the north until the Italians drove it out in 1931.
A minority of the inhabitants of modern Kufra are the descendents of the Senussi religious community known as the Ekwan who align themselves with the Zawiya. The Tebu have long been marginalised and since the fall of Gaddafi have acquired arms and become belligerent. Kufra is now a problem for the new Libyan government which has recently declared the south of Libya a military zone.
Libya is a huge country. The very size of it alone would make it difficult to govern but the nature of the terrain adds immeasurably to the problem. The remoteness of Kufra, one of a number of oases deep in Libya, is profound. It is largely protected by the Ribiana Sand Sea to its north-west and the Kalansho Sand Sea to its north-east. The road from Benghazi, the old slave trade route, passes the oases of Tazerbo and Zighen and then the gap in the sand seas to Kufra proper.
In 1941, the famous desert explorer and soldier, Colonel R.A. Bagnold, described the oasis complex thus: “Imagine northern Europe as a rainless desert of sand and rock, with London as Tag (the site of the fort in Kufra), a little area a few miles across, with shallow artesian well water, palm groves, villages and salt lakes, and with a population of 4,000. The suburb of Tazerbo with another 1,000 inhabitants is north-west where Liverpool is. Zighen would be near Derby, and Rebiana near Bristol cut off by a sea of dunes. Cairo would be at Copenhagen, across a sand sea. Wadi Halfar (on the Nile) would be near Munich, with waterless desert in between.”
The dilution of traditional tribal ties, caused by urbanisation in the coastal towns of Benghazi and Ajadabia, has not occurred in the proudly isolated Kurfa. There, the hostility between the black Tebu people and the white Zawiya tribe has long been endemic. Recently it has escalated into open warfare, largely because Tebu migrants have flocked to Kufra from their homeland in the Tebesti mountain region of Chad. They are seen as inferiors and foreigners by the Zawiya majority who’s social, political and economic dominance they threaten.
On the 23rd of February 2012, the Jamestown Foundation published its report entitled “The Battle for Kufra Oasis and the On-going War in Libya”. It states, in part: “An escalating tribal conflict in the strategic Kufra Oasis has revealed once more that Libya’s Transitional National Council (TNC) is incapable of restoring order in a nation where political and tribal violence flares up on a regular basis, fuelled by a wave of weapons liberated from Qaddafi’s armoires. Though this is hardly the first clash between the African Tebu and the Arab Zawiya tribe that took control of the oasis from the Tebu in 1840, it is certainly the first to be fought with heavy weapons such as RPGs and anti-aircraft guns, an innovation that is reflected in the various estimates of heavy casualties in the fighting. Fighting began on February 12 and has continued to the present [22nd February]. Well over 100 people have been killed in less than two weeks; with many hundreds more wounded.”
OIL AND WATER
There are two other reasons why the Zawiya is important in Libya today. The first has to do with water. From 1,116 wells which tap into the ancient Nubian Sandstone Aquifer system below the Sahara a network of pre-stressed concrete pipes, known as the ‘Great Man Made River’, brings the pure ‘fossil’ water to the Libyan coastal cities of Tripoli, Misurata, Sirte and Benghazi for irrigation, industry and domestic use. Much of the water comes from the 126 wells in the Sarir field, 108 wells in the Tazerbo field and the 300 wells in the Kufra field, all in the homeland of the Zawiya tribe. The potential threat to the government of Libya should the Zawaya tribe sabotage the power supply to the wells and pumping stations is patiently obvious.
The second reason for taking note of the Zawiya tribe is oil. The Sarir oilfield, which falls squarely within Zawaya tribal land, is one of the biggest in Libya and produces around 11% of its total output of crude oil. It flows through a 400 km pipeline to an oil terminal at Marsa Hariga near Tobruk on the Mediterranean coast of Libya. The Zawiya tribal leader, Sheik Faraj al Zwai, has been known to threaten to interrupt oil exports from the Sarir field and some believe he may have threatened the other major Arabian Gulf Company fields of Messla and Nafoora-Aquila. Taken together the capacity of these three fields is believed to amount to over 1 million barrels per day or around two thirds of Libya’s output.
At the time of writing sectarian violence has broken out yet again in Belfast, a part of the United Kingdom. The lesson is that tribal values that are seen as anachronistic are still unresolved in Belfast, as they are in Kufra.
A few words about the Zawiya might be helpful. Its tribal homeland coincides in the northwest with that of the al Magharba tribe which occupies a swath of the shore and hinterland of the Gulf of Sidra, including some of the important oil ports such as Marsa Brega. The Magharba also has holdings in the oasis town of Jalo which it shares with the Awajila tribe and the Zawiya. The al Magharba is one of nine Sa’adi tribes of Eastern Libya which trace their ancestry to the true Arab Bedouin tribes from the Nejd which migrated belligerently into Libya in 1050, pushing the indigenous Berbers into the Jebel Nefusa. The Sa’adi tribes, therefore, own their homeland by right of conquest. Their people are ‘Hurr’ or free.
The Zawiay’s neighbours to the north east are the Fawaqiur, a landlocked client tribe with ties to the Awaqiur tribe around Benghazi. Like the Zawiya the Fawaqiur is a client tribe or ‘Marabtin al sadqan’. Theoretically both these tribes occupy their homeland in return for ‘sadaqa’. Sadaqa is a fee payable to a free tribe for using its earth and water and for its protection. In effect the Zawiya no longer pay the fee but the relationship between it and the Magharba still retains remnants of class distinction.
The Libyan civil war left the Sothern borders with Egypt, Darfur and Chad undefended. Arms from Gaddafi’s looted armoires have been smuggled across the boarder and have done much to destabilise regimes in the Sahel. The new Libyan government has declared Sothern Libya a military zone and intends to restore a semblance of order there. Its relations with the Zawiya will be of some importance.
Update 8th January 2013
The trial of a member of the Zawiya tribe has recently commenced in Tripoli and will be worthy of attention in the future.
Update 9th January 2013
Inter-tribal killing still!
Update 11th January 2013
A member of the Zawiya appointed Deputy Minister of the Interior:
Update 14th February 2013
News of efforts to reconcile the Zawiya and the Tebu in Kufra. The mutual attachment to the Senussi sect is invoked:
LIBYA – A VERY SHORT INTRODUCTION TO THE ISLAMIC SENUSSI ORDER – (A WORK IN PROGRESS -06 FEBRUARY 2017)
There are a number of prominent Islamists in the old Libyan province of Cyrenaica, now East Libya. They caused the Gaddafi regime considerable trouble and they have been influential in post-Gaddafi Libya. I argue, though they may profoundly disagree, that they are the heirs to the Islamic Senussi order which exercised a profound influence over the nine Sa’adi tribes of Cyrenaica and supplied the first King of Libya, Sayyid Idris al Senussi, when Libya achieved independence. Without some small knowledge of the Senussi’s and their influence on East Libya much of what is now happening there is not readily understood. There follows a very short introduction to the Senussi Order. There are but few books on the subject. The reader may find Rosita Forbes’ eyewitness account in her book ‘The Secret of the Sahara: Kufra’ interesting reading. What follows is taken from a draft for my book ‘Libya – The History of Gaddafi’s Pariah State’ and is out of context but I hope it proves a useful introduction.
During the Ottoman period, the Sufi Senussi Order was established in Libya. There follows a brief sketch of the life of its founder and some of the history of the Order with especial reference to Libya.
Al-Sayyid Muhammad bin ‘Ali al-Senussi al-Khattabi al Idrisi al-Hasani, now known as the Grand Senussi, was born in about 1787 into a distinguished Algerian family claiming descent from the Prophet Mohammad. He was educated at the famous mosque school at Fez in Morocco where he came under the influence of the Trijaniya Order of dervishes.
He left Fez in his early thirties and travelled the pilgrim way along the coast to Tripoli, Misurata and Benghazi. He had already gathered around him several disciples and went on to Cairo where he intended to study at al-Azhar University but his reforming zeal appears to have alienated many of the Sheikhs as the professors of that august university are known. He found it prudent to decamp to Mecca and remained in the Hejaz for several years.
It was here that he came under the most important spiritual influence of his life in the person of Sayyad Ahmad bin Idris al Fasi, the founder of the Idrisiya Order. Sayyad Ahmad Idrisi was at odds with the leaders of the Maliki rite in Mecca who regraded him as unorthodox. Consequently, he and his disciples went to Zabid in the Yemen, the revered site of a mosque built in the lifetime of the Prophet Mohammed and a famous centre of Islamic learning. He was accompanied there by, amongst others, the Grand Senussi.
Sayyad Ahamd Idris died in the Yemen in 1837. The Idrisiya Order was then divided into two sub Orders, the Mirghaniya and the Senussia. It was the latter, the Senussiya, which was organised by the Grand Senussi who moved its head quarters to Mt Abu Quabas near Mecca. It is this event which is regarded as the foundation of the Senussi Order.
The Senussi Order made such spectacular progress the Hejaz that it made the Turkish and the Ulema in Mecca uneasy. The Grand Senussi was accused of dumbing down Sufi standards to suit the harsh simplicity of Bedouin life. This is an accusation which was often to be levelled at the Senussi Order over time.
In the face of mounting criticism, the Grand Senussi with a number of his disciples left the Hijaz in 1841 intending to return to Algeria. He travelled by way of Cairo and stopped for a while in the Oasis of Siwa where he opened a new lodge. It was clear to him that his homeland of Algeria was falling to French colonial ambitions and his mission in the east was out of favour with the authorities in Mecca.
It was thus that Sayyid Muhammad ibn ‘Ali Senussi, found himself taking up residence in Cyrenaica [East Libya], near the ruins of the ancient Greek city of Cyrene. There he found, living amongst the native Bedouin, a number of holy men known as the Marabtin b’il Baraka. Like them, Sayyid Muhammad was an Arabic speaking Sunni Muslim, familiar with Bedouin life. There was also a flourishing cult of saints, the Marabtin, in Cyrenaica and tribes adjusted their annual migration to spend regular periods near the tomb of their patron saint. These tombs are often small square white structures topped by a dome. In my day, one such could be seen from the road from Benghazi to Benina airport with the tents of a visiting section of the al Awaqir tribe pitched nearby. Therefore the Bedouin found nothing unusual when, in 1843, Sayyid Muhammad, known as the Grand Senussi, and his disciples founded a Senussi lodge or ‘Zawia’ at Baida on the central Cyrenaican plateau.
The new lodge was situated at a point where the territories of three important tribes met. Probably the best way to describe a Senussi lodge is an Islamic seminary and community centre. It was made up of a mosque, classrooms, store rooms and living quarters for the head and for the brothers of the order. Senussi lodges were self-sufficient and needed land and water to support the residents and their visitors. In order to attract a lodge into their territory, local tribes had to give up some of their productive wells and arable land to support it. It was, thus, an important step because good land and reliable wells were precious resources in Cyrenaica and not often surplus to requirements.
This is how it worked in practice. When a few tribes applied for a lodge, they received a visit from a member of the Senussi family. Important visitors were always entertained to a feast and displays of wealth. By observing the interplay of personalities and their relative wealth, the Senussi visitor was able to spot the paramount sheik and areas of surplus wealth. They then set up their lodge under his protection and it was he who negotiated their title to arable land and grazing rights. The lodge was constructed where there is sufficient surplus acreage and water and was protected by the most powerful sheik amongst the tribes.
Under pressure from the Ottomans the Grand Senussi moved from Baida to Azziyat. In 1856 Said Ibn Ali founded a Zawia at Jaghbub which was to become a ‘university’ for the Senussi brotherhood. Jaghbub is situated around 280 kilometres south east of Tobruk. It is close to the Libya’s border with Egypt and with Siwa, the oasis town in the Egyptian Western Desert. As an oasis Jaghbub is not well endowed with palm trees and the water is brackish. At first sight it does not seem a promising place for the Grand Senussi to establish his headquarters. However, it was strategically placed amongst feuding tribes which he wished to pacify and convert and its proximity to Siwa was important.
Said Ibn Ali lived for six years in Jaghbub from whence he contiuued his missionary work. He died in 1859 and was buried in a tomb over which rose the kubba of Jaghbub. (According to reports Colonel Gaddafi ordered the destruction of the tomb and had The Grand Senussi’s mortal remains scattered.)
From Jaghbub Said Ibn Ali allied himself with the Zuwaya tribe, whose home is the oasis of Kufra still further to the south. The tribe offered The Grand Senussi one third of its holdings in the Kurfa Oasis if he would establish a lodge there. He commissioned a famous follower called Sidi Omar Bu Hawa to go to Kufra and establish a Zawiah at Jof and to begin missionary work. The Zuwaya traded across the dessert as far south as Chad, Wadai, Darfur and Kano and as far north as Ajadabia. The Grand Senussi’s followers travelled with the Zuwaya trading caravans to establish their missionary lodges.
In the late nineteenth century, the time was ripe for a new burst of missionary energy and the Grand Senussi was so successful that, within his lifetime, a vast theocratic empire was established. It was a missionary empire which stretched westwards into Tripolitania, eastwards into Saudi Arabia and the Western Desert of Egypt and southwards into the oasis towns of the Sahara.
At the height of its power I estimate that there were more than 140 lodges of which 51 were in Cyrenaica, 18 in Tripolitania, 15 in the Fezzan, 20 in Egypt, 16 in Arabia, and 14 in the Sahel reaching as far south as Kano. In the early stages the Order founded lodges amongst the nomadic Cha’amba tribe whose extensive homeland stretched over much of southern Algeria but I am unable at this stage to say how many nor how long they survived.
Islamic orders are a way of life. One of the better known is the Wahhabi of Saudi Arabia, but there are many others. Their aim is to achieve a complete identification with God by means of contemplation, charity, living apart from the everyday world and performing religious exercises. For the Senussi order, this was achieved by the contemplation of the Prophet Muhammad. Followers were urged to imitate the Prophet’s life until he became their sole guide and counsellor. Islam is a Bedouin faith at heart.
To quote the great traveller, Hassnein Bey, who was a rare and now too often forgotten observer of the Senussi order; ‘For his followers (The Grand Senussi) forbade all kinds of luxurious living including the possession of gold and jewellery ‘excepting for the adornment of women’ and the use of tobacco and coffee. He imposed no ritual but demanded a return to the simplest form of Islam to be found in the teaching of the prophet. He was intolerant of any contact with Christians, Jews and those Moslems who, in his view, had strayed from the original meaning of Islam.’
The kinship between the Senussi Order and the modern Salafists is striking. I note here that Islamic scholars such as Dr Yasir Quadi suggest that Salafists acknowledge their debt to Taqī ad-Dīn Aḥmad ibn Taymiyyah the medieval Sunni Muslim theologian and reformer. It is widely held that the same ibn Taymiyyah was the inspiration for both the Wahhabi and the Senussi Orders. Here is Dr Quadi’s current definition of the term Salafi:
‘Within the context of our modern World, or to be more precise over the last half a century, the term ‘Salafī’ has come to designate an Islamic methodology, the aspirational objective of which is the emulation of the Prophetic example via the practices and beliefs of the earliest generations of Islam. This is because the first three Islamic generations, in being closest to the era of Muḥammad and the period of revelation, are understood to best embody the Prophetic Sunnah, and thus a pristine Islam.’
It is easy to see that what the Prophet Muhammad taught the Bedouin of Saudi Arabia in the seventh century was well suited to the Bedouin of Cyrenaica, who still led much the same lives in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Its clear and simple principles, to do good, avoid evil and pray regularly, were appealing to a tough nomadic and semi-nomadic people who lived in tents and followed their flocks in a quest for water and grazing.
The Senussi order was a success in Cyrenaica because, as the great anthropologist E. E Evans-Pritchard once wrote: “(the Bedouin) need was for some authority lying outside their segmental tribal system which could compose intertribal or intersectional disputes and bind the tribes and tribal sections within an organisation and under a common symbol.” It was also helpful that the Turkish occupiers of Libya were largely confined to the coastal towns and lacked the arms and will to destroy it.
Many years later, during the Italian occupation of Cyrenaica, the Senussi order was given a new lease of life and became almost politicised. The Italians found it impossible to deal with the many powerful and independent tribal sheiks. They found it easier, as did the British after WWII, to deal with the head of the order, Sayyid Idris, who was to become the King of an independent Libya.
The Ikwan lived in lodges built within the tribal homelands and held prayer meetings there. The Ikhwan were missionaries in the true sense of the word and they lived cheerfully and dressed well. They were self-supporting, growing their own food and herding their own animals. Thus, they avoided living on charity. The ordinary unschooled Bedouin, Muntasabin, had little knowledge of the inner rituals and special prayers of the order, but they gave their personal loyalty to the sheikhs or leaders of the lodges in their territory. The Cyranaican Bedouin lived austere lives and thus the clear and unequivocal message of the Senussi Order suited them well, as it did their ancesters in the Nejd.
The Grand Senussi aimed to establish the conditions which would allow the Bedouin to live by their own laws and govern themselves, an aspiration which has recently plunged Libya into civil war. The Grand Senussi remained in Libya for only a few years. One of his sons, Sayyid Mohamed al Mahdi, who succeeded him, moved his headquarters to Kufra in 1895 and thence further south to Qiru in Chad in 1899. Some none too reliable estimates suggest that when Sayyid al Mahdi came to power there were between one and a half million and three million people who owed allegiance to the order.
Sayyid Mohamed al Mahdi was a charismatic and inspiring Muslim and leader, who was both a scholar and a soldier. Under his leadership the Senussi gained effective commercial and political control of the whole eastern half of the Sahara. His power became so great that during the First World War , with Turkish and also German support, he raised the tribes in his territory against the Allies in the First Senussi War but was defeated by the Italians and left Libya by German submarine in 1918.
The French, who were advancing there sphere of influence to Chad, were less than hospitable to the Senussi Order, so the Grand Senussi’s third successor, Sayyid Ahmad al Sheriff, moved his headquarters back to Kufra, in order to retain control of the Wadai to Benghazi slave trade route.
The Italian occupation of Libya, which commenced in 1911, entered an aggressive phase during Mussolini’s Fascist regime. Then Italians colonists launched a campaign of ‘re-conquest’. They began to pacify the defiant tribes with no little brutality.
Organised resistance by the tribes was impossible so they pursued a classical guerrilla war where Italian sentries were shot, supply columns ambushed, and communications interrupted. There was a succession of small actions and acts of sabotage in different parts of the country. At first the Italians responded by courting the favour of those tribes, or parts of tribes, near the towns. By offering employment, subsidies and arms, they hoped to turn them against the rebels. In their minds there were two types of tribe, the sottomessi, that is the submitted, and the rebelli. They thought they had gained the loyalty of the sottomessi to support them against the rebelli. They were to be constantly disappointed. The sottomessi supplied arms, ammunition, food, intelligence, shelter and funds to the rebelli. Sometimes the tribal sheiks would arrange amongst themselves who would submit and who would take the field.
To their consternation, the Italians had overlooked or misinterpreted, as many do, the powerful Bedouin law. The nine Sa’adi tribes of East Libya and their clients were all Bedouin, jealous of each other and hostile to tribes other than their own. The males of each tribe were duty-bound to avenge a slain kinsman. The group of males within the tribe who shoulder this collective responsibility is called the amara dam. The other side of this coin is the duty to protect and aid a living kinsman. This is at the root of Bedouin values. The common ancestry and the kinship of the Sa’adi tribes overrode the lesser demands. The tribes were united by blood, Islam and a common way of life against the Italians.
As the Italian proconsul Graziani wrote of the Second Senussi War. “The entire population thus took part directly or indirectly in the rebellion.” However the guerrilla war was led by some notable families who have received less attention than they deserve. They were the Abbar and the Kizzih of the Awaquir, the Saif al Nasr of the Aulad Suliman, the Bu Baker bu Hadduth of the Bara’asa, the Lataiwish of the Magharba, the Abdalla of the Abaidat, the Asbali of the Arafa, the Suwaikir and the Ilwani of the Abid and the Bu Khatara bu Halaiqua of the Hasa. The homelands of the tribes which these families led stretched from the desert south of the present city of Sirte to the Marmarica in the east around the city of Tobruk. All of this territory was ideal for guerrilla warfare.
The tribal leaders were formidable but they needed the coordinating hand of a leader. They found it in the person of Omar Mukhtar who brought not only his considerable energy and talents into the field but also the network of Senussi lodges and intelligent personnel stretched throughout the tribal homelands. The Islamic Senussi order had for a long time planted seminaries amongst the Bedouin tribes of Eastern Libya. They were staffed by a leader or sheik and a band of the Ikwan (brothers) who educated the young and gave religious and practical leadership.
In the Senussi sheik, Omar Mukhtar, they had a leader who, though he was more than sixty, was an experienced soldier, a talented tactician with an almost unique ability to keep the peace between the fractious tribal detachments which he commanded, perhaps because of his Bedouin birth. His parents were members of a Minifa (Marabtin al-sadqan) tribe from the Marmarica. Between 1912 and 1931 he planned all the gruella operations, gathered and evaluated the intelligence, organised the logistics and finance and led a band of his own.
The Italians response grew more heavy handed as the war progressed. They found that the sottomessi were supplying the rebellei, so they commenced by disarming the non-combatant tribesmen. They went on to harsher methods to stop the flow of rebel volunteers, ammunition and weapons, money and food from the sottomessi. They used the well tried methods of arrests, restricting civilian movements, deportations, aerial bombardment and strafing of recalcitrant tribes. They blocked and poisoned desert wells, confiscated precious livestock and barbed wire was liberally strewn around to restrict the seasonal migrations. The rate of executions was alarming but it was in concentration camps that the sottomessi who were much depleted in health, morale and numbers.
They went after the Senussi lodges, destroying them and deporting their leaders. They captured Omar Mukhtar in September 1931 when he was ambushed near Baida. He was wounded in an arm. His horse was shot and pinned him to the ground. He was taken prisoner and tried in a hurry. The Italians made a spectacle of his final moments. He was hanged at a place called Suluq before an audience of 20,000 Libyans assembled there by their colonial masters. The rebellion was ended. A number of tribal leaders attempted to escape to Egypt.
The logistical problems posed by the huge distance and lack of fodder and water from the Italian bases on the Mediterranean coast meant that the Senussi theocracy based in Kufra was for many years beyond their reach. What is more the Italians became embroiled in World War I and had little time or resources with which to mount an attack on Kufra, protected as it was by distance and an arc of impassable sand seas.
The Grand Senussi’s fourth and last successor was Sayyid Muhammad al Idris who was destined to become King of Libya when it became fully independent.
In 1920 the Italians, still unable to move against him, adopted the pragmatic policy of appointing the future King of Libya, Mohamed Idris es Senussi, Emir of Cyrenaica with his capital at Ajdabiya and his impregnable stronghold in the Kufra oasis. In so doing the Italians began the process of politicising the Senussi hierarchy. It will be seen later this was furthered by the British during WWII.
In 1931 the Italians had built up their sufficient strength to project their power across the desert and they attacked Kufra and brutally killed the Senussi supporters there. Sayyid Idris went into exile in Egypt.
The fortunes of Sayyid Idris, the Senussi Emir in exile in Egypt, were improved by the strange and somewhat delusional act of war by Benito Mussolini. He had thrown in his lot with A. Hitler and declared war against the Allies on 10th June 1940. On 13th September 1940 he moved his 10th Army across the Libyan border into Egypt. He did so in the hope of expanding his North Africa empire when the Germans completed their seemingly inevitable conquest of Great Britain and thus her subsequent departure from the de facto occupation of Egypt. Hitler seemed unstoppable. It was, therefore, very brave, even foolhardy, for Sayyed Idris to tie Libya’s fortunes to those of Great Britain at that dark time in her history.
In October 1939, when it seemed certain the Italy would invade Egypt some prominent Libyan sheikhs living in exile in Egypt met in Alexandria and formally recognised Sayyid Idris as their Emir. They informed the British ambassador that Sayyid Idris could speak for them in future negotiations. This was the first step in the long and difficult journey of Sayyid Idris, the head of the Sufi Senussi Order, from temporal to political power as King of Libya.
Following Italy’s declaration of war the Libyan Sheiks met again to hear Sayyid Idris make an impassioned appeal for the Libyans to fight with the British against the Italian. The sheiks, mostly Cyrenaicans incidentally, decided to form a Libyan Force to fight alongside the British Army in the Western Desert of Egypt. The Libyan Arab Force was raised from Libyans who had fled the Italian brutalities in Libya or who had deserted from the Italian Army. Its officers were a mixture of Libyan notables and British expatriates living in Egypt who were grated their commissions by the Emir, Sayyid Idris. This is generally recognised as the birth of the Libyan Army of today.
From this brief sketch of the foundation and spread of the Senussi Order, it will be clear that it penetrated rapidly from its first foundation lodge near Baida, mainly via the slave trading routes from Kufra to the Sudan, Chad, Mali and Northern Nigeria. It was pushed out of the Sahel states by the French. However, its firm hold on the nine Sa’adi tribes in Cyrenaica was to give it a key role in modern Libya.
Books by John Oakes: For books by John Oakes see… (USA): http://www.amazon.com/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1 ….. (UK): http://www.amazon.co.uk/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1
Update 31st December 2012
The Libyan government commemorates of Battle of Kufra http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/01/19/1931-battle-of-kufra-commemorated/
Kufra is a cluster of oases in south eastern Libya 1,500 kilometres or so from the Mediterranean coast. Around 60,000 people now live there. It is on the old trans-Saharan slave trade route from Chad in the south to Benghazi in the north. It is now on the illegal migrant route from Khartoum to the Mediterranean. There are other routes through western Libya from Timbuktu and Kano to Tripoli which were used in the past by slave traders.
When they reach Kufra, migrants are transported at night across the desert to the coast in covered trucks. They are then embarked on flimsy and overcrowded boats for the hazardous sea trip to Malta, Lampedusa or mainland Italy. The UN Refugee Agency released figures in January 2012 showing that more than 1,500 irregular migrants or refugees drowned or went missing last year while attempting crossings of the Mediterranean Sea.
Kufra was a holy place. It was the seat of the Senussi theocracy which, for a number of years, controlled the southern part of the old province of Cyreniaca and oversaw the passing slave trade which persisted until at least 1911. It is now the hub of an illegal trade in arms, drugs, alcohol and humans. There have been a number of disturbances there between the Arab al-Zwia tribe and the African Tebu minority. These clashes reflect the ancient animosity between the Tebus and the al-Zawia but are also part of a turf war for control of the smuggling trade and people trafficking.
The most striking thing about Kufra is that it is a very long way from anywhere. Libya’s defence ministry, ultimately responsible for securing nearly 6,400km of land and sea borders, has borne the brunt of public criticism for a hopelessly under-resourced effort to stem the flow of migrants. The Libyan government is not strong and the revolution which brought it to power all but destroyed the standing army and weekend the police force, effectively replacing both with local militias.
The movement of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa through Libya towards the countries of Sothern Europe is inexorable and growing. It is too easy to shift the responsibility for stemming the flow onto Libya which has a few problems of its own to deal with at the moment. There are forces outside its control which need attention.
In 2007 the Nigerian embassy in Tripoli published this:-‘For many Nigerians, the only means of reaching Europe is by taking the risk of crossing the Sahara Desert to one of the North African countries. Recently, Libya has become the most preferred country of transit for illegal immigrants from the sub-Saharan Africa, from where they embark on a more suicidal journey of crossing the Mediterranean Sea into Italy. Many are making this arduous journey on their own volition; spending days and nights going through dunes and mountains, violence and suffering, risking their lives in temperatures sometimes reaching 50°C. Other hazards faced by the immigrants include possible abduction by several rebel groups, i.e. the Salafist, or the marauding Touareg gangs, who often rob, and rape their victims! Increasingly, among these migrants are young girls, who are lured into this journey under the pretext that they would work either in Libya or in Italy. Sadly, these girls end up in brothels, subjected to horrible sexual abuse, until they die in the hands of their captors. A few lucky ones are rescued by the police or the Nigerian Mission in one of the transit countries. Unfortunately, for most of them life would never be the same again, as they often contract HIV/AIDS while in these brothels.’
Update 11th October 2014
This site gives details of the people trafficking routes to and through Libya today;
Update 13th February 2015
The number of deaths on the Mediterranean crossing from Libya to Italy and Malta remains high and the number of coastguard boats devoted to migrant rescue has been reduced. This appeared in the Libya Times on 11the February 2015;
‘Just two days after 29 migrants died of hypothermia after being rescued by the Italian coast guard in the Mediterranean, International Office of Migration (IOM) and UNHCR officials say they fear that another 300 migrants have died trying to make the crossing from Libya to Italy.’
Update 20th February 2017
This from the British Guardian Newspaper makes it clear that people trafficking is brutal and flourishing in Libya:
Update 28th February 2017
This should be compulsory reading for everyone with an interest in the huaman condition;