Libya The Jews Museum Newsletter Testimonies

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NEW - The Last Jews of Libya, a Film by Vivienne Roumani-Denn

Until the twentieth century, Libya was known as three distinct regions, Cyrenaica, Tripolitania and Fazzan. From antiquity until well after Libya became an independent united kingdom in 1951 with a federal structure, these three regions maintained different characteristics that reflected their separate historical development and cultural traditions. Some of these historical traditions were shared with those of the eastern Arab world (Cyrenaica), others with the Maghrib (Tripolitania) and Islamic Africa (Fazzan), and others with the Mediterranean (along the coast), mainly in the form of Ottoman and European rule. But, like many "new nations," Libya, for most of its history, lacked a national identity . Even regional loyalties were secondary to purely tribal, kinship or local affiliations, and these were fraught with tension and conflict.
Libya (292K)
This was due to a large extent to geopolitics: a vast territory (680,000 sq.miles) in North Africa, strategically located (on the Mediterranean between the Arab East and West) but mostly desert (85%), and sparsely populated (a total of 755,000 at the turn of the century). Thus, the people of Libya , spatially and politically disconnected but linked through an overarching sense of tribal/Muslim/Arab culture, could not manage to form a continous political community over time beyond contigent tribal groups and a few unstable urban centers - often in conflict with each other or against outsiders, exercising traditional patterns of patriarchal or arbitrary authority circumscribed only by the limits of Islamic or tribal norms. The fragile federal structure created with independence, reflecting regional divisions as well Great Power interests, survived largely thanks to the balancing acts of a respected Cyrenaican monarch. His legitimacy derived from having become the sole vehicle for independence and from his powerful constituency among Bedouin tribes welded into a century-old cohesive mini-religious-polity through the monarch's family-led Sanusi organization. Today's Libya has been experiencing, since 1969, Qaddhafi's revolution (its leader and guide) and is known as the jamahiriyah, or the state of the masses, where ultimate authority is supposed to be exercised directly by the people through popular congresses rather than through elected parliaments or state institutions.

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