LIBYA AS ITALIAN COLONY: GRAZIANI VERSUS OMAR MUKHTARMarch 12, 2011 at 8:26 pm | Posted in Africa, Arabs, History, Islam, Military | Leave a comment
(August 11, 1882 – January 11, 1955)
Rodolfo Graziani, 1st Marquess of Neghelli (August 11, 1882 – January 11, 1955), was an officer in the Italian Royal Army (Regio Esercito) who led military expeditions in Africa before and during World War II.
Rise to prominence
Rodolfo Graziani was born in Filettino in the province of Frosinone. In 1903, he decided to pursue a military career. He served in World War I and became the youngest colonel in the Italian Royal Army.
In the 1920s, Graziani commanded the Italian forces in Libya. He was responsible for pacifying the Senussi rebels. During this so-called “pacification“, he was responsible for the construction of several concentration camps and labor camps, where tens of thousands Libyan prisoners died, if not killed directly by hanging, like Omar Mukhtar, or bullets, then indirectly by starvation or disease. His deeds earned him the nickname “the Butcher of Fezzan“ among the Arabs, but was called by the Italians the Pacifier of Libya (Pacificatore della Libia).
From 1926 to 1930, Graziani was the Vice Governor of Italian Cyrenaica in Libya. In 1930, he became Governor of Cyrenaica and held this position until 1934 when it was determined that he was needed elsewhere. In 1935, Graziani was made the Governor of Italian Somaliland.
From 1935 to 1936 during the Second Italo-Abyssinian War, Graziani was the commander of the southern front. His army invaded Ethiopia from Italian Somaliland and he commanded Italian forces in the Battle of Genale Doria and the Battle of the Ogaden. However, Graziani’s efforts in the south were secondary to the main invasion launched from Eritrea by General Emilio De Bono and continued by Marshal of Italy Pietro Badoglio. It was Badoglio and not Graziani who entered Addis Ababa in triumph after his “March of the Iron Will“. But it was Graziani who said: “The Duce will have Ethiopia, with or without the Ethiopians.”
Addis Ababa fell to Badoglio on May 5, 1936. Graziani had wanted to reach Harar before Badoglio reached Addis Ababa, but failed to do so. Even so, on May 9, Graziani was awarded for his role as commander of the southern front with a promotion to the rank of Marshal of Italy. During his tour of an Ethiopian Orthodox church in Dire Dawa, Graziani fell into a pit covered by an ornate carpet, a trap that he believed had been set by the Ethiopian priests to injure or kill him. As a result he held Ethiopian clerics in deep suspicion.
After the war, Graziani was made Viceroy of Italian East Africa and Governor-General of Shewa/Addis Ababa. After an unsuccessful attempt to kill him by two Eritreans on 19 February 1937, Graziani ordered a bloody and indiscriminate reprisal upon the conquered country, later remembered by Ethiopians as Yekatit 12: thousands of civilian inhabitants of Addis Ababa were killed indiscriminately, another 1,469 were summarily executed by the end of the next month, and over one thousand Ethiopian notables were imprisoned then exiled from Ethiopia. He became known as “the Butcher of Ethiopia“. Also in connection with the attempt on his life, Graziani authorized the massacre of the monks of the ancient monastery of Debre Libanos and the large number of pilgrims who had traveled there to celebrate the feast day of the founding saint of the monastery. Graziani’s suspicion of the Ethiopian Orthodox clergy (and the fact that the wife of one of the assassins had briefly taken sanctuary at the monastery) had convinced him of the complicity of the monks in the attempt on his life.
From 1939 to 1941, Graziani was the Commander-in-Chief of the Italian Royal Army’s General Staff.
In World War II
At the start of World War II, Graziani was still the Commander-in-Chief of the Italian Royal Army’s General Staff. After the death of Marshal Italo Balbo in a friendly fire incident on 28 June 1940, Graziani took his place as the Commander-in-Chief of Italian North Africa and as the Governor General of Libya.
Initially giving Graziani a deadline of 8 August, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini ordered Graziani to invade Egypt with the Tenth Army. Graziani expressed doubts about the ability of his largely un-mechanized force to defeat the British and put off the invasion for as long as he could. However, faced with demotion, Graziani ultimately followed orders and elements of the Tenth Army invaded Egypt on 9 September. The Italians made modest gains into Egypt and then prepared a series of fortified camps to defend their positions. In 1941, Graziani resigned his commission after the British counterattacked and the Tenth Army was completely defeated by them during Operation Compass.
On 25 March 1941, Graziani was replaced by General Italo Gariboldi.
Graziani was the only Italian marshal to remain loyal to Mussolini after Dino Grandi‘s Grand Council of Fascism coup. He was appointed Minister of Defence of the Italian Social Republic and oversaw the mixed Italo-German LXXXXVII “Liguria” Army (Armee Ligurien) commanded by General Alfredo Guzzoni.
At the end of the war, Graziani spent a few days in San Vittore prison in Milan before being transferred to Allied control. He was brought back to Africa in Anglo-American custody, staying there until February 1946. Allied forces then felt the danger of assassination or lynching had passed, and returned him to Procida prison in Italy.
In 1950, a military tribunal sentenced Graziani to a further 19 years’ jail for high treason, as punishment for his collaboration with the Nazis; but he was released after serving only a few months of the sentence. He was never prosecuted for specific war crimes. Unlike the Germans and Japanese, Italians were not subjected to prosecutions. In 1955 he died of natural causes.
- ? – 1918—Service in World War I
- 1921-1934—Service in Libya
- 1926-1930—Vice Governor-General of Italian Cyrenaica
- 1930-1934—Governor-General of Italian Cyrenaica
- 1935-1936—Governor-General of Italian Somaliland
- 1936-1937—Governor-General and Viceroy of Ethiopia; promoted to Marshal of Italy
- 1940-1941 — Commander-in-Chief of Italian North Africa and Governor-General of Libya
- 1943-1945—Minister of Defence for the Italian Social Republic
- He is related to Tony Graziani, a former NFL and current Arena Football League quarterback for the Philadelphia Soul.
- He was portrayed by actor Oliver Reed in the movie Lion of the Desert.
2. Hart, David M.: Muslim Tribesmen and the Colonial Encounter in Fiction and on Film: The Image of the Muslim Tribes in Film and Fiction. Het Spinhuis, 2001. Page 121. ISBN 90-5589-205-X
3. An account of this event, known in Ethiopia as “Yekatit 12”, is chapter 14 of Anthony Mockler’s Haile Selassie’s War (New York: Olive Branch, 2003).
Kingdom of Italy (1915–1943)
Italian Social Republic (1943–1945)
Service/branch Regio Esercito
Years of service 1903–1945
Vice Governor of Italian Cyrenaica
Governor of Italian Cyrenaica
Governor of Italian Somaliland
Marshal of Italy
Governor of Italian East Africa
Viceroy of Italian East Africa
Governor of Italian Libya
Minister of Defense (RSI)
Unit Italian Tenth Army
The Senussi or Sanussi refers to a Muslim political-religious order in Libya and the Sudan region founded in Mecca in 1837 by the Grand Senussi, Sayyid Muhammad ibn Ali as-Senussi. Senussi was concerned with both the decline of Islamic thought and spirituality and the weakening of Muslim political integrity. He was influenced by the Salafi movement, to which he added teachings from various Sufi orders. From 1902 to 1913 the Senussi fought French expansion in the Sahara, and the Italian colonisation of Libya beginning in 1911. The Grand Senussi’s grandson became King Idris I of Libya in 1951. In 1969, King Idris I was overthrown by a military coup led by Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi. A third of the population in Libya continue to be affiliated with the Senussi movement.
The Senussi order has been historically closed to Europeans and outsiders, leading reports of their beliefs and practices to vary immensely. Though it is possible to gain some insight from the lives of the Senussi sheikhs further details are difficult to obtain.
Sayyid Muhammad ibn Ali as-Senussi (1787–1860), the founder of the order, was born near Mostaganem, Algeria, and was named al-Senussi after a venerated Muslim teacher. He was a member of the Walad Sidi Abdalla tribe, and was a sharif tracing his descent from Fatimah, the daughter of Mohammed. He studied at a madrassa in Fez, then traveled in the Sahara preaching a purifying reform of the faith in Tunisia and Tripoli, gaining many adherents, and then moved to Cairo to study at Al-Azhar University. The pious scholar was forceful in his criticism of the Egyptian ulema for what he perceived as their timid compliance with the Ottoman authorities and their spiritual conservatism. He also argued that learned Muslims should not blindly follow the four classical schools of Islamic law but instead engage in ijtihad themselves. Not surprisingly, he was opposed by the ulema as unorthodox and they issued a fatwa against him. Senussi went to Mecca, where he joined Ahmad Ibn Idris al-Fasi, the head of the Khadirites, a religious fraternity of Moroccan origin. On the death of Al-Fasi, Senussi became head of one of the two branches into which the Khadirites divided, and in 1835 he founded his first monastery or zawia, at Abu Kobeis near Mecca. While in Arabia, Senussi’s connections with the Salafi movement caused him to be looked upon with suspicion by the ulema of Mecca and the Ottoman authorities. Finding the opposition in Mecca too powerful Senussi settled in Cyrenaica, Libya in 1843, where in the mountains near Sidi Rafaa’ (Al Bayda) he built the Zawia Baida (“White Monastery”). There he was supported by the local tribes and the Sultan of Wadai and his connections extended across the Maghreb.
The Grand Senussi did not tolerate fanaticism and forbade the use of stimulants as well as voluntary poverty. Lodge members were to eat and dress within the limits of Islamic law and, instead of depending on charity, were required to earn their living through work. No aids to contemplation, such as the processions, gyrations, and mutilations employed by Sufi dervishes, were permitted. He accepted neither the wholly intuitive ways described by Sufi mystics nor the rationality of the orthodox ulema; rather, he attempted to achieve a middle path. The Bedouin tribes had shown no interest in the ecstatic practices of the Sufis that were gaining adherents in the towns, but they were attracted in great numbers to the Senussis. The relative austerity of the Senussi message was particularly suited to the character of the Cyrenaican Bedouins, whose way of life had not changed much in the centuries since the Arabs had first accepted the Prophet Mohammad’s teachings.
In 1855 Senussi moved farther from direct Ottoman surveillance to Al-Jaghbub, a small oasis some 30 miles northwest of Siwa. He died in 1860, leaving two sons, Mahommed Sherif (1844–95) and Mohammed al-Mahdi, who succeded him.
Developments since 1860
Sayyid Muhammad al-Mahdi bin Sayyid Muhammad as-Senussi (1845 – May 30, 1902) was fourteen when his father died, after which he was placed under the care of his father’s friends.
The successors to the Sultan of Wadai, Sultan Ali (1858–74) and the Sultan Yusef (1874–98) continued to support the Senussi. Under al-Mahdi the zawias of the order extended to Fez, Damascus, Constantinople and India. In the Hejaz members of the order were numerous. In most of these countries the Senussites wielded no more political power than other Muslim fraternities, but in the eastern Sahara and central Sudan things were different. Mohammed al-Mahdi had the authority of a sovereign in a vast but almost empty desert. The string of oases leading from Siwa to Kufra, and Borku were cultivated by the Senussites and trade with Tripoli and Benghazi was encouraged.
Although named Al Mahdi by his father, Mohammed never claimed to be the Mahdi (the Promised One), although he was regarded as such by some of his followers. When Muhammad Ahmad proclaimed himself al-Mahdi al-Muntazar or ‘the Expected Saviour’ in 1881 Mohammed al-Mahdi decided to have nothing to do with him. Although Muhammad Ahmed wrote twice asking him to become one of his four great khalifs, he received no reply. In 1890 Mahdists advancing from Darfur were stopped on the frontier of Wadai, the sultan Yusef proving firm in his adherence to the Senussi teachings.
Mohammed al-Mahdi’s growing fame made the Ottoman regime uneasy and drew unwelcome attention. In most of Tripoli and Benghazi his authority was greater than that of the Ottoman governors. In 1889 the sheik was visited at Al-Jaghbub by the pasha of Benghazi accompanied by Ottoman troops. This event showed the sheik the possibility of danger and led him to move his headquarters to Jof in the oases of Kufra in 1894, a place sufficiently remote to secure him from a sudden attack.
By this time a new danger to Senussi territories had arisen from the colonial French, who were advancing from the Congo towards the western and southern borders of Wadai. The Senussi kept them from advancing north of Chad.
In 1902, Mohammed al-Mahdi died and was succeeded by his nephew Ahmed Sharif es Senussi, but his adherents in the deserts bordering Egypt maintained for years that he was not dead. The new head of the Senussites maintained the friendly relations of his predecessors with Wadai, governing the order as regent for his young cousin, Mohammed Idris (King Idris I of Libya), who was named Emir of Cyrenaica by the British in 1917.
The Senussi, encouraged by the Germans and the Ottoman Empire, played a minor part in the First World War, fighting a guerrilla war against the British and Italians in Libya and Egypt from November 1915 until February 1917, led by Sayyid Ahmed and in the Sudan from March to December 1916, led by Ali Dinar, the Sultan of Darfur. In 1916, the British sent an expeditionary force against them, led by Major General William Peyton. According to Wavell and McGuirk, Western Force was first led by General Wallace and later by General Hodgson.
Libya was taken from the Ottomans by Italy in the Italo-Turkish War of 1911. In 1922, Italian Fascist leader Benito Mussolini launched his infamous “Riconquista” of Libya — the Roman Empire having done the original conquering 2000 years before. The Senussi led the resistance and Italians closed Senussi lodges, arrested sheikhs, and confiscated mosque land. Libyans fought the Italians until 1943, with between 250,000 and 300,000 of them dying in the process.
Chiefs of the Senussi Order
- Sayyid Muhammad bin ‘Ali as-Senussi (1843 – 1859)
- Sayyid Muhammad al-Mahdi bin Sayyid Muhammad as-Senussi (1859 – 1902)
- Sayyid Ahmed Sharif es Senussi (1902 – 1916; died 1933)
- Sidi Muhammad Idris al-Mahdi al-Senussi (1916 – 1969; died 1983)
- Sayyid Hasan ar-Rida al-Mahdi as-Sanussi (1969 – 1992)
- Sayyid Muhammad bin Sayyid Hasan ar-Rida al-Mahdi as-Sanussi (1992 – present)
Sayyid Idris bin Sayyid Abdullah al-Senussi also claims the leadership of the Senussi.
2. Field Marshal Earl Wavell, The Palestine Campaigns 3rd Edition thirteenth Printing; Series: A Short History of the British Army 4th Edition by Major E.W. Sheppard (London: Constable & Co., 1968) pp. 35–6
3. M.G.E. Bowman–Manifold, An Outline of the Egyptian and Palestine Campaigns, 1914 to 1918 2nd Edition (Chatham: The Institution of Royal Engineers, W. & J. Mackay & Co Ltd, 1923), p. 23.
4. William Eliot Peyton, Centre for First World War Studies, bham.ac.uk (accessed 19 January 2008)
5. Wavell pp. 37–8.
6. Russell McGuirk The Sanusi’s Little War: The Amazing Story of a Forgotten Conflict in the Western Desert, 1915–1917 (London: Arabian Publishing, 2007) pp. 263–4.
7. John L. Wright, Libya, a Modern History, Johns Hopkins University Press, p. 42.
- Encyclopaedia Britannica 1911
- E. E. Evans-Pritchard, The Sanusi of Cyrenaica (1949, repr. 1963)
- N. A. Ziadeh, Sanusiyah (1958, repr. 1983).
- Bianci, Steven, ”Libya: Current Issues and Historical Background New York: Nova Science Publishers, INc, 2003
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (Eleventh ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- L. Rinn, Marabouts et Khouan, a good historical account up to the year 1884
- 0. Depont and X. Coppolani, Les Confrèries religieuses musulmanes (Algiers, 1897)
- Si Mohammed el Hechaish, Chez les Senoussia et les Touareg, in “L’Expansion cot. française” for 1900 and the “Revue de Paris” for 1901. These are translations from the Arabic of an educated Mahommedan who visited the chief Senussite centres. An obituary notice of Senussi el Mahdi by the same writer appeared in the Arab journal El Iladira of Tunis, Sept. 2, 1902; a condensation of this article appears in the “Bull. du Corn. de l’Afriue française” for 5902; Les Senoussia, an anonymous contribution to the April supplement of the same volume, is a judicious summary of events, a short bibliography being added; Capt. Julien, in “Le Dar Ouadai” published in the same Bulletin (vol. for 1904), traces the connection between Wadai and the Senussi
- L. G. Binger, in Le Peril de l’Islam in the 1906 volume of the Bulletin, discusses the position and prospects of the Senussite and other Islamic sects in North Africa. Von Grunau, in “Verhandlungen der Gesellschaft für Erdkunde” for 1899, gives an account of his visit to Siwa
- M.G.E. Bowman–Manifold, An Outline of the Egyptian and Palestine Campaigns, 1914 to 1918 2nd Edition (Chatham: The Institution of Royal Engineers, W. & J. Mackay & Co Ltd, 1923)
- Russell McGuirk The Sanusi’s Little War The Amazing Story of a Forgotten Conflict in the Western Desert, 1915–1917 (London, Arabian Publishing: 2007)
- Field Marshal Earl Wavell, The Palestine Campaigns 3rd Edition thirteenth Printing; Series: A Short History of the British Army 4th Edition by Major E.W. Sheppard (London: Constable & Co., 1968)
- Sir F. R. Wingate, in Mahdiism and the Egyptian Sudan (London, 1891), narrates the efforts made by the Mahdi Mahommed Ahmed to obtain the support of the Senussi
- Sir W. Wallace, in his report to the Colonial Office on Northern Nigeria for 1906-1907, deals with Senussiism in that country.
- H. Duveyrier, La Confrèrie musulmane de Sidi Mohammed ben Au es Senoussi (Paris, 1884), a book containing much exaggeration, and A. Silva White, From Sphinx to Oracle (London, 1898), which, while repeating the extreme views of Duveyrier, contains useful information.
Titles Emir of Cyrenaica, Emir of Tripolitania, King of Libya
Founder Muhammad ibn Ali as-Senussi
Final sovereign Idris of Libya
Deposition 1 September 1969
Omar Mukhtar (Arabic Umar Al-Mukhtār) (1862 – September 16, 1931), of the Mnifa, was born in the small village of Janzour, near Tobruk in eastern Barqa (Cyrenaica) in Libya. Beginning in 1912, he organized and, for nearly twenty years, led native resistance to Italian colonization of Libya. The Italians captured and hanged him in 1931.
Omar Mukhtar was born in eastern Cyrenaica, Al Butnan District, in the village of East Janzur east of Tobruk. He was orphaned early and was adopted by Sharif El Gariani nephew of Hussein Ghariani, a political-religious leader in Cyrenaica. He received his early education at the local mosque and then studied for eight years at the Senussi university at Al-Jaghbub, which was also the headquarters of the Senussi Movement. In 1899 he was sent with other Senussi to assist Rabih az-Zubayr in the resistance in Chad against the French.
In October 1911, during the Italo-Turkish War, an Italian naval contingent under the command of Admiral Luigi Faravelli reached the shores of Libya, then a territory subject to Ottoman Turkish control. The admiral demanded that the Libyans surrender their territory to the Italians or incur the immediate destruction of the city of Tripoli. The Libyans fled instead of surrendering, and the Italians bombarded the city for three days, then proclaimed the Tripolitanians to be “committed and strongly bound to Italy.” This marked the beginning of a series of battles between the Italian colonial forces and the Libyan armed opposition under Omar Mukhtar.
A teacher of the Qur’an by profession, Mukhtar was also skilled in the strategies and tactics of desert warfare. He knew local geography well and used that knowledge to advantage in battles against the Italians, who were unaccustomed to desert warfare. Mukhtar repeatedly led his small, highly alert groups in successful attacks against the Italians, after which they would fade back into the desert terrain. Mukhtar’s men skillfully attacked outposts, ambushed troops, and cut lines of supply and communication. The Italian army was left astonished and embarrassed by his guerrilla tactics.
In the mountainous region of Ghebel Akhdar (“Green Mountain”) in 1924, Italian Governor Ernesto Bombelli created a counter-guerrilla force that inflicted a severe setback to rebel forces in April, 1925. Mukhtar then quickly modified his own tactics and was able to count on continued help from Egypt. In March, 1927, despite occupation of Giarabub from February 1926 and increasingly stringent rule under Governor Attilio Teruzzi, Mukhtar surprised Italian troops at Raheiba. Between 1927 and 1928, Mukhtar fully reorganized the Senusite forces, who were being hunted constantly by the Italians. Even General Teruzzi recognized Omar’s qualities of “exceptional perseverance and strong will power.”
Pietro Badoglio, governor of Libya from January 1929, after extensive negotiations concluded a compromise with Mukhtar (described by the Italians as his complete submission) similar to previous Italo-Senusite accords. At the end of October, 1929, Mukhtar denounced the compromise and reëstablished a unity of action among Libyan forces, preparing himself for the ultimate confrontation with General Rodolfo Graziani, Italian military commander from March 1930.
A massive offensive in June against Mukhtar’s forces having failed, Graziani, in full accord with Badoglio, Emilio De Bono (minister of the colonies), and Benito Mussolini, initiated a plan to break Cyrenian resistance: the hundred-thousand population of Gebel would be moved to concentration camps on the coast and the Libyan-Egyptian border from the coast at Giarabub would be closed, preventing any foreign help to the fighters and depriving them of support from the native population. These measures, which Graziani initiated early in 1931, took their toll on the Senusite resistance. The rebels were deprived of help and reinforcements, spied upon, hit by Italian aircraft, and pursued on the ground by the Italian forces aided by local informers and collaborators. Mukhtar continued to struggle despite increased hardships and risks, but on September 11, 1931, he was ambushed near Zonta.
Mukhtar’s final adversary, Italian General Rodolfo Graziani, has given a description of the Senusite leader that is not lacking in respect: “Of medium height, stout, with white hair, beard and mustache. Omar was endowed with a quick and lively intelligence; was knowledgeable in religious matters, and revealed an energetic and impetuous character, unselfish and uncompromising; ultimately, he remained very religious and poor, even though he had been one of the most important Senusist figures.” Today Mukhtar is a famous man in Libya.
Capture and execution
Mukhtar’s struggle of nearly twenty years came to an end on September 11, 1931, when he was wounded in battle near Slonta, then captured by the Italian army. The Italians treated the native leader hero as a prize catch. His resilience had an impact on his jailers, who later remarked upon his steadfastness. His interrogators stated that Mukhtar recited verses of peace from the Qur’an.
In three days, Mukhtar was tried, convicted, and, on September 14, 1931, sentenced to be hanged publicly (historians and scholars have questioned whether his trial was fair or impartial). When asked if he wished to say any last words, Mukhtar replied with a Qur’anic phrase: “Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un.” (“To God we belong and to Him we shall return.”). On September 16, 1931, on the orders of the Italian court and with Italian hopes that Libyan resistance would die with him, Mukhtar was hanged before his followers in the concentration camp of Solluqon at the age of 70 years.
Today, Mukhtar’s face appears shown on the Libyan ten-dinar
1. Mnifa is “a generic name for many groups of ‘Clients of the Fee’ (Marabtin al-sadqan).” These are client tribes having no sacred associations and are known as Marabtin al-sadqan because they pay sadaqa, a fee paid to a free tribe for protection. Peters, Emrys L. (1998) “Divine goodness: the concept of Baraka as used by the Bedouin of Cyrenaica”, page 104, In Shah, A. M.; Baviskar, Baburao Shravan and Ramaswamy, E. A. (editors) (1998) Social Structure and Change: Religion and Kinship (Volume 5 of Social Structure and Change) Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, California, ISBN 0-7619-9255-3; Sage Publications, New Delhi, India, ISBN 81-7036-713-1