Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Libya: World War II

Libya World War II
The British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery during the allied offensive against the German army in Northern Africa, in 1943

No effective Libyan nationalist movement emerged out of the bitter colonial experience. ‘Libya’ as a concept was little more than a geographical space – the idea of Tripolitanian exiles in Cairo and Damascus who dreamed of a Libyan nation. There was no united leadership in the colony itself. Only the exiled Senussi leadership in Egypt offered a political structure that the British could use against their Italian enemies.

During World War II Libya became a battlefield of Nazi-German and Allied forces. The Senussis provided Libyan troops to assist the British advance into Libya, but no such help came from Tripolitania. Consequently, when a British military administration was imposed on Cyrenaica in 1943, which lasted until 1951, the new authorities turned to  Muhammad Idris, and, having expelled the Italians, forced the population of Tripoli to cooperate with him. The French took control of Fezzan, and stayed there until 1951. That laid the basis for the post-war political evolution of Libya.