THE Italian colonies, which cover altogether an area of about 780,000 square miles and contain a population of over a million and a half, are entirely inadequate to care for Italy's economic needs or to provide proper room for the expansion of her growing population. Italy was last to join in the contest of the powers for the appropriation of African resources, and consequently all she could do was to take what the others had left. The territories most suitable for European immigration, such as North Africa from Morocco eastward to Tunis and the coastal countries of South and East Africa, were already in the possession of other states or else were populated to their full capacity by other nationalities. Following the far-reaching vision of her great statesman Cavour, Italy succeeded in gaining a foothold on the shores of the Red Sea between the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan and French Somaliland. On the shores of the Indian Ocean she combined the efforts of her explorers with an official assertion of her sovereign rights over the country lying between British Somaliland and the mouth of the Juba River, and stretching inland from the seashore to the confines of Ethiopia. Finally, in 1911, came Italy's occupation of Libya, dictated by inexorable economic and political necessity.

Thus the colonial dominions of Italy came to be composed of countries representing diverse functions in the life of the nation. Because of the fact that Libya is contiguous to Tunis and is directly across the Mediterranean Sea from Italy proper, and because of its sparse native population and age-long connections with Sicily, these two colonies are best suited for European colonization within bounds imposed by the native population and special local conditions. Italian immigration into Libya has been on the increase, and in 1921 totaled 27,495. On the other hand, the two East African colonies, Eritrea and Somaliland, are clearly typical territories for economic exploitation. Ethnic and cultural conditions differ in these latter colonies also. Although before the Italian occupation Libya was considered one of the most backward countries of Africa, its population possessed a certain stationary if retarded civilization and a monotheistic religion; while Eritrea in its indigenous civilization stands only slightly above Somaliland, where the natives have not yet accepted Islam and remain in a comparatively primitive condition.

The internal political arrangements of Libya and the East African colonies are also different. Tripolitania, one of the two administrative units into which Libya is divided, has kept her feudal character, thanks to the everlasting rivalries between the local chiefs and the fundamental discord between the Berbers and the Arabs. Even the Turkish Government, during its long domination, did not succeed in leveling this strife and giving the country a homogenous government. The people of Cyrenaica, the other division of Libya, have upheld the simple organization of the patriarchal Islamic tribes; and the Senussi brotherhood, (whose influence, generally speaking, is strong in the desert regions but less toward the coast,) succeeded in uniting the Arabs and the Sudanese of the Saharan oases under one religious authority and in a common trade organization. The tribes of Eritrea, however, present a very rudimental political organism; and a still more primitive one exists among the Somalians.

Hence it is a necessary part of Italy's colonial policy to adapt herself to diverse local situations. But while varying in details this policy remains identical in spirit throughout the four colonial territories. Italy knows her duty as a colonizing power--the duty of endeavoring to reconcile the supreme necessity of colonization with the vital needs of the indigenous populations, and of limiting the use of force and coercion to cases of absolute necessity. The Italy of today wishes to develop her African possessions for the benefit not only of the home-land but also of the subject populations and of humanity as a whole. Where the benefits of civic organization are refused by recalcitrant natives who want to continue under the tyrannical and arbitrary rule of their petty feudal lords, Italy takes such measures to reestablish order as seem advisable in the given case. Where natural riches are wasted through backward management, she establishes a régime of scientific exploitation. Where production demands more labor than can be had locally, she creates suitable conditions for the coöperation of her sturdy colonists with the native workers. In short, Italy wishes to govern her African colonies by introducing her surplus man-power among backward populations and integrating the two, never by unnecessarily substituting the former for the latter.

In accordance with this conception, the great importance of public utilities in the colonies is recognized and the sums spent by Italy for these purposes often exceed the present economic value of the colonies benefited. New Italy deems it the duty of a colonizing power to give her vassal territories order, justice, hygiene, technical progress, schools, communications, ports and buildings. She has discharged this task in a manner worthy of her traditions.

Our last operations against the feudal chiefs of the plateau between Tunis and Misurata, as well as those in Cyrenaica against a certain sect that had broken its pledge, are in full accordance with our declared principles. These operations, conducted by comparatively small forces, have been crowned with a brilliant success in Tripolitania. The rule of law has been established where heretofore tribal squabbles, general disorder and economic stagnation reigned. The occupation of the plateau has opened Tripolitania to Mediterranean traffic and induced the tribes to return to their own territories and resume their peaceful agricultural work and the raising of cattle. At the present time order is steadily gaining ground in the interior; and in the coastlands, which are naturally better fitted for initial colonization, the government is at work creating conditions that will ultimately make it possible to realize on the colony's potential value. Cyrenaica will soon follow the example of her neighbor colony.

Italy colonizes not only with her sword, however, but also with the aid of her doctors and her teachers. We remember the tradition of our great statesman, Francesco Crispi, who covered the Mediterranean coast with a network of Italian schools and hospitals. The campaign of sanitation in our colonies has wiped out many epidemic diseases and reduced to a minimum the hotbeds of infection. Our colonies can boast of sanitary and hygienic measures similar to those existing in the most progressive countries. The present government intends to lay even more stress on this policy of sanitation, considering it one of the foremost duties of a colonizing nation.

As to means of communication, Tripolitania must suffer from a suspension of railroad building; but the construction of ordinary highways giving the country access to existing railway lines will be pushed forward. In Cyrenaica a railway line is under construction which is intended to penetrate the whole province, though at present it goes only as far as Regima and El Abiar. And the highway connecting all the important centers, from Bengasi to Derna, is almost finished and has already been opened to as much traffic as the country supplies at present.

POLITICAL AND ADMINISTRATIVE ARRANGEMENTS OF 1913 AND 1914

Tripolitania and Cyrenaica came under complete Italian sovereignty by virtue of the decree of November 5, 1911. In the course of the Libyan war and Italy's subsequent gradual penetration of the country the old Ottoman political and administrative organization was formally revived. This organization was largely based upon the use of natives in administrative posts. As a precaution, however, a large number of residencies were established where officers of the army of occupation exercised effective governmental power. As time went by it became clear that, for various reasons, it would be inopportune to develop a direct government by Italian officials. It was found convenient, rather, to form a local government on the basis of understanding and coöperation with local chiefs, leaving to the Italian officials the function of leadership and surveillance, and providing for sufficient decentralization to meet local exigencies.

The royal decree of January 9, 1913, established the political arrangement of the two colonies. Despite the fact that the two colonies differed in many particulars it was decided to give them analogous governmental machineries. The decree invested the Governor with civil and military power, with ample competence in political and administrative matters and in all questions touching defense and public welfare. Following the example of Roman administration and that of neighboring colonies, Tripolitania and Cyrenaica were each divided into zones of civil government and zones of military government. The civil zones included those districts definitely pacified, while the military zones were those where pacification was still incomplete. In this manner the way was paved for the gradual transformation of the government of the colony into one where a civil governor has jurisdiction over the whole area and a military commander is in control of the troops alone.

Under these conditions natives could not participate in the management of their country except in a consultative capacity. As a matter of fact, a council consisting of a small number of eminent natives was attached to the Governor so that he might ask for their individual or united advice.

The political order established by this 1913 decree was reflected in the administrative arrangement confirmed by the royal decree of January 15, 1914. This decree divided the colonies into regions, with an Italian commissioner at the head of each, while a regional council, nominated by the Governor and having a purely consultative capacity, was attached to each regional commissioner. Regions were subdivided into circuits, each of which, under normal conditions, was placed under a native head supervised by an Italian official. The circuits were again divided into districts, urban and rural, the former under a municipal government assisted and supervised by an Italian official, the latter under a local native agent supervised in like manner and having recourse to a council nominated by the regional commissioner.

THE NEW ADMINISTRATIVE IDEAL

A general ferment of the Islamic world followed in the wake of the World War. In addition, Italian public opinion was disappointed in its legitimate hopes of a compensation for Italy's war sacrifices that would correspond to the gains of the other Allies. In view of these facts, it seemed to our government that the time was ripe to try direct coöperation with the native populations, granting them civil and political rights that formerly were limited by the discretion of both the central and the local governments. In the midst of a tribal warfare that was racking the country, a constitutional charter offering to every native element an active participation in the government seemed the best measure to promote peace and order. At a single stroke, the natives saw themselves put upon the level of civilized nations and attaining a certain degree of self-government.

To bring into effect this ideal, which to many seemed rather hazardous in the circumstances, the 1913 arrangement was changed. Separate statutes were given the two colonies, whose political and administrative arrangements became different in several respects. Both statutes, however, remained true to the following fundamental aims:

To give the natives of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica citizenship, not to make them subjects.

To grant individual citizens such civic and political liberties as exist in progressive countries--the guarantee of individual liberty, the inviolability of domicile and of property, the right to fill civil and military offices, the right to exercise a franchise, the right of petition, the right of sojourn and emigration, and freedom of religion, of press, of meeting and association and of education.

To establish a government consisting of a Governor nominated by the King, who retains all civil and military power under the law, and of a colonial Parliament elected by the population, with a definite number of members ex officio and members nominated by the Government of Italy.

To reserve the post of President of Parliament to a Moslem member of it.

To make incumbent upon Parliament the approval of necessary measures for the enforcement of the statute, for the imposition of state taxes, and for the working-out of practical plans for public utilities.

To relegate to the Moslem and Judaic religious authorities all matters relating to personal ethics, inheritance, and religious practices, leaving other civil and penal matters to the courts presided over by professional magistrates; and to entrust the Moslem members of Parliament with the nomination of the cadis.

To grant official equality to the native and the Italian tongues.

It was upon this foundation that Italy sought to build up a new and daring scheme of colonial policy. How the indigenous populations responded to this liberal appeal we shall presently see.

In 1919 and 1920 Italy repeatedly declared her firm intention to keep her promises. But the local chieftains of the interior, especially in the mountains, continued to fight with each other and the country remained sunk in disorder and poverty. Wishing to keep the natives favorably disposed toward the new statute, the successive Governors intentionally held aloof from these conflicts. In the beginning of 1920 the state of rebellion became aggravated; but after the fall of Ramadan Sceteui, the head of the insurgents, the situation for a time seemed to improve. In November, 1920, however, some Arab chieftains met and repudiated the Italian statute, which opposed to their personal and feudal powers the complete equality before the law of all Libyan citizens and the possibility for every one--or rather, for the best among them--to participate in their own government.

The Committee of Reform set up by these Arab chiefs disguised the personal ambitions of its members under a demand for complete religious, civil, and military autonomy and a new constitution. In reality their desire was to prevent the working of the new Italian statute with its inevitable abolition of petty tyrannies.

Notwithstanding these disturbances, the Italian Government, while maintaining intact its own prestige, was reluctant to use force against the rebels. The new Governor who was nominated in August, 1921, once more succeeded in inducing the chiefs to collaborate for the pacification of the country. While the struggle was in progress between the loyal and the rebel chiefs, a government decree of January 1, 1922, granted Tripolitania a new election law for Parliament and the other councils. The new order was to be worked out gradually from the coastlands towards the interior, in accord with the progress of pacification. Once more the rebels responded to Italy's leniency with insolence; and rebellion flared up worse than before.

Presently further concessions became inconsistent with Italy's prestige. In April, 1922, after a series of successful operations, order was reëstablished in western Tripolitania. Even then, before any definite action was taken against the rebels who had fled to eastern Tripolitania, Italy's Colonial Minister declared: "If the seceding Arabs desire peace, let them revert to law and order, which implies respect for the constituted authorities and the use of the legal means offered by Italy for free deliberation as to the interests of the country and the wishes of the population. We have no interest in hindering the legitimate autonomy of the chiefs and the people in administrative and moral questions, but nothing shall be obtained by threats." The rebels did not heed this advice. They were determined to arrest the progress of civilization and to keep that part of the country to which they had fled in a state of perennial anarchy.

Our new government was determined to guard Italy's national dignity vigilantly. The rebellious elements of the interior quickly found themselves confronted with energetic measures; and in November, 1922, our troops subdued the vast inland province of Gharian. In February, 1923, a large portion of central Tripolitania was occupied, and shortly afterward the last center of resistance, Misurata. Today the indigenous populations, weary of warfare and upheaval, are gradually returning to labors of peace.

THE PARLIAMENTARY REGIME IN CYRENAICA

The fundamental laws of Italy's two Mediterranean colonies differ but little in essentials. Each of these colonies has a Parliament, a Government Council and minor local councils which, as I have described, help the Italian Government in its effort to conform to local traditions and customs. Apart from these fundamental outlines, however, it is important to consider the demographic and ethnographic differences between the two colonies, such as the larger number of inhabited centers in Tripolitania, its more extensive zones of stable culture, and the higher development which its political institutions had reached previous to our occupation; and, on the other hand, the comparatively few urban centers in Cyrenaica, the population of which, in addition to being smaller, is entirely nomad.

When it came to evolving a political arrangement for the two colonies, these factors resulted in the adoption of a territorial principle for Tripolitania and an ethnic principle for Cyrenaica. Tripolitania was subdivided in a manner which I have already described. Voting districts for the election of members of Parliament and of the other councils were also defined on a territorial basis. I have spoken above, too, of the events which heretofore have prevented us from introducing these theoretical institutions into practical life.

In nomad, patriarchal Cyrenaica, divided as it is into tribal groups, administration on a geographic basis would have been inconceivable. Accordingly, the electoral colleges, except those in the urban centers of the coastland which contain considerable numbers of Europeans and Hebrews, are established along tribal lines. Even the administrative subdivision of Cyrenaica is inspired by the same principle, so that although the country is formally subdivided into regions and districts the authorities therein have jurisdiction over clearly defined tribal groups and over the territories through which such tribes habitually move.

Each major tribal group comprises a number of minor ones, cabiles; in each cabile one representative is allowed to each four thousand people, or to each fraction of four thousand above fifteen hundred. The Parliament thus includes mainly deputies from tribes and only a few from cities. Among the latter there are, in the present legislature, three Italian members. The grouping of deputies in the Cyrenaican Parliament, unlike the European division into political parties, is determined almost exclusively by tribal ties, which outweigh all political considerations. As a result, the ethnic configuration of Cyrenaica is roughly reproduced in her Parliament: we see the Abeidat on the left, the Hasa, Braasa, and others in the center, the Auaghir on the right.

The Parliament of Cyrenaica convenes in the capital of the colony twice a year, in spring and in autumn. The President is first elected from among the Moslem members, the election of other officers follows, and the schedule for the exercise of the assembly's functions is worked out. The Government of Italy is represented in the assembly by the Secretary General for civil and political affairs and by other ex-officio officials.

Parliament approves all orders concerning the application of fundamental laws before such orders are published, considers the direct state taxes and discusses such public utilities as do not carry estimates exceeding the allotments provided for them by the normal budget. Members of Parliament also have the privilege of addressing inquiries to the Italian Government concerning administrative matters.

The Government Council consists of eight members elected by Parliament from its own majority and of two members nominated by the Italian Government. This Council, besides determining the electoral districts and the number of representatives in Parliament, also chooses the district agents and decides other similar questions. Thus a high council of the nation's best-trusted men continues its supervision even when Parliament is not in session.

The scope of the Parliament's labors during the last three years may be judged by the fact that no fewer than sixty deputies were steadily present, as well as by the importance of the questions discussed. These included: the internal arrangement of the Assembly; regulations concerning Moslem religious authorities; regulations for Moslem tribunals in dealing with the nomination, confirmation, and revocation of cadis; educational laws. At the present moment the following projects have been submitted to Parliament by the Italian Government: juridical organization; regulations concerning the right of meeting and association; liberty of the press. The mere enumeration of these subjects shows plainly the sincerity of our intention to call the people of Libya to a real and effective collaboration with our government.

A detailed consideration of the above mentioned laws and projects would exceed the limits of these notes. It is impossible, however, to pass over in silence Italy's generosity in giving her consent to a thorough-going educational program for young Moslems, elaborated by the Parliament of Cyrenaica and already partly put into operation. This program is happily inspired both by Islamic tradition and modern educational principles.

In each of twenty localities in the interior of Cyrenaica there is established a kuttab, or primary school, with a three-year course taught in Arabic and conducted in accordance with the Koran, although the pupils are also given the beginnings of the sciences and arithmetic. Furthermore, elementary schools with a three-year course are founded at Bengasi, Gedabia, Merg, Cyrene, Derna, and Tobruk, in which Italian is taught side by side with Arabic, while the sciences, arithmetic, geometry, history, geography, and other subjects are given more extensively. There is also a secondary school in Bengasi, with a four-year course, which prepares merchants, accountants, candidates for public offices, and teachers in the kuttab. In addition, a superior school exists, with a three-year course, the graduates of which are qualified to enter the universities of Italy.

The mere fact that the first steps of a parliamentary régime have been made in Cyrenaica is a token of our disinterested attitude toward the Arabs of Libya. Under the friendly guidance of the Italian Government the patriarchal simplicity of tribal life in Cyrenaica has been gradually giving way to a greater complexity of organs and functions, corresponding to the increased needs and the general interests at stake. Now the period of organizing Parliament and the Government Council has been reached. The former is practically considered as an organ of the federation of tribes.

Whereas other nations had been trying to govern Arab tribes by keeping alive the bloody jealousies between cabiles and chiefs, Italy has made a new and bold experiment aimed at developing the conception of a fatherland comprising all of the little tribal territories. The Parliament had its period of severe trial during its constitution, for reactionary Senussi influences became stronger in the very groups of the population which in the beginning had been adherents of the fundamental laws. However, in October, 1921, the legal representatives of the tribes of Cyrenaica protested in Parliament against the Senussites speaking in the name of the people and condemned the action of the Senussites in seeking, even by violence, to prevent the gathering of deputies in Bengasi and the normal functioning of Parliament. General Bongiovanni, the present Governor of Cyrenaica, at that time ordered our troops to march against the rebel Senussites, and he was supported by a unanimous vote of Parliament--a Parliament which contained about sixty representatives of the tribes that were being conquered in the interior.

The approval given by these primitive people undoubtedly signifies their satisfaction with, and their recognition of, the régime of ordered liberty inaugurated by Italy. It also testifies to our having been faithful to our promise expressed by the Prince of Udine in the name of the King at the inauguration of the first legislative session in Cyrenaica: "By granting to Libya her fundamental laws and parliamentary institutions, Italy showed once more that her mission in the world is not that of imposing her own customs, laws and creed upon other peoples, but that of harmonizing diverse creeds, customs and laws in the interest of a common progress."

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now
  • CARLO SCHANZER, Italian Senator; Minister of Finance, 1920-21; Italian Representative at the Washington Conference, 1921; Minister of Foreign Affairs, 1921-22
  • More By Carlo Schanzer