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The modern Libyan state began to take shape within the Ottoman Empire from the mid-16th century onward. Libya’s path to independent statehood was violently interrupted in 1911 with the onset of an Italian conquest. Rome’s efforts to annex Libya through settler colonialism and ethnic cleansing were in turn disrupted by World War II. The United Nations (UN) helped to guide Libya to independence under the Sanusi monarchy in 1951, albeit in close collaboration with the United Kingdom and the United States. The Sanusi monarchy, founded in the eastern region of Cyrenaica in the late 19th century, faced substantial difficulties in its efforts to transform an incredibly vast, thinly populated, socially diverse, and seemingly resource-poor country into a modern nation state. Though the extraction and exportation of oil from the 1960s onward help to alleviate some of the financial constraints on the government, the increasing centralization of power within the monarchy eventually led to a military coup in 1969. Libya’s new regime, under the leadership of Mu‘ammar Al-Gaddafi, would eventually pursue a radical program involving centralized economic planning funded through oil sales, a baroque system of popular consultation, a terrifying array of “revolutionary” security institutions, military aggression in Chad, and confrontations with North Atlantic powers directly and indirectly. Though the Gaddafi regime was able to survive an array of domestic and international challenges for over four decades, a mass armed uprising in 2011, which precipitated a merciless civil war and foreign military intervention, led to its downfall. Subsequent international assistance and successive transitional authorities, however, were unable to address the spiral of insecurity that consumed Libya from 2012 onwards. A second civil war erupted in 2014, one fed not only by competing domestic visions for the future of Libya, but also by the competing ambitions of other states in the region.

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In the last few decades, discussions concerning the presence of spirit possession and healing practices associated with Sudanic Africans in North Africa and parts of the Middle East, coined as “slave religion,” have highlighted the relationship of these practices to indigenous religions and belief systems of Sudanic Africa. Unlike in the Americas, where the Atlantic slave trade was primarily responsible for the diffusion of similar indigenous African religious practices such as candomblé, Vodou, Santeria, Obeah, and their variants, the history behind Sudanic African spirit possession and healing practices in North Africa and the Middle East is much more complex. While increased enslaving activities during the late 18th century through the 19th century may have exacerbated the diffusion of the various Sudanic religious practices such as the Hausa Bori, the Zarma Holey, and the Zar cults to North Africa and the Middle East, their presence and practice outside their original milieu cannot be attributed solely to the slave trade. Interregional commerce, pilgrimage, voluntary migration, and elements of cultural unity underlying the Sudanic African religious and cosmological systems have all contributed at different historical time periods at varying scale to their spread and diffusion in North Africa and the Middle East.