Berlusconi and Gaddafi
Berlusconi and Gaddafi. What on earth do they have in common? They were supposed to be ‘friends’. Click for attribution and to to enlarge

It is weeks I wanted to write something about the Arab spring revolutions. It all started in Tunisia, separated from Italy by only 44 miles (Pantelleria) and by 68 miles (Sicily.)

This being not totally fortuitous in my opinion – we will see in any case.

This is a thoughtful Roman blog, not a newspaper, so we’ll talk over such political (and military) crises in our own Roman way 🙂

Talk over literally, since I recently discovered how convenient a microphone can be.

Waves of Revolution.
“Who the Hell Cares”

Image drawn when Gaddafi arrived to Rome (on june 2009?). Our PM welcomed him as a leader and as a personal friend. Click for credits and to enlarge

Disturbance; want of values in new generations; so-close-to-Italy Muslim countries exploding like bombs; the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India & China) about to make our Western asses black & blue.

France, the UK, Germany, the US etc. not being on better grounds than we are; our ineffable PM Berlusconi glued to his chair not giving a damn about his country’s future and claiming ‘communist’ magistrates are the only ones to blame for his HUGE legal problems (read the Guardian, among the rest, any political colour saying the same worldwide) and btw only half-heartedly admitting his friend Muammar Gaddafi is a cruel dictator butchering dissenters with fighters missiles.

By the way, did the two Big Men have fun ensemble with chicks? No evidence that I posses but it’s a given that when Gaddafi arrived to Rome (June 2009?) hundreds of Italian babes flocked to his tent placed in a Roman public (and luscious) garden and, well, rumours say quite a few converted to Islam for 80 Euros (100 USD)!

When asked by journalists (see picture below) – who were staring at their stunning faces boobs (and legs) – why on earth had they converted, they replied:

“Well, ya know, it is so interesting, exploring different religions, really so interesting, isn’t it interesting? Ah ah ah ah ..”

[I am using my words but I heard those chicks’ words on TV; they were no different, at times even worse]

A young Italian showing the Qur’an after meeting Muammar Gaddafi in his tent placed in a luscious Roman public garden. Click for attribution

Let me tell you this whole thing is allarmante, alarming.

And it’s all the more when we realise we are so few to be alarmed – as a Milan’s blogger wittingly put it.

While strolling about Rome I actually notice that in cafés shops and bars no one really gives a damn, with Milan teaming up with us (the two major Italian cities – not to mention the provinces, that probably care even less.)

Instead, Libya and the Rest ‘Do Affect’ Us

Libya with Italy on top. Giolitti in 1911 and later Mussolini deemed its conquest as a natural expansion of Italy in ‘Mare Nostrum’.

Libya and the Arab spring upheavals do affect us instead. We all have Greco-Roman and Mediterranean roots, so South and East shores mattered (and matter) to us.

In 1911 the Italian PM Giovanni Giolitti launched the progressive conquest of Libya, later continued by Benito Mussolini until 1931.

Libya became ‘ours’ because our newly-founded Nation desired to invent her own empire at a time when the real thing, ie the British and the French empires, were soon to fall apart (as Lucio Caracciolo, director of Limes, yesterday observed in the Roman daily La Repubblica.)

Libya's regions, and Cyrenaica

Libya 1911-1931, we were saying. A bloody phase of battles and unrelenting anti-Italian guerilla at the end of which our technologically superior country (morally too?) made use of chemical weapons and poisoned the farmers’ wells to the extent it wiped out 1/10 of the Libyan population (100,000 casualties) – according to the Italian Wikipedia.

Κυρήνη or Cyrene.
Mussolini Amoral
(and Forgetful) Conqueror

One of the toughest & unyielding Libyan regions was Cyrenaica, Eastern Libya (see map above.)

It was so named since 2641 years earlier the Greek colony of Cyrene (Κυρήνη) was there founded and there later flourished. Cyrene soon became a glowing centre of Greek culture. Suffice it to mention:

Callimachus (Καλλίμαχος: 310–240 BCE), of Libyan Greek origin, poet and scholar

Aristippus (Ἀρίστιππος), Socrates’ disciple, who there preached how to enjoy life pleasures “from all circumstances and how to control adversity and prosperity alike;”

Callimachus (Καλλίμαχος) who there had his birth and without whom the greatest Roman poets of the Latin golden age would never have existed (Catullus, Virgil, Tibullus and Propertius;)

(Έρατοσθένης), also from Cyrene, the first scientist ever capable of exactly measuring the size and circumference of our planet.

Libya’s National Hero:
Omar Mukhtar, a Pious Man

Omar Mukhtar, Libya's great national hero
Omar Mukhtar, Libya’s great national hero, hanged by the Italians in 1931. “For nearly 20 years he led native resistance to Italian colonization.” Wikipedia. Also image via Wikipedia. Click to enlarge

In 1862 CE Omar al-Mukhtar had his birth in Cyrenaica as well (see picture above.)

Omar al-Mukhtar is Libya’s great national hero, a religious and pious man.

For 20 years he led an unrelenting anti-Italian resistance and when captured in 1931 (see picture below) his deep personality “had an impact on his Italian jailers, who later remarked upon his steadfastness” (English Wiki.)

Omar Mokhtar arrested by Italian Fascists
Omar Mokhtar arrested by the Italians in 1931. Click for file source

A sort of Nelson Mandela, one could say, with the difference that deep sage Omar didn’t make it.

It seems the Italians arrested Mukhtar’s court appointed defence lawyer, capitano Roberto Lontano, who took ‘too honestly’ his defence job, which suggests unfairness in Mukhtar’s trial.

“On September 16, 1931, Mukhtar, at the age of 73 years, was hanged before his followers” who were ALL prisoners in the concentration camp of Solluqon. The Italians hopes were that Libyan resistance would end with him.

Omar Mukhtar's hanging in the concentration camp of Solluqon
Omar Mukhtar’s hanging in the concentration camp of Solluqon

Before dying Omar uttered this Qur’anic verse:

“To God we belong. To Him we shall return.”

“His final years – Wikipedia – were depicted in the movie Lion of the Desert (1981), starring Anthony Quinn, Oliver Reed, and Irene Papas. It was based on the struggles of Mukhtar against Italian commander Rodolfo Graziani‘s forces [Graziani born close to Rome was called ‘the pacifier’ by the Italians; the ‘Butcher of Fezzan’ by the Arabs.]

Italians were able to watch this film only a few years ago.

[The film may perhaps be watched here.]

Lion of the Desert DVD Cover. Click for attribution

PS. I don’t mean here that Italians were worse than any colonizer. I believe instead that every country follows the principles of Realpolitik which “focuses on considerations of power, not ideals, morals, or principles.”

Machiavelli laid the first rules of Realpolitik. It is high time I dedicate a post to this Renaissance Florentine btw, since too many people say: Realpolitik, ok, but Machiavelli, THAT is amoral stuff.

Which needs some clarifying I guess.

Benito Mussolini thought Mukhtar, the Desert Lion, was an obstacle to his colonial conquest. So he got rid of him.

I am not criticizing this [like I’m not criticizing Americans who stopped, no matter how, communism in Greece, Italy or Chile.]

I am criticizing colonialism.


Who is no sinner may start casting stones.

[to be continued: see next chapter]

PS. Rome and Italy are Mediterranean. Nothing like a wider picture on the South and East shores of such a sea may throw light in our opinion on the Arab Spring.

From this blog:

The Southern Shores of the Mediterranean

Mare Nostrum, Patriarchy, Omertà. 1

Mare Nostrum, Patriarchy, Omertà. 2

Permanences. Rome and Carthage

Love Words from Egypt

Echoes from the Mediterranean. Part 1

Echoes from the Mediterranean. Part 2

Folks of the Mediterranean Sea

21 thoughts on “Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Syria etc. Arab Spring Revolutions seen from Rome (1)

  1. I remember watching Lion in the Desert when it was televised here in the United States. I thought it was a good movie. I was more interested in it at the time as something of an expansion of my reading about WWII in North Africa — basically a prequel.

    As for the sins. We must not cast stones, but we can repent, and that repentance takes a great many forms, some of which can do far more good than casting stones can possibly do.

    As for Silvio? I’ve been reading news clips and watching video on YouTube. For whatever good he may have done Italy, he is not any kind of bulwark against the remnant of the reds. I don’t think the press on the left or the right in this country buys that line at all.


    1. I saw Lion in the desert only a few years ago (it was not shown in Italy for obvious reasons) and I became aware of how Italians had behaved in Libya.

      I was disgusted but surprised too I’ll admit.

      Having met Flavia in Greece, and from that day having travelled with her around many Greek islands, the local people kept saying: “Oh, Italians, stessa faccia stessa razza (same face same race), you were much better than the Nazis.” [fascists and Nazis occupied together all the the Greek Islands they could]

      What can I say. I guess Italians were racist vs Libyans (although not vs Tunisians so similar to South Italy) and also, Mussolini was Mussolini, in 1931 he had totally fascinated Italy that was in his hands.


  2. They say we should understand the past in order to not repeat mistakes made. I think we just end up making new ones. And those new ones may be worse.

    If a nation wants to be an empire, it should invade/attack other nations with the aim to colonize or control. If it doesn’t want to colonize or control said nation (as we, the US, is not in the case of Libya), it should not waste blood or treasure.


    1. A good test may be Arabic Syria, that is revolting too. Syria culturally speaking is important but has no oil. We will see how ALL Western nations will react. The Assad family ruling the country is also using – as far as I know – military forces butchering protesters.


      1. No western nation will try to interfere in Syria. Why not? Compare the oil reserves. Libya is a primary supplier for Europe. This is not a humanitarian venture. It is “blood for oil”… just not not non-Arab blood (yet).

        I saw “Lion of the Desert” many years ago. But it was because I liked anything with Anthony Quinn is it and not because it was a region or subject of interest to me at the time.


        1. No western nation will try to interfere in Syria. Why not? Compare the oil reserves

          So I guess we agree.

          I also adore Anthony Quinn, whatever he does (did?).


  3. Very interesting–I did not know the history of Italian colonisation in Libya. You can’t undo the mistakes of the past but it would be nice if leaders would try not to perpetuate them!


    1. I did not know the history of Italian colonisation in Libya

      Not an exciting chapter in our recent history.

      It would be nice if leaders would try not to perpetuate [mistakes of the past]

      Leaders, the real statesmen – not like our PM – say ‘right or wrong it is my country [or group of allied countries when at their best perhaps].

      Although phrases like ‘mistake’ or ‘the right thing’ should be inserted into a ‘Realpolitik’ scenario (I may look cynical while I just observe things).


  4. Mussolini in his folly invaded Greece in 1940, had not the Germans come to his help his troops would have been backed into the sea. When the Germans came in and cut Greece in two, they saved his skin.
    My father’s whole family, so it seems, was wiped out in the process either by the foreign troops or Greek quislings or even communist militants, who knows, such was the free for all in those years.
    So what else is new?


    1. Mussolini …invaded Greece …had not the Germans come to his help …

      True, Mussolini under-evaluated the Greeks (and over-evaluated the Italians)…in a mountainous country, one single Greek defending his home wife & kids fought like 5 Italians, who didn’t give a damn about that war being cynical and considered the Greeks brothers (Renaissance Montaigne himself btw had already noticed this cynicism in Italian soldiers vis-à-vis the French and the Spanish soldiers: I was hit when I read it, I am fond of Montaigne)

      The Nazis were different. Disciplined, with better arms and moved by mystical faith, and perhaps not giving a damn – at least many of them – about the modern Greeks who mostly were a bit aliens to them (not the ancient Greeks, that they idolised when cultivated).

      I am sorry for what happened to your father’s family 😦

      No, nothing is new under the sun.


  5. “……I believe instead that every country follows the principles of Realpolitik which ‘focuses on considerations of power, not ideals, morals, or principles.’……”

    No more so can we see this than with Libya. Sarkozy, facing electoral humiliation next year, is using Libya to divert his countrymen’s attention away from the domestic causes of his unpopularity, by trying to show he’s a dashing war hero and international statesman.

    Cameron, whose huge budget cuts are extremely unpopular – resulting in anti-government rallies – is using Libya for the same domestic political reasons as Sarkozy.

    Obama, facing re-election next year, is publicly taking a back seat in the Libya thing, because polls show the American people not wanting any more foreign wars – at least for now.

    It’s all so transparent.

    It would appear, though, that the majority of the Libyan people called out for foreign help against Gaddafi, and are grateful for what’s been done on their behalf so far. Hence the leaders of France, Britain and the US, have done the right thing but for the wrong reasons.


    1. It would appear …most Libyan people called out for foreign help … and are grateful for what’s been done … the leaders of France, Britain and the US, have done the right thing but for the wrong reasons.

      Very intelligent remarks Phil. Italy had the means to help France, Britain and the US as trait-d’union given the vast contacts and ties she has at any level and possibly understanding Libya a bit better.

      But our PM, Gaddafi’s ex party friend, was stupidly railed by Sarko’s protagonist behaviour (a clear defence mechanism as you well explained), and most of all Berusconi played uncertain, or worse tried to play on both tables since Italian and Libyan economies are very tied together.

      One of the worst statesmen we’ve ever had. Andreotti – you can read Zeus’s post about him – was a prince of Renaissance compared to B.

      At any rate indecision, whatever the reason (vile or ‘pour cause’) never pays so Italians were deemed unreliable and excluded from the commanding room. Well, had I been in the boots of France, UK and the US I’d have behaved in the same way.

      You can’t understand how much I dislike THAT Milanese, Berlusconi (and not because I wanted a better role in this war for Italy, not at all).

      Btw, arming the Libyan anti-Gaddafi civilians is not a solution imo. Gaddafi is very strong and will never give up. As far as I understand he can be won only by sending troops on the ground. Probably a new UN ruling must be issued but of the 5 Security Council permanent members China and Russia – I learn – will probably veto it.
      Another big mess ahead of us all.


  6. China and Russia would definitely veto any new ruling to send troops into Lybia.

    Let’s hope pro-Gaddafi forces can be persuaded to abandon him en masse. What could be offered to make this happen? I hate to see the excitement and hunger for action that prevails in the early stages of war. I call it the blind stage.

    Unity and hope for real change worked in Egypt.


    1. Let’s hope pro-Gaddafi forces can be persuaded to abandon him en masse.

      My information is scarce. There are probably forces that were part of old regime that won’t be inclined to give up for fear of exile, execution etc. & extensive mercenary forces (from Black Africa?) Gaddafi paid with his deep pockets. These and other forces will never give up. On the Italian radio I heard this morning Gaddafi’s military might is perhaps 5 times stronger than that of rebels despite international air support.

      Unity and hope for real change worked in Egypt.

      There’s a difference in my opinion between Egypt and Libya: the former being like an ancient old man ready to wisely ponder each move for the good of all, the latter more like a desert raider who first shoots and then talks.

      Stereotypes, ok – we’ve seen the Desert Lion’s power and charm – but I remember while in Tunisia I kept hearing jokes about Libyans ALL the time.

      Libyans are not much esteemed (are considered rough) neither by the Egyptians (who suffered from Libyan desert raids since the times of the Pharaohs) nor by the Tunisians, ex Carthaginians.

      Cyrenaica may be an area of its own but frankly I don’t want to say stupidities.


  7. “Cyrenaica may be an area of its own but frankly I don’t want to say stupidities”

    By this you mean separation/partition? When that happens one side suffers more than the other economically for ages.

    Ps. I like your description of Egypt and agree.


  8. Cyrenaica is where the oil is. Cut off from it the rest of Lybia is in the poor house.
    Same problem with Sudan and South Sudan and many of those countries.
    “Cherchez la femme” was the motto of a famous detective. Here it coul be “Cherchez le pétrole”.


  9. @Paul,
    So partition wouldn’t be a good resolution.
    There will have to be amnesty and/or reconciliaiton down the road.


  10. @Paul

    Are you sure oil is in Cyrenaica? I’m not casting doubts, I just don’t know. In any case when Libya ‘was’ Italian nobody knew the land was literally floating over oil.


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