University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Wolfson Press Fellowship > Book Launch: Operation Idris: Inside the British Administration of Cyrenaica and Libya, 1942-52 by Richard Synge

Book Launch: Operation Idris: Inside the British Administration of Cyrenaica and Libya, 1942-52 by Richard Synge

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  • A foreign military occupation, although welcomed at first, soon stirs nationalist hostility and protest;
  • The big powers at the UN at loggerheads over the destiny of a Middle Eastern country;
  • The creation of an artificial kingdom.

These issues, and more, are touched upon in Richard Synge’s new book which looks beneath the veneer of the British administration of eastern Libya (Cyrenaica) from the time that Rommel’s Africa Korps was driven out of North Africa by the Allied forces. Drawing initially on the diaries and memoir of his father, who served in the British administration in Benghazi, Richard Synge goes on to provide the essential detail of Britain’s overall political strategy for the territory, which prioritised promoting the interests of the Sanussi brotherhood and its leader, Sayyid Mohammed Idris. Jason Pack’s Foreword provides useful historical context on the Anglo-Sanussi relationship, which was central to the British plan for indirect rule in Cyrenaica.

The evidence presented in the book shows how pre-war British preconceptions about the Arab world were not shared by all of its own administrators. And yet, the strategic interest was so strong that even when the post-war negotiations over the future of Libya became stalled, Britain ensured the permanent return of Idris from exile in 1947 and encouraged and underwrote his unilateral declaration of Cyrenaican independence in 1949. These were the first steps to Idris being accepted as ruler of independent Libya in 1951.

The new Libya was a flimsy structure that, from the beginning, risked collapse. This book uncovers the local and international dramas that accompanied its creation.

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