Nationalism at Home and Abroad: The Impact of Expatriate Libyan Opposition on the Development of a National Identity

By Tarek Shagosh
Submitted to Session P4983 (Diaspora and Political Participation, 2017 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
Next to the colorful clashes with Arab neighbors, excessive adventurism and glowering anti-Western rhetoric, the relationship between the Gadhafi regime in Libya and its opposition expatriates is often overlooked. This paper seeks to examine the cleavage between the Libyan state’s conceptualization of Libyan nationalism, and that of its exiled opposition. Because of the authoritarian nature of the state, resistance movements grew outside the country rather than within and often clashed with regime elements as Gadhafi sought to export his ideology abroad. These interactions included rallies and counter rallies, disincentives in domestic policy to discourage return, co-optation of students studying abroad with state funding, and even assassinations.
I will take a closer look at a) these interactions, with special attention given to the 80’s before the Reagan bombing campaign b) the literature by expatriates, like political propaganda, poetry and fiction and c) the later attempts at reconciliation on the part of the regime, all to further explain the goals of the regime in spreading its unconventional nationalist project and the fragmentation of opposition groups in their resistance efforts. Furthermore, I place these pieces within the framework of the theory posited by Anna Baldinetti, citing the origins of Libyan nationalism within exile communities while the country was under occupation by Fascist Italy.
I find that these opposition groups, despite being relatively weak and disorganized, were considered a grave threat by the regime. In responding to these perceived threats, the regime perpetuated the dilution and stagnation of the development of a Libyan nationalist identity. I conclude with remarks on the implications for the future cohesiveness of the Libyan people by connecting these findings with the persisting conflict in Libya today.