Day of Revenge

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The Day of Revenge was a Libyan holiday celebrating the expulsion of Jews and Italians from Libyan soil in 1970.


On September 1, 1969, while King Idris of Libya was in Turkey for medical treatment he was deposed in a coup by a group of Libyan army officers under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi. The monarchy was abolished, and a republic proclaimed. The coup pre-empted Idris' abdication and the succession of his heir the following day.

Over the next few months, Libyan policy towards foreigners changed drastically. The revolutionary council approved a new constitution, which described Libya as Arab, free, and democratic. In the name of Arab nationalism the new government nationalized most oil holdings, seized Italian and Jewish possessions, closed U.S. and British military bases (including the American Wheelus Air Base, renamed "Oqba ibn Nafi" after the first Arab-Muslim conqueror of North Africa.

Expulsions of Italians and Jews[edit]

On July 21, 1970 the revolutionary council issued a special law to regain wealth stolen from the Libyan people by Italian oppressors (as stated by Gaddafi in a speech a few days later). With this law, Italians who had long lived in Libya were required to leave the country by October 7, 1970. October 7 would be celebrated as the Day of Revenge, a Libyan national holiday. About 20,000 Italians and 37,000 Jews were expelled from the country.

The coup d'état of Muammar al-Gaddafi (influenced by Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Arab nationalism) was driven by the conviction that foreigners were still exploiting Libya, and Gaddafi made their eviction a hallmark of his program. By the end of 1970 all foreign holdings were seized, and nearly all Jews and Italians had left the country. The late Muammar al-Gaddafi officially abolished the celebrations in 2004, after a treaty between Libya and Italy was signed.

Italians in Libya[edit]

The Italian conquest of Libya dated back to 1911, as a result of Italian ambitions in North Africa. Libya was annexed to the Italian Kingdom with the Lausanne Treaty of 1923, which concluded the Italo-Turkish War of 1912.

For several years, few Italian nationals lived in the new colony. When the Fascist regime gained power in Italy, the colonization of Libya was increased; thousands of Italian settlers poured into the country with promises of free land and financial aid. By 1939, Italians in Libya numbered 108,419 (12.37 percent of the total population) according to census figures; plans envisioned 500,000 Italian settlers by the 1960s. The Italian population was concentrated in the coast around the cities of Tripoli (37 percent of its population) and Bengasi (31 percent). With the Italian defeat in World War II, Italian influence waned.

After several years under British mandate, on December 24, 1951 Libya declared its independence as the United Kingdom of Libya (a constitutional, hereditary monarchy under King Idris). Although many Italians had already left the former colony, many remained (primarily farmers and craftsmen). King Idris was a tolerant monarch, and generally treated the Italian population well.

Libyan Jews[edit]

Libyan Jews (who had lived in Libya since the 3rd century BC) were granted citizenship; their passports labeled them as "Libyan Jews" ("Iahud Liby"). Their civil and political rights were restricted, under the assumption that they had connections with Israel. In 1945 and 1948 the Jews suffered pogroms, and most left Libya for Israel in 1948.

About 6,000 remained in Libya until they were forced to leave after the pogrom in June 1967, during which 15 were killed. Between 1951 (the independence of Libya) and 1970, the Italian population was not granted Libyan citizenship. The remaining Libyan Jews migrated to Israel, and their Libyan holdings were seized.

See also[edit]


  • Angelo Del Boca, The Italians in Libya, from Fascism to Gaddafy. Bari: Laterza, 1991.