In wake of the recent demise of Muammar Gaddafi, as Libya attempts to build a multiparty democracy (an idea derided by the former leader as being for “donkeys”), the King George VI (KGVI) overprinted stamp registration sheets from this region provide a topical insight into the period of British control. It may come as a surprise to many that Britain was chiefly responsible for uniting Libya under a single monarchy following World War II. This story can be told through a recently catalogued collection of registration sheets, held at the BPMA.
In 1943 the Allies drove the Italians out of Libya (who themselves ousted the Ottoman Turks in the Italo-Turkish War 1911-12), ending Italian rule and the axis powers’ stronghold over the region. Under Mussolini’s fascist government, the Italians divided Libya into three provinces; Britain took military control of two of them – Cyrenaica and Tripolitania, while the French took control of the third region – Fezzan.
The British, as was commonplace throughout the empire and its many military endeavours, wasted no time in implementing the use of its postage stamps in these two territories. The first stamps used were overprinted ‘M.E.F’ (Middle East Forces) 1943-48 as used throughout British control of all former Italian colonies in the Middle East at the time (including Eritrea and Somalia).
The ‘British Military Administration’ (B.M.A) started using its own overprints in Tripolitania (which included Tripoli) from 1948 to 1950, replacing those overprinted ‘M.E.F’.
Following the UN Assembly in 1949 however, the British backed the resolution for Libya to gain its independence, placing Idris as-Senussi as the King within two years. Subsequently British control of the region was reduced to civilian control as the move towards an independent Libya began. The overprints consequently changed to’ British Administration’ (B.A) 1950-51.
M.E.F overprinted stamps were used throughout British control of Cyrenaica, until 24 December 1951, when Libya formerly gained independence and Britain ceased all forms of administration in the region, including use of its postage stamps. The three aforementioned provinces therefore were combined to form the United Kingdom of Libya.
Libya’s downfall began in September 1969, when Gaddafi came to power following a military coup, where King Idris was overthrown, thus seeing the beginning of Gaddafi’s Arab nationalist, totalitarian, and brutal regime. The rest as they say is history.
- Stuart Aitken, Cataloguer/Collections Assistant