Three separate historical regions compose the modern state of Libya: Tripolitania, Fezzan, and Cyrenaica. Not until 1951 did all three parts come together to for the Kingdom of Libya. Now, elected officials in Benghazi, Cyrenaica, are calling for full autonomy for the eastern portion of Libya. The National Transitional Council (NTC) does not want to grant such autonomy.
The Three Historical Regions of Libya
The history of the Libyan region is long. It reaches back to the time when Carthage ruled much of the Mediterranean. In the years Carthage was creating and strengthening Punic Tripolitania, Fezzan served as the land bridge between the Mediterranean and the Sahel States of Africa. While the west belonged to Carthage and (later) Rome, Cyrenaica in the east belonged to Greece. With the ebb of Punic and Greek power, the Roman Empire united Tripolitania, Fezzan, and Cyrenaica into the Africa Nova province (under Augustus). With the crumbling of the Roman Empire came the Vandals, who destroyed much of Roman Africa, including modern-day Libya. The Vandals eventually forced the Byzantines into just a few cities in the west (notably Cyrene), where they defended themselves against the Vandals, the Monophysites, and the Arab Islamic, who eventually swept unpopular Byzantium from Africa. Nothing significant changed until World War I, when the power of Italy replaced that of the Ottoman Empire. Italy ruled their African colony as two provinces: Cyrenaica and Tripolitania (which included Fezzan).
When Italy lost World War II, Libya was split into its three historical parts: The independent Emirate of Cyrenaica, French-controlled Fezzan, and British-controlled Tripolitania. In 1951, King Idris I proclaimed the United Kingdom of Libya, uniting the three provinces into one. This lasted until 1969, when Muammar Qaddafi overthrew Idris.
During most of its history, the land of Libya was not unified. Cyrenaica, separated from Tripolitania by the Gulf of Sidra (and desert), was usually governed by a separate ruler, separated into a separate colony, or otherwise separated from Tripolitania. Thus, the call in Benghazi should not have come as a shock to those in Tripoli. With no functioning central government, the parts are beginning to return to a former period. Just as Somaliland (former British Somaliland) has declared independence from Somalia (former Italian Somaliland), so too is Cyrenaica seeking a former status denied to them.