Libya Table of Contents

Lacking direction from the Porte (Ottoman government), Tripoli lapsed into a period of military anarchy during which coup followed coup and few deys survived in office more than a year. In 1711 Ahmad Karamanli, a popular khouloughli cavalry officer, seized Tripoli and then purchased his confirmation by the sultan as pasha-regent with property confiscated from Turkish officials he had massacred during the coup. Although he continued to recognize nominal Ottoman suzerainty, Ahmad (reigned 1711-45) created an independent hereditary monarchy in Tripoli with a government that was essentially Arab in its composition. Intelligent and resourceful as well as ruthless, he increased his revenues from piracy, pursued an active foreign policy with European powers, used a loyal military establishment to win the allegiance of the tribes, and extended his authority into Cyrenaica.

The Karamanli regime, however, declined under Ahmad's successors. Then in 1793, a Turkish officer, Ali Benghul, overthrew the Karamanlis and restored Tripoli to Ottoman rule. With the aid of the bey of Tunis, Yusuf ibn Ali Karamanli (reigned 1795-1832) returned to Tripoli and installed himself as pasha. A throwback to the founder of the dynasty, he tamed the tribes and defied both the Porte and British naval power to assist Napoleon Bonaparte during his Egyptian campaign in 1799.

The effectiveness of Tripoli's corsairs had long since deteriorated, but their reputation alone was enough to prompt European maritime states to pay the tribute extorted by the pasha to ensure safe passage of their shipping through Tripolitanian waters. American merchant ships, no longer covered by British protection, were seized by Barbary pirates in the years after United States independence, and American crews were enslaved. In 1799 the United States agreed to pay Yusuf US$18,000 a year in return for a promise that Tripoli-based corsairs would not molest American ships. Similar agreements were made at the time with the rulers of Morocco, Algiers, and Tunis.

In the years immediately after the Napoleonic wars, which ended in 1815, the European powers forced an end to piracy and the payment of tribute in the Barbary states. Deprived of the basis of its economy, Tripoli was unable to pay for basic imports or to service its foreign debt. When France and Britain pressed for payment of debts on behalf of Tripoli's creditors, the Divan authorized extraordinary taxes to provide the needed revenue. The imposition of the taxes provoked an outcry in the towns and among the tribes that quickly degenerated into civil war. With the allegiance of the country split among rival claimants to the throne, Yusuf abdicated in favor of his son, Ali II (reigned 1832- 35). In response to Ali's appeal for assistance and out of fear of the European takeover in Tripoli, the Ottoman Sultan Muhammad II sent Turkish troops, ostensibly to put down the numerous rebellions against the pasha and to restore order. But Ali was packed aboard a Turkish warship, which carried him into exile, while the sultan's troops reinstated Ottoman rule in Tripoli.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress