People

Omar Mukhtar – biography, fact, career, awards, net worth and life story

IntroLibyan resistance leader
Was Teacher 
From Libya 
Type Academia 
Gendermale
Birth 20 August 1858, Cyrenaica
Death 16 September 1931, Benghazi
(aged 73 years)
Star sign Leo

Omar Al-Mukhtar Muhammad Ibn Farhat Bredan (Arabic: عُمَرْ الْمُخْتَارْ مُحَمَّدْ بِنْ فَرْحَاتْ بُرَيْدَانْ‎‎; 20 August 1858 – 16 September 1931), known among the Colonial Italians as Matari of the Mnifa, was the leader of Native Resistance in Eastern Libya under the Senussids, against the Italian Colonization of Libya. Omar was also a prominent figure of the Senussi Movement, and he is considered the National Hero of Libya and a symbol of resistance in the Arab and Islamic Worlds. Beginning in 1911, he organised and, for nearly twenty years, led native resistance against the Colonial Italians. After many attempts, the Italian Armed forces managed to capture Al-Mukhtar near Slonta and hanged him in 1931.
Omar Al-Mukhtar also fought against the French Colonization of Chad and the British Occupation of Egypt.

Early life

‘Omar Al-Mukhtar was born in 1862 (or 1858) to a poor family in the town of Zanzur near Tobruk , belonging to the Mnifa Clan, in the region of Cyrenaica under Ottoman control, young Omar lost his father early on, and spent his youth in poverty, he was adopted by Sharif El Gariani, nephew of Hussein Ghariani, a political-religious leader in Cyrenaica, and received his early education at the local mosque, before continuing his studying for eight years at the Senussi university in Jaghbub, the holy city of the Senussi Tariqa , He became a popular expert on the Koran and an imam, joining the confraternity of the Senussi, he also came to be well informed of the social structure of his society, as he was chosen to settle intertribal disputes.

Mukhtar developed a strong relationship with the Senussid Movement during his years in Jaghbub, in 1895, Al-Mahdi Senoussi traveled with him south to Kufra , and on another occasion further south to Karo in Chad, where he was appointed as sheikh of Zawiyat Ayn Kalk, when the Colonial French advanced on Chad in 1899 he was sent among other Senussites to help defend from the invaders, as the Senussi considered their expansion dangerous for their Missionary activity in Central and West Africa. in 1902, Omar was recalled north after the death of Al-Mahdi, the new Senussi leader Ahmed Sharif as-Senussi appointed him as Sheikh of the troubled Zawiyat Laqsur in Northern Cyrenaica.

Italian invasion

The Italian Invasion

In October 1911, during the Italo-Turkish War, the Regia Marina (Italian Royal Navy) under the command of Admiral Luigi Faravelli reached the shores of Libya, then a territory subject to Ottoman Turkish control. The admiral demanded that the Turkish administration and garrison surrender their territory to the Italians or incur the immediate destruction of the city of Tripoli and Benghazi. The Turks and their Libyan allies withdrew to the countryside instead of surrendering, and the Italians bombarded the cities for three days, then proclaimed the Tripolitanians to be ‘committed and strongly bound to Italy’. This marked the beginning of a series of battles between the Italian colonial forces and the Libyan armed opposition in the East of Libya (Cyrenaica) under Omar Mukhtar for 22 years.

Guerrilla warfare

Omar Mukhtar with the Libyan Mujahideen.

A teacher of the Qur’an by profession, Mukhtar was also skilled in the strategies and tactics of desert warfare. He knew local geography well and used that knowledge to advantage in battles against the Italians, who were unaccustomed to desert warfare. Mukhtar repeatedly led his small, highly alert groups in successful attacks against the Italians, after which they would fade back into the desert terrain. Mukhtar’s men skilfully attacked outposts, ambushed troops, and cut lines of supply and communication. The Regio Esercito (Italian Royal Army) was left astonished and embarrassed by his guerrilla tactics.

Omar Mukhtar shortly after a battle.

In the mountainous region of Jebel Akhdar (“Green Mountain”) in 1924, Italian Governor Ernesto Bombelli created a counter-guerrilla force that inflicted a severe setback to rebel forces in April 1925. Mukhtar then quickly modified his own tactics and was able to count on continued help from Egypt. In March, 1927, despite occupation of Giarabub from February 1926 and increasingly stringent rule under Governor Attilio Teruzzi, Mukhtar surprised Italian troops at Raheiba. Between 1927 and 1928, Mukhtar reorganised the Senusite forces, who were being hunted constantly by the Italians. Even General Teruzzi recognized Omar’s qualities of “exceptional perseverance and strong will power.” Marshal Pietro Badoglio, Governor of Libya from January 1929, after extensive negotiations concluded a compromise with Mukhtar (described by the Italians as his complete submission) similar to previous Italo-Senusite accords. At the end of October, 1929, Mukhtar denounced the compromise and re-established a unity of action among Libyan forces, preparing himself for the ultimate confrontation with General Rodolfo Graziani, the Italian military commander from March 1930. A massive offensive in June against Mukhtar’s forces having failed, Graziani, in full accord with Badoglio, Emilio De Bono (Minister of the Colonies), and Benito Mussolini, initiated a plan to break the Libyan Mujāhideen:100,000 population of Jebel Akhdar would be relocated to concentration camps on the coast, and the Libyan-Egyptian border from the coast at Giarabub would be closed, preventing any foreign help to the fighters and depriving them of support from the native population. These measures, which Graziani initiated early in 1931, took their toll on the Senusite resistance. The rebels were deprived of help and reinforcements, spied upon, hit by Italian aircraft, and pursued on the ground by the Italian forces aided by local informers and collaborators. Mukhtar continued to struggle despite increased hardships and risks, but on 11 September 1931, he was ambushed near Slonta.

Mukhtar’s final adversary, Italian General Rodolfo Graziani, has given a description of the Senusite leader that is not lacking in respect: “Of medium height, stout, with white hair, beard and mustache. Omar was endowed with a quick and lively intelligence; was knowledgeable in religious matters, and revealed an energetic and impetuous character, unselfish and uncompromising; ultimately, he remained very religious and poor, even though he had been one of the most important Senusist figures.”

Capture and execution

Omar Mukhtar entering the court room.

Mukhtar’s struggle of nearly twenty years came to an end on 11 September 1931, when he was wounded in battle near Slonta, then captured by the Italian army. The Italians treated the native leader hero as a prize catch. His resilience affected his jailers, who later remarked upon his steadfastness. His interrogators stated that Mukhtar recited verses of peace from the Qur’an.

In three days, Mukhtar was tried, convicted, and, on 14 September 1931, sentenced to be hanged publicly (historians and scholars have questioned whether his trial was fair or impartial). When asked if he wished to say any last words, Mukhtar replied with a Qur’ānic phrase: “Indeed, we belong to Allah and indeed we towards Him we are returning”. On 16 September 1931, on the orders of the Italian court and with Italian hopes that Libyan resistance would die with him, Mukhtar was hanged before his followers in the POW camp of Suluq at the age of 73 years.

Legacy

Omar Mukhtar on 10 Dinar bill

Picture of Omar Al-Mukhtar

  • Mukhtar’s face appears on the Libyan ten-dinar bill.
  • His final years were depicted in the movie Lion of the Desert (1981), starring Anthony Quinn, Oliver Reed, and Irene Papas. It was based on the struggles of Mukhtar against Rodolfo Graziani’s forces.
  • A statement by the man used in the movie captured the tongues and ears of millions of Arabs and Muslims, نحن قوم لا نستسلم ، ننتصر أو نموت. ..”We are a nation that knows no surrender, we win or we die.”

Omar Al-Mukhtar University (1961)

  • In 2009, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi wore a photograph of Mukhtar in Italian captivity on his chest while on a state visit to Rome, and brought along Mukhtar’s elderly son during the visit.
  • With the Libyan Civil War beginning 17 February 2011, Omar Mukhtar again became a symbol for a united, free Libya and his picture is depicted on various flags and posters of the Free Libya movement. Rebel forces named one of their brigades the “Omar Mukhtar brigade” after him.
  • A masjid is named after Mukhtar in Tampa, Florida, USA, known as Masjid Omar Al Mokhtar
  • A street is named after Mukhtar in Gaza City, known as Omar Mukhtar Street.
  • A street is named after Mukhtar in Cairo, Egypt, known as Omar Al Mukhtar Street.
  • A street is named after Mukhtar in the West Bay area of Doha, Qatar known as “Omar Al Mukhtar Street”.
  • A street is named after Mukhtar in Tunisia, in the city of Bizerta.
  • A Road is named after Mukhtar in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, “Omar Al Mukhtar Road”.
  • A street in the city of Irbed in Jordan is named after him.
  • More make-up (and hair dye) than his 40 virgin bodyguards, but Libyan leader Gaddafi is still a murderous menace, Mark Almond, Daily Mail, 12 June 2009
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