Nir Arielli. Fascist Italy and the Middle East, 1933-40

By Bouchard, Norma | Italica, Autumn 2014 | Go to article overview

Nir Arielli. Fascist Italy and the Middle East, 1933-40


Bouchard, Norma, Italica


Nir Arielli. Fascist Italy and the Middle East, 1933-40. New York: Paigrave Macmillan, 2013.

In Fascist Italy and the Middle East, historian Nir Arielli revisits a significant moment in the history of Fascist Italy: Mussolini's pro-Muslim policy in the broader Middle East during a time when Italy was fully engaged in the colonization of Libya and Ethiopia. In a compelling introduction, Arielli describes how assessments of the Fascist policy remain divided. For noted historian Renzo De Felice Mussolini's stated sympathy for the Muslim world, an area comprising Egypt, the Palestine Mandate, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and the Arab peninsula, was but an opportunistic move against the rival imperialisms of France and Great Britain. However, for British and North American historians (e.g. MacGregor Knox, Robert Mallet, Bruce Strang, John Pollard), this policy was designed to further the territorial expansion of Fascist Italy. Seeking to mediate between these two schools of thought, Arielli approaches the topic by considering domestic and economic forces, in addition to European foreign policy and expansionistic claims. The remainder of the introduction describes the organization of the volume in six separate sections and concludes with an important observation about the methodological difficulties that studies of this sort pose since the Arab perception of the Fascist policy remains somewhat difficult to assess.

Chapter one, "Continuity and Change: Italy and the Middle East, 1870-1943," considers the origins and development of the Italian policy towards the Middle East in its relationship with Islam as well as Zionism. Arielli not only maps the rise of Italy's colonial culture from the late 19th century onwards, but provides a fascinating discussion of young Mussolini's support for the independences of Middle Eastern countries so to advance Italy's interests in the Mediterranean. Arielli also discusses how an official pro-Muslim policy was forged by considering Radio Bari, one of the regime's main tools of propaganda from 1934 onwards, when it started to transmit programs in Arabic to Libya, Egypt, Syria, Palestine and some of the countries of the Arabic peninsula.

Chapter two, "In the Shadow of Ethiopia, 1935-June 1936," focuses on the years of the invasion of Ethiopia and the rise of an overt anti-British foreign policy. Arielli discusses how the regime, in its effort to find support for its claims on Ethiopia, launched a propaganda campaign that presented the Abyssinians as enemies of Egypt and Islam. Galeazzo Ciano even set up a press agency in Cairo to further the regime's propaganda. Headed by Ugo Dadone, this agency disseminated various types of pro-Italian material in French and Arabic. In addition, a number of films and documentaries were also sent from Rome to Egypt while Radio Bari began daily broadcasts defending Italy's invasion of Abyssinia while criticizing Britain. Yet, Italy's aggressive imperialism caused much apprehension in the Muslim world. In Egypt the campaign in Abyssinia was vigorously opposed and the only support that it received came from the Italian communities residing in Alexandria, Cairo, Port Said, and Suez. In the Arab peninsula Italy's strengthening position in the Red Sea and involvement in Yemen, where the Fascist state recruited soldiers, or askari, for the African campaigns, was the cause of much concern. Jewish opinion in Palestine, including that of Zionists, also remained unfavorable towards Italy. The only states that appeared to have tolerated Italy's advance were Syria and Lebanon, quite possibly because of their location at a relatively safe distance from East Africa.

Chapter three, "The Protector of Islam, June 1936-March 1938," discusses the period spanning from the declaration of the Fascist empire in 1936 and the tightening of Italo-German relations to racial laws. …

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