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Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya

Al-Jamahiriyah al-'Arabiyah al-Libiyah ash-Sha'biyah al-Ishtirakiyah

CAPITAL: Tripoli (Tarabulus)

FLAG: The national flag is plain green.

ANTHEM: Almighty God.

MONETARY UNIT: The Libyan dinar (ld) of 1,000 dirhams is a paper currency. There are coins of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 dirhams, and notes of ¼, ½, 1, 5, and 10 dinars. ld1 = $0.76923 (or $1 = ld1.3) as of 2005.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is the legal standard, but some local weights and measures are used.

HOLIDAYS: UK Evacuation Day, 28 March; US Evacuation Day, 11 June; Anniversary of the Revolution, 1 September; Constitution Day, 7 October. Muslim religious holidays include 'Id al-Fitr, 'Id al-'Adha', the 1st of Muharram, and Milad an-Nabi.

TIME: 2 pm = noon GMT.


Situated on the coast of North Africa, Libya is the fourth-largest country on the continent, with an area of 1,759,540 sq km (679,362 sq mi), extending 1,989 km (1,236 mi) senw and 1,502 km (933 mi) nesw. Comparatively, the area occupied by Libya is slightly larger than the state of Alaska. It is bounded on the n by the Mediterranean Sea, on the e by Egypt, on these by the Sudan, on the s by Chad and Niger, on the w by Algeria, and on the nw by Tunisia, with a total land boundary length of 4,348 km (2,702 mi) and a coastline of 1,770 km (1,100 mi).

The Aozou Strip (114,000 sq km/44,000 sq mi) in northern Chad was claimed and had been occupied by Libya since 1973; in a judgment of 3 February 1994, the UN International Court of Justice returned the Aozou strip to Chad. Monitored by an observer force deployed by the UN Security Council, Libyan forces withdrew on 31 May 1994. However, Chadian rebels from the Aozou still reside in Libya. Libya also claims about 19,400 sq km (7,490 sq mi) of Nigerian territory.

Libya's capital city, Tripoli, is located on the Mediterranean coast.


Libya forms part of the North African plateau extending from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea. The highest point is Bikku Bitti, or Bette Peak, a 2,267-m (7,438-ft) peak in the extreme south. The chief geographical areas are Tripolitania, Cyrenaica, the Sirte Desert, and Fezzan. Tripolitania, in the northwest, consists of a series of terraces rising slowly from sea level along the coastal plain of Al-Jifara to a sharp escarpment. At the top of this escarpment is an upland plateau of sand, scrub, and scattered masses of stone, with elevations of up to 1,000 m (3,300 ft). Farther south are depressions extending from east to west. Here are found many oases and artesian wells.

The Sirte Desert is a barren area along the Gulf of Sidra separating Tripolitania and Cyrenaica. An upland plateau rising to about 600 m (2,000 ft) gives a rugged coastline to Cyrenaica. This plateau, the Jabal Akhdar, contains three of Libya's leading citiesBanghāzī (or Benghazi), Al Baydā, and Darnah. Farther south the desert is studded with oases such as Jālū and Al Jaghbūb. The Fezzan, in the southwest, is largely a series of depressions with occasional oases. There are no perennial rivers in the country.


The climate has marked seasonal variations influenced by both the Mediterranean Sea and the desert. Along the Tripolitanian coast, summer temperatures reach between 40 and 46°c (104115°f); farther south, temperatures are even higher. Summers in the north of Cyrenaica range from 2732°c (8190°f). In Tobruk, the average January temperature is 13°c (55°f); July, 26°c (79°f). The ghibli, a hot, dry desert wind, can change temperatures by 1722°c (3040°f) in both summer and winter.

Rainfall varies from region to region. Rain falls generally in a short winter period and frequently causes floods. Evaporation is high, and severe droughts are common. The Jabal Akhdar region of Cyrenaica receives a yearly average of 4060 cm (1624 in). Other regions have less than 20 cm (8 in), and the Sahara has less than 5 cm (2 in) a year.


The primary plant is the deadly carrot (Thapsia garganica). Other flora are various cultivated fruit trees, olive trees, date palms, junipers, and mastic trees. Goats and cattle are found in the extreme north. In the south, sheep and camels are numerous. As of 2002, there were at least 76 species of mammals, 76 species of birds, and over 1,800 species of plants throughout the country.


A major environmental concern is the depletion of underground water as a result of overuse in agricultural developments, causing salinity and seawater penetration into the coastal aquifers. The Great Manmade River Project, developed to transport water from large aquifers under the Sahara Desert to coastal cities, is the world's most extensive water supply project. Another significant environmental problem in Libya is water pollution. The combined impact of sewage, oil by-products, and industrial waste threatens the nation's coast and the Mediterranean Sea generally. Libya has about 1 cu km of renewable water resources. Only about 68% of the people living in rural areas have pure drinking water. The desertification of existing fertile areas is being combated by the planting of trees as windbreaks.

According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), the number of threatened species included 5 types of mammals, 7 species of birds, 3 types of reptiles, 9 species of fish, and 1 species of plant. Endangered species in Libya included the Mediterranean monk seal, the leopard, and the slender-horned gazelle. The Bubal hartebeest and Sahara oryx are extinct.


The population of Libya in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 5,766,000, which placed it at number 106 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 4% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 35% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 107 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 20052010 was expected to be 2.4%, a rate the government viewed as satisfactory. The projected population for the year 2025 was 8,323,000. The overall population density was 3 per sq km (8 per sq mi), but 90% of Libya's inhabitants live in the narrow coastal regions of Cyrenaica and Tripolitania.

The UN estimated that 86% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 2.15%. The capital city, Tripoli (Tarabulus), had a population of 2,006,000 in that year. Banghāzī, another chief city, had an estimated population of 1,033,000.


The number of Italians was as high as 70,000 during the period of colonial rule. In 1964 Italians numbered 30,000, but most left after their land and property were nationalized in 1970. There were 30,000 Jews in Libya in 1948, but because of the Arab-Israeli conflict the community had virtually disappeared by 1973.

In 1984 there were officially 263,100 non-Libyans in the country, of whom more than 40% were Egyptians and 15% were Tunisians. The remainder came from a variety of other countries in Africa, the Mideast, and elsewhere. This figure was less than half the 569,000 foreigners in 1983, before new restrictions were placed on remittances abroad. In 1992, the foreign population was estimated at two million, half of them Egyptian, and 600,000 from South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. This estimated figure probably reflects illegal immigration. About 100,000 Libyans were in exile in the mid-1980s.

The nomadic inhabitants of Libya follow regular patterns of migration; nomadic tribes in the south normally ignore international frontiers. Since the discovery of oil there has been significant internal migration from rural to urban regions.

In 2000 there were 570,000 migrants living in Libya, including 11,500 refugees. In 2004 there were 12,166 refugees, mainly from Palestine, and 200 asylum seekers, all located in Tripoli. Also, in that same year over 700 Libyans sought asylum in Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Norway. In 2005, the net migration rate was estimated at zero. The government views the immigration level as too high, but the emigration level as satisfactory.


For thousands of years the inhabitants of Libya were Berbers. Arabs started arriving in the 7th century ad, displacing or assimilating their Berber predecessors. The latest estimates indicate that 97% of the total population is comprised of Berbers and Arabs. The remaining 3% are made up of Greeks, Maltese, Italians, Egyptians, Pakistanis, Turks, Indians, and Tunisians.


Arabic is the official language; since 1969, its use in daily life, even by foreigners, has been encouraged by government decree. English, which is also used in some government publications, has replaced Italian as the second language; however, Italian is still widely understood. Berber is spoken by small communities, especially in Tripolitania. Native speakers constitute about 5% of the population.


Under the constitution, Islam is Libya's official religion and the government publicly supports a preference for a moderate practice of Islam. About 97% of the people are Sunni Muslim. In an effort to eliminate alternative political power bases, the government banned the once powerful Sanusiyya Islamic order. Libyan leader Colonel Mu'ammar Al-Qadhafi then established the Islamic Call Society, which is the Islamic arm of the government's foreign policy. The ICS's main goal was to promote a moderate form of Islam, reflecting the views of the government.

Though other religions are generally tolerated, the government places a number of restrictions, which essentially limit the practice of non-Muslim faiths. There are no known places of worship for the small number of Hindus, Baha'is and Buddhists within the country. Proselytizing is prohibited. Members of non-Muslim faiths are, however, free to worship within their own homes. There are about 100,000 Christians in the country, with about half of them being Roman Catholics. Other denominations include Anglican and Coptic and Greek Orthodox. There is also a very small Jewish community.


Transportation varies from dirt tracks suitable for camels and donkeys to a coastal highway extending for 1,822 km (1,132 mi) between the Tunisian and Egyptian borders. At the end of 1968, this highway was connected with a north-south road to Sabhā. Further extensions to Murzūq and Ghat were later completed, as well as a spur to Birāk. In 1973, a 350-km (217-mi) road between Nalut and Ghadamis was completed. Roads also connect the Cyrenaica coastal centers with the interior. In all, there were an estimated 24,484 km (15,214 mi) of roads in 2002, of which 6,798 km (4,224 mi) were paved. In 2003, there were 368,600 private cars and 354,000 commercial vehicles registered in the country.

As of 2004, Libya had no operating railways, following the closure in the mid-1960s of two railway lines and the dismantling of the rest. However, work has begun on seven new standard gauge lines, totaling 2,757 km (1,715 mi), which it is hoped, will be completed by 2008.

The main ports are Tripoli, Banghāzī, Qasr Ahmad (the port for Mişratāh), and Tobruk. Crude oil export terminals include Port Brega (Marsá al-Burayqah) and Ras Lanuf. Since 1973, Tripoli's harbor has been developed considerably. As of 2005, Libya's merchant fleet had 17 vessels of 1,000 GRT or more, totaling 129,627 GRT.

In 2004, there were an estimated 139 airports. As of 2005, a total of 59 had paved runways, and there were 2 heliports. Libya's two international airports are Tripoli Airport (34 km/21 mi south of Tripoli) and Benina Airport (19 km/12 mi from Banghāzī). In 1968, a new airport at Sabhā in the Fezzan was opened. Libyan Arab Airlines, established in 1965, operates to neighboring Arab countries, central and southern Africa, and Europe. Many major world airlines serve Libya. There is also regular domestic service, with airports at Tobruk, Port Brega, Ghat, Ghadamis, Mişratāh, and Al Baydā. In 2003, about 627,000 passengers were carried on scheduled domestic and international flights.


Archaeological evidence indicates that a Neolithic culture, skilled in the domestication of cattle and the cultivation of crops, existed as far back as 6000 bc along the Libyan coast. To the south, in what is now the Sahara, hunters and herdsmen roamed what was then a well-watered savanna. Increasing desiccation and the coming of the Berbers about 2000 bc presumably, from southwestern Asia, ended this period. The pharaohs of the so-called Libyan dynasties who ruled Egypt (c.950720 bc) are thought to have been Berbers. Phoenician seafarers, who arrived early in the first millennium bc, founded settlements along the coast, including one that became Tripoli.

Around the 7th century bc, Greek colonists settled in Cyrenaica. In succeeding centuries, the western settlements fell under the sway of Carthage; the eastern settlements fell to the Egyptian dynasty of the Ptolemies in the 4th century bc. When the Romans defeated Carthage in the Punic Wars of the 3rd and 2nd centuries bc, they occupied the regions around Tripoli. In 96 bc, they forced Egypt to surrender Cyrenaica, and Roman influence later extended as far south as the Fezzan. Libya became very prosperous under Roman rule; with the decline of Rome, western Libya fell in the 5th century ad to Germanic Vandal invaders, who ruled from Carthage. In the 6th century, the Byzantines conquered the Vandals and ruled the coastal regions of Libya until the Arab conquest of the 7th century. The Arabs intermixed with the Berbers, who were gradually absorbed into the Muslim Arab culture.

Western Libya was administered by the Aghlabids of Tunisia in the 9th century, and by the Fatimids of Tunisia and then Egypt in the 10th. During the 11th century, invasions by two nomadic Arab peoples, the Banu Hilal and Banu Sulaym, destroyed many of the urban and agricultural areas. Normans from Sicily occupied Tripoli and surrounding regions in 1145 but were soon displaced by the Almohads of Morocco; during the 13th century, the Hafsids of Tunisia ruled western Libya. The eastern regions remained subject to Egyptian dynasties. In the 16th century, Spanish invaders seized parts of the coast, turning over control of Tripoli to the crusading Knights of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. The Ottoman Turks occupied the coastal regions in 1551, ruling the country until 1711, when Ahmad Qaramanli, of Turkish origin, wrested semiautonomous status from Istanbul. Pirate captains, operating out of Tripoli, raided the Mediterranean and the Italian coasts. The Qaramanlis ruled until 1835, when the Ottomans again assumed control.

In September 1911, the Italians invaded Libya, meeting fierce resistance from both Turks and indigenous Libyans. A peace treaty of 17 October 1912 between Turkey and Italy placed Libya formally under Italian rule, but the Libyans continued their resistance. Led by a Muslim religious brotherhood, the Sanusi, the Libyans (with some Turkish help) fought the Italians to a standstill during World War I. Following the war, and particularly after the accession of Benito Mussolini to power in Italy, the Italians continued their often-brutal efforts to conquer Libya. In 1931, 'Umar al-Mukhtar, a leader of the Sanusi, was captured and executed, and in 1932 the Italian conquest was completed. In World War II, Libya became a main battleground for Allied and Axis forces, until it was occupied by victorious British and Free French troops. The Treaty of 1947 between Italy and the Allies ended Italian rule in Libya and, when the Allies could not decide upon the country's future, Libya's fate was left to the UN. On 21 November 1949, the UN General Assembly voted that Libya should become an independent state. On 24 December 1951, Libya gained independence, with Muhammad Idris al-Mahdi as-Sanusi as king. In 1959 significant oil discoveries were made.

On 1 September 1969, a secret army organization, the Free Unionist Officers, deposed the king and proclaimed a republican regime. On 8 September, the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) announced the formation of a civilian government. This government resigned on 16 January 1970, and a new cabinet was formed under Col. Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi, chairman of the RCC. Later that year, the United Kingdom and the United States closed their military installations. On 15 April 1973, Qadhafi called for a "cultural revolution" based on Islamic principles. In subsequent months, hundreds of "people's committees" were established to oversee all sectors of the nation's political, cultural, and economic life. In April 1974, Qadhafi withdrew from the supervision of daily administrative functions (these were assumed by Maj. Abdul Salam Jallud), but he remained the effective head of state of Libya.

Qadhafi sought to make Libya the axis of a unified Arab nation. Union was achieved with Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Syria, and Sudan at various times, but only on paper. Subsequent relations with the many Arab nations, including Egypt and Tunisia, have often been tense. Libya itself, despite rhetorical support for radical Palestinians, has stayed on the sidelines in Arab-Israeli conflicts.

Qadhafi has been equally active in Africa. In 1973, he annexed from Chad the disputed Aouzou Strip, an area that may contain rich deposits of uranium. In 1979, his armed forces tried unsuccessfully to prop up the failing regime of Idi Amin in Uganda. Libya sent over 10,000 troops into Chad in 1980 in support of the regime of Goukouni Oueddei, and a union of the two nations was proposed. Intense international pressure, however, led to a Libyan withdrawal in November 1981. After the fall of Oueddei's regime in June 1982, Qadhafi provided military support for Oueddei's efforts to topple the new French-backed government in Chad. Libya's and Oueddei's forces were in control of much of northern Chad until 1987, when Chadian forces ousted them, capturing or destroying $1 billion in Libyan military equipment, and attacking bases inside Libya itself. In 1989, after acknowledging his error in moving into Chad, Qadhafi agreed to a cease-fire and the submission of the dispute over the Aouzou Strip to the Court of International Justice. The Court settled the dispute in Chad's favor in 1994.

Qadhafi has been accused of supporting subversive plots in such countries as Morocco, Niger, Sudan, Egypt, Tunisia, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Gambia, Somalia, Senegal, and Mali and of providing material support for a variety of insurgents, including the Irish Republican Army, Muslim rebels in the Philippines, and Japanese and German terrorists. Qadhafi did find some support in small, poor black African countries, eager for Libyan aid. In 1982, however, he suffered a setback when the annual OAU summit scheduled for Tripoli failed to convene because of disputes over Libya's policies in Chad and its support of Polisario guerrillas in Western Sahara. As a result, Qadhafi was denied his term as OAU chairman. In contrast, in February 1997 in a deliberate jab at the UN Security Council's sanctions against Libya over the Lockerbie bombing affair, the OAU Ministerial Council met in Tripoli, the first time this meeting had been convened outside of its headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

In 1981, two Libyan jets were shot down by US fighters over the Gulf of Sidra, an arm of the Mediterranean claimed by Qadhafi as Libya's territorial waters. In 1982, the United States, charging Qadhafi with supporting international terrorism, banned oil imports from Libya and the export of US technology to Libya. In January 1986, the United States, citing "irrefutable evidence" of Libyan involvement in Palestinian attacks on airports in Rome and Vienna in the previous month, ordered all Americans to leave Libya and cut off all economic ties as of mid-1986. In March, a US naval task force struck four Libyan vessels after US planes entering airspace over the Libyan-claimed Gulf of Sidra were fired upon. On 15 April, following a West Berlin bomb attack in which US servicemen were victims, US warplanes bombed targets in Tripoli and Banghāzī. Libya said that Qadhafi's daughter was killed and two of his sons were wounded in the attack. Qadhafi survived several reported assassination and coup attempts in the 1980s and 1990s as well as the opposition of Islamist groups, which prompted him to crack down on militants in 1993.

Qadhafi's most serious challenge in the recent past was the tough sanctions imposed since 1992 and 1993 on Libya by the UN Security Council after he refused to surrender two men suspected in the terrorist bombing of a Pan American passenger jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. The UN resolutions (nos. 731 and 883) prohibited sales of equipment and air travel to Libya and froze its overseas bank deposits but significantly, did not ban sales of petroleum products. Throughout the period of the sanctions the United States repeatedly attempted to persuade the UN to impose an oil embargo against Libya, but it was not successful. After numerous pleas to the UN by Arab and African countries and organizations to the UN Security Council to lift the sanctions, and numerous rounds of negotiations, in August 1998 Qadhafi agreed to eventually hand over the two Libyan suspects in the Lockerbie bombing for trial in the Netherlands before Scottish judges. The suspects were transferred to the Netherlands in April 1999. This decision led to an easing of tensions, with a suspension of the UN sanctions (although they were not lifted at the time) and Britain resuming full diplomatic relations in July 1999. The United States, however, remained committed to the branding of Libya as a supporter of international terrorism and therefore a pariah state. In January 2001, the Scottish court in the Netherlands found one of the two Libyan defendants guilty of involvement in the Lockerbie bombing, and sentenced him to life imprisonment. The other Libyan was acquitted. US president, George W. Bush, stated sanctions would remain in place not only until Libya compensated for the bombing of the aircraft, but also until Libya admitted guilt and expressed remorse for the act. In mid-2002, Libya stated that it was ready, in principle, to pay families of the victims of the bombing compensation in the amount of us$2.7 billion (us$10 million for each of the 270 victims). In August 2003, Libya accepted the responsibility for the actions of its officials and payment of the compensation to the victims' families. UN sanctions were lifted in September 2003, and US International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) sanctions were lifted in September 2004.

In early September 1995, Libya began deporting thousands of Arab workers, primarily Palestinian, Sudanese, and Egyptian. In a speech on 1 September 1995, Qadhafi stated that foreigners (including some 30,000 Palestinians) were being expelled in order to create jobs for Libyans, although the move was widely interpreted as punishment of the PLO for holding peace talks with Israel. Qadhafi stated that many of those being deported were Islamic militant "infiltrators" posing as migrant workers. On 6 and 7 September, at least 30 people were killed in Banghāzī when armed Islamic militants battled Libyan security forces during a roundup of workers for deportation. By 11 September, 7,000 Egyptians had been expelled, and thousands of Palestinians were stranded either at sea or at the border wi The gypt. The deportations continued into October, when 650 Palestinians were stranded aboard a ferry off the coast of Cyprus, and 850 were still camped on the Egyptian border.

In March 1996, as many as 400 prisonersmany of them government opponents and Islamic militantsbroke out of a prison near Banghāzī. The ensuing clash with Libyan troops was viewed by many observers as an indication of significant antigovernment feeling in eastern Libya. The growth of the Islamist movement in Libya is cause for concern in the region and for Qadhafi's maintenance in power.

In May 2001, Libya sent troops into the Central African Republic to aid President Ange-Félix Patassé and his supporters, to regain power after a failed coup attempt. It withdrew its troops in December 2002; Qadhafi stated the mission of restoring peace and stability to the country had been achieved. That month, Libya denied allegations put forward by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DROC) that it was sending troops and equipment into Congolese territory along the border with the Central African Republic. On 13 December, the DROC government wrote the UN Security Council to condemn Libya's actions and to demand an immediate withdrawal of Libyan troops from its territory. The DROC accused Libya of aiding the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (MLC), a rebel group.

Qadhafi has long called for reforms in the Arab League, including the creation of a single Arab currency, the forging of closer ties between the Arab League and the African Union, and the use of Arab military force against Israel if it does not agree to the "complete return of the Palestinians to their land."

In January 2003, Libya was elected by secret ballot to head the UN Commission on Human Rights. The votes were 33 in favor, 3 opposed, and 17 abstentions. This caused international controversy, and led to calls for reform of the UN. In 2006, plans were being made to create a new Human Rights Council to replace the UN Commission on Human Rights. The Human Rights Council is meant to be a standing body that would meet year-round to promote and protect human rights with a membership that excluded the worst human rights violators.

In December 2003, Libya publicly announced its intention to rid itself of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR)-class missile programs. Since that time, it has cooperated with the United States, the United Kingdom, the IAEA, and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons toward these objectives. Libya also signed the IAEA Additional Protocol, and became a state party to the Chemical Weapons Convention.


The Libyan Arab Republic was established on 1 September 1969, and a new constitution was announced by the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) on 11 December 1969. The constitution, which has been effectively superseded by the principles of Qadhafi's "Green Book," proclaimed Libya to be "an Arab, democratic, and free Republic, which constitutes part of the Arab nation and whose objective is comprehensive Arab unity." Supreme authority rested with the 12-member RCC, which appointed both the prime minister and cabinet. Qadhafi, as chairman of the RCC, was the effective head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces. In March 1977, the nation's name was changed to the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, and the "authority of the people" was proclaimed by a newly convened General People's Congress (GPC). The people theoretically exercise their authority through a system of some 600 people's congresses and committees. At the top of this system is the GPC, which replaced the RCC as the supreme instrument of government. The 760 GPC members are chosen out of about 2,700 representatives of the basic people's congresses. All executive and legislative authority is vested in the GPC, but it meets for only two weeks a year and delegates most of its authority to its own Secretariat and to the General People's Committee, in effect the cabinet, which is appointed by the Secretariat. GPC members serve three-year terms. Voting for local people's congresses, whose elected members select members of the GPC, is mandatory for those over 18. In 1979, Qadhafi gave up his official post as secretary-general of the GPC to become a "private citizen." As "Leader of the Revolution," however, he remains the de facto head of state. He also remains the commander of the armed forces and virtually all power is concentrated in him and his close advisers. In 1988, public discontent with shortages led Qadhafi to limit the authority of revolutionary committees, release many political prisoners, and remove restrictions on foreign travel and private enterprise.

In the 1990s Qadhafi saw his regime challenged by discontented military personnel and Islamist groups. Several assassination attempts have been reported, both within the military and from armed Islamist groups. His intolerance of opposition has continued. In March 1997 the GPC adopted the Charter of Honor, imposing collective punishment on Libyans convicted of crimes of disorder, such as sabotage, drug and arms trafficking, and "terrorists, criminals, saboteurs and heretics." The charter is clearly aimed at opponents of the regime.


Political parties have not played an important role in Libya's history. All political parties were banned in 1947 by British administrators, but many groups soon emerged to debate their country's future. By 1949, the Tripolitanian National Congress Party, led by Bashir Sadawi, was the leading party. However, it was dissolved in 1952, following local disorders, after Libya's first election campaign.

In 1971, the RCC founded the Libyan Arab Socialist Union as an alternative to political parties. It was viewed as an organization to promote national unity but has functioned little since 1977. Seven exiled opposition groups agreed in Cairo in January 1987 to form a joint working group, but their work had no discernible impact on political conditions in Libya. The following groups have been in opposition to the government: Fighting Islamic Group, Islamic Martyrs' Movement, Libyan Baathist Party, Libyan Conservatives' Party, Libyan Democratic Movement, Libyan Democratic Authority, Libyan Democratic Conference, Libyan Movement for Change and Reform, Libyan National Alliance, Movement of Patriotic Libyans, National Front for the Salvation of Libya, Libya Islamic Group, and Supporters of God.


Jamahiriya means "state of the masses" and politically implementing this system would involve a process of total decentralization of power, whereby all decisions would be left to the citizens via direct democracy. One source claims that in 1998 the GPC divided Libya into 26 governorates (Sha'biyah), each to be headed by the secretary of a people's committee. However, other sources differ on the structure of the local government. According to some sources, Libya is divided into 3 provinces, 10 governorates, and 1,500 administrative communes. One source lists a subdivision of 34 governorates. The CIA reports that there are 25 "municipalities," but notes that they may have been replaced by 13 "regions." There are municipal people's congresses, as well as vocational, production, professional, and craft people's congresses. Although in theory Qadhafi plans to decentralize power to the 600 popular congresses, most decision-making power is tightly controlled by the central government. The municipal people's congresses appoint people's committees to execute policy.


The Proclamation of People's Authority designates the Holy Quran as the law of society. The Libyan legal system largely follows Egyptian codes and precedents. All cases relating to personal status are dealt with according to Muslim law. Minor civil and commercial cases were heard in summary courts by a sitting judge in each village and town until January 2005. Cases of the first instance are heard by courts of first instance, and appeals may be taken to courts of appeal. A separate body called the Shariah Court of Appeals hears cases appealed from the lower courts involving Islamic law. There is also a Supreme Court, consisting of a president and judges appointed by the GPC. It may deal with constitutional and legislative questions referred to it and may hear administrative cases. Special revolutionary courts try political offenses.

The 1994 Purge Law provides for the confiscation of private assets above a certain amount. The law requires that the confiscated property should be given to the poor.


In 2005, the armed forces of Libya numbered 76,000 active and some 40,000 reserve personnel. The Army had an estimated 45,000 personnel armed with 2,025 main battle tanks, 120 reconnaissance vehicles, over 1,000 armored infantry fighting vehicles, 945 armored personnel carriers, and over 2,421 artillery pieces. The Navy had 8,000 personnel including the Coast Guard. Major naval units included 5 tactical submarines, 2 frigates, 4 corvettes and 23 patrol/coastal vessels. The Air Force numbered an estimated 23,000 active personnel, operating 374 combat capable aircraft, including 7 bombers, 229 fighters and 113 fighter ground attack aircraft. The service also had 60 attack helicopters. The military budget was $620 million in 2005.


Libya joined the United Nations on 14 December 1955 and is a member of ECA and several nonregional specialized agencies, such as the FAO, UNESCO, IAEA, IFC, ILO, the World Bank, and the WHO. The country joined the Arab League in 1953, the OAU (now the African Union) in 1963, and OPEC in 1962. In January 1968, it was a founding member of OAPEC, along with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Libya also belongs to the African Development Bank, the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa,

the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, the Council of Arab Economic Unity, the Community of Sahel and Saharan States (CENSAD), the Arab Maghreb Union, the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), and G-77. The country is an observer in the WTO.

Libya has been listed as a State Sponsor of Terrorism by the United States, even though the government has offered strong commitments to the United Nations to renounce and fight against terrorism. Libya is part of the Nonaligned Movement. In environmental cooperation, Libya is part of the Basel Convention, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the London Convention, the Montréal Protocol, and the UN Conventions on Climate Change and Desertification.


Until the late 1950s, Libya was one of the poorest countries in the world. In 1950, per capita annual income was about $40, while Libya's most valuable source of foreign earnings was the revenue received for leasing bases to the United Kingdom and United States (the bases were vacated in 1970). But with the discovery of the Zaltan oil field in 1959, the economic horizons of the country were dramatically enlarged. The first oil pipeline, from B'ir Zaltan to the coast, was opened in 1961. More oil fields were subsequently discovered, until in 1970 a peak oil output of 159.9 million tons was achieved. Production has fallen since then, but its value has increased, and Libya remains one of the world's leading oil producers. Petroleum, petroleum products, and natural gas accounted for almost all the value of exports and for one-quarter of GDP in 2002. As of 2002, Libya had 12 oil fields with reserves of 1 billion barrels or more each, and two others with reserves of 500 million1 billion barrels.

Until the late 1950s, about 80% of the population was engaged in agriculture and animal husbandry; in 1999, however, only 18% of the labor force was engaged in agricultural pursuits. Agriculture, forestry, and fishing represented only 5% of GDP in 1999. A massive water pipeline project, called the Great Man-made River (GMR) project was initiated in 1984, and was expected to take 25 years to complete. The GMR is built to carry water in a 427 km (267mi) pipeline from 225 underground wells to a 3.3 million liter (880,000 gallon) reservoir. This scheme envisaged providing irrigation large areas devoted to cereal cultivation. The government believed that this project would help Libya achieve self-sufficiency in grain (the country has to import at least 75% of its food needs). Total costs of the GMR were likely to exceed $25 billion.

The GDP was believed to have fallen 20% during 198486 due to low oil prices. After 1985, growth rates fluctuated sharply, reflecting changes in the oil market. Growth in GDP fell by 3% in 1998 due, once again, to falling oil prices, but prices rose in 19992000, leading to an increase in export revenues and a rise in GDP growth to 3% in 2001. In 2002, Libya devalued the official exchange rate of the dinar by 51% to increase the competitiveness of its firms and to attract foreign investment. At the same time it cut its customs duty rate by 50% on most imports to offset the effects of the currency devaluation.

Between 1992 and 1999, during the UN-imposed air embargo, many large projects were postponed because of budget restrictions. Libya's isolation slowed the pace of oil exploration through the absence of major foreign oil companies. Lack of outlets limited the development of refineries, petrochemicals, and gas facilities. In 1999, the UN sanctions on Libyaan air and arms embargowere suspended because of the extradition of two suspects in the bombing of the Pan Am flight over Lockerbie. Oil companies are eager to exploit Libya's resources, and Libya as of 2003 was actively courting foreign companies to help develop its production capacity from 1.5 million barrels per day to 2 million barrels per day over a five-year period. Libya is looking to cast itself as a key economic intermediary between Europe and Africa.

The economy expanded by 9.3% in 2004, up from 9.1% in 2003; in 2005, the GDP growth rate was estimated at 8.5%. The inflation rate was in the negatives for some years, and at -3.4% in 2004 it posed problems to the export sector. The unemployment rate was 30% and represented one of the main problems the government had to deal with. The oil sector continued to be the main foreign exchange provider, but revenues from it are unevenly distributed across the different layers of society. The country's geographic location and its poor soils limit agricultural output, which means that most of the food (75%) has to be imported.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Libya's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $48.2 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $8,400. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 8.5%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 7.6% of GDP, industry 49.9%, and services 42.5%.

Foreign aid receipts amounted to $10 million or about $2 per capita.

The World Bank reports that in 2003 household consumption in Libya totaled $10.97 billion or about $1,973 per capita based on a GDP of $23.5 billion, measured in current dollars rather than PPP. Household consumption includes expenditures of individuals, households, and nongovernmental organizations on goods and services, excluding purchases of dwellings.


As of 2005, Libya's labor force totaled an estimated 1.64 million people. Unemployment as of 2004 was put at 30%. It was estimated that for 1997 (the latest year for which data was available), 17% of the workforce was in agriculture, with 29% in industry and 54% in the services sector. Foreign workers, who do much of the bluecollar and technical work, are not treated wi The quality under Libyan labor law, and may only stay in the country for the duration of their employment contracts. The largest employer is the government, which operates public utilities, public works, several banks, the port and harbor organizations, and other enterprises.

The National Trade Unions' Federation is the official trade organization, and any independent union or association is prohibited. All Libyan workers are required to join a trade union. Foreign workers may not join unions and have little protection. There is no collective bargaining; the government controls all employment matters. Strikes are not permitted. Foreign workers make up a large part of the labor force, but are subject to arbitrary treatment.

There is no information about the prevalence of child labor although the minimum age for employment is legally set at 18 years old. The maximum legal workweek is 48 hours. The average family wage is estimated at $170 a month, but it is reported that employees are irregularly paid, especially in the public sector.


Only about 1.2% of the country is cultivated. As of 2003, irrigation covered about 470,000 hectares (1,161,000 acres), or 22% of the cultivated area.

Agriculture is the only economic sector in which private ownership is still important. Cereals are grown in Tripolitania and Cyrenaica; agriculture in the Fezzan is concentrated in the oases. Virtually all crops are grown for domestic consumption. Nevertheless, most agricultural products must be imported; the cost, in 2004, was over $1.1 billion. Estimated agricultural output in 2004, in tons, included potatoes, 195,000; tomatoes, 190,000; wheat, 125,000; and barley, 80,000. The 2004 production of fruits, in tons, included watermelons, 240,000; dates, 150,000; olives, 180,000; oranges, 44,000; and apples, 20,000.

Libya is investing a significant share of national revenues in agriculture in the hope of someday becoming agriculturally self-sufficient; cultivation has been changing from subsistence farming to highly mechanized operations. Development plans aim to increase irrigation and introduce and extend the use of advanced techniques; seeds and fertilizers have been subsidized. Areas singled out for development include the Al-Jifara Plain in Tripolitania; the Jabal Akhdar, east of Banghāzī; part of the Fezzan; and the oases of Kufrah and Sarir. In the Kufrah oasis, large, untapped water reserves are being utilized to help provide fodder for sheep. In 1984, Libya embarked on a massive project to pipe water to the coast from underwater aquifers. The project was designed to transport 2 million cu m of water per day via 2,000 km (1,240 mi) of pipeline from 270 artesian wells in the east to connect Sirte and Banghāzī. The first phase was inaugurated in 1991 at a cost of $5 billion; the total project is estimated to cost $25 billion. In all, the scheme would provide 50 years of irrigation to the coastal areas, where 80% of Libya's agriculture is located.

A government agency markets farm produce and has authority to operate cooperatives and farms. The Agricultural Bank has been provided with sufficient capital to make short- and long-term loans easily available.


Before the transformation of the economy by the discovery of oil, livestock was an important sector, providing transport, clothing, food, and skins for tents. South of the Jabal areas, a wide belt of drought-resistant vegetation extending across most of the country is still used by nomadic and seminomadic herdsmen for grazing. In the Fezzan, the nomads move about between oases or other places where vegetation is suitable for their animals. Libya's livestock are vulnerable to disease and drought, and in past years losses have reached as high as 60%.

The livestock population of Libya in 2005 included 4,500,000 sheep, 1,265,000 goats, 130,000 head of cattle, 47,000 camels, 45,000 horses, 30,000 donkeys, and 25 million chickens. Private dairy farms are allowed to operate, but their milk has to be sold to the state. The government maintains large poultry farms.

New strains of livestock and more efficient grazing practices are being encouraged. The government hopes its development plans will make Libya self-sufficient in meat supplies. Livestock products in 2005 included 142,000 tons of meat, 60,000 tons of eggs, and 130,000 tons of cow's milk.


Fishing is of minor importance, but the government is actively supporting extension of fishing and related activities, including the construction of sardine canning factories and modern storage facilities in the principal ports and the creation of local fishing fleets. Libya's excellent fishing grounds contain tuna, sardines, and other fish. The catch was 33,671 tons in 2003. Landings of bluefin and bigeye tuna have sharply increased since 1990. The value of fish exports significantly rose from $380,000 in 1990 to $79.5 million in 2003.


The only important forest areas in Libya are shrubby juniper growths in the Jabal Akhdar areas of Cyrenaica. A few conifers are found in more isolated districts. Tripolitania has some forest remnants in inaccessible regions. Encroaching sand dunes in the north create a need for afforestation, and many acacia, Aleppo pine, carob, cypress, eucalyptus, olive, and palm trees have been planted. Some 358,000 hectares (884,600 acres) of Libyan territory are classified as "forest," but almost all of this land could more properly be called maquis. Dune fixation, both for reforestation and to preserve agricultural land, has been an important part of the forestry program.

Up to 1976, the government had planted 213 million seedlings, mostly in western Libya. By 1981, 165,405 hectares (408,722 acres) of forest and 63,443 hectares (156,770 acres) of windbreak had been planted. During the 1980s, reforestation was proceeding at the rate of 32,000 hectares (79,000 acres) per year, but that rate slowed to 5,000 hectares (12,300 acres) during the 1990s. In 2004, roundwood removals were estimated at 652,000 cu m (23 million cu ft), of which 536,000 cu m (18.9 million cu ft) were used for fuel.


The nonfuel sector of the Libyan mining industry was negligible. Petroleum was Libya's leading industry in 2004, although oil production has fallen to under 50% of output in 1970. Libya was the third-largest crude oil producer in Africa, after Nigeria and Algeria. Nonhydrocarbon mineral production in 2004 consisted of lime, gypsum, hydraulic cement, salt, and sulfur (as a by-product of petroleum and natural gas). Estimated production in 2004 included: 1,026,000 metric tons of lime; 175,000 tons of gypsum; 15,000 metric tons of sulfur (by-product of petroleum and natural gas); 3,5 million metric tons of hydraulic cement; and 40,000 metric tons of salt. Libya had large reserves of iron ore in the Fezzan. The Wadi ash-Shatti iron ore deposit was estimated to contain 1,600 million tons of oolitic hematite, limonite, chamosite, and siderite with a grade range of 30%48% iron. There were also deposits of magnesium salts (7.5 million tons) and potassium salts (1.6 million tons) in Maradah, south of the Port Brega oil terminal; potash in the Sirte Desert; and magnetite, phosphate rock, and sulfur.


Libya is a major exporter of oil, mainly to Europe, mainly to Italy, Germany, France and Spain. The country is also a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

According to the Oil and Gas Journal, Libya's proven oil reserves, as of 1 January 2005, amount to 39 billion barrels. Although Libya has 12 oil fields, each with reserves of 1 billion barrels or more, plus two other fields with reserves in the 500 million to one billion barrel range, the country remains highly unexplored and is viewed as having excellent potential for additional oil discoveries.

Because Libya is a member of OPEC, its crude oil production is subject to a quota, which as of 1 November 2004, was placed at 1.445 million barrels per day. In 2004, Libya's oil output averaged an estimated 1.60 million barrels per day, of which crude oil accounted for 1.51 million barrels per day, and natural gas liquids at 65,000 barrels per day. Domestic oil demand in 2004 was estimated at an average of 237,000 barrels per day. Net exports in that year were estimated at an average of 1.34 million barrels per day

Libya's domestic refining sector that is made up of five refineries, with a combined capacity of around 380,000 barrels per day, which is greater than its domestic consumption and allows to country to export refined petroleum products. The five refineries and their crude refining capacities are: the Ras Lanuf facility on the Gulf of Sirte (220,000 barrels per day); the Az Zawiya refinery (120,000 barrels per day); the Tobruk refinery (20,000 barrels per day); the Brega (Libya's oldest at 10,000 barrels per day); and the Sarir (10,000 barrels per day). Libya is also a direct distributor and producer of refined products in Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Egypt.

In addition to oil, Libya has large proven reserves of natural gas, which as of 1 January 2005, were estimated, by the Oil and Gas Journal, to contain 52 trillion cu ft. However, these reserves are thought to be larger because they are largely unexplored and unexploited. These potential reserves have been placed by Libyan experts at between 70 to 100 trillion cu ft. In 2002, natural gas output was estimated at 219 billion cu ft, with domestic demand in that year estimated at 197 billion cu ft. Libya is looking to expand its output of natural gas, in part as a replacement for oil in electric power generation, thus freeing up more oil for export, and for natural gas exports to Europe.

Libya's electric power generating sector is marked by rapidly increasing demand that has resulted in widespread power shortages. All of the country's existing power stations use conventional thermal fuels. Most facilities use oil, but others have been converted to use natural gas. Total electric power generating capacity in 2002 was estimated at 4.710 million kW, with output in that year at 14.424 billion kWh. Demand for electric power in Libya is growing rapidly at a rate of about 68% per year. In 2002, demand for power came to 13.414 billion kWh. By 2010, demand for power in Libya is anticipated to reach 5.8 GW and 8GW by 2020.


Libyan manufacturing industries developed significantly during the 1960s and 1970s, but fell far behind the petroleum sector of the economy in the 1980s. Non-oil manufacturing and construction sectors accounted for about 20% of GDP in 2002.

Libya is Africa's largest oil producer. Libya's oil and gas potential is vast and the country remains largely underexplored. The country's proven oil reserves are 29.5 billion barrels and production is 1.4 million barrels per day. Among the many industries utilizing petroleum products is a natural gas liquefaction plant which went into operation in 1971 at Marsá al-Burayqah (Port Brega). Libya is a direct producer of refined products in Italy, France, Germany, Spain, and Switzerland. The refining sector was adversely affected by the UN embargo; several projects for expanding domestic refining were delayed. When UN sanctions were suspended in 1999, foreign oil companies showed a keen interest in investing in the exploration and production of oil in Libya.

The petrochemicals industry is centered at the Marsá al-Burayqah plant, which produces methanol, ammonia, and urea. Despite the fact that the plant operates at only 35% of capacity, its production of urea and ammonia far exceeds domestic demand. A major plant producing ethylene, propylene, and butene was opened at Ras Lanuf in 1987. A second phase of the Ras Lanuf complex was to produce benzene, butadiene, methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), and butane-1, but as of 2000, it was not complete. The Abu Kammash petrochemical complex produces ethylene dichloride (EDC), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and vinyl chloride monomer (VCM). The iron and steel complex at Mişratāh began operations in 1990. Large natural gas reserves were underdeveloped in 2002; a pipeline network was expected to be planned by 2006.

Libya's other manufacturing industries are small, lightly capitalized, and devoted primarily to the processing of local agricultural products (tanning, canning fruits and vegetables, milling flour, and processing olive oil), and to textiles, building materials, and basic consumer items. Handicraft products include carpets and rugs, silver jewelry, textiles, glassware, and leather goods.

Industry accounted for 49.9% of economic output in 2005, followed by services with a 42.5% share. Agriculture continued to be the weakest economic sector, with just a 7.6% share in the GDP. Oil and gas carry the lion share of industrial output, accounting for around 33% of the GDP. The non-oil manufacturing and construction sectors had expanded and by the early 2000s they included the production of petrochemicals, iron, steel, and aluminum.


There is a predominance of foreign labor in scientific and technical positions. Al-Fatah University at Tripoli (founded in 1973) has faculties of science, engineering, agriculture, medicine, pharmacy, veterinary medicine, nuclear engineering, and petroleum and mining engineering. The University of Garyounis at Banghāzī (founded in 1955) has faculties of science and engineering. Bright Star University of Technology at Marsá al-Burayqah (founded in 1981) has faculties of basic engineering science, electrical and electronic engineering, mechanical and production engineering, chemical engineering, and petroleum engineering. Al-Arab Medical University at Banghāzī was founded in 1984. Sabhā University has faculties of science, agriculture, medicine, and engineering. A posts and telecommunications institute is at Tripoli.

Despite its abundant oil and gas reserves, Libya is highly interested in nuclear power. A 10-MW research reactor is located at Tajura.


Tripoli, the leading port and transportation center, is the focus of trading activities. In 1978, Qadhafi announced that individuals should cease engaging in trade or marketing, and in 1979 the private import-export trade was banned. In 1981, all shops were closed and replaced by huge supermarkets with stocks purchased by the state. About a dozen basic commodities are price-subsidized, and a rationing system was established in 1984. Because of an acute shortage of consumer goods, including food staples, some private stores were allowed to reopen by 1987. The nation depends heavily on imports for basic food products, since the agricultural sector only provides for about 25% of the nation's food supply as of 2002. The sale of alcohol is prohibited.

An annual international trade fair is held in Tripoli each March. Normal business hours are 7 am to 2 or 2:30 pm, Saturday through Thursday. Banks are open Saturday through Thursday from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm in winter and from 8 am to 12 pm in summer. Summer banking hours also include 4 to 5 pm, Saturday through Wednesday.


Libya has long enjoyed a favorable trade balance because of exports of crude oil, mostly to Europe. Crude petroleum and petroleum products make up the majority of Libya's export commodity

Country Exports Imports Balance
World 10,194.9 3,731.5 6,463.4
Italy-San Marino-Holy See 4,343.8 713.1 3,630.7
Germay 1,556.2 440.5 1,115.7
Spain 1,555.0 121.6 1,433.4
Turkey 769.3 36.2 733.1
Tunisia 423.2 189.9 233.3
Greece 270.7 27.4 243.3
United Kingdom 233.6 216.0 17.6
Malta 76.5 39.1 37.4
Netherlands 70.0 87.0 -17.0
Egypt 57.1 68.8 -11.7
() data not available or not significant.

market (93%). Other exports include natural and manufactured gas (3.1%), hydrocarbons (1.5%), and fertilizers (1.1%).

In 2005, exports reached $31 billion (FOBfree on board), while imports grew to $11 billion (FOB). The bulk of exports went to Italy (37%), Germany (16.6%), Spain (11.9%), Turkey (7.1%), and France (6.2%). Imports mainly came from Italy (25.5%), Germany (11%), South Korea (6.1%), the United Kingdom (5.4%), Tunisia (4.7%), and Turkey (4.6%).


Libya customarily registered balance-of-payments surpluses from 1962 until 1981, thanks to large trade surpluses derived from the export of oil. Declining oil production caused payments deficits

Current Account 2,136.0
     Balance on goods 2,974.0
         Imports -4,302.0
         Exports 7,276.0
     Balance on services -930.0
     Balance on income 311.0
     Current transfers -219.0
Capital Account
Financial Account -1,045.0
     Direct investment abroad -226.0
     Direct investment in Libya -128.0
     Portfolio investment assets -3.0
     Portfolio investment liabilities
     Financial derivatives
     Other investment assets -315.0
     Other investment liabilities -373.0
Net Errors and Omissions -403.0
Reserves and Related Items -688.0
() data not available or not significant.

from 1981 to 1984. The services and transfers accounts are in deficit because of travel by Libyans abroad, transportation costs, payments to foreign contractors, and remittances by foreign workers. The capital account is also usually in deficit because of Libyan aid and investment abroad. Foreign debt is difficult to calculate because trade debts are often settled by the barter supply of oil.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported that in 2001 the purchasing power parity of Libya's exports was $13.1 billion while imports totaled $8.7 billion resulting in a trade surplus of $4.4 billion.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 1999 Libya had exports of goods totaling $6.76 billion and imports totaling $4 billion. The services credit totaled $55 million and debit $918 million.

Exports of goods totaled $17 billion in 2004, up from $15 billion in 2003. Imports grew from $7 billion in 2003, to $9 billion in 2004. The resource balance was consequently positive, and fairly constant in both years$8 billion. A similar trend was registered for the current account balance, which improved slightly from $3.6 billion in 2003, to $3.8 billion in 2004. Foreign exchange reserves (excluding gold) grew to almost $26 billion in 2004, covering more than three years of imports.


The Central Bank of Libya, established in 1956, supervises the national banking system, regulates credit and interest, and issues bank notes. It also regulates the volume of currency in circulation, acts as a banker to the government, provides clearinghouse facilities for the country's commercial banks, and administers exchange control. Since 5 August 1962, the bank has been vested with a monopoly in the import of fine gold.

Libya formerly had branches of many Arab, Italian, and British commercial banks; they were nationalized in 1969. The government ruled that 51% of the capital of each should be taken over by the government, which paid the value of this share. Thus, the Banco di Roma became Umma Bank, Barclays Bank eventually became Jamahiriya Bank, and the Banco di Sicilia became the Sahara Bank. The commercial department of the Central Bank was merged with two small banks to form the National Commercial Bank. In 1972, a reorganization of the commercial banks left the Jamahiriya and Umma banks owned by the Central Bank of Libya; two other institutions, the Sahara Bank and the Wahda Bank, were jointly owned by the Central Bank and private interests.

The National Agricultural Bank, established in 1957, provides advice and guidance on agricultural problems, advances loans to farm cooperatives, and generally assists the agricultural community. The Industrial and Real Estate Bank, founded in 1965, made loans for building, food-processing, chemical, and traditional industries; later it was divided into the Savings and Real Estate Bank and the Development Bank. A decree in 1966 abolished interest on loans made by the government development banks. In 1972/73, the government created the Libyan Arab Foreign Bank, later renamed Jamahiriya Foreign Bank, owned by the Central Bank of Libya, to invest in foreign countries. In 1981, its role in foreign investment was taken over by the Libyan Arab Foreign Investment Co.

In 1997, in addition to the central bank, there were eight other banks in Libya: the Agricultural Bank, Jamahiriya Bank, Libyan Arab Foreign Bank, National Commercial Bank, Sahara Bank, Savings and Real Estate Investment Bank, Umma Bank, and Wahda Bank. In 1994, Libyan financial assets frozen in the United States alone amounted to some $1 billion. Interest rates are fixed by the central bank, which has applied a discount rate of 5% since 1980. The maximum lending rate for secured loans and overdrafts currently stands at 7%.

The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand depositsan aggregate commonly known as M1were equal to $11.3 billion. In that same year, M2an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual fundswas $15.2 billion. The money market rate, the rate at which financial institutions lend to one another in the short term, was 4%. The discount rate, the interest rate at which the central bank lends to financial institutions in the short term, was 5%.

There are no securities exchanges in Libya.


In 1995, all classes of insurance were available through the Libya Insurance Co. and Al-Mukhtar Insurance Co., both state enterprises. All licensed vehicles require third-party liability insurance, and all imported goods must be insured.


The fiscal year follows the calendar year. There are two budgets, one for ordinary expenses, the other (and larger one) for development. By law, 15% of total oil revenue is put aside yearly into the country's reserves, while 70% of the remainder goes to development expenditures. All non-oil revenues are assigned to cover ordinary expenditures, and any shortfall is made up by transferring some of the petroleum revenues from the development budget. If funds from petroleum revenues are not sufficient to cover development expenses, some planned projects are postponed. Although Libya has used part of its oil revenue to finance internal development (new schools, hospitals, roads) much has been wasted. Limited privatization continued in 1993, involving the sale of some parastatal assets. In 1999, Libya announced the need for $150 billion of investment in the economy in order to retain a growth rate of 5%; 6070% of the funds were to be financed by public monies.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2005 Libya's central government took in revenues of approximately $25.3 billion and had expenditures of $15.4 billion. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately $9.8 billion. Public debt in 2005 amounted to 8% of GDP. Total external debt was $4.267 billion.


Individual income taxes are levied at different rates for income from real estate, agriculture, commerce, industry, crafts, independent professions, and wages and salaries. Corporate taxes range from 2060%. Also levied are a 16.7% royalty on petroleum production, a general income tax of up to 90% and a Jihad tax. Indirect taxes in 2002 were mainly sales taxes at various rates.


As of 1996, the average weighted tariff was 21.3%. Import controls remain extremely tight, even by regional standards, keeping Libya a difficult place to do trade.

Libya has a single-column tariff schedule. Goods from all countries are subject to the same duties. Also levied are customs surcharges totaling 15% of the application customs duties. Almost all customs duties are ad valorem.


Outside of the oil industry, foreign investment in Libya is limited. No foreign investment is allowed in certain areas, including banking, insurance, domestic commerce, and foreign aid. A minimum of 51% of the capital of joint stock companies must be held by Libyans and the chairman of the board of directors must be a Libyan national.

With the massive increase in oil revenues in the 1970s, Libya became a major exporter of capital. Economic cooperation agreements were signed with many African countries and in 1976 Libya purchased 10% of the shares of the Italian auto company Fiat; it sold its Fiat holdings in 1986 for about $3 billion.

In 1999, with the lifting of international sanctions on Libya, Qadhafi called for foreign investment in the energy sector (hydrocarbons, power, and water). He also encouraged investment in telecommunications, transport, and electricity generation. Under the current prime minister, Ghanem, a large part of the national companies was privatized, and the economy as a whole is considered to be ripe for modernization and foreign investment. Many international oil companies (e.g. Shell) have recently returned to Libya and the tourism sector will likely benefit from investments in hotels and infrastructure.


Under Libya's first five-year development plan (196368), several long-run measures were taken to raise industrial production and to expand and improve the quality of agriculture. Of the government's oil revenue, 70% was earmarked for the development plan. Of this total, 23% was allocated for public works, 17% for agriculture, 16% for communications, 13% for education, 7% for public health, and 4% for industry. The 197275 development plan targeted a growth of 11% annually in GDP. Investment was allocated as follows: industry and mineral resources, 15%; agriculture, 14%; communications, 14%; housing, 11%; petrochemicals, 11%; and education, 9%. The 197680 development plan invested principally in agriculture, 20%; communications, 14%; industry, 13%; and housing, 12%. The 198185 development plan called for investment in industry, 23%; agriculture, 18%; communications, 12%; and electricity, 12%. The drop in oil income caused a contraction in planned projects, however. The plan for 200105 foresaw $35 billion total of investments, mostly in hydrocarbons, power, and water, with a projected GDP growth rate of 5%.

In 1980, Libyan bilateral aid to developing countries totaled 0.90% of GNP. In 1981, however, the total was only 0.39% of GNP. In 1981, Libya also contributed funds to multilateral aid organizations, principally to the Arab agencies and the OPEC Fund. As of 1987, the investments of the Libyan Arab Foreign Investment Co. included 30 companies in Arab countries. There are also significant Libyan holdings in African countries.

According to BIS, Libya increased its deposits in foreign banks in 1986, while at the same time reducing its outstanding debt. By 1989 Libya's net creditor position with BIS reporting banks had declined almost two-thirds in 1987. However, rising deposits in 1990 reflecting soaring oil revenues because of the Persian Gulf crisis, combined with reduced liabilities, led to a positive net balance. Due to the decline in oil export receipts in 1991, this surplus was reduced by one-third. Frozen assets in US banks netted $1 billion in 1994. The 1999 lifting of sanctions saw increased foreign investment.

In 2003, the government planned to diversify the economy away from its total dependence on oil, which accounts for 95% of Libya's foreign currency. Tourism was one sector of the economy targeted for development, and those working in the industry have encouraged the formation of commercial banks to finance tourism projects. The Tourism Development Bank, 80% of whose shares are held by the private sector, was one example of this initiative. Qadhafi in 2003 urged Libyans to undertake investment projects such as road and port projects, and communication and industrial production projects. The oil sector was not to be privatized, but rather open to investment, while the public sector would not be entirely dismantled, but would work with the private sector. Qadhafi reaffirmed the need to establish people's socialism as the foundational economic structure of society, whereby companies would not be owned by the state, but by the people who run them, assisted by foreign investors where necessary. Libya initiated a $35 billion investment plan for 200205. In July 2004, Libya applied for membership in the WTO; as of late 2006, the Working Party committee to consider the application had not met.

The economy was expected to expand vigorously. Thus, by 2006, the GDP growth rate was projected to be 8.1%the result of slower output in the oil sector.


By law, all employees are entitled to sickness, invalid, disability, death, and maternity benefits and unemployment payments. The cost of these programs is shared by employers, employees, and the government. Survivor benefits are paid to widows, siblings, or sons. Rehabilitation programs are provided for sick and disabled employees to provide them with new employment opportunities. Lump sum grants are provided for maternity, births, and funerals. There is no statutory benefits for unemployment, and there are limited family benefits under Social Care Fund legislation.

Despite a constitutional proclamation providing equality for women, customary Muslim restrictions still apply. Women are granted full legal rights, but few women work outside of the home, and those who do remain in low-paid positions. There is evidence to suggest that younger, urban women are gradually becoming more emancipated. Younger women in urban areas have largely discarded the veil, although in rural areas it is still widely used. Women still must obtain their husband's permission in order to leave the country. Violence against women remains a serious problem and is not discussed publicly.

There have been many reports of continuing human rights violations, including torture. Under Libyan law, persons may be detained incommunicado for unlimited periods, and the government has defended its practice of imprisoning political dissenters. Citizens do not have the right to legal counsel or to fair public trials. The government discriminates against ethnic and tribal minorities, and restricts freedom of speech, press, movement, assembly, religion, and association.


In 2004, there were an estimated 129 physicians, 360 nurses, 14 dentists, and 25 pharmacists per 100,000 people. Approximately 72% of the population had access to safe drinking water and 97% had adequate sanitation.

Widespread diseases include typhoid, venereal diseases, and infectious hepatitis. In 1992, the UN approved trade and air traffic embargoes affecting the economy and health care system. With the assistance of the World Health Organization, Libya has eradicated malaria, once a major problem. Tuberculosis is still prevalent.

As of 2002, the crude birth rate and overall mortality rate were estimated at, respectively, 27.6 and 3.5 per 1,000 people. The infant mortality rate was 24.6 per 1,000 live births in 2005. The fertility rate in 2000 was 3.5 children per woman during her childbearing years. The maternal mortality rate was estimated at 75 per 100,000 live births. The average life expectancy was 76.50 years in 2005. Immunization rates for children up to one year old were: diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, 96%, and measles, 92%. Diarrheal diseases took the lives of 4,683 Libyan children under five years of age in 1995.

The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 0.30 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 10,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country.


Increasing urbanization has created slum conditions in the major cities. There have been slum clearance and building projects since 1954. Around 125,000 new homes were built between 1969 and 1977. Low-income families were allowed to buy ready-made houses from the state at 10% of cost or to build their own homes with interest-free loans. Real estate was the main area of private investment until 1978, when most tenants were made owners of their residences. The state paid full compensation to landlords for confiscated property and resold it to tenants at subsidized prices. As of the late 1980s, the last period for which housing information was available, total housing units numbered 700,000 with 5.6 people per dwelling.


When Libya attained independence, about 90% of its population was illiterate, and there were few university graduates. Since then, the government has invested heavily in education, which is free at all levels. In 1985, the number of years of compulsory schooling was increased from six to nine years. Many students are enrolled in kindergarten programs of one or two years. Basic (primary) education covers nine years of study. This is followed by four years of specialized secondary education or four years of vocational school. The academic year runs from September to June.

In 2001, about 8% of children between the ages of four and five were enrolled in some type of preschool/kindergarten program. In 1994, primary schools had 1,357,040 pupils. Secondary schools had 310,556 pupils in 1992. Of these, 26,393 were in teacher training schools and 94,961 were in vocational schools. There has been a rapid increase in the number of students attending vocational schools, from 16,008 in 1980 to 118,564 in 1993.

The two main universities are Al-Fatah University and University of Garyounis in 1976. The Bright Star University of Technology at Marsá al-Burayqah was founded in 1981. There were also two higher institutes of technology and one of mechanical and electrical engineering. In 2003, about 58% of the tertiary age population were enrolled in some type of higher education program. The adult literacy rate for 2004 was estimated at about 81.7%, with 91.8% for men and 70.7% for women.

As of 2003, public expenditure on education was estimated at 2.7% of GDP.


The National Library in Banghāzī holds 150,000 volumes, including the official documents of the Arab League. The public library in Banghāzī had 14,000 volumes in 2002. Libya's largest library, with 295,000 volumes in 2002, is at the University of Garyounis; at that time, the Government Library in Tripoli had 37,000 volumes. The National Archives, which have an extensive collection of documents relating to the history of Tripolitania under Ottoman rule, are in Tripoli. In addition, France and Italy maintain cultural centers with libraries in the national capital. The Libyan Studies Center in Tripoli holds 100,000 volumes.

The museums exhibit mainly antiquities excavated from various Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Arabic sites. The Department of Antiquities is responsible for all museums and archaeological sites in the country. Tripoli houses the Archaeological Museum, Epigraphy Museum, Ethnographic Museum, Natural History Museum, Prehistory Museum, and Islamic Museum. There are other museums, mainly archaeological, at Cyrene, Homs, Gaigab, Germa, Leptis Magna, Tokrah, Zanzur, Marsa Susah, and Sabrata.


Postal, telephone, and wireless services are owned and operated by the government. Radiotelephone ties exist between Tripoli and European centers. In 2003, there were an estimated 136 mainline telephones for every 1,000 people. The same year, there were approximately 23 mobile phones in use for every 1,000 people.

The Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya Broadcasting Corp. broadcasts on radio in Arabic and English, and on television in Arabic, English, Italian, and French. As of 2005, there were no privately owned broadcasting stations. In 2003, there were an estimated 273 radios for every 1,000 people. The number of televisions stations was not reported in the same survey. The same year, there were 23.4 personal computers for every 1,000 people and 29 of every 1,000 people had access to the Internet.

In 2002, there were three major daily newspapers. Al-Fair AlJadeed (The New Dawn) published in Tripoli, with circulation of about 40,000. The other dailies included Al-Jihad and Libyan Press Review. All print media is owned by the government.

The state is said to restrict all expression and opinion on matters deemed crucial to Qadhafi or his regime. All political activities, including publication and broadcasting, which are not officially approved are banned. Vague laws exist by which any speech or expression may be interpreted as illegal. It is said that there is a pervasive system of informants, which creates an atmosphere of mistrust and self-censorship at all levels of society.


There are chambers of commerce in Tripoli and Banghāzī. Libya has few nongovernment organizations. Membership in an illegal organization was made a capital offense in 1975. Youth organizations include the General Union of Great Jamahiriya Students, which has a membership consisting of all Libyan students registered at both secondary and tertiary educational institutions throughout the country. There is also a Libyan Public Scout and Girl Guide movement. Several sports associations and clubs are active throughout the country. The Gaddafi Charity Foundation encourages volunteer efforts in social welfare and human rights programs. The Red Crescent Society and Caritas have active national chapters.


Tourists are attracted to Libya's climate, extensive beaches, and magnificent Greek and Roman ruins. However, tourist facilities are not widely available, because tourism has been discouraged during the tenure of Qadhafi. It suffered a further blow with the 1992 imposition of UN sanctions related to the bombing of a Pan Am jet over Lockerbie, Scotland; UN sanctions were lifted in September 2003 when Libya resolved this case.

All visitors, except Arab nationals, need a valid passport and visa. Visitors must register at the nearest police station within three days of arrival to avoid problems either during their stay or when departing. In 2003, Libya had 957,896 foreign visitors. Of these visitors, 44% came from Egypt. There were 12,405 hotel rooms with 20,967 beds and an occupancy rate of 45%.

According to the US Department of State, the 2005 estimated cost of staying in Tripoli was $344.


As Roman emperor, Septimius Severus (r.193211) was responsible for initiating an extensive building program at his native Leptis Magna. Muhammad bin 'Ali as-Sanusi (1780?1859), the founder of the Sanusi order, established its headquarters in Cyrenaica in the 1840s. Muhammad Idris al-Mahdi as-Sanusi (18901983), his descendant, was Libya's first king, ruling the country from its independence until he was deposed in 1969. Col. Mu'ammar Muhammad al-Qadhafi (b.1942) became the actual ruler of the country at that time. Omar al-Muntasser (19392001) became secretary-general of the General People's Committee in 1987.


Libya has no territories or colonies.


Burr, Millard. Africa's Thirty Years War: Libya, Chad, and the Sudan, 19631993. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1999.

Cirincione, Joseph, Jon B. Wolfsthal, and Miriam Rajkumar. Deadly Arsenals: Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Threats. 2nd ed. Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2005.

El-Kikhia, Mansour O. Libya's Qaddafi: The Politics of Contradiction. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1997.

Matar, Khalil I. and Robert W. Thabit. Lockerbie and Libya: A Study in International Relations. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2004.

The Middle East. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2005.

O'Sullivan, Meghan L. Shrewd Sanctions: Statecraft and State Sponsors of Terrorism. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2003.

St. John, Ronald Bruce. Historical Dictionary of Libya. 3rd ed. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 1991.

. Historical Dictionary of Libya. [computer file] Boulder, Colo.: netLibrary, Inc., 2000.

. Libya and the United States: Two Centuries of Strife. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002.

Vandewalle, Dirk J. History of Modern Libya. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Zeilig, Leo and David Seddon. A Political and Economic Dictionary of Africa. Philadelphia: Routledge/Taylor and Francis, 2005.

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Basic Data
Official Country Name: Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
Region: Africa
Population: 5,115,450
Language(s): Arabic, Italian, English
Literacy Rate: 76.2%
Compulsory Schooling: 9 years
Educational Enrollment: Primary: 1,357,040
  Secondary: 294,283
  Higher: 72,899

History & Background

Libya is the fourth largest Arab nation in the world. It is 1.7 million square miles in area, making it larger than the U.S. state of Alaska. It is known to Libyans as the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (Republic). Libya's population is nearly five million people. Its population is growing at 2.4 percent, and 97 percent of Libyans are Sunni Muslims. Over half of all Libyans are less than 15 years of age. Education, especially free education, is a major issue for this youthful population. Ninety-seven percent of Libyans are Berber and Arab in ethnic makeup; the remaining population is Tuareg and indigenous African. The average life expectancy is 74 years for men and 78 years for women. There is 1 doctor for every 948 people, and, since most people live in cities, hospitals and doctors are within easy reach. Education is free and compulsory between the ages 6 and 15 years of age. It is free if students decide to continue their studies thereafter. Adult literacy is high at 76.2 percent; this approaches levels seen in developed nations. The capital Tripoli has a population of 1.6 million people. Roughly one out of every four Libyans lives in the capital city.

Libya is a highly urban society in which 86 percent of its citizens live in cities along the Mediterranean coast. The north is cool and provides many employment opportunities, while the south is hot and dry, sparsely populated, and offers few jobs. Libya is a largely barren, flat, undulating land. It has flat plains and plateaus, as well as depressions. Fertile oases punctuate this landscape that is dry and, in most places, extreme desert. There is a long Mediterranean coast along which most Libyans live. The Cyrenaica province is one of three major provinces that divide Libya. Like the other two provinces, Tripolitana and Fezzan, it has a narrow coastline behind which rises a plateau called the Jabal al-Akhdar or "Green Mountain." Here lies the city of Benghazi, one of Libya's largest cities. This is an industrial seaport. Libya's coast has 13 other major cities. Libya is one of the most urbanized countries in Africa and the Middle East. This province shares its eastern border with Egypt. On the west lies the province of Tripolitana, which is anchored by the city of Tripoli, Libya's capital. Sandwiched between these two great provinces lies the province of Fezzan and Libya's rich, low sulfur oil fields. Here also lie the country's rich uranium fields that extend into neighboring Chad. This province also borders Algeria, Niger, and the Sudan. Libya is the largest producer of oil in Africa, and one of the largest producers in the world. Oil income has transformed Libya from a poor nation into a rapidly developing nation. It has one of the highest per capita incomes in Africa. The principal languages are Arabic, English, and Italian.

Before the 1969 revolution almost 40 percent of Libyans lived in tents or shanty towns. There were 300,000 houses and 365,000 families. Thus, 65,000 families were homeless and an additional 120,000 lived in caves and shacks. Between 1969 and 1974 over 110,000 new homes were built.

Early History: Until recently Libya had no separate identity. It had always been part of some other nation or empire, except in ancient times when Libyans warred with the pharaohs of ancient Egypt. Many foreigners, such as the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Ottomans, Italians, British, and the French have dominated Libya. The Tripoli Tania province has always looked seaward to the north for salvation, trade, and cultural ties with Europe. The Cyrenaica province has always looked east for trade and cultural ties with Egypt and the Arab world. The Fezzan is African and looks south for trade, political and military links, and African cultural influences. Before the 1969 revolution, these provinces looked outward more than inward. This made national unity difficult and foreign influence great. Libyan fear of external domination is firmly rooted in experience and justified by their history with outsiders.

Having been divided often, Libya had little sense of a common national identity until 1951. The Sanusiya movement unified eastern Libya. This was a movement dedicated to purifying and reforming Moslems and leading its followers back to a simple community of faith ruled by just leaders. Of all of Libya's invaders, the Arabs have had the most enduring influence by forcing their religion onto Libyan culture. This movement began in the nineteenth century.

History of Education in Libya: The Ottoman empire encouraged Koran schools from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries in Libya. Small kuttabs, or Arab Koran schools, were affiliated with mosques and taught children to read the holy Koran and write Arabic script. Higher order religious training was available through institutes, such as Murad Pasha and Darghut Pasha. Here students could also study law (figh ). Zawiya stressed the study of astronomy, science, geography, history, mathematics, and medicine, as well as religion. Some zawiya also taught military arts to defend the faith.

Italy expanded educational opportunities as compared with the Ottomans. By 1939, Libya had 93 Italian schools. However, these were for the exclusive education of Italian settlers and children of administrators. These schools rivaled schools in Rome, but Arabs and Bedouins could not attend them. In addition to the Italian schools for Italian youth, there were 16 Jewish schools, 1 Greek school, and 418 Arab schools, which were religious schools or Kuttabs for the most part. Libyans graduating from these kuttab schools were not able to compete with Italians. The only secondary schools in the country were built to educate Italian children; Arabs and Bedouins were again not allowed to attend.

Under Italian rule, Libyans were denied education beyond the fourth grade and discouraged from learning either the Bedouin or Arabic language. They were taught Italian, to love Italy, and not to trust Arabs or Bedouins. Poor Italians did menial labor, semi-skilled, and skilled work. Little was left for the Libyans.

Italian schools continued to function, but Libyan Arab education was added. Textbooks and syllabi were rewritten in Arabic. Government primary and secondary schools were built throughout Libya and it reopened Koran schools that had closed during the independence struggle. This gave education a strong religious element. A shortage of qualified Libyan teachers led to rote learning, rather than reasoning. Despite these limitations, school enrollments rose rapidly, especially primary education. Jewish schools declined and closed as Jews migrated to the new state of Israel. Vocational education was added, and Libya's first university was opened in 1955 at Benghazi. Women began to attend school in growing numbers, and adult education was added to the system. Total school enrollment at the end of the colonial era was 34,000. Between 1951 and 1962 enrollment increased to 150,000 and by 1969, just before the revolution, enrollment had increased to 360,000 students. Mobile classrooms became common, as did prefabricated classrooms. Classes were even held in tents in desert oases. Through these efforts, enrollments totaled 1.2 million students by 1986. There were 670,000 males (54 percent) and 575,000 females (46 percent). One third of the Libyan population was enrolled in school or in some other form of educational endeavor. Between 1970 and 1986, Libya built 32,000 new classrooms for primary, secondary, and vocational schools. The number of teachers rose from 19,000 to 79,000 during the same time period. The student teacher ratio also rose and the quality of education suffered.

In 1951, about 10 percent of Libyans were literate. At that time there were no female teachers. Secondary school teachers numbered 25, and only 14 Libyans held university degrees. A national education system was built virtually from scratch. By 1977, literacy rose to 51 percent. The literacy rate for women during the same time-frame rose from 6 percent to 31 percent. By the late 1980s more than 70 percent of men were literate as compared to 35 percent of women.

In the early twenty-first century, education at all levels is free, and university students are given very generous stipends to encourage them to pursue higher education and modernize the workforce. For students ages 6 through 15 years of age, education is compulsory. Roughly 8 percent of Libya's entire budget is dedicated to supporting education up through university level. The revolutionary regime has considerably expanded the educational system that it inherited from the monarchy. All types of education are seen as equal, since human knowledge is viewed as inherent to building a modern civilization. Many schools are needed to fulfill these aims.

Libya still suffers from a shortage of qualified Libyan teachers at all levels, and female attendance at the secondary and higher levels is low. Attempts to close all private and religious schools since 1970 has created problems. Vocational and technical training lag the rest of the system. In 1977, fewer than 5,000 students were enrolled in 12 technical high schools. By 1990, most doctors, dentists, and pharmacists were expatriates, despite having nearly 17,000 Libyan students studying for degrees in these disciplines. Libyan youth avoid scientific and technical training, preferring white-collar jobs associated with prestige and high social status. Reliance on foreign technicians will characterize Libya's economy well into the foreseeable future.

From 1981, compulsory military education for males and females formed part of the curriculum for all secondary schools and universities. Male and female students must wear uniforms to class and attend daily military exercises and physical training. University students are not forced to wear uniforms, but they must attend military camps for training. Females are encouraged to attend special female military academies. These measures are not popular, especially among the families of many females. A backlash might be expected in the future. The increase in female enrollment is remarkable, considering the fundamentally conservative and religious nature of Libya society on gender issues.

Libya's first university was founded at Benghazi in 1955, and it had a branch in Tripoli. These two campuses became separate universities in 1973. In 1976, they were renamed Gar Yunis University and Al Fatah University, respectively. A technical university, specializing in engineering and petroleum, opened at Marsa al Burayqeh in 1981. Al Fatah added schools of nuclear engineering, electronic engineering, and pharmacy during the 1980s. An agriculture college was constructed at Al Bayda and technical institutes exist at Birak, Hun, and Bani Walid. The expansion of opportunities in higher education is seen as vital to meeting personnel requirements by the revolutionary regime. Eventually, many secondary schools will be converted into special training institutes whose curriculums dovetail with those of vocational, technical, and universities.

Technically trained students are compelled to work in the areas of their training, which causes some discontent. The idea is to end dependence on foreign technical workers, but this is unlikely in the near future, especially in light of recent cutbacks in spending on technical education. Enrollment trends for higher education have moved steadily upward from independence to the present. There were 3,000 university students in 1969. By 1975 this number increased to 12,000, and by 1980, it reached 25,000. In 1992, this figure soared to 72,899, of whom 46 percent were female. The increase in female university enrollment is especially impressive, considering that in 1970 females were only 9 percent of the university student population.

Libya formerly paid totally for students to attend foreign universities and, by 1978, some 3,000 Libyans were studying in America. But in 1985, Libya cut back on fellowships for foreign study, forcing many Libyan students to continue their education locally. University students were among the few groups to openly express dissatisfaction with that. Students feel that university education is the path to personal and social advancement best left free from government interference. They resent constant efforts to control their thought and to politicize education at every level. For example, in 1976, university students mounted violent protest in Benghazi and Tripoli over compulsory military training. Students studying French and English at Al Fatah University frustrated efforts to close their departments and destroy their libraries.

Constitutional & Legal Foundations

Constitutional Provisions: The 1969 constitution decreed compulsory free education through the ninth grade. It mandated adult education and began providing more opportunities for women to become educated. This same constitution stated education's aims. Article 28 states that every Libyan shall have the right to an education. The state shall ensure the diffusion of education by means of the establishment of public schools and private schools, which it may permit to be established for Libyans and foreigners under its supervision. Article 29 states that teaching shall be unrestricted so long as it does not constitute a breach of public order and is not contrary to morality. Public education shall be regulated by law. Article 30 states that elementary education shall be compulsory for Libyan children of both sexes; elementary and primary education in the public schools shall be free.

By 1951, a new constitution made primary education free, compulsory, and open to all. The government supervised foreign schools. As of 1967, there were 248,942 students enrolled in Libya's 1,044 schools. Two universities were started, Gar Yunis or the University of Benghazi, specializing in the Arts and Education, as well as commerce and law. The second, Al-Fetah University or the University of Tripoli, specializing in agriculture and teacher training.

Educational Philosophies: When the Free Officer's Movement overthrew the monarchy on 1 September 1969, they initiated a socialist revolution rooted in Muslim values. Colonel Qadhafi was part of the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC). They rapidly set up a General People's Congress (GPC) as an executive and legislative body with 1,000 members. This organization was reproduced repeatedly down to the local level, where it is known as General People's Committees. Their idea was simple: bring government close to the people and let the "will of the people" rule. This was supposed to bring decision making down to the local level and create widespread participation. Such direct democracy is called "natural socialism" by Qadhafi. It seeks to establish social and economic equality as its ultimate goal. In February 1981, Qadhafi said, "If this nation is to win, then it must not differentiate between men and women, since the enemy is against each one of us." He went on to add, "Education is not a purpose in itself. The purpose is to create the new man. Specialization can be imported from their origin, but the independent citizen cannot. The difference is vast between specialization and liberty. The cost of the first is money, and of the second is 'blood."' In the Green Book, Qadhafi states, "society should provide all types of education, giving people the chance to choose freely any subjects they wish to learn. This requires a sufficient number of schools of all types of education. . .knowledge is a natural right of every human being which nobody has the right to deprive him of." He also stressed the need for religious education in schools.

Teachers are told they can contribute more than their traditional work in the classroom. Their "duty" involves going out to the people's circles and groups around the schools and teaching and guiding everyone toward a better understanding of Libya's revolution. Qadhafi claims that, "If every teacher makes a revolution in his own circle, we will find that the Jamahirya will be covered with all these revolutionary circles. Similarly, doctors, nurses, agricultural instructors, and others need to make such a revolution in their own circles. . .for the total transformation of our society." Even children are taught that they must learn to make revolution because the people are the state. Libyans believe there can be no such thing as individual action. Achievements are made by mass action of the entire nation through people's congresses, committees, and unions. Children are taught that they must participate in revolution, not just accept and obey what their teachers tell them. Students are told that they must transform Libyan society through continual revolution. This is said to be the student's patriotic duty.

Educational SystemOverview

Compulsory Education: In the Libyan Jamahiriya education is free to everyone from elementary school right up to university and post-graduate education, both in Libya and abroad. Pre-university education is divided into primary, preparatory, and secondary education. Schools are everywhere. For nomads, there are mobile classrooms and teachers.

Age Limits: Education is compulsory between age 6 and 15 years of age. Where preschools are available, children begin school at age four. Because of herding responsibilities, some Bedouins do not start school until a more mature age.

Enrollment & Female Participation: In 1978, there were 819,012 students enrolled in Libyan schools. Roughly 18,956 or 2.3 percent were in private schools. The government closed private schools during the 1980s. Most enrolled children of foreign workers. Enrollment in religious schools increased after the revolution. In 1974, there were 15,303 Libyan students enrolled in religious or kuttab schools. By 1980, this number increased to 59,779 with the Islamic University of Sayid Muhammad Ali Sanusi at the zenith of religious education. By 1994, there were over 1.3 million students enrolled in primary school; 49 percent were female. Another 310,556 students were enrolled in secondary schools, and 72,899 university students were enrolled in school, of whom 46 percent were female. (UNESCO 56)

Women are making great progress in Libyan society if education is a barometer of change. In east Libya, schools are coeducational, but in west Libya male and female students attend separate schools. In rural areas, out of economic necessity, because the number of students is so small, boys and girls attend class together, but boys sit at the front of the class and girls at the back.

Academic Year: Libya's school year consists of 35 weeks of instruction. Students attend school 6 days per week or 280 days per year. School begins in September.

Language of Instruction: Arabic is the language of instruction. English and French are taught as second or foreign languages.

Examinations: Rigorous examinations screen students from one level within the system to the next. Beyond classroom examinations, there are two major statewide examinations. Those who pass earn a Primary School Certificate. This allows them to enter intermediate secondary school or junior high school. After graduation from junior high school, students take a state-administered examination to determine entrance into secondary schools and institutes. Those who pass are awarded a certificate that admits them to upper secondary school. During their last year of secondary school, students must pass another state examination to be admitted to universities and other institutions of higher education. Students who pass the upper secondary school examination earn a diploma. These state examinations are created and administered by the Secretariat of Education and Scientific Research. Examination results are published in major newspapers.

Religious Schools: Private schools were discontinued during the 1980s, but religious schools were encouraged. In 1975, there were 181 Koran schools that enrolled 15,303 students. There were 12 Islamic intermediate schools with an enrollment of 674 students. Just 162 students attended religious secondary schools that year. By 1981, with government encouragement, 59,779 students were enrolled in religious schools.

Curriculum: In six-year primary schools, students study mathematics, natural sciences, hygiene, art, crafts, literature, and physical education. In secondary schools, students can choose a literary or scientific program of study. Language studies at this level include English, French, and Italian, as well as Arabic.

After primary school some students follow a vocational or technical school program throughout secondary school. Others continue on to religious secondary schools and universities, which emphasize Islamic law and Arabic.

Textbooks: All textbooks and pedagogical materials are produced by the Secretariat of Education and Culture. Books used in religious schools must also be approved by the Secretariat of Education.

Role of Education in Development: Libya uses education as a tool of development. It makes an inventory of skills needed by Libyan workers and then sets the curriculum and incentives to encourage students to study those fields so that expatriates can be replaced by skilled Libyan workers. A "libyanization" of the workforce is the goal. They hope to break their dependence on foreign labor, given their deep-seated historically rooted mistrust of foreigners. They have been very successful thus far, especially in recruiting women into non-traditional occupations. Modern jobs are being filled by Libyans in industry and agriculture. Schools at each level are directing greater numbers of Libyan students into science and technology to fill Libya's manpower requirements.

Preprimary & Primary Education

General Survey: Few Libyan children attend preprimary schools. In 1997, only 5 percent of preprimary school aged children actually attended such schools in Libya, and most of these were foreigners. Libyans usually begin school when they are six years old or older. In 1989, there were 852,593 students in 31,296 classrooms for an average of 27.2 students per class. School years begin in September and last 280 days, with students attending classes 6 days per week. As of 1992, 92 percent of eligible children were enrolled in primary school, and approximately 48 percent were female students. By 1994 this number had increased to over 1.3 million students, of whom 49 percent were female. This means that 97 percent of eligible students were enrolled in primary schools. Students were strongly encouraged to study science and mathematics. There were 36,591 primary school teachers in Libya in 1980, but by 1996 there were more than 100,000 primary teachers, of whom 47 percent were female teachers. In 1980, Libya had 765,000 illiterates, 28.5 percent of whom were male and 69.4 percent of whom were female. By 2000, Libya had 708,000 illiterates, of whom 9.1 percent were male, and 32.4 percent were female. Illiteracy fell from 47.1 to 20.2 percent of the population because significant strides were made in primary education for the entire Libyan population.

Age Limits: Education is free and compulsory between ages 6 and 15. Preprimary students may enter school as early as four years of age and full-grown adults may attend primary school if they missed it earlier in life. There is no upper limit on age.

Curriculum & Examinations: The six-year primary school's aim is to teach students to read, write, and count, as well as the natural sciences, hygiene, arts and crafts, and physical education. During their final year of primary school, students must pass an examination to qualify to enter junior high school. Junior high school, or Intermediate school, adds three more years to primary education, making it last for nine years in Libya.

Urban & Rural Schools: Urban schools are usually housed in buildings built of permanent materials which are durable. Rural schools are often mobile homes, which are made to serve "double duty" as portable homes for teachers following nomadic students and as mobile classrooms.

Teachers: There were 36,591 primary school teachers in Libya in 1980. By 1990, there were more than 85,537 primary teachers, of whom 47 percent were female teachers. Moreover, most teaching positions were no longer dominated by foreign teachers from Egypt, Palestine, and other nations. Libya has trained Libyan teachers to fill most positions, and 47 percent of these teachers are now women. The teacher to student ratio is 18 to 1.

Repeaters & Dropouts: In 1980, some 9.2 percent of Libyan primary school students repeated a grade. Dropouts declined once Libya abandoned its system of national examinations. Promotions are dependent solely upon passing in class examinations. Nonetheless, 4 percent of females and 2 percent of males dropped out of primary school.

Secondary Education

General Survey: Upon completion of junior secondary school (junior high school), Libyan students advance to secondary school, which is divided into two tracks. The first academic track consists of general preparatory education and pre-college education. A parallel or vocational track leads to the general teacher training institutes. This lasts four years and prepares teachers to educate preprimary and primary school students. Students on this track may also choose to study agriculture, commerce, or industry, as well as enter teacher training.

CurriculumExaminations & Diplomas: The academic track has two phases, and each takes three years to complete. Phase one is preparatory (junior high school) and leads to a certificate. Phase two (high school) also takes three years to complete and terminates in a diploma. The first year of secondary school students take general education requirements, including Arabic, religious studies, geography, science, mathematics, and history. During the second year, they choose either the science program, including geometry, trigonometry and algebra, physics, chemistry, and biology, or a humanities program for the remaining two years of study. This culminates in a national examination leading to a diploma, which enables students to enter Libyan universities. In 1989, there were 95,576 students attending secondary schools in 2,922 classrooms. Average classes had 32 students. Academic track students can choose to study languages, such as English, Italian, French, or Arabic. The curriculum in advanced Koran schools is similar to public schools, except that Islamic law and religious education are stressed. Between 1980 and 2000, gross secondary school enrollments jumped from 76 percent to nearly 100 percent. Of these, 89 percent of males attended, and 63 percent of females who were eligible attended secondary school in 1980. No figures are available for subsequent years.

Teachers: There were 12 students for every 1 secondary school teacher in 1980. That same year, Libya had 24,323 secondary school teachers of whom 24 percent were female.

Repeaters & Dropouts: Approximately 10 percent of secondary school students repeated a grade. The dropout rate was 6 percent, but it was greater for boys (9 percent) than girls (3 percent). Family attitudes account for most dropouts.

Vocational Education: There are 18 vocational and technical training schools in Libya. In 1978, they enrolled 6,267 students. These institutions had 487 teachers. They studied petroleum science, auto mechanics, electricity, mechanics, drilling technology, carpentry, and a variety of other practical subjects needed by Libya's economy.

Higher Education

Public & Private: Libya has three major universities that grant bachelor's degrees: Gar Yunis University, Al-Fetah University, and Marsa Berga Technical University. In 1992, Libyan universities enrolled 72,899 students, of whom 46 percent were female. Females were concentrated in the humanities and males in science, engineering, and business faculties. Government encouragement has led to increased participation of females in the sciences, especially in medicine. Social attitudes concerning the properness of females and males working together either in school, or later in the workplace, inhibit more rapid advancement of women into nontraditional professions. By 1992, some 72,899 students were enrolled in Libya's universities.

Admissions Procedures: Students who earn a secondary school diploma are eligible to enter Libyan universities. Extremely rapid expansion of educational opportunities has led to a decline in the preparation of students and very high grade repetition rates in Libyan universities. In 1976, an estimated 79 percent of engineering students had to repeat their first year at university. Comparable rates in the arts were 74 percent.

Administration: Universities are administered by "People's Committees," consisting of six faculty members, four students, two members of the instructional staff, and one woman. The chancellor of the university is the chair of this committee. The Secretariat of Higher Education exercises oversight and is responsible for the quality of graduates from schools at all levels throughout the Libyan educational system. The language of instruction in universities is Arabic.

Tuition: Because of Libya's tremendous oil wealth, education is free. The Libyan government spends between 9,000 and 13,000 LD per year on each university student, but in return they can more rapidly achieve their goal of placing Libyans in all essential jobs.

Foreign Students: Roughly 16 percent of Libyan university students are non-Libyans from other African and Arab nations. Many foreign students are on scholarships offered to them by Libya as a means of spreading its influence, as well as sharing its wealth.

Libraries: The National Archives are located in Tripoli and are the official repository of historical documents for Libya. This unit consists of 5 libraries containing 55,000 books and documents. In addition, the Government Library is also located in Tripoli and has 35,000 books. There is an Agricultural Research Center Library in Tripoli with 6,000 books and 220 periodicals. The National Library of Libya is located in Benghazi, as is the Public Library of Libya, which contains 11,000 books. Qurinna Library and the University of Gar Younis Library are both located in Behghazi. The Gar Younis Library has 294,844 books; 2,360 periodicals; 70,000 documents; and 10,000 microfilms and rare books.

Beyond this, there are libraries on the campuses of Al-Fateh University, Al-Arab University, Bright Star University of Technology, Sebha University, the African Centre for Applied Research and Training in Social Development, the Arts and Crafts School, the Faculty of Engineering, the Higher Institute of Electronics, the Higher Institute of Technology, the National Institute of Administration, and the Post and Telecommunications Institute Library, all of which help to disseminate knowledge and encourage lifelong learning in Libya.

In 1975 Libya published 129 books, but by 1994 this number had dropped to 26. Hardest hit were books in the Social Sciences, which fell from 28 in 1975 to 2 in 1994, and the Pure Sciences where 21 books were published in 1975, but only 2 in 1994. In 1996, Libya had 4 daily newspapers with a daily circulation of 71,000 papers; this means that 16 out of every 1,000 Libyans are reading a daily paper. Many Libyans get their information through radios, of which there were over 1.3 million in 1997, and televisions, of which Libyans had 730,000 in that same year. They share information by talking, as indicated by the fact that there were 380,000 telephones in Libya or 6.8 telephones per 100 inhabitants in 1996 (UNESCO).

Administration, Finance, & Educational Research

Government & Educational Agencies: Like many things in Libya, education is centrally controlled. The Secretariat of Education and Scientific Research regulates all public schools, Islamic schools, special education schools, teacher training institutes, and vocational and technical institutes and colleges, such as the commercial and applied engineering colleges. The Secretariat of Education supervises all examinations for schools under its authority and establishes educational policy as well. These activities are supported by revenue from oil exports. Post secondary school students at universities receive government stipends to help with living expenses.

The country is divided into education zones, and officials in charge of each zone implement government education policy in their area. Libya has 10 muhafadha or education regions. In 1974, Libya spent more on its students than most other nations in the African and Arab world. Approximately 7 percent of Libya's national budget was devoted to education. Libya spent 400 LD on each primary school student in 1980. About 6,000 LD were spent for each student who earned a secondary diploma. In 1986, Libya spent 7.7 percent of its budget on education or 636 million dinar, which was 9.6 percent of its GNP that year. Capital expenditure that same year was 130 million dinar. No information was available on the amount spent on each Libyan student studying abroad or on education research.

Nonformal Education

Adult Education: Libya confronts colonial neglect when it attacks adult education and tries to remedy past abuses. In 1973, 51 percent of the population was illiterate. By 1980, this had fallen to 47.1 percent or 765,000 people, of whom 253,000 or 28.5 percent were male, and 512,000 or 69.4 percent were female. In 2000, this number declined to 20.2 percent, of whom 9.1 percent were male, and 32.4 percent were female (UNESCO). A variety of successful programs have been directed at illiteracy, and as the numbers show, progress has been made.

There are centers for literacy training in each district. Baladiya or centers for literacy training often have vocational and technical programs attached to functional literacy programs. About 7,000 students per year benefit from these programs. The Secretariat of Labor also runs other programs to help upgrade workers. The Secretariats of Commerce and Electricity run programs to upgrade skills in road maintenance, construction, airport management, telecommunications, and public transportation. The Secretariat of Agriculture trains 700 students per year in tractor operation and management, farm machinery, tool use, and maintenance. Worker development programs help the government impart skills and attack illiteracy simultaneously. Government employees are given full pay and release time to encourage personal growth. Programs vary in intensity and last from one month to four years in duration, depending on the goal of the program. The government's goal is to have each worker reach a fourth grade level in reading and math, as well as to develop specific job related skills. Despite great strides, illiteracy is still considered a major problem in Libyan society. Because of the demand for skilled labor, there is great competition for graduates of each program.

Distance Education: Barnamaj Nahw al-Nur and similar television programs attack adult illiteracy by providing the basics of reading and mathematics to adults in a creative and inviting manner. Through such programs remote populations can be reached, which might otherwise be neglected, but the cost per student is very high.

Teaching Profession

Training & Qualifications: A few teachers work in schools set aside for gifted children. The same is true for special education, as some teachers are trained to work with students who are learning disabled or physically handicapped. These children attend special schools.

Most teachers begin training for primary school teaching after completing a five year post-primary or two year postsecondary diploma. Teacher training programs often take four years to complete. Trainees take general education courses, after which they specialize in one of the following areas: mathematics and science, arts, religion, Arabic, physical education, social studies, English, or music education. Graduates receive a general teacher's certificate. Upper level secondary school teachers attend classes at one of Libya's universities and take courses in the Department of Education leading to a bachelor's degree in education. Some secondary school teachers specialize in education in college, but most specialize in history, math, physics, literature, or the subject they teach.

Rapid expansion of the entire educational system since 1970 has forced Libya to dramatically expand teacher training programs in each region. Several new facilities exclusively train women. The government is encouraging women to take up teaching as a profession. In 1978, there were 11,303 female teachers. This number has increased substantially since then, but no firm numbers are available. Despite major efforts to produce as many teachers as they need to staff an expanding system, Libya still lacks enough qualified teachers. In 1980 Libya had 36,591 primary school teachers, and by 1990 this number rose to 85,537 teachers, of whom 47 percent were female. During the same time frame, Libya had 24,323 secondary school teachers, 20 percent of whom were female. The student-teacher ratio for primary school was 18 to 1 and for secondary school it was 12 to 1 for the period under review.

As noted earlier, Libyans are very sensitive to foreigners; they fear foreign domination. In 1977, of 40,480 teachers, 17,545 were non-Libyan. This number has declined as trained Libyans have been produced to fill these positions, but no current data is available to judge the extent of the change. Libya is committed to replacing non-Libyan teachers with Libyan teachers. But, given continued expansion of the entire educational system, it may be years before this goal can be reached. Non-Libyans will continue to make great contributions to Libyan youth at the secondary and university levels.


Qadhafi and the Free Officers Movement ushered in an era of monumental change that created universal education as its goal. Educational opportunities expanded in a very dramatic manner at breathtaking speed. This expansion, while good, occurred so fast that Libya ended up with an educational system of average quality. To its credit, education is free for all. Libyans still look down upon manual labor and trades, thus it remains difficult to recruit students for vocational and technical training. Despite making education free and compulsory, some children do not attend school and instead stay home to help their fathers herd camels and livestock in remote rural areas. Females, especially from ethnic minorities such as the Berbers, are more likely than males to miss school. Many rural families still do not believe that girls need an education and that their role is only to marry and produce strong families. Many feel that what schools teach is irrelevant to what a person needs to succeed in life. Illiteracy still makes it difficult to train some Libyans on the job or for job. Many adults do not want to learn anything beyond their special area of job related interest. Closed minds make it difficult to build an open and modern society. Libya's four universities produce thousands of qualified professionals annually, which brings Libya closer each year to its goal of libyanizing the economy. All things considered Libya has done remarkably well in the field of education when considering where they began in 1951.

Examinations, like most things in Libya, are centrally created and implemented. They have little value in terms of predicting future performance either in school or on a job. Decentralizing planning, implementation, and evaluation of examinations might improve the system in the future and make it more reliable. Regions should be allowed to plan their needs with input from the central government but not with centralized control. This prohibits creative solutions by those teachers closest to the problems who would know best how to remedy them. Central planning tracks students into careers for which they may have aptitude, but no interest. Career counselors in each school could work with students to encourage them to enter fields in which they have a genuine interest. This would reduce academic failure, student apathy, and accelerate the rate at which Libya reaches its goal of filling jobs with Libyan personnel.


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Dallas L. Browne

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Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
Al-Jamahiriyah al-'Arabiyah al-Libiyah ash-Sha'biyah al-Ishtirakiyah



Libya is a North African country, which shares a border with the Mediterranean Sea to the north, Egypt and Sudan to the east, Niger, Chad and Sudan to the south, and Algeria and Tunisia to the west. With 1,759,540 square kilometers of area (679,358 square miles), it is slightly larger than the State of Alaska. The length of its land border and its coastline is 4,383 kilometers (2,723 miles), and 1,770 kilometers (1,099 miles), respectively. With the exception of Sabha, located in the south, all its major citiesincluding the capital city of Tripoliare along its coastline.


Libya's population of roughly 5,115,450 (est. July 2000) has seen an annual growth rate of 3.5 percent since 1975, when it was 2,400,000. With a predicated annual growth rate of 2.1 percent, the population will reach 7,600,000 in 2015. In 2000, the birth and death rates were 27.68 births per 1,000 population, and 3.51 deaths per 1,000 population, respectively.

The Arabic-speaking Berbers and Arabs constitute 97 percent of Libya's population. Greeks, Maltese, Italians, Egyptians, Pakistanis, Turks, Indians, and Tunisians are the significant minority groups.

The Libyan population is relatively young, with 64 percent of the population between the ages of 15 and 64. Only 4 percent of Libyans are over the age of 64. (In contrast, almost 13 percent of the population in the United States is over the age of 64.) In 1998, 86.8 percent of the population was living in urban areas, particularly in Tripoli and Benghazi; this percentage marks a significant growth in urban population since 1975, when it accounted for 60.9 percent of the population. Urban dwellers will constitute roughly 90 percent of the population by 2015.


After about 5 centuries of colonization by the Ottoman Empire, Italy, Britain, and France, Libya became an independent monarchy in 1951. In 1969, Colonel Muammar Qadhafi staged a coup (an internal military uprising against a government) and established a republic. During its first decade, the new regime nationalized all foreign businesses and weakened the private sector through nationalization, confiscation, and "spontaneous" seizures of private factories by workers. The private sector was confined to retail trade, but the shortage of investments in the late 1980s forced the Libyan government to ease laws restricting its activities. Nevertheless, the private sector is still limited to small-scale activities in agriculture, retail trade, and manufacturing. Various legal and practical restrictions have prevented its rapid expansion, including the absence of respect for private property reflected in the periodic arrest of merchants and shopkeepers, and confiscation of their businesses.

Libya has a single-product economy, which survives on exports of hydrocarbons (oil, gas, and their refined products), accounting for 94 percent of exports in 1998. Thanks to these exports, since the 1960s Libya has had trade surpluses and a small foreign debt (US$3.9 billion in 1999) compared to its foreign exchange reserves (US$7.28 billion in 1999). However, the economy is highly vulnerable to fluctuations in oil prices, which directly affect government revenues. The Libyan government has been successful to a great extent in creating an infrastructure , but it has failed to establish viable industry, agriculture, and service sectors. In particular, it has failed to diversify the economy through establishing desired heavy industries. As a result, the Libyan economy is still an oil-based economy.

Internal and external factors have prevented the economic growth of Libya. Inconsistent planning, frequent changes in government economic policies, and the government's weakening of the private sector have been the major internal factors. External factors include periodic low oil prices, which have deprived the Libyan government of financial means needed to implement fully its development plans. In addition, the imposition of American sanctions in the late 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s on Libya for its alleged involvement in terrorism has limited Libya's income and its access to foreign technology and investment. Additionally, the UN-imposed sanctions on Libya in the 1990s over Libya's refusal to hand over for trial 2 Libyan suspects implicated in the 1988 bombing of a Pan American jetliner further worsened its economic situation. Libya's improving relations with Europe following the suspension of UN sanctions in 1999, and high oil prices have eased pressure on its economy as reflected in a jump from a 2 percent growth rate in 1998 to 5.4 percent in 1999, and to an estimated 6.5 percent in 2000.


As explained in his manifesto The Green Book, published in the 1970s, Colonel Qadhafi's ideology has shaped the Libyan political system and economy since 1969. As an "alternative" to capitalism and Marxism , this ideology draws on Arab nationalism and Islam, but its economic program is primarily socialist . Accordingly, the state controls the economy, and the private sector assumes a negligible role. The situation has remained the same despite the relaxation of some restrictions on the private sector.

Libya has a peculiar political system known as the Jamahiriya or the "republic of the masses." In theory, this means that the Libyans rule their country directly through a series of popular entities that function as local governments, which are called Basic People's Congresses (BPCs). Each BPC chooses a secretary to represent it in Libya's highest legislative organ, the General People's Congress (GPC). The GPC chooses "the secretaries of the secretariat," (cabinet ministers) who form the cabinet called the General People's Committee, and also the head of the Committee, who presides over the cabinet as the prime minister.

The system has undergone changes in form, but the theoretical concept of running the country through popular entities has been kept. In 1992, Colonel Qadhafi divided Libya into 1,500 mahallat (communes or neighborhoods) and granted each of them its own budget as well as executive and legislative powers. As part of his decentralization policy, in 2000 he transferred most central government executive functions excluding its defense, trade, social security, health, education, and infrastructure to 26 municipal councils represented in the GPC.

Having the title of "Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution," Colonel Qadhafi does not hold any official government position. Theoretically, he has no power and defers to the GPC. However, in practice, the GPC is a rubber stamp for the colonel, who appoints all influential figures and ensures the docility of all security and political organs through the revolutionary committees (associations of pro-Qadhafi young men led by the colonel's appointees). They function as a political police force with the power of arrest and summary execution, although their power has been curtailed to some extent since the late 1980s to appease the growing popular dissatisfaction with their abuses. Since mid-1996, the newly formed "purification committees" have also operated on Colonel Qadhafi's behalf to combat corruption and black-market activities. In short, Libya is run by Qadhafi and a small circle of his close allies.

There is no legal opposition group inside the country with an alternative economic view or with any impact on the economy whatsoever. The government has suppressed various secular and religious political groups and turned them into ineffective political forces based mainly in exile. They include the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, the Militant Islamic Group, and the Libyan Martyrs' Movement.

Fossil-energy exports have been the major contributor to government revenues since the 1960s, accounting for more than 70 percent of these revenues. The Libyan government has failed to reduce its heavy reliance on such exports by increasing its revenue from taxes due to the limited tax base and insignificant private sector activities. In absence of such activities, salaried government employees are the main tax payers, although they make little income that can be taxed. Heavy dependency on energy exports affects government revenues, since world oil prices tend to fluctuate. Due to this vulnerability on energy prices, the Libyan government makes every effort to balance its budgets and avoid deficit spending. While accurate budget figures are difficult to obtain from a relatively closed society, it is estimated that in 1999, government revenues roughly equaled expenditures of US$10.88 billion, of which the share of exports was over US$7 billion.


Libya has a good infrastructure thanks to its development projects since the 1970s. Its fossil-fuel generators produced electricity at the rate of 16.92 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) in 1998, which was well above consumption (15.736 billion kWh in 1998). There are large-scale plans for their expansionwhich will prepare Libya for increasing consumptionvalued at about US$6 billion.

Libya's land communication system is confined to an extensive road network estimated at 83,200 kilometers (51,700 miles) in 1996 of which 47,590 kilometers (29,572 miles) are paved. They provide adequate access to most of its major rural and urban areas. There is no train service, but there are plans for building north-south and east-west railway lines.

Country Newspapers Radios TV Sets a Cable subscribers a Mobile Phones a Fax Machines a Personal Computers a Internet Hosts b Internet Users b
1996 1997 1998 1998 1998 1998 1998 1999 1999
Libya 14 233 126 0.0 3 N/A N/A 0.00 7
United States 215 2,146 847 244.3 256 78.4 458.6 1,508.77 74,100
Egypt 40 324 122 N/A 1 0.5 9.1 0.28 200
Algeria 38 241 105 0.0 1 0.2 4.2 0.01 20
aData are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.
bData are from the Internet Software Consortium ( and are per 10,000 people.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

Sea and air connections are facilitated through several ports and airports. Major ports include Tripoli, Benghazi, Marsa el-Brega, Minsurat and El-Sider (Sidra), and 3 new ports are under construction. There are also 5 major oil terminals at Zuetina, Ras Lanuf, Marsa el-Hariga, Marsa el-Brega, and El-Sider. Libya has 59 airports with paved runways and 83 with unpaved runways. UN sanctions stopped international flights to and from Libya, and lack of spare parts caused by other sanctions grounded about 80 percent of its civilian air fleet in the 1990s. The 1999 suspension of UN sanctions paved the way for the resumption of international flights and for purchasing new aircraft and modernizing the airports.

The state-owned General Post and Telecommunications Company (GPTC) dominates the Libyan telecommunications system. It provides fixed telephone services; a private company (El Mada) in which the GPTC has a 20 percent stake provides cellular telephone services. There are at least 318,000 fixed telephone lines (1995 est.) and 20,000 cellular telephones (2000 est.) in use.

All Libyan radio and television programs are state-run. There were 24 AM, FM and short wave radio programs, and 12 television programs in the late 1990s, but many people in urban areas had access to satellite television programs. There were also 1.35 million radios and 730,000 televisions in use. Internet access is provided by the GPTC.


After a decade of growth in the 1970s, the state-dominated Libyan economy has suffered from over 2 decades of sanctions. Additionally, the practical exclusion of the private sector from major economic activities has limited the growth and diversification of the 3 economic sectors. Agriculture is the smallest sector with limited farming activities and underdeveloped fisheries; it is unable to feed the population. Industry is the largest sector, almost exclusively because of the large hydrocarbon industry. Oil exports make industry the largest contributor to the economy, and fluctuations in oil prices expand and contract both the sector and the entire economy. The service sector is not underdeveloped, but lacks viable tourist and retail industries. Financial services and transportation, however, make service a significant part of the economy.


Libya has sought to expand its agriculture since the early 1970s. Its success in this regard has been limited despite heavy investments that equaled 30 percent of government expenditures in the 1970s. For example, production of cereals in 1998 (207,000 metric tons) met only 15 percent of the country's needs. Therefore, Libya has remained dependent on large agricultural imports, estimated at about 75 percent of its annual needs.

Libyan agriculture is a small contributor to the work-force (about 17 percent), and to GDP (about 5.6 percent in 1997). Major barriers to its growth are limited arable land (1.7 percent of Libya's area) and water resources, over-use of arable land and fertilizers, and a shortage of labor. Apart from a limited production of barley and wheat, major agricultural products are mostly fruits and vegetables such as dates, almonds, grapes, citrus fruits, watermelon, olives, and tomatoes, which constitute about 80 percent of annual agricultural production. Agricultural activities take place mainly along the coastline. Inland farming is very limited because of water shortages. Rapid urbanization has resulted in a severe shortage of agricultural workers, forcing Libya to rely on foreign farm laborers.

Libya's animal husbandry has suffered from the sanctions, limiting imports of animal feed on which it depends heavily. For example, the production of beef and veal dropped from 22,100 metric tons in 1994 to 2,100 metric tons in 1998.

The low annual catch (34,500 metric tons in 1997) demonstrates the underdeveloped nature of Libya's fisheries, despite the richness of its waters in exportable fish (e.g., tuna and sardines). Low investments in fishing boats, ports, and processing facilities are major obstacles to its growth. The country has 1 major fishing port (Zlitan), 1 tuna plant, and 2 sardine factories with small processing capacities (1,000 metric tons per year each). Libya is planning to build 24 fishing ports in addition to the one under construction at Marsa Zuaga.


While its share of GDP is only 52.8 percent (est. 1994), industry is by far the most important segment of Libya's economy, since it encompasses the oil industry, which is vital to the country's economic survival.


As the main export item, oil dominates Libya's mining industry. Estimated at 29.5 billion barrels in 1998, Libya's oil reserves ensure exports until 2053 at the 1999 export level of 1,137,000 barrels per day (b/d). The Libyan government owns 5 oil refineries in Libya as well as a network of oil refineries in Italy, Switzerland, and Germany in partnership with European oil companies.

Libya's oil production has decreased significantly since the 1970s. In 1975, the Libyans reduced their production from 3.32 million b/d to 1.48 million b/d, for fear of drying up their resources. Managerial problems, OPEC quotas, and sanction-created shortages of spare parts and investments have further lowered production. Sanctions have also resulted in a decrease or stoppage in production of certain oil products (e.g., gasoline), which then had to be imported. American sanctions are still in force, but the 1999 suspension of UN sanctions opened the way for Europe's involvement in Libya's oil industry.


With estimated gas reserves of 1.5 trillion cubic meters, Libya is also rich in natural gas, but most of its reserves are undeveloped. The Libyan government has tried to develop them to increase the life of its oil reserves by replacing oil with gas for domestic consumption, and also to increase its gas exports. Development projects include 2 gas pipelines to connect 4 new gas-powered electricity generators to the national grid, and a US$5.5 billion project with Italy for the development of onshore and offshore gas reserves and the construction of an undersea pipeline to export gas to Italy. On average, 20 to 25 percent of annual gas production (6.4 billion cubic meters in 1998) is exported mainly to Italy and Spain.

Iron ore and salt are other major resources that play a role in Libya's economy. The iron ore resources are estimated at 700 million metric tons and are located in southern Libya far from its iron and steel complex. Their development has been delayed due to the absence of financing for building the required rail link. Libya's salt mineslocated mainly around Tripoli and Benghaziproduce 30,000 metric tons annually. There is also a limited extraction of construction materials (e.g., limestone, clay, and stone).


Libya's manufacturing industry is not well-developed. Ambitious projects in heavy industries (e.g., aluminum and fertilizer complexes) have been partially realized at best, as various sanctions have limited funds, denied foreign investments, and severely restricted transfer of technology and sale of required equipment. Manufacturing establishments suffer from a shortage of spare parts and poor maintenance, which lower their production. The current share of this industry of GDP must be well below its 1994 share of about 10 percent.

Besides a few joint ventures (mainly with Italy), most manufacturing establishments are Libyan. They are mostly small- and medium-sized factories producing light and consumer goods (e.g., foodstuffs, wood, paper, textiles, and VCRs). The limited heavy industries include an iron and steel complex, a petrochemical complex, and a pharmaceuticals plant. Libya produces about 3,000 cars a year, and assembles trucks in joint venture with Italy. The manufacturing products are far short of domestic demand, making Libya very dependent on imports.


Thanks to extensive hydrocarbon supplies and water projects, construction is a major industry. Two long-term major projects are the construction of the Great Man-Made River to transfer water from Libya's southern water resources to its major urban and farming areas in the north. It has received an average of 10 percent of government annual expenditures since 1984. Another project is a large gas development and pipeline construction with Italy. There have been modernization projects in major cities including Tripoli since the suspension of UN sanctions.


Services form a growing economic sector, which accounted for about 40 percent of GDP in 1994. Given the suspension of the UN air embargo against Libya in 1999, the expected growth in tourism in the first decade of the 21st century should strengthen the role of this sector in the Libyan economy.


The Libyan government controls the financial system, including banking, insurance, and investment activities. In 1970, it nationalized all financial institutions, but economic problems forced it to allow the operation of private banks in 1993. With one exception in Misurata, no private bank has been established yet. Nor is there any foreign bank, excluding the Arab Banking Corporation, a Baharini bank partly owned by Libya. The banking system consists of the Central Bank of Libya and 8 major banks: the Agriculture Bank, the Jamahiriya Bank, the National Commercial Bank, the Savings and Real Estate Investment Bank, the Umma Bank, the Wahda bank, the Sahara Bank, and the Libyan Arab Foreign Bank. The last 2 are among the top 1,000 banks of the world. State-run companies provide insurance and business services. The Libyan finance ministry conducts foreign investments through the Libyan Arab Foreign Investment Company, which has invested US$500 million in 45 countries.


Libya has an underdeveloped tourist industry, although it has the potential to grow. As a Mediterranean country with long warm beaches and historic sites, Libya could attract many Europeans who currently vacation on the inexpensive warm coastlines of Libya's North African neighbors Egypt and Tunisia. The industry, however, lacks an adequate infrastructure such as hotels. Furthermore, the sanction-related fall of tourism has turned many Libyan beaches into garbage dumps. Anticipating an upsurge in the tourist trade in the wake of the lifting of UN sanctions, a tourist center, including a large hotel and entertainment facilities, is being built in Tripoli.


The Libyan transportation industry is significant, but has suffered a great deal from sanctions. Its merchant fleet consists of 27 vessels and is oriented towards oil and gas exports. Libya's civilian air fleet, under-utilized from the sanctions, will be expanded by the purchase of 24 Airbuses as part of a government plan announced in 2000.


Libya's international trade has been characterized by a positive balance since the 1960s. One estimate put its 1999 balance as US$7.01 billion in exports, and US$4.21 billion in imports, creating a trade surplus of US$2.79 billion, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit. Oil and gas and their refined products accounted for about 95 percent of Libya's exports in 1999. Its major imports are food, capital goods , transport equipment, and iron and steel products.

Libya has reduced its trade with the ex-socialist countries since 1991, while expanding trade with North African and Western countries. The suspension of UN sanctions removed barriers to trade with most Western countries. Italy, Germany, Spain, Turkey, France, Sudan, the UK, and Tunisia have been the major destinations of exports for Libya since 1990. With 40.1 percent, 17.8 percent, and 11.3 percent share of exports, the first 3 countries were the largest destinations in 1998. In that year, Italy, Germany, the UK, France, Tunisia, Belgium, Luxembourg, Spain, and Japan were the major exporters to Libya. The first 3 were the largest exporters in 1998 with 22.9 percent, 12.2 percent, and 9.1 percent share of exports, respectively.

Trade (expressed in billions of US$): Libya
Exports Imports
1975 6.834 3.542
1980 21.910 6.777
1985 10.929 4.101
1990 13.225 5.336
1995 N/A N/A
1998 N/A N/A
SOURCE: International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.


To ensure the stability of its currency, the Libyan government pegged the Libyan dinar (LD) to the U.S. dollar at a fixed exchange rate in 1973. In 1986 it switched to a new system: pegging the dinar to an SDR (special drawing right) at a fixed rate. The SDR is an artificial "basket" of 5 currencies selected and used by the International Monetary Fund for internal accounting purposes. The SDR method allows greater flexibility in stabilizing the value of the dinar as world economic conditions change.

There is a significant difference between official exchange rates and those of the black market. In 1996, the black market rate for the U.S. dollar was 10 times as much as the official one. The government has sought to narrow the gap between the 2 rates by selling dollars to push the black market rate down. This policy showed some success in 1999 when that rate dropped to 3 times the official rate (LD 0.45 = US$1).

There are currency restrictions for Libyans and foreigners. Libyans travelling abroad may purchase a certain amount of currency (about US$6,000 in 2000) while foreigners entering Libya have to declare their currencies and leave the country with no more than the declared amount.

In absence of reliable statistics on fluctuations of price changes, it is difficult to determine inflation rates in Libya. The existing rates for the second half of the 1990s are therefore estimates. The inflation rate was estimated at 18 percent in 1999, a significant decrease from the average annual rate of 28.5 percent for the period 1995 to 1998. A major reason for such high rates is the heavy government subsidies for domestic foodstuffs, which it has kept despite their huge cost for an economy heavily dependent on large food imports. Scarcity of many consumer goods provoked rising prices, which further worsened inflation . Economic sanctions, with their limiting effects on trade, and the closure of many retail stores in the second half of the 1990s as part of a government crackdown on the black market, were 2 major

Exchange rates: Libya
Libyan dinars (LD) per US$1
Jan 2001 0.5101
2000 0.5081
1999 0.4616
1998 0.3785
1997 0.3891
1996 0.3651
Note: Libya currently has two rates for foreign trade; one for government operations and foreign companies and one for Libyan individuals (0.45 dinars per US dollar in December 1998).
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].

contributing factors. The suspension of UN sanctions in 1999 improved the availability of consumer goods and paved the way for a higher oil-and natural gas-generated income as European oil companies began to return to Libya. These factors, and lower spending by the Libyan government, helped reduce the inflation rate to 18 percent in 1999. Various government subsidies (e.g., free education and medical services and low-priced foodstuffs) helped the Libyans cope with the impact of Libya's high inflation rates without a sharp decline in their living standards.


The living standards of Libyans have improved significantly since the 1970s, ranking the country among the highest in Africa. Urbanization, developmental projects, and high oil revenues have enabled the Libyan government to elevate its people's living standards. The social and economic status of women and children has particularly improved. Various subsidized or free services (health, education, housing, and basic foodstuffs) have ensured basic necessities. The low percentage of people without access to safe water (3 percent), health services (0 percent) and sanitation (2 percent), and a relatively high life expectancy (70.2 years) in 1998 indicate the improved living standards. Adequate health care and subsidized foodstuffs have sharply reduced infant mortality, from 105 per 1,000 live births in 1970 to 20 per 1,000 live births in 1998. The government also subsidizes education, which is compulsory and free between the ages of 6 and 15. The expansion of educational facilities has elevated the literacy rate (78.1 in 1998). There are universities in Tripoli, Benghazi, Marsa el-Brega, Misurata, Sebha, and Tobruq. Despite its successes, the educational system has failed to train adequate numbers of professionals, resulting in Libya's dependency on foreign teachers, doctors, and scientists.

Many direct and indirect subsidies and free services have helped raise the economic status of low-income families, a policy which has prevented extreme poverty. As part of its socialist model of economic development,

GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000
Libya N/A 6,700 6,700 7,900 8,900
United States 28,600 30,200 31,500 33,900 36,200
Egypt 2,900 4,400 2,850 3,000 3,600
Algeria 4,000 4,000 4,600 4,700 5,500
Note: Data are estimates.
SOURCE: Handbook of the Nations, 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th editions for 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999 data; CIA World Factbook 2001 [Online] for 2000 data.

the Libyan government has weakened the private sector and confined it to mainly small-scale businesses. While this policy has damaged the Libyan economy significantly, it has also prevented the accumulation of wealth by a small percentage of the population. While the ruling elite (i.e., top civil servants, military officers, and politicians), enjoys much higher living standards compared to average Libyans, and corruption exists within its ranks, Libya is not a highly polarized society divided between extremes of wealth and poverty.


The Libyan labor law provides for wages and pensions, but prohibits independent trade unions. The government-created National Trade Unions' Federation is the only legal workers' organization. The labor law does not provide for the right to strike, but Qadhafi has confirmed its existence. Collective bargaining is not allowed, since the government must approve all labor agreements. The minimum age of labor is 18, the maximum work week is 48 hours, and the average monthly wage is roughly 270 dinars. At the official exchange rate, this works out to roughly US$750 a month, but is only US$100 at the unofficial (and more realistic) rate. The labor law provides for the equality of women with men, but traditional social restrictions on women's activities outside the home limit the practical effects of the law, and therefore create barriers to full participation of women in the workforce. Foreign workers may be denied rights provided for Libyan workers, and there are restrictions on their repatriation of income.

Libya's workforce is about 1.2 million strong as estimated in 1997. There are also 1 to 2 million foreign workers. The majority of the workforce are government employees. Unemployment was estimated at about 30 percent in 2000. The high unemployment rate is the result of years of sanctions as well as Qadhafi's efforts at preventing the emergence of a viable and growing private sector. Sanctions have been particularly effective in harming Libya's oil and gas exports, thus constraining economic security for many Libyans who directly or indirectly rely on these industries. Large infrastructure projects, financed by the government, also depend on export revenues. Thus, a decline in the activities of the oil and gas industries and large governmental projects has reduced employment opportunities, resulting in a large unemployment rate. This situation will likely change in the near future. In the aftermath of the 1999 suspension of UN sanctions, the growing interest of the European oil companies in the Libyan energy industry will increase its exports, which in turn will generate funds to be invested in the expansion of the industry and also in many other government projects. In short, the revival of the energy industry will surely help reduce unemployment in Libya.


643. The Arabs invade Libya and rule over it until the 1500s when the Ottoman Empire conquers it.

1911. Italy replaces the Ottoman Empire as the colonizer of Libya.

1945. Libya is divided between Britain and France at the end of World War II.

1951. Libya becomes independent, and King Idris establishes a monarchy.

1959. The first commercially viable oilfield is discovered at Zelten.

1960s. Libya emerges as a major oil-producing country.

1969. Colonel Muammar Qadhafi stages a coup and overthrows the monarchy.

1977. Libya was renamed as the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. Inspired by Colonel Qadhafi, workers assume control of the private manufacturing sector.

1978. The United States imposes sanctions on Libya for its alleged state terrorism.

1982. The USA bans Libyan crude oil imports.

1992. The United Nations imposes sanctions on Libya for its refusal to hand over suspects implicated in the 1988 bombing of a Pan American airliner.

1993. UN sanctions expand to freeze Libyan financial assets abroad.

1996. The United States imposes secondary sanctions, the "Iran and Libya Sanctions Act," targeting non-American companies wishing to invest more than US$40 million a year in the Iranian and Libyan oil industries.

1999. UN sanctions are suspended as Libya, the United Kingdom, and the United States agree on the trial of the 2 suspects in the Netherlands.


The suspension of UN sanctions in 1999 has paved the way for large foreign investments in the Libyan hydrocarbon industries, a necessity for its full operation, expansion, and modernization. The Italian oil companies have been eager to embark on major projects in Libya. Libya will likely further expand its economic ties with European countries in energy and non-energy areas, while American sanctions will exclude American businesses, including oil companies, from investment in that country. The expansion of the Libyan private sector will likely gain momentum, since the liberalization of Libya's centralized economy is a necessity for its development and diversification. In the absence of any significant opposition, there is no serious challenge to the Libyan political system and the authority of Colonel Qadhafi. For the foreseeable future, the Libyan political system led by Colonel Qadhafi will likely remain stable.


Libya has no territories or colonies.


Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). Country Risk Service Libya. London: EIU, 16 January 2001.

EIU. Country Profile: Libya, 2000-01. London: EIU, 2000.

EIU. Country Report: Libya. London: EIU, December 2000.

EIU. Country Report: Libya. London: EIU, February 2001.

Economic Research Institute. "LibyaCompensation and BenefitLegislation." Accessed June, 2001.

Gurney, Judith. Libya: The Political Economy of Oil. Oxford:Oxford University Press, 1996.

United Nations Development Program. Human Development Report 2000. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

United States Central Intelligence Agency. "The World Factbook 2000: Libya." Accessed January 2001.

United States Department of State. "1999 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices-Libya." Accessed January 2001.

Dr.Hooman Peimani




Libyan dinar (LD). One Libyan dinar equals 1,000 dirhams. Coins come in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 dirhams. Paper currency comes in denominations of .25, .50, 1, 5, and 10 dinars.


Crude oil, refined petroleum products, and natural gas.


Machinery, transport equipment, food, and manufactured goods.


US$39.3 billion (purchasing power parity, 1999 est.).


Exports: US$6.6 billion (1998 est.). Imports: US$7 billion (1998 est.).

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Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya

Major Cities:
Tripoli, Benghazi, Misratah

Other Cities:
Darnah, Ghadamis, Marsa-el Brega, Tobruk


The north African nation of LIBYA was created from the former Turkish and Italian colonial provinces of Tripolitania, Cyrenaica, and Fezzan. Libya was a poor nation until the discovery of oil in the late 1950s brought new wealth and prosperity. Since the ascension to power of Col. Muammar Qadhafi in 1969, Libya has adopted a foreign policy that stresses a strong commitment to Arab unity, a willingness to use oil as a political weapon, and warfare with Israel. Moreover, the Libyans have been accused of sponsoring and offering training facilities for international terrorist groups. Because of its radical policies, Libya has been labeled a renegade nation and treated as an outcast by most of the world community.



Tripoli is Libya's capital, largest city, and primary seaport. Situated in an oasis between the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara Desert, Tripoli is a clean city divided into old and new quarters. The old city consists of narrow streets with small houses of Turkish-Arab design. Wide avenues lined with modern multi-story apartments, villas, and office buildings characterize conditions in the new city. The center of the town consists of a large square, Maidan Ashukada, from which Tripoli's main thoroughfares fan out in all directions. In the last few decades, Tripoli has grown from a sleepy Arab town into a major urban metropolis. In 2000, Tripoli had an estimated population of 2.4 million.

Because Tripoli is located in an oasis, agriculture is possible. Olives, citrus fruit, tobacco, vegetables, and grains are grown near Tripoli. The city is also home to several industries, among them a tanning factory, oil depot, and a gas-bottling plant. Tripoli has an international airport and is linked by road to the Libyan city of Benghazi and Cairo in Egypt.


The Martyrs School (formerly Oil Companies School) is located three miles west of Tripoli. The school was originally designed to meet the educational needs of the major oil companies in Tripoli. However, in recent years, the school has been opened to expatriates not affiliated with the oil industry. The school was founded in 1958 and offers an American-style, coeducational education from pre-kindergarten to tenth grade. Arabic and French are taught as foreign languages.

Situated on a five-acre campus, the Martyrs School consists of 11 buildings, 47 classrooms, a 14,000 volume library, 2 science labs, a computer lab, auditorium, infirmary, gymnasium, and tennis courts. Students are grouped according to their abilities, with an accelerated study program available for gifted students. The school year lasts from September to June.

In addition to its traditional curriculum, the Martyrs School offers an extracurricular program that includes gymnastics, computers, yearbook, school newspaper, field trips, drama, student council, soccer, tennis, floor hockey, basketball, softball, volleyball, and numerous social clubs. The school's mailing address is P.O. Box 860, Tripoli, S.P.L.A.J. (Libya).


Viewing popular dances and shopping for traditional handicrafts are among the entertainment opportunities available in Tripoli. The National Folklore Group and the Libyan Arab Folklore Group often perform traditional dances in Tripoli. Tripoli is the home of the Islamic Artistic and Professional School, where artisans learn and perfect their craft. The school's location in Tripoli ensures that visitors have ample opportunities to view and purchase handmade carpets, pottery and ceramics, textiles, metal and leather handicrafts, and products fashioned from palm tree fibers.


Tripoli has several mosques, museums, and monuments that are often toured by visitors. The Karamanli Mosque (also known as Jama ' Ahmed Pasha) is situated in the old quarter of Tripoli. It exhibits a Moorish-style architecture with a line of columns supporting arches, and a roof of domes from which springs a minaret commanding a view of Tripoli. The entrances to the mosque are carved with Arabic inscriptions which praise the mosque's founder, Ahmed Pasha Karamanli. The interior walls of the mosque are covered with blue, green, and yellow Arabic tiles arranged in geometric designs. Scripture writings also adorn the walls. Members of the Karamanli family are buried in the mosque's courtyard.

The Gurgi Mosque is considered one of the most beautiful buildings in Tripoli. Built in 1833 by a Tripoli merchant, the mosque is situated on a hill overlooking the old city. The mosque has two balconies and one of the highest minarets in Tripoli, which offers spectacular views of the city. The Mosque of the An-Naga is one of the oldest in Tripoli. Destroyed by fire in 1510, it was rebuilt in 1611. Although the building is simple and without adornments, it is worth visiting.

Tripoli has several interesting monuments, among them the Arch of Marcus Aurelius. Erected in 164 A.D., this monument has been used for various purposes throughout history. Its ornaments and inscriptions are beautiful and well-pre-served. The most outstanding monument in Tripoli is the Castle. It has witnessed all the historical events of Tripoli during the last five hundred years. Heavily damaged during a Turkish invasion in 1551, the Turks captured and rebuilt it. For centuries, the Castle served as the seat of Turkish colonial government. In the 18th century, the building served as the residence and seat of government of the ruling Karamanli family. Several previously unknown areas of the Castle were unearthed in recent years during an excavation. Beautiful gardens, courtyards, and marble fountains make the Castle a favorite stop for visitors. The Castle currently houses the Museums of Ethnography and Natural History.

The Libyan Museum of Natural History provides visitors with a picture of the country's natural history resources. Three halls contain the bird collection, with sea and wading birds displayed in their natural habitats. The Sea Life Hall offers excellent examples of the sponges and coral found off Libya's Mediterranean coast. A Reptile and Amphibian Hall contains examples of turtles, lizards, and snakes indigenous to Libya. An impressive relief map illustrating the geological structure of the country is located in the Geology Hall. Visitors are also welcome at the Archaeological Museum. This museum contains a wide collection of antiquities from ancient times to the present day. It is divided into various sections, according to the ages of antiquity. Among the noteworthy exhibits are a collection of tomb plates dating from the 9th and 10th centuries.


Libya's second largest city, Benghazi, is located on the northeastern coast. Benghazi is built near the site of the ancient city of Hesperides, which was founded by the Greeks around 500 B.C. In 247 B.C., the city was inhabited by the Egyptians and renamed Berenice in honor of Pharaoh Ptolemy III. Around the 3rd century A.D., the Vandals destroyed the city. Benghazi was rebuilt but remained a small town until it was extensively developed by the Italians. During World War II, the city sustained heavy damage after a series of battles were fought for control of Benghazi. The city was finally captured and controlled by the British in late 1942.

Today, Benghazi is a bustling administrative, commercial, and educational center of 1.5 million people (2000 estimate). Like Tripoli, the city consists of two distinct districts. The old city is comprised of clusters of small homes divided by narrow, winding streets. In contrast, new parts of the city offer modern buildings, wide thoroughfares, and public gardens. Benghazi is home to several government ministries. The city's major industries are salt processing, food processing, tanning, brewing, and oil refining. Among Benghazi's major educational centers are the Ghar Younis University and the Benghazi Institute, which serves as a major training center for technicians working in the medical field. Transportation to Benghazi is possible via Benina International Airport, located 20 miles (32 kilometers) east of the city, or by a modern highway system linking Benghazi with other cities along the Libyan coast.


Recreational activities in Benghazi are somewhat limited. Many visitors enjoy the city's beautiful bathing beaches, especially those in the Guliana section of Benghazi. Shopping is also possible on Omar Mukhtar Street, the city's main shopping district, or at Suk ad Dalam, a picturesque oriental gallery-market. Handmade wool carpets with beautiful mosaic designs are a popular item among shoppers. Visitors often tour the Roman Catholic cathedral, one of Benghazi's most impressive buildings.


Located in northwestern Libya, Misratah (Misurata) is a bustling commercial and administrative center. Like Tripoli and Benghazi, Misratah has two distinct sections. Old Misratah consists of small houses and narrow, arched streets while new areas of the city exhibit modern buildings, tree-lined avenues, and public gardens. Misratah is home to several industries, among them are textiles, hardware, oil refineries, and steel works. A new steel plant was opened in the city in 1990. Due to irrigation, dates, citrus fruits, wheat, and barley are grown near Misratah. A coastal highway links Misratah with Libya's other major cities and Misratah Airport is an important hub for domestic flights. Misratah is served by modern hospitals, colleges, and teaching institutes. The city has an estimated population of 300,000.


The city of DARNAH (also spelled DERNA ) is located east of Benghazi. Founded in the 15th century on the site of an ancient Greek colony, Darnah today is a modern city of whitewashed homes and palm gardens. It has a small manufacturing base with a garment factory serving as an important employer. Several varieties of fruits and vegetables are grown in oases located near the city. These products are exported through Darnah's small port, which is in the process of being reconstructed. The city is a popular winter resort with an estimated population of 37,000.

GHADAMIS is a city situated in northwestern Libya near the Algerian and Tunisian borders. The city, with its covered streets and whitewashed houses, is in an oasis surrounded by a large wall. Within these walls, various ethnic groups are represented. Fruits, vegetables, grains, and dates are grown in Ghadamis and are an important source of income. The city, known for the warm hospitality of its people, is often visited by tourists. Visitors flock to the city's souk or market to buy local products and a comfortable hotel provides tourists with pleasant accommodations. Ghadamis is accessible by air, through organized excursions, or by a paved road.

The small city of MARSA-EL BREGA is the site of Libya's first oil pipeline, which opened in 1961. A refinery and natural-gas liquification plant are also located here. Marsa el-Brega is Libya's major petrochemical center. In 1977, an ammonia-processing plant was opened in the city.

TOBRUK is a very important city because it is Libya's only natural harbor and port. Tobruk was occupied by the Italians during the early twentieth century, where they created a powerful military and air base. During World War II, the city was the scene of several major battles and was virtually destroyed. Tobruk was rebuilt after the war and became the site of a major oil terminal, Marsa el-Hariga. This terminal is linked by pipeline with a large oil field 320 miles (515 kilometers) south of Tobruk. The city's population is estimated at 34,200.


Geography and Climate

Libya is a large country situated on the Mediterranean coast of North Africa. It occupies an area of approximately 679,359 square miles, slightly larger than Alaska. Libya is bordered on the north by the Mediterranean Sea, on the south by Chad and Niger, on the east by Egypt and Sudan, and on the west by Algeria and Tunisia. Approximately 92 percent of the country consists of barren desert. The narrow strip of land along Libya's Mediterranean coast is more fertile, however. The coastal region has a temperate climate, with mild winters and hot, dry summers. Almost all of Libya's major cities are located along the Mediterranean seacoast.

Because there are no rivers and rainfall is very scarce, Libya suffers from severe water shortages. In an attempt to alleviate this problem, the Libyan government has embarked on a massive irrigation project. This project, called the "Great Man-made River", involves the construction of a series of pipelines that will carry water from huge underground wells in southern Libya to major coastal cities. When completed, it is designed to irrigate approximately 185,000 acres of land and would be the largest irrigation system in the world. The project was started in 1984 and is scheduled to be completed in several years.


The estimated population of Libya is over five million. Approximately 97 percent of the population are Berbers and Arabs. Small minorities of Greeks, Italians, Egyptians, Turks, Maltese, Tunisians, Indians and Pakistanis also live in Libya. Two-thirds of the population live in coastal regions with half of these residing in the city of Tripoli.

A vast majority of Libyans speak Arabic. However, Italian, French, Berber and English are also spoken.

Islam is the official religion of Libya. Roughly 97 percent of the population are Sunni Muslims. The Coptic Orthodox, Anglican and Roman Catholic churches are also represented. The Libyan constitution guarantees the freedom of religion.


Throughout its history, Libya has been conquered and settled by various foreign powers. Phoenician sailors visited Libya around 1000 B.C. to trade with native African peoples. They eventually established permanent trading centers, Carthage and Tripoli, on the western coast of Libya. By 517 B.C., Carthage had become a large, prosperous city. This prosperity continued for several centuries until the Phoenicians fought a series of wars with the Romans. The Romans eventually invaded and destroyed Carthage and conquered Libya's western coast.

The eastern coast of Libya was colonized by the ancient Greeks. They founded the city of Cyrene around 630 B.C. and, over time, it became a powerful and wealthy city. In 323 B.C., Cyrene and all of eastern Libya was conquered by the Ptolemies. The Ptolemies, an Egyptian tribe, governed eastern Libya until 96 B.C. In that year Apion, the last Ptolemic ruler, surrendered control of eastern Libya to the Romans.

Libya enjoyed several centuries of prosperity under Roman rule. By the middle of the fourth century A.D., however, the Roman Empire was rapidly deteriorating. Libya again became a tempting target for foreign invaders. In 431 A.D., a Germanic tribe known as the Vandals invaded Libya and drove out the Romans. The Vandals controlled Libya until 642 A.D., when Arab armies overran the country. The Arab conquest had profound and lasting effects on Libya. Libyans embraced the Arab's culture and Muslim faith. From 642 A.D. to 1517, the Arabs maintained control of Libya.

In 1517, Libya entered a new period of turmoil. The Ottoman Turks invaded Libya, defeated the Arabs, and seized control of the country. The Turks ruled Libya until 1911, and the entire period was marked by oppression, corruption, and bloody revolts. On September 29, 1911, Italy declared war on Turkey after a series of disputes between the two countries. Italy attacked and invaded Libya. After a brief but bloody war, the Turks surrendered and withdrew from Libya in 1912.

Beginning in the early 1920's, Italy embarked on several programs to develop Libya. The Italian government encouraged many of its citizens to emigrate to Libya and establish permanent settlements. They enlarged and modernized Libya's coastal cities, planted trees, dug wells, and created an extensive roadway system. In 1939, Italy formally incorporated Libya as its colony.

During World War II, Libya was the scene of several battles between Britain and a combined force of Italian and German troops. In early 1943, the Italians and Germans were defeated and driven from Libya. The country was divided into three occupation zones. Britain controlled the western and eastern provinces of Libya. The French were allowed to administer Libya's southern provinces. Following the completion of World War II, Italy signed a peace treaty in which it relinquished all claims to Libya.

In 1949, the United Nations passed a resolution stating that Libya should become an independent nation. After a series of lengthy negotiations, the Kingdom of Libya was declared on December 24, 1951. King Idris I, a man who led Libyan resistance to Italian occupation, was selected as the new leader. In 1959, significant oil deposits were discovered. Libya began exporting oil in 1961. The discovery of oil was a significant event in Libyan history. Money from petroleum sales helped to bring economic prosperity to what had been one of the world's poorest nations.

On September 1, 1969, King Idris was overthrown by a group of military officers. This group, led by Col. Muammar Qadhafi, established the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC). The RCC banned the monarchy and ordered all Italian citizens in Libya to leave the country. The government ordered all foreign-run libraries and cultural centers to close, citing that they promoted anti-Islamic ideals.

During the 1970's, Col. Qadhafi's government pursued a radical foreign policy that promoted violent revolution. Libya provided weapons to revolutionary groups in neighboring Egypt and Sudan and supported terrorist organizations throughout the world. In July 1977, Libya and Egypt fought a short land and air war along their common border. Libya's southern neighbor, Chad, was invaded by Libyan forces in 1979. The Libyans seized the Aouzou Strip, an area of mineral-rich land that both countries claimed as their own. Libyan troops eventually withdrew from Chad in November 1981, but returned a few years later. They were finally driven out by Chadian troops in 1987.

Relations between Col. Qadhafi and the United States government are extremely tense and hostile. The United States has repeatedly accused Libya of masterminding international terrorist attacks, a charge the Libyans have vigorously denied. In 1981, Libya and the United States broke diplomatic relations. On August 2nd of that year, two Libyan jets were shot down over the Gulf of Sidra by U.S. Navy planes. The U.S. Navy was conducting exercises in the Gulf of Sidra which Libya has claimed as its territory.

In early 1986, the United States ordered all Americans living in Libya to leave the country and imposed economic sanctions. In April 1986, the U.S. accused Libya of supporting a series of worldwide terrorist bombings. American war-planes attacked several terrorist-related targets in Tripoli and Benghazi.

Qadhafi did not support Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990. Instead, Libya joined other Arab nations in an attempt to resolve the conflict peacefully.

In 1993 the UN Security Council imposed sanctions on Libya following Qadhafi's refusal to surrender two men suspected of involvement in the 1988 terrorist bombing of a Pan American passenger jet over Lockerbie, Scotland. UN sanctions were suspended in 1999, but U.S. sanctions remain in place.


From 1969 to 1977, Libya was governed by the Revolutionary Command Council under the leadership of Col. Qadhafi. In March 1977, the Revolutionary Command Council disbanded. Before doing this, they instituted a new form of government known as the "Jamahiriya" (state of the masses) and changed the country's official name to the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.

The Jamahiriya is designed so that every adult citizen can help shape government policy. Citizens submit suggestions and ideas to the Basic People's Congress of which there are some 2,000 throughout Libya. All provincial and urban affairs are handled by Municipal People's Congresses. Members of these two Congresses appoint Popular Committees to execute policy. Officials of these congresses and committees form the General People's Congress.

The General People's Congress is the highest policy-making body in Libya. It meets each year for one week. The General People's Congress appoints its own General Secretariat and the General People's Committee, whose members head 13 government departments which implement national and international policy.

Although the General People's Congress exercises great political power, Col. Qadhafi still has supreme authority. He holds the honorary title "Leader of the Revolution" and heavily influences all government decisions.

The flag of Libya is solid green. Green is the traditional color of Islam.

Arts, Science, Education

The Libyan government requires all children between the ages of six and fifteen to attend school. Primary education begins at age six and lasts for six years. At twelve years of age, a student enters secondary education. Secondary education lasts for six years and is comprised of two cycles of three years each.

The University of Libya opened in Benghazi in 1958. In 1973, the university was divided into two separate schools. One is Al-Fatah University and is located in Tripoli. The other university is Ghar Younis University in Benghazi. A third university, the University of Technology, is located in the town of Marsael Brega.

In 1995, an estimated 76 percent of Libyans age 15 and over could read and write.

Commerce and Industry

Only five percent of Libya's land area is suitable for farming. Most fertile land is located along Libya's northern coast, especially around the cities of Tripoli and Benghazi.

Although most of Libya's land consists of barren desert, there are several oases that have fertile soil. The most important oases are Ghadames, Ghat, Socna, Sebha, and Brak. Libya's main crops are barley, dates, wheat, oats, almonds, tomatoes, potatoes, olives and citrus fruits. The country used to have adequate supplies of fruits, vegetables and dairy products to feed its population, but now Libya must import about 75 percent of its food. Approximately 17 percent of Libya's work force is involved in agriculture.

Libya's most important industry is crude oil production, which accounts for 25 percent of the country's Gross Domestic Product and nearly all the country's export earnings. Libya is the second largest oil producer in Africa after Nigeria. Primary oil refineries are located in the cities of Misratah, Ras Lanuf, Brega, and Zawia.

Libya has many rich mineral deposits, especially iron ore, magnesium, sulphur, potassium and gypsum. Many of these deposits remain untapped, however, because mining costs are extremely high.

Since coming to power in 1969, Col. Qadhafi has tried to develop Libya's industrial base. Nearly 30 percent of the country's work force is involved in non-oil related industries. These industries include the manufacturing of building materials, textiles and footwear, and food processing. The continued growth of Libyan industries was hampered by the steady decline in world oil prices. With less oil revenue coming into the country, many new industrial projects were delayed or cancelled. However, oil prices rose again in 1999 and 2000, stimulating the economy.

Nearly all of Libya's exports consist of crude oil or refined petroleum products. Other exports include peanuts, olive oil, and hides. Most Libyan exports are purchased by Italy, Germany, Spain, France, Belgium, Turkey and Romania.

Libya's primary imports include machinery, transport equipment, manufactured goods, foodstuffs and chemicals. Italy, Germany, France, Great Britain, Japan and South Korea provide the bulk of Libyan imports.

The unit of currency is the Libyan dinar.


All major cities, towns, and desert oases in Libya are accessible by car. The most important road in Libya extends across northern Libya between the borders of Tunisia and Egypt. It passes through the major cities of Tripoli and Benghazi and provides excellent access to the towns of Sebha, Ghat, Ajdabiyah and Kufra. Other roads link Libya's cities to the country's borders with Algeria, Chad and Niger.

It is possible to obtain bus services between Libya's major cities. Local buses also operate in Tripoli and Benghazi. However, buses in Libya are often crowded and unreliable.

Libya's national airline in the Jamahiriya Libyan Arab Airlines. Domestic flights are available between Libya's main cities. The cities of Benghazi and Tripoli are linked by Libyan Arab Airlines and other international airlines to Athens, Rome, Madrid, Malta, Moscow, Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt. Libya's main airport is Tripoli International Airport, located 21 miles southwest of Tripoli at Ben Gashir. Travelers to eastern Libya are serviced by Benina Airport near Benghazi.

Because of its location on the Mediterranean Sea, Libya has several excellent deep-water ports. These ports are located at Benghazi, Tripoli, Marsa-el Brega and Misratah.

To date, no commercial railway system is available in Libya.


Libya's main radio station is the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya Broadcasting Corporation. Arabic and English programs are broadcast daily from stations in Tripoli and Benghazi.

In December 1968, a national television service was created. The majority of programs are broadcast in Arabic, although some English, French, and Italian-language programs are shown periodically.

Newspapers and magazines are published by the Jamahiriya News Agency (JANA). The main newspapers are Arraid and El Balaq.


Passports and visas are required. On December 11, 1981, U.S. passports ceased to be valid for travel to, in or through Libya and may not be used for that purpose without a special validation. Passport validation requests for Libya can be forwarded in writing to the following address:

Deputy Assistant Secretary for
Passport Services
U.S. Department of State
1111 19th St., NW, Suite 260
Washington, DC 20522-1705
Attn.: Office of Passport Policy and Advisory Services
Telephone: (202) 955-0231 or 955-0232
Fax: (202) 955-0230

Without the requisite validation, use of a U.S. passport for travel to, in or through Libya may constitute a violation of 18 U.S.C. 1544, and may be punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment.

Persons contemplating travel to Libya should be aware that there is no U.S. mission in Libya and that our interests are being protected and represented by the government of Belgium. This protecting power can provide only limited emergency services, and the normal protection of U.S. diplomatic and consular representatives cannot be provided to Americans traveling in Libya.

On January 7, 1986, the United States imposed economic sanctions against Libya which broadly prohibit U.S. persons from engaging in unauthorized financial transactions involving Libya, including, in part, the following: the exportation to Libya of all goods, services, or technology; the importation of goods or services of Libyan origin; engaging in the performance of a contract in support of an industrial, commercial, or governmental project in Libya; or dealing in any property in which the Government of Libya has any interest. The economic sanctions, in part, prohibit U.S. persons from working in Libya.

These restrictions also prohibit U.S. persons from engaging in unauthorized travel-related transactions to and within Libya. Please note, however, that transactions relating to travel for journalistic activity by persons regularly employed in such capacity by a news gathering organization is exempt from the prohibition. Please note as well that U.S. persons may engage in travel-related transactions for the sole purpose of visiting immediate family members in Libya, provided that the U.S. persons seeking to travel register with the Office of Foreign Assets Control or the Embassy of Belgium in Tripoli.


March 3 Declaration of Authority's Power

March 28 Evacuation Day (British)

June 11 National Day

July 23 Egyptian Revolution Day

September 1 Revolution Day

October 7 Evacuation Day (Italian)

Id al-Adah*

Hijra New Year*


Id al-Fitr*

Mawlid an Nabi*

*variable, based on the Islamic calendar


Bagnold, Ralph A. Libyan Sands: Travel in a Dead World. New York: Hippocrene Books, 1987.

Bearman, Jonathan. Qadhafi's Libya. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press International, 1986.

Brill, Marlene T. Libya. Chicago:Childrens Press, 1987.

Davis, Brian L. Qaddafi, Terrorism, & the Origins of the U.S. Attack on Libya. Westport, CT: Green-wood, 1990.

Davis, John. Libyan Politics: Tribe & Revolution. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1988.

Deeb, M. J. Libya's Foreign Policy in North Africa. Boulder, CO: West-view Press, 1991.

Harris, Lillian C. Libya: Qadhafi's Revolution & the Modern State. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1986.

Leahy, Anthony. Libya & Egypt in the First Millennium BC. New York: Routledge, 1988.

Lemarchand, Rene, ed. The Green & the Black: Qadhafi's Policies in Africa. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1988.

St. John, Ronald Bruce. Historical Dictionary of Libya. 2d ed. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1991.

Sanders, Renfield. Libya. Let's Visit Places & Peoples of the World Series. New York: Chelsea House, 1987.

Sicker, Martin. The Making of a Pariah State: The Adventurist Politics of Muammar Quaddafi. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1987.

Wright, John L. Libya, Chad, and the Central Sahara. Totowa, NJ: Barnes & Noble Books, 1989.

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Libya (lĬb´ēə), republic (2005 est. pop. 5,766,000), 679,358 sq mi (1,759,540 sq km), N Africa. It borders on Algeria in the west, on Tunisia in the northwest, on the Mediterranean Sea in the north, on Egypt in the east, on Sudan in the southeast, and on Chad and Niger in the south. Tripoli is the capital of Libya and its largest city. Other cities include Ajdabiyah, Al Bayda, Al Marj, Benghazi, Darnah, Misratah, and Tobruk.

Land and People

Libya falls into three main geographical regions—Tripolitania in the west, Fazzan in the southwest, and Cyrenaica in the east. Tripolitania in turn can be divided into three zones. In the north is a low-lying coastal plain called the Jifarah, which, although mainly arid, has several irrigated areas. It also includes the city of Tripoli. South of the Jifarah is a mountainous zone (highest altitude: c.2,500 ft/760 m) known as the Jabal; it is mostly arid and barren but has scattered areas of cultivation. South of the Jabal is an upland plateau, largely desert, but crossed by a string of oases in the south. South of Tripolitania is the Fazzan region, which is largely made up of sandy desert but has a number of scattered oases.

Cyrenaica is Libya's largest region. In the N along the Mediterranean is a narrow upland plateau (highest altitude: c.2,000 ft/610 m) called the Jabal al Akhdar, which includes the cities of Benghazi and Darnah. In the west the Jabal al Akhdar drops abruptly to the shore of the Gulf of Sidra, which deeply indents Libya's Mediterranean coastline, and in the east it falls gradually toward the Egyptian border, where there is another upland region. South of the Jabal al Akhdar is a vast region of sandy desert, which in the east includes part of the Libyan Desert. Cyrenaica is fringed in the southwest by the Tibesti Massif (located mostly in Chad), which includes Libya's loftiest point, Bikku Bitti, or Bette Peak (c.7,500 ft/2,290 m).

Berbers once constituted the chief ethnic group in Libya but have been largely assimilated into Arab culture, with those of Arab-Berber descent making up over 95% of the population. There are scattered traditional Berber communities, and in Fazzan many persons are of mixed Berber and black African descent. Tribal influences remain relatively strong among Libyan natives. There are also smaller groups of Greeks, Maltese, Italians, Egyptians, South Asians, and others. Labor shortages in the agriculture and petroleum industries have attracted many foreign workers, mostly from Egypt, Tunisia, and Turkey. Some 5% of the people live as pastoral nomads, mostly in Cyrenaica. Arabic is the official language; Italian and English are also widely understood. The Berber language was banned under Qaddafi's rule. The great majority of the population is Sunni Muslim.


Libya was a very poor agricultural country with bleak economic prospects until 1958, when petroleum was discovered 200–300 mi (320–480 km) S and SE of the Gulf of Sidra; crude petroleum was exported on an increasingly significant scale between 1961 and 1981. Oil income increased markedly in 1972–73, when the government nationalized (with compensation) 51% ownership in subsidiaries of foreign petroleum firms operating in the country. The remaining subsidiaries were completely nationalized. At the same time, the price of petroleum rose dramatically, further increasing Libya's receipts. Since then, the economy has been almost inextricably linked to world oil prices.

Much of the income from petroleum was used to improve the cities, to modernize transportation, and to build up the military. The resulting migration of Libyans to urban areas created a growth in unemployment, spurring the government to invest in agricultural development in order to make farming more attractive. Although petroleum production has dropped since the 1970s, oil exports continue to generate about 95% of export earnings and 25% of the country's GDP. Libya is also a major exporter of natural gas and has several large gas liquefication plants. In addition, gypsum, salt, and limestone are produced in significant quantities. Libya has increased industrial production in recent years. The principal manufactures are refined petroleum, liquefied natural gas, petrochemicals, iron and steel, aluminum, textiles, handicrafts, and construction materials. Food processing is also important.

Farming is severely limited by the small amount of fertile soil and the lack of rainfall, and Libya must import about 75% of its food. The chief agricultural products are wheat, barley, olives, dates, citrus fruit, vegetables, peanuts, and soybeans. Large numbers of cattle, sheep, and goats are raised. Most of the arable land is located in Tripolitania. To increase the amount of cultivatable land, a massive water development project, called "The Great Manmade River," was begun in 1984. It is designed to carry water from underground aquifers in the Sahara through a 2,400 mi (3,862 km) pipeline system to irrigate 313 sq mi (811 sq km) in the coastal region. By 1997, the system was connected to the cities of Tripoli, Surt (Sirte), and Benghazi and also provided thousands of acres of farmland with irrigation water.

Libya's annual earnings from exports are usually much higher than the cost of its imports, and in the 1990s it had the highest per capita GDP in Africa. Crude petroleum and natural gas are by far the leading exports; the main imports are machinery, transportation equipment, foodstuffs, and manufactured consumer goods. The principal trading partners are Italy, Germany, Turkey, France, and Spain.


Through the Nineteenth Century

Throughout most of its history the territory that constitutes modern Libya has been held by foreign powers. Tripolitania and Cyrenaica had divergent histories for most of the period up to their conquest by the Ottoman Empire in the mid-16th cent. Fazzan was captured by the Ottomans only in 1842. The Ottomans gained control of most of N Africa in the 16th cent., dividing it into three regencies—Algeria, Tunisia, and Tripoli (which also included Cyrenaica). The Janissaries, professional soldiers of slave origins, became a military caste, wielding considerable influence over the Ottoman governor. From the early 1600s the Janissaries chose a leader, called the dey, who at times had as much power as the Ottoman governor sent from Constantinople. Numerous pirates who preyed on the shipping of Christian nations in the Mediterranean were based at Tripoli's ports.

In 1711 Ahmad Karamanli, a Janissary, became dey, killed the Ottoman governor, and prevailed upon the Ottomans to name him governor. The post of governor remained hereditary in the Karamanli family until 1835. In the 18th cent. and during the Napoleonic Wars, the dey took in great revenues from the pirates and also extended the central government's control to much of the interior.

During 1801–5 the United States and Tripoli fought a war precipitated by disagreements over the amount of tribute to be paid to the dey in order to gain immunity from raids by pirates (see Tripolitan War). After 1815, England, France, and the kingdom of the Two Sicilies undertook a successful campaign against the pirates, which undermined the finances of the dey and thus facilitated the reestablishment of direct Ottoman rule in Tripoli in 1835. During the rest of the 19th cent., the Ottomans contributed little toward the political stability or the economic development of Tripoli. Beginning in the 1840s the Sanusi brotherhood gained many adherents, primarily in Cyrenaica but also in S Tripolitania and Fazzan.

Italian Rule, Independence, and the Discovery of Oil

During the Turko-Italian War of 1911–12, Italy conquered N Tripoli, but by the Treaty of Ouchy, which ended the war, Turkey granted Tripoli and N Libya autonomy. The Libyans continued to fight the Italians, but by 1914 Italy had occupied much of the country. However, Italy was forced to undertake a long series of wars of pacification against the Sanusi and their allies.

Under Italo Balbo, who was governor-general during the 1930s, the country's infrastucture was developed as roads, civic buildings, schools, and hospitals were constructed. In 1934, Tripolitania and Cyrenaica were formally united to form the colony of Libya; Fazzan was administered as part of Tripolitania. About 40,000 colonists were sent from Italy to the plateau regions of Libya at the end of the 1930s. Libya was made an integral part of Italy in 1939, and the Muslim population was granted a limited form of citizenship.

Libya became one of the main battlegrounds of North Africa after Italy entered World War II in June, 1940 (for military details, see North Africa, campaigns in). After the Allied victory over the Axis in N Africa (1943), Libya was placed under an Anglo-French military government. The Big Four (Great Britain, France, the United States, and the USSR) failed to reach agreement on the future of Libya as stipulated in the 1947 peace treaty with Italy. The United Nations was given (1949) jurisdiction and decided that Libya should become independent, which it did on Dec. 24, 1951, as the United Kingdom of Libya. It was ruled by King Idris I, head of the Sanusi brotherhood. Libya joined the Arab League, and in 1955 it was admitted into the United Nations.

The 1950s in Libya were characterized by great poverty; minimal economic development was made possible only by the payments and loans received from various Western nations. In 1958, petroleum was discovered in the country, and by the early 1960s Libya was taking in growing revenues from the exploitation of that resource. A 1953 Anglo-Libyan treaty that had allowed Britain to establish military bases in Libya in return for economic subsidies was terminated by Libya in 1964; most British troops were withdrawn in early 1966.

The Qaddafi Regime

In Sept., 1969, a group of army officers led by 27-year-old Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi ousted King Idris in a coup. The 1951 constitution was abrogated, and government was placed in the hands of a 12-member Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) headed by Qaddafi, who became prime minister. In mid-1972, Qaddafi turned the post of prime minister over to Abdul Salam Jallud, but he remained the RCC's president, the country's most important political and military office.

The regime pursued a policy of Arab nationalism and strict adherence to Islamic law; though Qaddafi espoused socialist principles, he was strongly anti-Communist. He was particularly concerned with reducing Western influences; the British were forced (1970) to evacuate their remaining bases in Libya, and the United States was required to abandon Wheelus Field, a U.S. air force base located near Tripoli. Libya's foreign policy was generally reoriented away from N Africa and toward the heart of the Middle East. Close ties were established with Egypt, and in 1971 Libya joined with Egypt and Syria to form a loose alliance called the Federation of Arab Republics. A "cultural revolution" launched in 1973 sought to make life in the country more closely approximate Qaddafi's socialist and Muslim principles.

An implacable foe of Israel, Libya contributed some men and matériel (especially aircraft) to the Arab side in the Arab-Israeli war of Oct., 1973. After the war, Libya was a strong advocate of reducing sales of petroleum to nations that had supported Israel and was also a leading force in increasing the price of crude petroleum. Qaddafi was severely critical of Egypt for negotiating a cease-fire with Israel, and relations between the two countries declined steadily after 1973 when Qaddafi failed to push through a merger with Egypt.

Qaddafi survived numerous coup attempts and abortive uprisings through the 1990s; in 1980 he began ordering the assassination of Libyan dissidents who were living in exile in Europe. In 1981, two Libyan fighter planes attacked U.S. forces on maneuvers in the Gulf of Sidra (which Libya claims as national waters) and were shot down. Libya's relations with the United States became even more hostile when it began to support international terrorist organizations. The United States placed a ban on Libyan oil imports in 1982. In 1986, in an apparent attempt to kill Qaddafi, U.S. President Reagan ordered air strikes against Tripoli and Benghazi in retaliation for the Libyan-sponsored terrorist attack in West Berlin that had killed two American servicemen. Libya's attempts in the mid-1980s to form a union with Algeria and Tunisia, while not successful, resulted (1989) in the Arab Maghreb Union (see Maghreb).

In 1988, a bomb blew up on a Pan Am commercial airplane over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people. International warrants were issued for the arrest and extradition to Great Britain of two Libyan suspects in the case, but the government refused to surrender them. Libya was also implicated in the similar 1989 bombing of a French UTA DC-10 over Niger in which 170 people died. In 1989, it was discovered that a West German company was selling Libya equipment for the construction of a chemical weapons plant at Rabta. These actions, as well as the widespread belief in the United States and Europe that Qaddafi's regime was responsible for terrorist activities, led to American and UN sanctions against Libya in 1992. Libya pulled its troops out of the Aozou Strip, a mineral-rich region of N Chad, in 1994 after the World Court rejected its claim to that territory. In 1995 there were clashes between Libyan security forces and members of Islamic groups in E Libya. The United States charged (1996) that Libya was constructing a chemical weapons plant southeast of Tripoli and said Libya would be prevented from putting it into operation.

Beginning in the late 1990s Libya embarked on a series of moves designed to end its estrangement from Western nations. In Apr., 1999, Libya handed over the suspects in the Lockerbie crash to the United Nations; they were to be tried in the Netherlands under Scottish law. The UN sanctions were suspended, but those imposed by the United States remained in place. In Dec., 1999, Qaddafi pledged not to aid or protect terrorists. Libya agreed in 2003 to a $2.7 billion settlement with the families of the victims. and that and a revised settlement for viction of the UTA bombing led the UN Security Council to lift the sanctions imposed more than a decade earlier. In December, after negotiations with the United States and Great Britain, the government renounced the production and use of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons and agreed to submit to unannounced international inspections. Subsequently (Mar., 2004), Libya acknowledged that it had produced and had stockpiles of chemical weapons, and agreed to their destruction (completed 2014). As a result of these events, the United States lifted most sanctions and resumed diplomatic relations with Libya, although it continued to list Libya as a state sponsor of terrorism until mid-2006. The last of three payments due under the 2003 agreement, however, was not made until late 2008. In Sept., 2008, Italy and Libya signed a memorandum under which Italy agreed to pay $5 billion over 20 years as compensation for its three decades of colonial rule in Libya.

In Feb., 2011, antigovernment protests in Libya quickly became a full-scale uprising, as the government lost control of Benghazi and NE Libya as well as a number of cities in NW Libya. By the end of the month, however, the government had brutally suppressed protesters in the capital, and in early March it recaptured many cities it had lost to the rebellion. Hundreds of thousands of foreigners fled the country. The International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants in June for Qaddafi and other government members in connection with the killing of protesters.

As Qaddafi's forces advanced on Benghazi, the UN Security Council approved (March) a no-fly zone over Libya; it was enforced by aircraft from a mix of NATO and Arab nations, which at times also attacked government ground forces. The Benghazi-based rebels, who established a governing council, fought a seesawing contest for central N Libya. Misratah and the Nafusa Mtns. became the most signifcant battlegrounds in the west, and after repulsing government forces there, the rebels made some advances by midyear. The rebels benefited from aid from some Western and other nations, and their National Transitional Council (NTC) was recognized by some nations. In August, increasing rebel successes culminated in the fall of Tripoli; in September, the NTC was recognized by the United Nations as Libya's legitimate government.

Rebel forces captured Sirte and Bani Walid, two remaining Qaddafi strongholds, in Oct., 2011; Qaddafi was killed while trying to flee Sirte. At the end of the month, Abdurrahim el-Keib was appointed prime minister by the NTC, and a new cabinet was named in November. The situation remained unsettled, however, with occasional fighting erupting between rival militias and tribes, and in Feb., 2012, leaders in E Libya called for the establishment of the autonomous region of Cyrenaica there, a move that was denounced in W Libya.

In July, the 200-members of the national congress were elected, with no group clearly dominating the result. In September, Mustafa Abu Shagur, who had served as a deputy to el-Keib, was chosen as prime minister, but he proved unable to form an acceptable government. Ali Zeidan, a former diplomat and exile, was chosen to replace him in October, and formed a government. Also in September the U.S. ambassador was killed in an attack by Islamic militants on the Benghazi embassy. The attack led to a crackdown on Libyan militias, but they remained a significant force and problem in the country, and in subsequent years were a factor in a number of deadly clashes including a July, 2014, fight for control of the Tripoli airport. In Jan., 2013, the president of the national congress survived an attempted assassination; attacks against other prominent leaders also occurred.

The congress in May passed a law banning senior officials in the Qaddafi regime from the government; its enactment was forced by armed groups that surrounded government offices. In December the congress voted to make Islamic law the basis of Libyan law, and also voted to extend its mandate by a year, adopting a plan that called for a new constitution to be drafted by Aug., 2014, and a parliament to be elected by Dec., 2014. Meanwhile, groups favoring a federal state sought to establish a government in Cyrenaica and seized control (until mid-2014) of the region's oil resources; Berbers also interrupted oil and gas shipments in an attempt to win political recognition. Such political, and significant religious, regional, and tribal, divisions have thwarted the establishment of a unified national government, and stoked violence and insecurity. In Mar., 2014, after an oil tanker eluded the Libyan navy and left from the port of Sidra in Cyrenaica, Zeidan was dismissed.

Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni became prime minister in April but then announced his resignation following an attack on his family. In May Ahmed Maiteg was elected to succeed al-Thinni under chaotic circumstances, and al-Thinni refused to cede power; ultimately Maiteg's election was ruled invalid. Also in May, forces loyal to former general Khalifa Heftar began attacks against the government (which Haftar accused of supporting terrorism) and against Islamists. An election for a House of Representatives was held in June, but turnout was low; candidates were required to run as individuals instead of on party slates, and in the resulting body the influence of Islamists was greatly diminished. Prior to the election the cabinet called for the new legislature to be based in Benghazi.

The political situation subsequently deteriorated as Islamist and regional militias and government forces fought for control of Tripoli and Benghazi. In August and September, Islamists from Misrata established control over Tripoli and reestablished the national congress, in which Islamists had been dominant. Other Islamists fought government forces for Benghazi, seizing control for a time, but in October the army largely regained the city. The newly elected House meanwhile established itself in Tobruk, and by August Libya had rival legislatures and prime ministers, with al-Thinni again holding that post in Tobruk; his government was generally recognized internationally. In November, the Libyan supreme court, which had remained the Tripoli, declared the election of the House of Representatives unconstitutional; the House denounced the verdict, saying it was influenced by Islamists militias. Forces aligned with the rival governments subsequently fought for control of the country's oilfields and oil terminals, and in 2015 militants aligned with the Islamic State became a significant third force. In early 2015 the Tobruk government overturned the ban on the participation of former Qaddafi officials in the government, and subsequently Khalifa Haftar was appointed to lead its military forces.


See W. C. Askew, Europe and Italy's Acquisition of Libya, 1911–1912 (1942); M. Khadduri, Modern Libya (1963); J. L. Wright, Libya (1969); A. Pelt, Libyan Independence and the United Nations: A Case of Planned Decolonization (1970); M. O. Ansell and I. M. al-Arif, The Libyan Revolution (1972); L. Hahn, Historical Dictionary of Libya (1981); L. C. Harris, Libya (1986); J. Davis, Libyan Politics (1988); J. M. Burr, Africa's Thirty Years' War: Chad, Libya, and the Sudan, 1963–1993 (1999); L. Hilsum, Sandstorm: Libya in the Time of Revolution (2012); D. Vandewalle, A History of Modern Libya (rev. ed. 2012).

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In theory, a jamahiriyya (state governed by the masses); in reality, the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriyya is ruled by Muammar al-Qaddafi.

In 2002 Libya's population was about 5.4 million, distributed over 686,000 square miles on the northern coast of Africa, bordered to the north by the Mediterranean Sea, to the west by Tunisia and Algeria, to the south by Niger and Chad, and to the east by Sudan and Egypt. The capital city, Tripoli, and the other principal urban centers, Misurata, Benghazi, and Derna (or Darnah) are on the coast; several large oases, including Sabha (or Sebha), provincial capital of the southern region of Fezzan, and Kufrah, in the southeast, were major trading centers of the trans-Saharan caravan trade, but they are now principally administrative centers. The population clusters along the coast, where two ranges of hillsJabal al-Gharb in the western province, Tripolitania, and Jabal al-Akhdar in Cyrenaica, the eastern regiondivide the narrow coastal plain from the arid plateaus and deserts to the south.

Climate and Resources

Except along the coast, Libya's climate is severe, with wide extremes of temperature, particularly in the mountains and deserts. There is scanty rainfall; even along the coast, the timing of the annual average of 8 inches of rain is unpredictable. As a result, less than 2 percent of the country's surface is arable, and only another 4 to 5 percent is suitable for raising livestock. Historically, much of the country's wealth derived from animal husbandry and from trans-Saharan and coastal trade rather than from agriculture. During the late 1950s, large quantities of petroleum were discovered and by 1968 oil exports accounted for more than 50 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Since then, oil revenues have generally represented one-half to one-third of GDP. In 2002, Libya had one of the highest per capita incomes in Africa, $7,600, and a relatively high population growth rate at 2.4 percent. Thanks to oil, the government provides generous welfare benefits to Libyan citizens and the economy relies heavily on foreign workers; in the 1980s and 1990s, more than half a million foreign nationals, mostly Africans, have found employment there.

Population and Culture

Libya has a largely homogeneous population, both ethnically and religiously. Virtually all the citizens are Arabs practicing Sunni Islam. Small communities of Berbers, many of whom are followers of Ibadi Islam, still reside in the western hill villages, but nothing remains of the once substantial Jewish community, most of which moved to Israel. Libya is not home to any major educational or cultural institutions; apart from some locally venerated saintly families, the people of the area traditionally looked to Tunisia and Egypt for their religious teachers and legal authorities. Despite the contemporary urbanization of the countryover two-thirds of the population live in Tripoli and Benghazi alonethe importance of pastoral nomadism in recent history is evident in the continued social and political significance of kinship and tribal ties. Although women are being educated in increasingly large numbers, they ordinarily marry while in their late teens and are not expected to work outside the home.


The Libyan government structure was designed by Muammar al-Qaddafi (also Muʿammar alQadhdhafi), who holds no formal position of authority but serves as head of state. As he conceives it, Libyans rule themselves, without the intervention of elections, politicians, or political parties, through a system of local and national committees and congresses that deliberate, administer, and supervise the affairs of the country on their behalf. By most accounts, the basic people's congresses and committees do fulfill governmental functions at local levels, but in national, particularly foreign, policymaking, Qaddafi and his immediate advisers are believed to make virtually all important decisions.


At the beginning of the nineteenth century, today's Libya was three loosely administered provinces of

the Ottoman Empire, ruled by the local Qaramanli dynasty in Tripoli. In 1835, disturbed by local unrest, the Ottoman central government overthrew the dynasty and thereafter Libya was ruled directly from Istanbul.

Although never a rich province, Libya prospered during the second Ottoman era. As the Ottoman order spread throughout the territory, many nomads settled in coastal villages; local agricultural production and trade increased. The Sanusiyya, a religious brotherhood with political aspirations, saw its substantial trading interests flourish in Cyrenaica and the Sahara.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, Italy had established Libya as a sphere of influence, and in 1911 Rome launched its long-anticipated invasion. The Ottoman government mounted a major war effort to oppose the Italian encroachment but was soon forced to withdraw, preoccupied by unrest and nationalism in the Balkans. Local Libyan leaders took up the cause of resistance, however, and the Italians faced an armed insurgency until well into the 1930s, only to lose the province a decade later in the North African campaigns of World War II. Libya was then governed by British and French military administrations until the country was granted independence by the United Nations at the end of 1951.

The upheavals occasioned by the precipitous withdrawal of the Ottoman administration, the protracted Italian conquest, and the devastating battles
for control during World War II left Libya one of the poorest countries in the Middle East. The population had been nearly halved by famine, war casualties, and emigration. At independence, illiteracy rates were well over 80 percent, and the per capita income was no more than $25 a year; the country's major export was scrap metal scavenged from World War II battlefields.

The leader of the Sanusiyya brotherhood, Idris al-Sayyid Muhammad al-Sanusi, had spent the years between the world wars in exile in Cairo, where he came to know the British authorities, who sponsored him as the king of the new country. Despite qualms in Tripoli about Idris's partiality for Cyrenaica, provincial leaders acquiesced in his accession to ensure the country's unity and independence. In the early years, the British subsidized Libya's operating budget while the king's clientele and local tribes-men staffed the administration.

The export of commercial quantities of oil during the early 1960s coincided with the heyday of Arab nationalism. A new generation of politically active Libyans argued that the monarchy's close ties with Britain and the United States were now both economically unnecessary and politically undesirable. Moreover, the administration proved unequal to the task of allocating the new wealth, and the government foundered in corruption and mismanagement. On 1 September 1969, a twenty-seven-year-old captain, Muammar al-Qaddafi, and a small group of his friends and fellow military officers engineered a bloodless coup; the king abdicated as his government collapsed.

At the outset, the new regime appeared to be a typical Arab nationalist military government, with an additional Islamic coloring, reflecting both Qaddafi's personal piety and the regime's efforts to appeal to the followers of the deposed Sanusi leader.
The British and U.S. military bases were closed, the remaining Italian residents were expelled, alcohol was forbidden, nightclubs and churches were closed, and Qaddafi called his fellow rulers to join him in establishing a unified Arab state.

By the mid-1970s, however, with the publication of the first volume of Qaddafi's Green Book, the Libyan regime began to develop its distinctive profile. Disappointed with the failure of other Arab rulers to heed his calls for immediate and unconditional unity and with the average Libyan's apparent lack of revolutionary fervor, Qaddafi concentrated on domestic affairs, proclaiming a cultural revolution at home. The Declaration of the Establishment of the People's Authority, issued on 2 March 1977, stated that direct popular authority would now be the basis for the Libyan political system. It also changed the official name of the country from Libya to the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriyya. A newly coined Arabic word, jamahiriyya was translated unofficially as "state of the masses." Under the new system, the people exercised authority through people's committees, people's congresses, unions, and the General People's Congress (GPC). Qaddafi was designated GPC general secretary and the remaining members of the now defunct Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) composed the GPC general secretariat.

In part because of accompanying economic reformsretail trade was abolished as exploitative;

wage earners were declared partners in their enterprises; rent was outlawed and houses given to their occupantsopposition to the new edicts grew quickly. The regime reacted harshly. During the early 1980s, "revolutionary committees" were established to ensure the revolutionary enthusiasm of the Libyan people, and it was these committees that carried out the assassination of Libyan opposition figures abroad.

By then the regime had grown disenchanted with Arab leaders and devoted itself to exporting the Libyan revolution throughout the world. As a result, Qaddafi found himself in disputes not only with his neighbors but with the Western powers, particularly the United States. Accusing Qaddafi of having harbored terrorists and sponsored terrorism throughout the world, the administration of Ronald Reagan bombed Tripoli and Benghazi in April 1986 in hopes of reforming (if not removing) the Libyan leader. Despite its international isolation and the economic difficulties precipitated by the fall of oil prices during the mid-1980s, it was not until the implosion of its international patron, the Soviet Union, at the end of the decade, that the Qaddafi regime began to show signs of moderating its opposition to the international status quo.

Domestically, a period of economic and political liberalization, called green perestroika by some observers, marked the late 1980s. Often molding economic and political decisions into a single package, the liberalization program implemented by Qaddafi initially proved popular with the Libyan people. An increased emphasis on human rights and political reform accompanied some liberalization of the economy. The merger of economic and political reforms rolled necessary but painful austerity measures into a generally popular reform package, including curbs on the revolutionary committees, amnesty for political prisoners, and increased tolerance of the exiles constituting the bulk of regime's opposition. Economic components of green perestroika included the legalization of private ownership of shops, small businesses, and farms, together with increased private retail trade incentives. Unfortunately, the program failed to attract long-anticipated, and much desired, foreign investment, largely because modest attempts to create an internal market were not accompanied by the reversal of the political experiments begun in 1969.

Accused of complicity in the December 1988 terrorist bombing of a transatlantic flight, Pan Am 103, Libya was subjected to United Nations (UN)-sponsored economic sanctions in 1991 for failing to extradite the two men indicted for the action. Alleged Libyan involvement in the terrorist bombing of UTA flight 772 over Niger in September 1989 further complicated Libyan external relations in this period. Libya remained under the yoke of UN-sponsored sanctions until 1998, when it accepted a proposal to try the suspects in the Pan Am 103 bombing in the Netherlands under Scottish law. Successful in thwarting opposition on several fronts in the second half of the 1990s, Qaddafi enjoyed a strengthened domestic position at the time, enabling him to remand the two suspects with minimal concern for domestic repercussions.

Following suspension of the UN sanctions, Libya initiated an aggressive international campaign to end its commercial and diplomatic isolation. Initially focused on Africa, Qaddafi launched a series of bilateral and multilateral initiatives, beginning in February 1998 with the creation of the Community of Sahel-Saharan States (COMESSA), which linked poor, land-locked African states with oil-rich Libya. In August 1999, he called for the creation of a United States of Africa, including an African central bank. He later added the goal of a pan-African parliament with lawmaking powers. A measure of Libya's improved standing in Africa was the support it received, in the face of determined opposition from the United States and human rights groups, for chairing the UN Human Rights Commission in 2002. In addition to regional initiatives, the Qaddafi regime also aggressively pursued expanded bilateral ties with a number of African states.

At the same time, Libya moved to strengthen economic and political relations with key European states like Britain, Italy, and Russia. The Libyan economy, adversely affected by low oil prices throughout much of the previous decade, stood to benefit from the expanded European trade and investment essential to the revitalization of the petroleum sector. The Qaddafi regime also worked to expand its political options in Europe, increasing its dialogue with bodies like the European Union and the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership and promoting Libya as a natural bridge between Europe and Africa.

After the special court sitting in the Netherlands found one of the two Pan Am 103 defendants guilty in January 2001, the Qaddafi regime expanded its efforts at global rehabilitation to include the U.S. government. In the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, Libya actively cooperated with the United States and its allies in the war on terrorism. In return, Qaddafi sought Washington's support for a permanent lifting of the UN sanctions, together with the bilateral sanctions progressively imposed by the United States after 1986.

In the longer term, the Qaddafi regime hoped to achieve a restoration of full commercial and diplomatic ties with the United States. Libya took several steps that affected its relations with the United States and the world. In September 2003 Libya agreed to pay $2.7 billion to the families of the victims of Pan Am 103, after which the UN Security Council permanently lifted its sanctions regime. In December 2003 Libya renounced its unconventional weapons programs, agreeing to international inspections to verify compliance. And in January 2004 Libya also reached a final settlement in the UTA 772 case, in which it agreed to pay the families of victims $170 million.

see also basic people's congresses; benghazi; fezzan; green book; idris alsayyid muhammad al-sanusi; jabal al-akhdar, libya; qaddafi, muammar al-; qaramanli dynasty; tripoli.


Davis, John. Libyan Politics: Tribe and Revolution: An Account of the Zuwaya and Their Government. Berkeley: University of California Press; London: I. B. Tauris, 1987.

Khadduri, Majid. Modern Libya: A Study in Political Development. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Press, 1963.

El-Kikhia, Mansour O. Libya's Qaddafi: The Politics of Contradiction. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1997.

Obeidi, Amal. Political Culture in Libya. Richmond, U.K.: Curzon Press, 2001.

St John, Ronald Bruce. Historical Dictionary of Libya, 3d edition. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1998.

St John, Ronald Bruce. Libya and the United States: Two Centuries of Strife. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002.

Vandewalle, Dirk. Libya since Independence: Oil and State-Building. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998.

Vandewalle, Dirk, ed. Qadhafi's Libya, 19691994. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995.

Vikor, Knut S. Sufi and Scholar on the Desert Edge: Muhammad b. Alī al-Sanūsī and His Brotherhood. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1995.

Wright, John. Libya: A Modern History. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982.

lisa anderson
updated by ronald bruce st john

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Official name: Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya

Area: 1,759,540 square kilometers (679,362 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Bīkkū Bīttī (Bette Peak) (2,267 meters/7,438 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sabkhat Ghuzayyil (47 meters/154 feet below sea level)

Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern

Time zone: 2 p.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 1,989 kilometers (1,236 miles) from southeast to northwest; 1,502 kilometers (933 miles) from northeast to southwest

Land boundaries: 4,383 kilometers (2,723 miles) total boundary length; Algeria 982 kilometers (610 miles); Chad 1,055 kilometers (656 miles); Egypt 1,150 kilometers (715 miles); Niger 354 kilometers (220 miles); Sudan 383 kilometers (238 miles); Tunisia 459 kilometers (285 miles)

Coastline: 1,770 kilometers (1,100 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)


Libya is located in northern Africa on the southern border of the Mediterranean Sea. The country also shares borders with Egyh2, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Algeria, and Tunisia. With an area of about 1,759,540 square kilometers (679,362 square miles), the country is slightly larger than the state of Alaska. Libya is divided into twenty-five administrative municipalities.


Libya has no outside territories or dependencies.


The Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara Desert influence Libya's climate. The ghibli (a hot, dry desert wind that lasts one to four days in both spring and fall) causes temperatures to fluctuate by as much as 17° to 22°C (30° to 40°F) in both the summer (June through September) and winter (October through May). Summer highs along the northwestern coast are from 40°C to 46°C (104°F to 115°F), and temperatures farther to the south reach even higher. In the northeastern region, summer temperatures range from 27°C to 32°C (81°F to 90°F). In January, temperatures average 13°C (55°F) in the northern region.

During the summer months in southern Libya, virtually no rain falls and temperatures quickly climb to over 50°C (122°F). Daytime winter temperatures range between 15°C and 20°C (59°F and 68°F) and fall below 0°C (32°F) at night.

Rainfall varies between the different regions. The northeastern region receives 40 to 60 centimeters (16 to 24 inches) of rain yearly, while other regions receive less than 20 centimeters (8 inches). The Sahara Desert receives less than 5 centimeters (2 inches) of rain annually. A short winter period brings most of the rain, which usually causes floods. Evaporation is high between winters, making severe droughts common.


More than six hundred million years ago, an enormous mountain range once covered Libya, which lies on the African Tectonic Plate. Over the centuries, the sea advanced, then retreated over the region; the corresponding water, wind, and temperature changes eroded the mountains, leaving behind the sands and plateaus that comprise Libya's landscape.

The fourth-largest country in Africa, Libya is sectioned into three main geographical areas: Tripolitania, Cyrenaica, and Fezzan. Tripolitania covers the northwestern corner of the country and the Fezzan covers the land south of Tripolitania. Cyrenaica, the largest geographic region, covers the entire eastern half of the country. Tripolitania and Cyrenaica are made up of low-lying land and plateaus. Tripolitania contains the Nafūsah Plateau and Cyrenaica houses the Jabal al-Akhdar (Green Mountains). Fezzan is home to desert lands, including the Sahara.


Seacoast and Undersea Features

Libya has a northern coast along the Mediterranean Sea. The Mediterranean is an almost completely landlocked sea that lies between southern Europe, north Africa, and southwest Asia. It links to the Atlantic Ocean (at its western point) through the Strait of Gibraltar and to the Red Sea (at its southeastern shore) though the Suez Canal. It also connects to the Black Sea in the northeast through the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmara, and the Bosporus.

Sea Inlets and Straits

The Gulf of Sidra is nestled between the Trip-olitania and Cyrenaica regions. Important ports are located along the coast, including Benghazi, Tobruk, and Darnah.

Coastal Features

The coastal plain is often marshy, yet beaches stretch for more than 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) along the Mediterranean Sea. Along the shore of the western region surrounding Trip-oli, coastal oases alternate with sandy beaches and lagoons for more than 300 kilometers (180 miles).


Although there are no major lakes in Libya, some small seasonal lakes do spring up during the rainy seasons. One small collection of lakes, Ramlet Dawada (Lakes in the Desert), is situated in the Libyan Sahara. This oasis contains eleven lakes surrounded by sand dunes and palms.


In Libya there are no permanent riversonly wadis (riverbeds that are seasonally or permanently dry). They catch the infrequent runoff from rainfall during the rainy season, which commonly causes flash floods in the surrounding areas. The wadis then dry out during the hot summer months.


The southern portion of Libya lies within the Sahara Desert. The part of the Sahara located in eastern Libya, western Egypt, and Sudan is known as the Libyan Desert. Agriculture is possible only in a few scattered oases, which include Jalu and Jaghbub. The three largest oases in Libya's desert region are Al-Kufrah, Ghāt, and Ghadāmis.

The Fezzan, in the southwestern region, is also a desert, with ergs (vast sand dunes) that reach several hundred feet high and change shape slowly in the shifting wind. They cover about one-fifth of the land. Also in this area are sabkhas (depressions on the desert floor) that contain water underground, creating occasional oases. Most of the Fezzan is flat, except for the area along the southern border near Chad, where the rugged mountain range, Tibesti Massif, is located. The range contains Libya's highest point, Bīkkū Bīttī (Bette Peak), at 2,267 meters (7,436 feet).


In the northeastern area of Cyrenaica (the region that covers almost half of Libya), the land rises from a coastal plain to the Jabal alAkhdar (Green Mountains) with a height of just under 915 meters (3,000 feet). The lower slopes are covered with flowers, and at the higher elevations there are shrubs and juniper. In the southern region, a pastoral zone of sparse grassland gives way to the vast Sahara Desert.


The Sahara Desert covers an area of 9,065,000 square kilometers (3,500,000 square miles) and is the largest desert in the world. The Sahara covers the entire region of North Africa, from the Atlantic coast in the west to the Red Sea in the east. It borders the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlas Mountains in the north and extends into a southern region known as the Sahel and the Sudan. Scientists believe that during the Ice Age (about fifty thousand to one hundred thousand years ago), the Sahara was once covered with shallow lakes that provided water for large areas of lush vegetation. Now, it is a vast and barren wasteland of rocky plateaus and sand.


The Tibesti Massif, a rugged mountain range, runs along the southern border near Chad and houses Libya's highest point, Bīkkū Bīttī (Bette Peak), at 2,267 meters (7,438 feet). The Al-Akhdar Mountains run along the northeastern Mediterranean coast. In the center of the country are the lower Al-Harūj Al-Aswad Hills. These basaltic hills include a series of volcanoes called Qarat as-Sab'ah, which have elevations of up to 1,189 meters (3,900 feet).


There are no major caves or canyons in Libya.


In the northwest region of the country, Tripolitania is home to a series of terraces that rise slowly from sea level along the coastal plain of Al-Jifarahh until they reach the Nafūsah Plateau. This upland plateau is made of limestone and contains sand, shrubs, and scattered masses of stone. Elevations reach 1,000 meters (3,300 feet). Southward from the Nafūsah Plateau is the Al Hamādah Al Hamrā' (the Red Desert), a rocky plateau comprised of red sandstone. Its flat landscape stretches hundreds of miles to the southwest Fezzan Desert region. The rocky plateaus of the Fezzan Desert have been shaped by wind and extreme temperature changes.


The discovery of vast aquifers in the south and southeast regions of Libya prompted the building of an enormous water pipeline to bring water from 225 underground wells to an 880,000-gallon reservoir in the coastal area for use in agriculture and industry. Called the Great Man-made River project, as of 2001 it was still under development. It is among the largest and most expensive engineering projects ever undertaken.



Brill, M. Libya. Chicago: Children's Press, 1987.

Lawless, Richard I. Libya. Santa Barbara, CA: Clio Press, 1987.

Malcolm, Peter. Libya. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1999.

Metz, Helen Chapin, ed. Libya, a Country Study. 4th ed. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1989.

Web Sites

ArabNet. Libya: Geography. (accessed April 14, 2003).

"Libya." Virtual Dimensions Inc. (accessed April 14, 2003).

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Country statistics


1,759,540sq km (679,358sq mi) 6,984,400

capital (population):

Tripoli (1,223,300)


Single-party socialist republic

ethnic groups:

Libyan Arab and Berber 89%, others 11%


Arabic (official)


Sunni Muslim 97%


Libyan dinar = 1000 dirhams

Republic of n Africa. The North African state of Libya consists of three geographical areas: the nw and ne Mediterranean coastal plains are home to the majority of Libya's population. The ne plain includes Libya's capital, Tripoli; the nw plain its second-largest city, Benghazi. The Sahara occupies 95% of Libya, inhabited only at scattered oases. The desert rises to 2286m (7500ft) at Bette Peak, on the s border with Chad.

Climate and Vegetation

The coastal plains have a Mediterranean climate, with hot, dry summers and mild, moist winters. Inland, the average annual rainfall drops to 100mm (4in) or less. Shrubs and grasses grow on the n coasts, with some trees in wetter areas. At the desert oases date palms provide shade from the sun.

History and Politics

The earliest known inhabitants of Libya were the Berbers. Between the 7th century bc and the 5th century ad, the region successively came under the rule of Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, and Vandals. Magnificent Roman ruins survive. Arabs invaded Libya in ad 643, and Islam remains the dominant religion. From 1551 Libya was part of the Ottoman Empire and power resided with local rulers or Janissaries. During the 17th century, Barbary pirates used bases on the Libyan coast to attack shipping.

In the 19th century, US, British, and French forces attempted to curb the pirates. Italy invaded Libya in 1911, and by 1914 conquered the whole territory. Italy made attempts at colonization in the 1930s, and in 1939 Libya was formally incorporated into Italy. Libya was a battleground for many of the North Africa campaigns in World War 2 and, after the Allied victory, it was placed under UN mandate. In 1951, it became an independent monarchy. Libya joined the Arab League in 1953, and became a member of the UN in 1955.

In 1969, Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi toppled King Idris in a military coup. Qaddaffi nationalized industry, established an Islamic state, and reduced foreign interference. In 1970, Britain closed all its military bases. In 1973 Libyan forces occupied the Aozou Strip in n Chad. In 1977, after several failed attempts at federation, Qaddafi proclaimed a "People's Republic", establishing "revolutionary committees" to run the country. Qaddaffi maintained an anti-Israel foreign policy and aided Palestinian guerrillas. In 1981, the USA shot down two Libyan aircraft, which challenged its warplanes. Relations with the West deteriorated and the USA placed an oil embargo on Libya.

In 1986, following evidence of Libyan support for international terrorism, the USA bombed Tripoli and Benghazi. In 1992, Libya was accused of sheltering the terrorists responsible for the bombing of Pan-Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. In 1994, Libya returned the Aouzou Strip to Chad. In 1995, Qaddaffi deported all Palestinians in protest against the Israeli-Palestinian Accord (1993). In 1999, Libya agreed to extradite the two suspects in the Lockerbie case and the UN suspended sanctions. One of the suspects was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. In 2001, Libya sent troops to help suppress a coup in Central African Republic. In 2003, Libya accepted responsibility for the bombing of Pan-Am Flight 102 and agreed compensation for the families of victims. As a result of this action, the UN lifted sanctions.


The discovery of oil in 1958 transformed Libya's economy. Oil revenue financed welfare services and development projects. Formerly one of the world's poorest countries, it became Africa's richest in terms of its GDP per capita (2000, US$8900). Oil accounts for more than 95% of exports, and Libya remains a developing country because of this structural imbalance. It has oil refineries and petrochemical plants. Agriculture is important, but Libya depends on food imports.

Political map

Physical map


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Culture Name


Alternative Names

The Socialist Popular Libyan Arab Jamahiriya


Identification. The Socialist Popular Libyan Arab Jamahiriyaliterally, "state of the masses," is a nation that has been undergoing a radical social experiment over the last thirty years. This experiment has been underwritten by massive oil revenues and directed by the revolutionary government of Muammar Qaddafi.

Location and Geography. Situated on the coast of North Africa, nearly all of the nation's land mass is within the Sahara Desert. The country is bounded to the north by the Mediterranean Sea, to the west by Tunisia and Algeria, and to the south by Chad and Niger. Egypt borders Libya to the east and Sudan is to the southeast. The landmass of 679,500 square miles (1,760,000 square kilometers) makes Libya the fourth largest country in Africa.

Each of the three provinces of LibyaTripolitania on the western coast, Cyrenaica to the east, and Fezzan in the southare influenced by the great Sahara in different ways. Tripolitania is sheltered by barrier mountains, the Jabal Nafusa, south of the coast. While the mountains create a favorable environment for agriculture, the coastal littoral, protected from the Sahara, is still arid and requires irrigation. The capital of Libya, Tripoli, is an oasis on the Tripolitanian coast and its inhabitants rely on aquifers to meet most of their water requirements. The coastal mountain range of Cyrenaica, the Jabal Akhdar, rises to a high plateau, which breaks precipitously down to the sea. There are five distinct ecological zones in this region, from a high plateau in the north to desert in the south, each with different combinations of pastoralism and agriculture. There are large towns in Cyrenaica, but until recently the nomadic Bedouins dominated the countryside.

The Gulf of Sirte is between eastern Tripolitania and the mountain chains in Cyrenaica. Primarily steppe country, it is suited to pastoral pursuits and historically has been a major seasonal grazing ground for some of the powerful tribes who spend winters in the interior of the desert.

South of the two mountain chains and the Gulf of Sirte lies the Sahara Desert and the province of Fezzan. The area is vast, extremely dry, and barren. It is characterized by large sand seas, eroded mountain ranges, and upland mesas. Aridity is a fact of existence in Libya. There is not a single permanent waterway in the whole country.

Permanent settlement in the south is limited to a number of depressions where irrigated agriculture may be pursued due to easily accessible supplies of fresh water from deep aquifers. These oases produce a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and support extensive date plantations. While these areas contain highly productive agricultural systems, they are restricted in population size due to the limitation on amounts of water available for irrigation.

Demography. This vast land has an extremely small population, estimated at 5.1 million in 2000, including approximately 163,000 non-nationals. The indigenous population is homogeneous, with 90 percent claiming to be of Arab ancestry. While largely rural, the massive oil wealth beginning in the 1960s changed the economic and residential profile of the population. For instance, between 1954 and l964, the citizen population of Tripoli grew by 58 percent, while Benghazi grew by 66 percent. A five-year plan introduced in the 1960s was geared to bring prosperity to rural areas. Its success slowed the migration to the urban areas and made paid employment widely available throughout the country. The oil industry brought large numbers of European and North American workers to the country. Oil revenues allowed the state to greatly expand its work force while the wealth stimulated the private sector. Thus, over the years large numbers of guest workers have found their way to Libya from Eastern Europe and the surrounding Mediterranean and Arab states.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Bedouin invasion of North Africa in the eleventh century brought the Arabic language to Libya. In the western mountains of Libya, the Berber language is still spoken in places and remnants of it remain in the southern oases. Still, Libya is culturally homogeneous. Its citizens speak a distinctive dialect of Arabic in public while modern standard Arabic is taught in the schools and used in government and business. In culture, language, and religion, Libya forms a part of the greater Arab world.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. In Libya, as in most of the Middle East and North Africa, the modern concept of the territorially discreet nation is a recent development. Historically, Libya was characterized by sets of connections between relatively autonomous polities. Even under Turkish rule in the nineteenth century, the city of Tripoli was more of a citystate with commercial links to a politically autonomous countryside rather than a center of integrated rule. A large tented population of pastoral nomads, independent and aggressively autonomous, resided in the steppe and desert to the southeast and to the west. Smaller towns, some similar in commerce, trade, and political aspiration to Tripoli, occupied the shores of the Mediterranean to the west and east. The town of Misarata, with the support of the powerful Bedouin tribal allies of the Wafallah confederacy, challenged Tripoli's hegemony. To the south, the richly endowed agricultural communities of the Jabal Nafusa Mountains maintained an opposition to the coastal powers. With abundant rainfall and a temperate climate, crops were plentiful; citrus and olive groves abounded. Communities maintained independence, some supported by their kin among the powerful camel herding tribes to the south. Everyone was aware of the military prowess and political autonomy of the tribes.

Cyrenaica had a similar but more distinct antagonism between the desert and the town, and between pastoral tribal and sedentary agricultural society. Important towns like Ajadabya and Benghazi were isolated from a countryside occupied by Bedouin tribes who numbered over 90 percent of the province's population. The country was divided among the so-called noble tribes (i.e., landowners), all linked to one another through a common genealogical pedigree from a common ancestress, Sa-ada. In the south, there was a similar opposition between the oasis communities and the tribes.

Much of Libya was organized into agricultural centers surrounded by tribally-organized Bedouin nomads. There was no sense of nation; instead there was a series of social structures bound by the material conditions of trade in both practical and luxury goods. The only nineteenth-century institution that might be considered a defining characteristic of the country was the presence of a Turkish administration (the Porte). Even here the Porte was at a loss to exert its influence outside of the administrative centers.

The nascent strides toward a national identity began with the Italian invasion in the early twentieth century. The first Italian invasion in 1911 focused on the fertile coastal plain of Tripolitania and the city of Tripoli where political fragmentation gave the Italians an easy victory. Libyan allies were easy to gain if not to maintain. Having secured a foothold on the coast, the Italians mistakenly turned their attention to the Fezzan. They marched south through the Al Jufrah oases to Sebha, the modern capital of Fezzan, securing towns on their way. Once in Sebha, the tribes rallied, cut off the garrison and harassed the Italians as they tried to fight their way back to the coast. A decisive battle was fought in Sirte where the tribes under the Ulad Sleman defeated the Italians who then withdrew from the countryside.

In 1934, a more determined Italian force invaded. This time the primary opposition came from Cyrenaica where the tribes rallied under the banner of the Sanussi religious order and the leadership of such national heroes such as Umar al Mukhtar. A brutal and bloody ten-year guerilla war followed, pitting the modern military might of the Italians against a largely subsistence-based nomadic society. It is claimed that nearly 50 percent of the population of Cyrenaica perished during the struggle. The guerilla war represents an historic struggle in the minds of the Libyan people and its leader Umar al Mukhtar became Libya's first national hero.

The future king of Libya, Idris, the head of the Sanussi order (an ascetic Muslim sect), remained in exile during the colonial period, a symbol of regional if not national opposition to the Italians. He lent his support and that of his forces to the allied war effort in World War II, in exchange for a promise of national independence. The United Nations awarded Libya independence in 1951 and economic stability was assured by grants in aid from the United States and several European countries.

National Identity. In 1969, Libya underwent a revolution with far reaching consequences for the country both nationally and internationally. Muammar Qaddafi emerged as leader of the country. Under this regime, a series of far reaching social experiments have been tried, producing a somewhat unique political system. Internationally the pan-Arab and leftist leanings of the regime have had an impact, as the immense oil wealth of the country has allowed the leadership a position on the international stage disproportionate to the country's size. The majority of Libyans have a pride in nation. The birth of the nation, the heroics of Umar al Mukhtar, and the 1969 revolution are commemorated in annual national celebrations as are the major religious events on the Islamic calendar.

Ethnic Relations. Although the Libyan people are in culture, language, and religion largely homogeneous, there have been and still are significant cultural minorities. Until the last half of the twentieth century there were relatively large Jewish and Italian communities in the country. Members of the Jewish community began to emigrate to Israel in 1948 and several anti-Israeli riots in 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973 encouraged further emigration. In 1973, the revolutionary regime of Muammar Qaddafi confiscated all property owned by nonresident Jews. Also in 1973, Qaddafi's regime "invited" forty-five thousand Italian residents who remained from the Italian colonial era to leave the country, and all Italian properties were confiscated by the State.

Black Libyans are descendants of slaves brought to the country during the days of the slave trade. Some worked the gardens in the southern oases and on the farms along the coast. Others were taken in by Bedouin tribes or merchant families as retainers and domestics.

Berber peoples form a large, but less distinguishable minority in the Libyan population. The original inhabitants in most of North Africa, they were overrun in the eleventh and twelfth centuries by the Bedouin Arab armies of the expanding Islamic empire. Over the centuries, the Berber population largely fused with the conquering Arabs. Evidence of Berber culture still remains. The herdsmen and traders of the great Tuareg confederation are found in the south. Known as the "Blue Men of the Desert," their distinctive blue dress and the practice of men veiling distinguish them culturally from the rest of the population. Historically autonomous and fiercely independent, they stand apart from other Libyans and maintain links to their homelands in the Tibesti and Ahaggar mountain retreats of the central Sahara.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Modern Libyan architecture throughout the country reflects the impact of the spectacular oil wealth. Modern apartment buildings and government and private office complexes abound in the major urban centers, while government (peoples') housing is a characteristic of the countryside. However, the distribution of political power among the sectors of Libyan society, to some degree, is reflected, still, in traditional forms of architecture. Walled fortifications, a testimony to tribal power as well as a reminder of the past as a piratical state, dominate the old section of Tripoli. Similar concerns for security characterized other ancient Libyan towns. In the mountains of Tripolitania, some settlements were constructed completely underground on hillsides. These towns of troglodytes maintained security by having only one entrance. Further south, the concern for defense also was a characteristic of architecture. Most oasis communities were walled and fortified. In the Sawknah oasis of Al Jufrah, for instance, the fortified wall extended around the entire residential area. There were only two gated entrances to the community, and the wall had parapets at intervals of twenty yards to allow defenders to catch the enemy in crossfire. In the center of the walled town stood a large fort whose ramparts commanded a line of fire on all sections of the outer wall. It stood as the last line and a sanctuary should the town be overrun. In many towns the traditional pattern of residence was a dense settlement of domestic units inside a fortified perimeter with agricultural lands lying at some distance from the residential areas.

Libyan towns are characterized by a strict distinction between public and private use of space. The streets, cafés, mosques, and shops are a man's world, while the domestic compound is the woman's world. The gardens, usually worked by families, are sanctuaries, not to be entered by strangers. The compact nature of fortified residential centers gives them a distinctive character. Streets are narrow and twisting. In some areas, kin groups, looking to extend the space available to developing extended families, have joined houses at the second-story level over the street to extend living quarters. This bridging effect produces long canopied cul-de-sacs, where kin groups may convert public to private space by gating the residential quarter. Whole communities may extend this concept of the privacy of space to the reception of strangers.

The use of space in relation to social distance is a major feature of Libyan custom. Public space is a busy, bustling, man's world. Private space is as rigidly defined for men as is public space for women. Traditional house design presents no windows at the first-floor level. Houses may have windows at the second-story level, but they are barred, sometimes with elaborate iron filigree. There is usually only one entrance, through a heavy wooden door. Some of the more luxurious homes have a large rectangular courtyard with elaborate gardens and fountains. The courtyard is completely enclosed, as is the private world of the immediate family. A wide balcony runs the full length and width of the second story and is accessed by one or two elegantly designed staircases. As the residence of a large extended family, rooms and apartments lead off from the center of the house on all sides and on both levels.

In the houses of prominent persons and local notables, another set of stairs is located immediately inside the front door without a view of the inner sanctuary of the courtyard. These stairs lead to the guestroom or marabour, a quasi-public space within the confines of the intensely private home. The head of the household entertains friends, business associates, clients, political supporters, and delegates in the marabour. Some of these rooms may accommodate as many as fifty guests. The marabour is almost always rectangular with mattresses lining the walls to provide seating and bedding for guests. Guests who are strangers are confined to this chamber and will not meet the women of the household.

In tented societies, spatial use and the distinction between public and private spaces are similar to that observed in the towns. Pastoral society has less of a problem defining public space. Bedouin camps consist of closely-related kin, and the physical distance between family groups in the same tribal section reinforces privacy. For most of the year, Bedouin camps spread across the countryside with groups separated from each other by several miles. Camps consist of discreet domestic units residing in tents that are placed in a single line.

Camps are organized to meet the complex demands of herd management and cottage industry. Individual male herd owners cooperate to accomplish the difficult task of managing several different herds with varied grazing and maintenance requirements. Male cooperation also extends to producing charcoal and to planting and harvesting cereal crops in years of plentiful rainfall. Women aid each other in weaving and spinning the wool and hair from the flocks; making tent tops, blankets, and storage bags; and milking and processing the products from the herds. Although members of the camp cooperate in daily activities, each married male member of the camp is an independent herd owner, with sons receiving their share of the family herd upon marriage.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Food in normal daily life reflects the simplicity of peasant and nomadic life styles. Libyan cooking styles are similar whether rural or urban, sedentary or nomadic. Main courses are almost always onepot dishes. Couscous (cracked wheat), the national dish, is prepared in a spicy sauce of hot peppers, tomatoes, chick peas, and vegetables in season. All meals are eaten out of a communal bowl. Meals are of great symbolic importance; in the houses or the tents of prominent men, the major meal of the day rarely is taken without invited guests.

Most meals are frugal and simple with the daily consumption of meat kept to a minimum. The Bedouin rarely consume meat more than once a month. Agriculturists always seem to have adequate supplies of fruit, vegetables, and grain. Nomads have an abundance of milk, dates, and grain in most seasons. In both town and desert, meals are ended with three glasses of green tea, preparation and consumption of which is a distinct ritual.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Meals are prepared by the women of the household and served to guests by the young men of the household. Food is served on long low tables, tall enough to allow guests to sit cross legged and to belly up to the edge.

Meals served in the tented society vary slightly from presentation in towns. In tented society, important guests are honored with a sacrificial slaughter of a goat or sheep. In towns, sacrifice is not as frequent because there usually is easy access to daily markets. The animal is butchered, and the flesh is boiled to form the essential ingredient of a stew to be served over couscous. Sometimes various types of pasta may be used as a substitute for couscous. The main course usually is preceded by dried dates, milk, and buttermilk. Each liquid is served in a large communal bowl. Libyans drink green tea after all meals and throughout the day.

Lavish meals are prepared for almost all ritual occasions. Special and elaborate meals are prepared daily during the month of Ramadan when the daily fast is broken by a meal after sunset.

Basic Economy. The two major components of the traditional Libyan economy were agriculture and pastoralism, both largely subsistence activities. Most agricultural communities were kin-based, organized through patrilineal descent. Differences in wealth produced a class of local notables who relied upon the community for their influence and power. There was a tendency for communities to view themselves as corporate groups rather than agricultural communities or pastoral hinterlands. There were influential trading families in the larger commercial centers, but their power in the hinterland was limited. Communities tended to be self-contained and were based on subsistence activities in which families provided for most of their needs from their own labor. Surpluses were traded in local markets and exchanged in networks of pastoral families.

The economic specialization of pastoral and agricultural communities fostered cooperation as town and country sought each other's products. The Bedouin supplied the towns with meat, wool, hides, clarified butter, and security; markets in the towns provided necessary and luxury goods from artisans and traders (guns and ammunition) and agricultural products.

Land Tenure and Property. Traditionally, property was occasionally held communally, but most agricultural land was held privately. Land fragmentation led to a degree of local social stratification in which sharecropping developed. Generally, agriculture expanded onto marginal lands, mixing agriculture with herding. These communities were largely egalitarian, and less fortunate members of the community could count on support from their kinsmen.

In the pastoral realm, families owned their herds individually and secured land for grazing and watering rights as members of patrilineally-based corporations. Powerful tribes claimed ownership of discrete blocks of territory. A tribe is composed of a number of corporate land-owning groups who define relationships between themselves according to their relative position on the tribal genealogy. Tribal territory was subdivided between tribal sections following a genealogical charter. This charter of descent links the ancestors of the living corporate land-owning descent groups to each other in clearly defined measures of genealogical closeness or distance. Thus the members of one corporate landowning group see the members of an adjacent group as having rights to their territory by virtue of their descent from the brother of the founder of their own group.

Major Industries. Libya has been described as a "hydrocarbon state" since oil sales have an all pervasive role in the Libyan economy, politics, and social structure The discovery of oil in the late 1950s radically altered development and ushered in a period of massive economic redirection. In the first phase of exploration, the oil companies spent large sums and expenditures increased rapidly.

The first substantial oil revenues were paid to the government in 1962 and these revenues increased dramatically during the 1960s, providing rapid expansion in both the private and public sectors.

Two other industries that grew rapidly during the late 1950s and in the 1960s were construction and transportation. Construction, particularly in the cities, increased dramatically. Whole sections of Tripoli were built during this time. Construction was undertaken to provide suitable quarters for the many new local and foreign companies that grew in Libya. There also was an increase in construction of private dwellings in this period. New construction provided accommodations for the increased population and thriving business community in Tripoli.

Trade. Today, crude oil refined petroleum products and natural gas constitute nearly all Libya's exports, totaling $6 billion (U.S. dollars) in 1989. Major export partners were Italy, Germany, Spain, France, Sudan, and the United Kingdom. Major imports include machinery, transportation equipment, food, and manufactured goods. In 1989, Libya's major import partners were Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Tunisia, and Belgium.

Division of Labor. The increase in prosperity brought about a large-scale change in occupation. There was a major decline in persons working in agriculture but there was a sharp increase in laborers and clerical, sports and recreation, and transportation workers. The oil boom had massively changed the occupational and residential structure of the population in just a few years. In the countryside, the five-year plan of the 1960s ushered into existence a period of rural prosperity when many nomadic families became sedentary in order to take advantage of steady wage employment. A wide-scale patronage system developed that was administered through local political structures. Thus, "lamb barrel" politics, in a situation of radical economic change, reinforced family, lineage, tribal, and village structures. The traditional Libyan economy has continued to shrink as the oil economy has grown. By 1997, agriculture accounted for only 7 percent of the economic sector, while industry and services accounted for 47 percent and 46 percent respectively. But not even a revolution could dismantle the national lamb barrel.

Political Life

Government. On 1 September 1969, a group of army officers staged a successful bloodless coup that forced the king into exile and abolished the existing form of government. Muammar Qaddafi quickly emerged as the undisputed leader. The group of young officers considered themselves revolutionaries, but none of them had a background in revolutionary activity or schooling in radical politics. They aligned themselves with Gamal Abdul Nasser, leader of Egypt. Domestically, the conservative nature of the officers' policies became clear when they permanently closed nightclubs and prohibited the consumption of alcohol. They declared themselves to be socialist in politics and conservative in Islamic religious practices.

Once consolidated in power, the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) undertook a series of radical initiatives to transform the economic, social, and political organization of Libya. Begun in 1973, this transformation was guided by the Green Book written by Qaddafi. The thesis of this book is a critique of participatory democracy in which it is argued that no man should represent another, but that the people should represent themselves directly. A contradictory argument of Qaddafi's is that the building blocks of society are family, tribe, and nation.

In the early 1970s, radical reform of the political process was undertaken to bring about direct participation of the people in the national democratic process. The municipalities in the country were reorganized territorially and their management was placed in the hands of locally elected peoples' committees. These committees were responsible for local government and the development of local budgets. Representatives of local committees presented budgets and other matters through a people's congress, which met once a year to discuss matters of concern and to deliver fiscal demands. This became one mechanism through which Libya redistributed some of the national wealth, and involved its citizens in a democratic process.

In 1975, a crisis developed in the ruling RCC and in the army concerning the course that the revolution should take. There was an attempted coup that was not successful; the army was purged and the RCC disbanded. The five remaining loyal RCC members were assigned to ministerial posts. Qaddafi, now firmly in control of the country, set a course that was enormously disruptive for the country and the international community.

Internally, Qaddafi unleashed the young zealots of the revolution, urging them to form revolutionary committees to instruct the people on the goals of the revolution. A rein of terror followed that was to last for over a decade. Revolutionary courts were soon established and nearly all institutions of government and commerce were put under the scrutiny of these committees. Only the institutions of banking and the oil industry were kept from their reach. Enemies of the revolution were ferreted out, tried secretly in revolutionary courts, jailed, tortured, and subjected to long prison sentences or death. Furor developed on the university campuses and on at least one occasion the student body witnessed the public hanging of fellow students who had been tried by students belonging to the revolutionary committee. There were numerous public hangings of citizens for crimes committed against the revolution, many of which were broadcast on national television. These measures were followed by other "reforms" which tore at the fabric of Libyan society. Private enterprise was abolished and all privately-owned shops were closed and replaced by government run Peoples' Markets. The regime nationalized all non-owner occupied housing and confirmed ownership on the occupants. Bureaucrats were sacked from government ministries and, in 1980, Qaddafi demonetized the currency, severely restricting the amounts of old money that citizens could convert to the new currency. There were reports of outraged citizens burning large piles of currency outside of the National Bank. These measures were adopted at a time when the world price for oil dropped severely, thus ushering in a decade of austerity in Libya. Qaddafi also canceled the stipends of thousands of Libyan students studying abroad and ordered them to return home. Many chose not to return and large numbers of citizens joined them in exile, most from the better-educated classes. By the mid 1980s, as many as 100,000 Libyans were living abroad, many joining political groups opposed to the revolution.

During the 1980s, the consequences of the revolution were being felt abroad. Qaddafi urged that revolutionary committees replace the diplomatic corps in Libyan embassies, renaming them "Peoples' Bureaus." In London a young female constable was shot dead outside the Peoples' Bureau where an anti-Qaddafi rally was under way. Qaddafi stepped up pressure on dissidents and called for the obligatory repatriation of all Libyan exiles. Noncompliance was to result in death. There were gang style executions of Libyan nationals in several European cities.

Internationally, Qaddafi played a controversial role. He fought a war with Chad, skirmished with Egypt, and trained a commando group which attacked a city in southern Tunisia. There were well-publicized financial contributions to Pakistan to aid in building the "Islamic Bomb," and to the Irish Republican Army, the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and other revolutionary organizations. There was also growing suspicion in the international community that the Qaddafi regime was involved directly in terrorism itself. These suspicions resulted in the United States and Britain severing diplomatic relations with Libya, putting in place severe economic sanctions and bombing the cities of Tripoli and Benghazi. Subsequently the Pan American Airline explosion over Lockerbie, Scotland was blamed on Libyan agents and the United Nations banned all air travel to Libya until the government was prepared to turn its agents over the Scottish government for trial. By late 1980s, Libya was thoroughly isolated by the international community.

This same period (19861987) marked a turning point in the revolution internally. The revolutionary committees were chastised for excesses. Qaddafi released prisoners from jail, personally supervising the destruction of one prison. He invited dissidents to return home without penalty; allowed citizens to travel freely, giving family members $1,000 (U.S.) each for the journey; and restored free enterprise. The liberalization has resulted in free market conditions with satellite dishes springing up everywhere, cell phones in use, and a full array of goods in the shops. But it does not appear that the liberalization has met with entrepreneurial fervor among the citizens. They seem to know that their mercurial government could change course at a moment's notice.

Libya has many characteristics which distinguish it organizationally from other states. Most importantly, the state does not rely upon taxation of its citizens for revenues. State budgets remain out of the realm of public discussion because those in power do not combine finance with politics. The central power seeks other means to gain compliance from its citizens. While direct democracy is a mechanism for distribution of some of the national wealth to the citizens, most of the national wealth remains to be used by those in power beyond public accountability. For instance, the budget for the military, one of the most important elements of Libya's new elite, is simply not published.

Military. The Libyan military has had a critical role in maintaining the Qaddafi regime in power. This support seems to have functioned from three perspectives. First, the military is extremely well funded. Although exact figures are difficult to obtain, Libya has spent at least $5 billion (U.S.) for military procurements every year since the late 1970s, with occasional military expenditures exceeding 40 percent of total government expenditures. The country spent $1,360 (U.S.) per capita in 1984. These figures are about twice the average per capita spending on defense for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and are rivaled only by Israel, Saudi Arabia, and a few oil rich Gulf Emirates. Second, these figures reflect an enormous procurement process in which the senior military seem to have profited greatly. There are accounts of senior officers living opulent life styles, building stately villas, and acquiring properties outside of normal channels. There is a suggestion here that Qaddafi has bought their loyalty. Third, there is hard evidence that tribalism has a role in the army. Qaddafi, during the revolutionary furor that he unleashed, appointed his family members as his bodyguards, trained his tribal kin as his elite army unit and, during the Revolutionary Committee period, appointed members of his tribe to the committee in the army. Thus opulent economic favor, nepotism, and tribal loyalty combined to assure that the most powerful institution in Libyan society continued to support the revolution and its leader.

Gender Roles and Statuses

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Purdah, the custom of secluding and veiling women, is a traditional feature of Libyan cultural life. Groups of veiled women are still found in markets in the company of kinsmen but they are infrequent visitors to mosques and absent entirely from café life. Women were traditionally placed in seclusion at puberty and appear in public veiled. They are only freed from this custom at menopause. The push toward female emancipation, as exhibited in the opening of public space to women, may be repealed at any time by either domestic male prerogative or national decree. Qaddafi established a military academy for females and, occasionally, has arrived at international meetings accompanied by female bodyguards dressed in battle fatigues.

Qaddifi claims that men and women are radically different in biology and nature. His view is that the nature of woman is to nurture and her role as mother and domestic is part of a natural order.

Where social life outside of the compound may be limiting for women due to the institution of purdah, within the household, the movements of women are not constrained. All are close kin and many are descendants of a common ancestor. As such they share a common daily social life. The movements of women are not restricted within the compound and both sexes may freely enter each other's abodes without invitation.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Descent kinship and marriage are major organizing factors in social, economic, and political life. Patrilineal descent defines group membership, while kinship is largely the product of marriage arrangements. Where the collective interests of descent groups are clearly defined, the patterns of kinship and marriage will reflect these interests. Marriages are arranged by the parents in consultation with members of the extended family and lineage. Libyan society, like much of the Arab world, places a premium on father's brother's daughter's marriage. This rule of "first right" is so important that in strongly-focused descent groups the male first cousin must waive his right to the girl before she is allowed to take a more socially distant spouse. Girls may marry at age fourteen, while men must usually wait until they are in their mid-to-late twenties. The age qualification for marriage between cousins thus restricts this form of marriage.

Approximately 20 percent of all marriages are "first right." Such arrangements give many descent groups a second set of social relationships. Since the father's brother's daughter's marriage removes the rule against group endogamy found in other societies, people are free to arrange marriages within the group outside the range of siblings and within generation. Thus, multiple strands of kinship crosscut group structure and further reinforce the corporate descent group.

Although groups may strive toward endogamy, other interests of the family and corporate group may lead to marriages being contracted between distant relations. In Bedouin society it is normal for groups to contract marriage with groups in distant ecological zones. Failure of the rains in one territory may lead to an invitation by more fortunate kin to visit and graze and water one's animals on their territory for the season.

Occasionally, there are marriages between the Bedouin and families of trading partners in oases. Marriages between adversaries in a feud may occur at the conclusion of the peace agreement. Marriages also are a way of binding groups in alliance since the offspring of successful unions will have close kin in two different groups. Thus marriage reflects family and group interests, and the patterns weave a web of mutual interest between families, lineages, and tribes.

Marriage arrangements require that siblings are married sequentially according to age. For a man to marry, he must be able to pay a "bride price" to the bride's family. Weddings may tax family resources because the more distantly related the bride, the higher the "bride price." Groups of brothers work together to gather the resources necessary for marriage. In Bedouin society, the resources used to marry come from the family herds. In towns, men contribute a portion of their pay to a brother's bride price.

Indications that in the urban areas some of the structures described above have been modified are manifest in several ways. Many women are now seen unveiled in public. A recent report now claims that there are more female than male university students. And the Qaddafi regime has prohibited the admission of foreign women into the country unaccompanied by senior male kinsmen, as the bride price for mail-order brides from surrounding Arab states is significantly less than for Libyan women. These suggestions of social transformation have not been adequately analyzed as yet.

Domestic Unit. The social makeup of Bedouin camps almost always consists of closely-related patrilineal relatives and their wives. A camp may consist of a large central tent housing a couple and their unmarried sons and daughters. Adjacent tents will house married sons and their wives and children. Occasionally a distant relative or friend and his family may join the camp for a season. In the line of tents, social solidarities are expressed by the proximity of tents in the line. Close kin, brothers, and fathers position their tents so that the tent pegs overlap and the guide ropes of the tents cross one another. The tent of a more remotely related member of the camp will be at the end of the line, a few yards from his neighbor, without guide ropes crossing.

Kin Groups. Descent groups with clearly-focused interests usually reside in contiguous residential structures, marry endogamously, cooperate in all social, economic, and political matters, and have a highly ramified social life within the group. For the most part, life is extremely comfortable.

The tribal land-owning corporations are themselves patrilineal descent groups or lineages whose members acquire rights by virtue of being the sons and daughters of a particular man. In theory all members of the group are patrilineal descendants of the founder. Members are said to be of one flesh and bone with equal rights to territorial resources. Equal rights also implies equal obligations. Members have the obligation to defend the territory against the encroachment of neighboring corporations. Liability is not an individual matter, but a matter between groups. Injury leads to a "state of feud" between groups in which all members of the offended group are required to take revenge against any male member of the offending group; this can lead to anarchy with a continual cycle of killings. Feuds have rules of conduct in which groups may decide to end the matter by a payment of a "blood price" whereby the offending group must compensate the offended group for the loss of life with payment. The members of the offending corporation must all contribute to the blood price, while all members of the offended group share in the compensation.

The institution of the feud makes possible a fairly orderly set of relations between competing groups where there are no institutions of government. While feuds may lead to peace through settlement, the relationships between groups defined through the genealogy will lead to a stand-off of equal numbers through opposition. The tribal segmentary system thus fosters an ethic of egalitarianism with its expression found in the members of the corporate patrilineal descent groups.

Nicknaming within tribes is prevalent as an expression of individual personality. The descent group is an institution that gives pride of place to its members, demands extreme loyalty of them, and provides a warm, nurturing support system to men and women of all ages.

The oil wealth has radically transformed the Libyan economy and its demography with widespread urbanization and wage employment. This process has only partially undermined traditional social structures as they were first reinforced by the pre-Revolutionary patronage system and then by the post-revolution political system. In the urban areas the constraints of family, lineage, and tribe have no doubt loosened. While the upper level bureaucratsa second major section of the new elitemay answer to Qaddafi and his ruling clique, this is not true for the rural areas. There, ties of family, lineage, tribe, and residence still remain the dominant forms of organization. This striking feature of Libyan life is partially the result of the implementation of the political structures described by Qaddafi in the Green Book. Local committee members and bureaucrats are themselves members of local kin-based groups whose loyalty they must retain and whose wishes they must consider. While this is a society where immense oil wealth might lead to radical social transformation, in the rural areas, at least, this has not happened. There, cultural traditions have been slow to change as the political and economic institutions of government are refracted through family, lineage, and tribal interests.


Higher Education. Libya has two universities, several technical schools, and a well developed primary and secondary school system. By the mid 1980s, there were 1,245,000 students enrolled in primary and secondary education: 54 percent were males and 46 percent were females. During this period the government claimed to have constructed 32,000 new classrooms while the number of teachers increased from about 19,000 to 79,000.

University enrollments also show dramatic increases from 3,000 students in 1969 to more than 25,000 during the 1980s with female enrollments numbering about 25 percent. Education is free and university students receive generous stipends. Even though large strides have been made in Libyan education, the country still lacks technical expertise in many areas. The military lacks the skilled personnel to adequately maintain its weapons systems. Most doctors, dentists, and pharmacists are foreign nationals, while 60 percent of Libya's top bureaucrats and 40 percent of the work force are expatriates.


A polite stranger, when approaching a camp, will pause about one hundred yards from the line of tents. A series of activities converting private into public space begins. Either one tent in the line will be vacated and converted into a guest tent, or the large tent of the oldest male will be divided down the middle to produce a guest compartment separated from the domestic section. Entertainment of guests in tented society is similar to towns. One difference in tented society is that a guest will not be asked his social identity until after the meal when the breaking of bread has placed the guest under his host's protection. This rule of sanctuary ensures that members of rival groups or those in a feuding relationship may travel the desert in relative safety.


Religious Beliefs. Most traditional Libyans are devout Muslims and practice a simple and deeply personal religion. Adults follow the strictures of Islam; they pray five times a day, give alms to the poor, and fast for the month of Ramadan. There is a certain austerity to Libyan Islam shaped by the harshness of traditional life. This asceticism was reinforced by the Sanussi order, which was abolished by the Qaddafi regime for political reasons. In its place, the regime instituted fundamentalist practices with very little impact on rural life, where the Libyan version of an ascetic Islam is still practiced.

Religious Practitioners. The Ulama, or religious scholars, have been upstaged by the regime, but in the countryside mosques are well attended. The folk religion of the people subscribes, in part, to a deviation from traditional Islam. In Libya, as in other parts of North Africa, the cult of saints is highly developed. There are individual living saints, marabout, whose miracles are widely reported and whose services in a curative capacity are sought. People also visit the tombs of men of reputation, seeking cures for illness, success in business, and luck in passing an examination. There are small tribes whose members are said to have inherited baraka, the quality of goodness or holiness, and minister to local people. There are also lineages who are said to be descendants of the prophet Mohammed. They are given the title of sharif.


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The people of Libya are called Libyans. More than 90 percent of the population identify themselves as Arab, with most of the remaining minority composed of Berbers (general name for North Africans) and black Africans.

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LibyaGambia, ZambiaArabia, labia, SwabiaLibya, Namibia, tibia •euphorbia •agoraphobia, claustrophobia, homophobia, hydrophobia, phobia, technophobia, xenophobia, Zenobia •Nubia • rootbeer • cumbia •Colombia, Columbia •exurbia, Serbia, suburbia •Wiltshire • Flintshire •gaillardia, Nadia, tachycardia •steadier • compendia •Acadia, Arcadia, nadir, stadia •reindeer •acedia, encyclopedia, media, multimedia •Lydia, Numidia •India • belvedere • Claudia •Cambodia, odea, plasmodia, podia, roe-deer •Mafia, raffia, tafia •Philadelphia • hemisphere •planisphere • Montgolfier • Sofia •ecosphere • biosphere • atmosphere •thermosphere • ionosphere •stratosphere • headgear • switchgear •logia • nemesia • menhir

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