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 Libyan Arab Jamahiriya


Country, North Africa.

Area: 679,362 square miles (1,759,540 square km). Population (2007 est.): 6,342,000. Capital: Tripoli. Imazighen (Berbers), once the major ethnic group, have been largely assimilated into the predominant Arab culture; sub-Saharan Africans are among the other ethnic groups. Languages: Arabic (official); Italian and English are understood in the major cities. Religions: Islam (official; predominantly Sunni); also Christianity. Currency: Libyan dinar. The majority of Libya is covered by the Sahara. Tripolitania, in the northwest, is Libya’s most important agricultural region and its most populated area. The production and export of petroleum are the basis of Libya’s economy; other resources include natural gas, manganese, and gypsum. Livestock raising, including sheep and goats, is important in the north. Libya is a socialist state with one policy-making body; the head of government is the prime minister, but Muammar al-Qaddafi has been the de facto head of state and real power in Libya since 1969. The early history is that of Fezzan, Cyrenaica, and Tripolitania, which the Ottoman Empire combined under one regency in Tripoli in the 16th century. In 1911 Italy claimed control of Libya, and by the outbreak of World War II (1939–45) 150,000 Italians had immigrated there. It was the scene of much fighting in the war. It became an independent state in 1951 and a member of the Arab League in 1953. The discovery of petroleum in the late 1950s brought wealth to Libya. A decade later a group of army officers led by Qaddafi deposed King Idris I and made the country an Islamic republic. Under Qaddafi, Libya supported the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and allegedly provided aid for international militant groups. Intermittent warfare with Chad that had begun in the 1970s ended with Libya’s defeat in 1987. UN sanctions imposed on Libya in the 1990s for its purported connection to terrorism were lifted in 2003.

Official name Al-Jamāhīrīyah al-ʿArabīyah al-Lībīyah ash-Shaʿbīyah al-Ishtirākīyah al-Uẓmā (Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya)
Form of government authoritarian state with one policy-making body (General People’s Congress [468])
Chief of state Muammar al-Qaddafi (de facto)1; Secretary of General People’s Congress (de jure)
Head of government Secretary of the General People’s Committee (Prime Minister)
Capital Tripoli2
Official language Arabic
Official religion Islam
Monetary unit Libyan dinar (LD)
Population estimate (2008) 5,871,000
Total area (sq mi) 679,362
Total area (sq km) 1,759,540
1No formal titled office exists.

2Tripoli was made the capital in the early 1970s. By 2005 most ministries had relocated to Surt (near Qaddafi’s place of birth) and other cities as part of a radical decentralization plan. The policy-making body (General People’s Congress) meets annually in Surt.


country located in North Africa. Most of the country lies in the Sahara desert, and much of its population is concentrated along the coast and its immediate hinterland, where Tripoli (Ṭarābulus), the de facto capital, and Banghāzī, another major city, are located.

Libya comprises three historical regions—Tripolitania in the northwest, Cyrenaica in the east, and Fezzan in the southwest. The Ottoman authorities recognized them as separate provinces. Under Italian rule, they were unified to form a single colony, which gave way to independent Libya. For much of Libya’s early history, both Tripolitania and Cyrenaica were more closely linked with neighbouring territories than with one other.

Before the discovery of oil in the late 1950s, Libya was considered poor in natural resources and severely limited by its desert environment. The country was almost entirely dependent upon foreign aid and imports for the maintenance of its economy; the discovery of petroleum dramatically changed this situation. The government has long exerted strong control over the economy and has attempted to develop agriculture and industry with wealth derived from its huge oil revenues. It has also established a welfare state, which provides medical care and education at minimal cost to the people.

Libya is bounded by the Mediterranean Sea on the north, Egypt on the east, The Sudan on the southeast, Niger and Chad on the south, and Tunisia and Algeria on the west.

Libya is underlain by basement rocks of Precambrian age (from about 4 billion to 543 million years ago) mantled with marine and wind-borne deposits. The major physical features are the Nafūsah Plateau and the Al-Jifārah (Gefara) Plain in the northwest, the Akhḍar Mountains (“Green Mountains”) in the northeast, and the Saharan plateau, which occupies much of the rest of the country.

The Al-Jifārah Plain covers about 10,000 square miles (26,000 square km) of Libya’s northwestern corner. It rises from sea level to about 1,000 feet (300 metres) at the foothills of the Nafūsah Plateau. Composed of sand dunes, salt marshes, and steppe, the plain is home to most of Libya’s population and to its largest city, Tripoli. The Nafūsah Plateau is a limestone massif that stretches for about 212 miles (340 km) from Al-Khums on the coast to the Tunisian border at Nālūt. West of Tarhūnah it rises steeply from the Al-Jifārah Plain, reaching elevations between 1,500 and 3,200 feet (450 and 975 metres).

In northeastern Libya, the Akhḍar Mountains stretch along the coast between Al-Marj and Darnah. These limestone mountains rise steeply from the coast to about 2,000 feet (600 metres) and then stretch about 20 miles (30 km) inland, reaching nearly 3,000 feet (900 metres) at their highest points.

The Saharan plateau makes up about nine-tenths of Libya. About half of the plateau is sand desert, making it truly a sea of sand. Al-Harūj al-Aswad is a hilly basaltic plateau in central Libya. Covered with angular stone fragments and boulders, it rises to about 2,600 feet (800 metres) and is crowned by volcanic peaks. Al-Ḥamrāʾ Plateau lies south of the Nafūsah Plateau. It harbours bare rock outcroppings that rise to 2,700 feet (820 metres). In the Fezzan region in the southwest, a series of long depressions and basins contain wadis (dry riverbeds) and oasis settlements. Mobile sand dunes that reach heights of 300 feet (90 metres) are found in the Fezzan’s Marzūq desert and in the eastern Libyan Desert, which extends into Egypt. The country’s highest elevations are Bīkkū Bīttī peak (Picco Bette), which rises to 7,436 feet (2,267 metres) on the Libya-Chad border, and Mount Al-ʿUwaynāt, with an elevation of 6,345 feet (1,934 metres) on the Libya-Sudan-Egypt border.

There are no permanent rivers in Libya. The numerous wadis that drain the uplands are filled by flash floods during the rains but then quickly dry up or are reduced to a trickle. The largest wadi systems are the Wadi Zamzam and Wadi Bayy al-Kabīr, both of which empty into the sea on the western coast of the Gulf of Sidra. Other large wadis drain the interior basins of Sirte, Zalṭan, and the Fezzan. There is also, however, extensive underground water. Numerous oases are watered by wells and springs, and artesian wells tap large deep fossil aquifers in the Fezzan and southeastern Libya; the Great Man-Made River was one of the more ambitious projects designed to make use of these underground reserves. (See map illustrating the phases of the Great Man-Made River project that were planned or completed in the late 20th century.) Along the coastal strip there are several salt flats, or sabkhas, formed by the ponding and evaporation of water behind coastal dunes. Principal salt flats are found at Tāwurghāʾ, at Zuwārah, and on the Banghāzī Plain.

The gray-brown soils of the Al-Jifārah Plain and the Nafūsah Plateau in the west are fertile, although overirrigation has led to increased soil salination. In the east, the soils of the Barce plain—which stretches between the Akhḍar Mountains and the sea—are light and fertile. Rich alluvial soils are found in the coastal deltas and valleys of large wadis. On the margins of the Sahara, cultivation and overgrazing have seriously depleted the soil. The rest of the country is covered by wind-eroded sand or stony desert. The soils in these areas are poorly developed, with little organic material.

Libya’s climate is dominated by the hot, arid Sahara, but it is moderated along the coastal littoral by the Mediterranean Sea. The Saharan influence is stronger in summer. From October to March, prevailing westerly winds bring cyclonic storms and rains across northern Libya. A narrow band of semiarid steppe extends inland from the Mediterranean climate of the Al-Jifārah Plain, the Nafūsah Plateau, and the Akhḍar Mountains. The desert climate of the Sahara reaches the coast along the southern fringes of the Gulf of Sidra, where Al-Ḥamrāyah (Sirte) Desert borders the sea. Periodic droughts, often lasting several years, are common in the steppe and desert.

Along the coast, the Mediterranean climate is characterized by a cool, rainy winter season and a hot, dry summer. The warmest months are July and August, when average temperatures in Banghāzī and Tripoli, in the Mediterranean zone, reach between the low 70s and mid-80s F (low to upper 20s C) and the low 60s and mid-80s F (upper 10s and low 30s C), respectively. The coolest months are January and February; winter monthly temperatures in Banghāzī range from the low 50s to low 60s F (low to mid-10s C), while those in Tripoli range from the upper 40s to low 60s F (low to mid-10s C). The world’s highest temperature in the shade, about 136 °F (58 °C), was recorded at Al-ʿAzīziyyah on Al-Jifārah Plain. Banghāzī has an average annual precipitation of about 10 inches (250 mm), and Tripoli receives an annual average of about 15 inches (380 mm).

Inland from the coast, annual precipitation declines, and its variability increases. Most rain falls in a few days between November and January. Less than 4 inches (100 mm) of rain falls annually in the steppes, and Saharan zones receive less than 1 inch (25 mm). In the Sahara, 200 consecutive rainless days in a year have been recorded in many areas, and the world’s highest degree of aridity has been recorded at Sabhā, which averages only 0.4 inch (10 mm) of precipitation annually. Average temperatures at Sabhā are in the low 50s F (low 10s C) in January and in the upper 80s F (low 30s C) in July, but these averages mask the fact that temperatures may vary enormously over the course of a day. The dry climate is exacerbated by the ghibli, a hot, arid wind that blows from the south over the entire country several times a year. It is usually preceded by a short lull in the prevailing winds, followed by the full force of the ghibli. The wind carries large quantities of sand dust, which turns the sky red and reduces visibility to less than 60 feet (18 metres). The heat of the wind is increased by a rapid drop of relative humidity, which can fall dramatically within hours.

Plant and animal life
In years of ample precipitation, the coastal plains are covered with herbaceous vegetation and annual grasses; the most noticeable plants are the asphodel (an herb of the lily family) and jubule. The northern area of the Akhḍar Mountains—where the influence of the Mediterranean is most dominant—supports low and relatively dense forest (or maquis) of juniper and lentisc. Annual plants are abundant and include brome grass, canary grass, bluegrass, and rye grass. The forest becomes more scattered and stunted south of the mountain crest, and annual plants are less frequent. In the west, plant life is more sparse on the Nafūsah Plateau, where grasslands lie between the barren hills.

In the semiarid steppes, vegetation is also sparse, characterized by pockets of isolated drought-resistant plants. The most commonly found species are saltwort (a plant used in making soda ash) and spurge flax (a shrubby plant), while goosefoot, wormwood, and asphodel also are widespread. Annual grasses grow in the rainy season, and leguminous plants appear in years of good precipitation. Although precipitation is extremely low in the true desert zone and the vegetation cover is scant, some plants from the semiarid region penetrate the occasional wadi valley, and date palms are grown in the southern oases.

Wild animals include desert rodents, such as the desert hare and the jerboa; hyenas; foxes, such as the fennec and the red fox; jackals; skunks; gazelles; and wildcats. The poisonous adder and krait are among the reptiles that inhabit the scattered oases and water holes. Native birds include the wild ringdove, the partridge, the lark, and the prairie hen. Eagles, hawks, and vultures are also common.

Ethnic groups and languages
Almost all Libyans speak Arabic, the country’s official language. They claim descent from the Bedouin Arab tribes of the Banū Hilāl and the Banū Sulaym, who are said to have invaded the Maghrib in the 11th century. The government’s embrace of Arab nationalism has reduced Western influences, although English is still widely used as a second language in international business and politics. At the beginning of the 21st century, Libya’s population included a substantial number of foreign migrant workers—largely from sub-Saharan African countries—temporarily residing in the country. The tribe (qabīlah), a form of social organization that allowed the grouping of nomadic peoples scattered across the country’s vast spaces, was the foundation of social order for much of Libya’s history.

The Imazighen (Berbers) are believed to have been the earliest inhabitants of Libya. The main Amazigh (plural Imazighen) groups were the Luata, the Nefusa, and the Adassa. They lived in coastal oases and practiced sedentary agriculture. Most Imazighen have been assimilated into Arab society except in the Nafūsah Plateau region, Awjilah, Hūn, Socra, and Zuwārah. The Imazighen of Libya speak languages that are classified as Afro-Asiatic but have adopted the Arabic alphabet. Many are bilingual in Nafusi (an Amazigh language) and Arabic; most are Sunni Muslims. There is also a community of some 30,000 people once called Gypsies but known in North Africa as Dom (see also Roma), who speak Domari (an Indo-European language).

Arab migrations to the region began with the rise of Islam in the 7th century. The initial Arab incursions were essentially military and had little effect upon the composition of the population. Oral tradition suggests that invasions of the Banū Hilāl in 1049 and the Banū Sulaym later in the 11th century took major migrations of nomadic tribes from eastern Arabia to Libya. However, scholarship later suggested that these movements too were not invasions but rather slow migrations of Arab peoples that occurred over several centuries.

The Banū Sulaym were composed of four main groups—the Banū Hebib, the ʿAwf, the Debbab, and the Zegb. The Hebib settled in Cyrenaica, while the others went to Tripolitania. The arrival of these and other Arab groups led to political upheaval and the steady Arabization of Libya’s Amazigh populations. The result was that by the 20th century the great majority of Libya’s inhabitants were Arabic-speaking Muslims of mixed descent.

Several other social groups exist alongside the tribes. Among these are the sharifs (holy tribes), who came originally from the Fezzan. The sharifs claim direct descent from the Prophet Muhammad; their alleged blood relationship with the Prophet gives them a powerful standing in Muslim society. Extensive tracts of land in the oases of western Libya are under sharifian control.

The marabouts (Muslim religious leaders credited with supernatural powers) arrived in Libya from Saguia el-Hamra, in what is now Western Sahara. The maraboutic tribes are descended from holy men who also claimed a privileged relationship with Muhammad. They believed in an ascetic life, manifested by their hermit lifestyle. In areas where their teachings and way of life made them acceptable to the local inhabitants, they settled and founded tribes pledged to the pure way of life.

The Koulouglis are descended from the Janissaries (elite Turkish soldiers who ruled Libya following the Ottoman conquest) and the Amazigh and Christian slave women with whom they intermarried. They have served since Ottoman times as a scribal class and are concentrated in and around villages and towns. They speak Arabic and practice Islam.

The trans-Saharan slave trade, which continued through the early 20th century, took black Africans and their cultures to Libya, particularly to the Fezzan and Tripolitania. Though they previously spoke Nilo-Saharan and Niger-Congo languages of the central Sahara and eastern Sudan, today they speak Arabic and have adopted Islam.

Small groups of Tuareg nomads live in the southwest, especially around the oases of Ghadāmis and Ghāt. They are gradually assuming a sedentary lifestyle. In the southeast, isolated nomadic Teda (Tubu) communities are slowly gravitating toward the north and the Al-Kufrah oasis in search of employment.

Most Libyans are Muslim, and the vast majority are Sunnis. There are also very small minorities of Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians. In Cyrenaica the influence of the Sanūsiyyah, a 19th-century militant Islamic brotherhood, remains strong. Although a Jewish minority was long established in Tripolitania, most Jews left the country in the late 1960s, many of them immigrating to Italy.

Settlement patterns
The majority of the population lives in Tripolitania, mainly in Tripoli and other cities along the coast and on the Nafūsah Plateau. A smaller proportion of the people live in Cyrenaica, primarily in Banghāzī and other coastal cities. The remainder of the population is found in the oasis towns of the Fezzan.

The vast majority of the rural population lives in oases on the coast and is engaged in irrigation farming; plots of land are usually small and held in individual ownership. On the Nafūsah Plateau, however, where water is less readily available, a sophisticated agrarian system based on olive- and fruit-tree cultivation and associated livestock raising has evolved. In Cyrenaica, the premodern economy was based on nomadic and seminomadic pastoralism. Arable farming has largely been an adjunct of the pastoral system, with shifting dry-land cultivation rarely entailing sedentary farming. In this zone, land ownership is no longer exclusively communal. In southern Libya, isolated irrigated farming in the oases constitutes a third economic system with roots in the premodern era.

The most common mode of life in rural Libya is sedentary cultivation. In the oases most farmers rely on irrigation, and water is raised from shallow wells either by the animal-powered dalū (a goatskin bag drawn by rope over a pulley) or, increasingly, by electric or diesel pumps. Landholdings in the oases are small and fragmented; the average farm of five to seven acres (two to three hectares) is usually divided into three or four separate parcels. In the coastal regions, lowland farmers normally live on their own plots but enjoy rights to graze stock and undertake shifting grain cultivation on communally held land. In Cyrenaica and Tripolitania, most Arab farmers tend to live on plots of between 12 and 600 acres (5 and 240 hectares) that were once part of large estates belonging to Italian settlers.

Pastoral nomadism is practiced in the arid and semiarid regions, particularly in the Akhḍar Mountains and surrounding steppe lands in Cyrenaica. Nomadic groups subsist primarily on their herds of sheep, goats, and camels but also practice shifting cereal cultivation. These Bedouins move south as soon as pasture sprouts in the fall and remain there until the grasslands disappear and necessitate their return to the northern hills.

Fixed, permanently occupied villages were not typical features of nomadic life among the Bedouins of the Libyan steppe and desert, although towns have existed in the coastal zones since Phoenician, Greek, and Roman times. With the arrival of the Ottoman Turks in the 16th century, however, the new authorities founded towns and villages in the hinterland and desert that served as military posts or administrative centres; some of these sites have been occupied ever since. Other smaller, temporary settlements began as gathering places for nomadic tribes during periods of summer residence in the oases or in pastures in the hills. In the west, however, Amazigh populations are thought to have maintained a more or less continuous series of fortified nucleated villages in the western Nafūsah Plateau. In the southern oases, the villages served both as defense posts for the scattered communities and as watering and provisioning points on the trans-Saharan caravan routes. Since independence and the discovery of oil in the mid-20th century, economic development has led to the expansion of villages into towns and has attracted migrants from rural areas to these growing urban centres.

The two main cities are Tripoli and Banghāzī. They contain about one-third of the country’s entire urban population and about one-fourth of the total population. Tripoli, with a metropolitan population of more than two million people, is the de facto political capital and the most important economic centre. Banghāzī, with its metropolitan area of more than one million people, is the primary city in Cyrenaica. The modern cities have developed around the old city centres (medinas), with satellite towns and villages in surrounding oases. Shantytowns housing recent rural-to-urban migrants are also found near the two cities, although the government has built low-income housing.

Other important centres include Gharyān, Al-Khums, Miṣrātah, Tājūrāʾ, Sūq al-Jumʿah, Janzūr, and Al-Zāwiyah in the west and Ajdābiyā, Al-Marj, Al-Bayḍāʾ, Darnah, and Tobruk (Ṭubruq) in the east. These cities are primarily regional administrative and commercial centres with some light industry. Several have petroleum refineries and petrochemical installations.

Demographic trends
Libya’s rate of population growth is among the highest in North Africa. The influx of foreign workers into the country since the 1960s accounts for part of this rapid growth, but Libya’s annual rate of natural increase (birth rate minus death rate) has also been quite high. In the late 20th century and into the early 21st, death rates steadily declined to substantially below the world average, but birth rates remained relatively high. On the whole, Libya’s population is quite young: more than two-thirds of the population is younger than 30 years of age; of that, about one-third is younger than 15. Libya’s infant mortality rate is the lowest in continental Africa and far below the global rate, portending continued rapid growth well into the 21st century.

Libya’s per capita income is among the highest in Africa. Oil revenues remain Libya’s main source of income; at the beginning of the 21st century, oil and natural gas together accounted for almost three-fourths of the national income and nearly all of the country’s export earnings, although they employed less than one-tenth of the labour force. The government has long exerted strong control over the economy; the petroleum industry was nationalized in the 1970s, and state trade unions and industrial organizations run most other industries and utilities. To reduce the country’s heavy dependence on oil, economic policy has emphasized agricultural and industrial developments. Declining oil revenues during the 1980s, however, led to frequent revisions and delays in planned developments. Domestic reforms designed to liberalize economic policy and encourage private enterprise, begun in the late 1980s, continued into the 21st century.

Agriculture, forestry, and fishing
Agriculture is limited by the environment and by shortages of labour. Only about 1 percent of the total land area is cultivated, mostly on the Al-Jifārah and Barce plains, and about one-tenth of that is irrigated. An additional almost one-tenth of the land is in pasture. Agricultural development by land reclamation and irrigation is a government priority. The largest projects are at the Al-Kufrah oasis, Tāwurghāʾ, and Sarīr, on the Al-Jifārah Plain, and in the Akhḍar Mountains. The Great Man-Made River project, begun at the end of the 20th century, is the most ambitious undertaking. Pipelines will carry water from wells in the southern Sahara to Tripoli, Surt, Banghāzī, Tobruk, and the Al-Kufrah oasis.

Cereals are the major crops throughout the country. Wheat (grown primarily on the eastern and western plateaus) is the largest cereal crop, although barley, which adapts well to different climates and soils, is also a chief cereal and remains a dietary staple. In addition, sorghum is raised in the Fezzan. Olive plantations were introduced by the Italians on the Al-Jifārah Plain and on the Nafūsah Plateau, and there are smaller olive groves in the east. Orchards of almonds, citrus fruit, apricots, and figs grow on small and large farms and on small, crowded plots in the oases. Dates are the principal crop of the southern oases. Grapes, broad beans, and peanuts (groundnuts) also are grown. Tobacco is raised in Tripolitania.

Animal husbandry is important in Cyrenaica, where the herds are raised on communal grazing lands. Livestock includes sheep, goats, cattle, camels, horses, mules, and donkeys. Animals are raised for their milk, meat, and hides or for their services as a means of transportation. Cattle often serve as draft animals. A small amount of milk is produced commercially, and commercial poultry farms are developing around the larger cities.

Less than 1 percent of the land is covered by forest. Prior to the 1950s, Libya’s sole wooded area lay in the Akhḍar Mountains. Since then, the government has launched a massive forestation program. Between 1957 and 1964, for example, 27 million acacia, eucalyptus, cypress, cedar, and pine trees were planted in Tripolitania.

There is little demand in Libya for fish, and most fishing is done off the Tripolitanian coast by Libyan, Tunisian, Greek, and Maltese fishermen. The catch includes tuna, sardines, and red mullet. Sponge beds are also important. The sponges are harvested mainly by Greeks licensed by the Libyan government.

Resources and power
Petroleum was first discovered in Libya in 1956 near the Algerian border and is Libya’s most important mineral resource. Subsequent finds have been mainly concentrated in onshore reserves located in the Sirte Basin. The major oil fields there include the Bahi, Dahra, and Samāḥ fields, in the west of the basin; the Dafʿ-Wāḥah (Defa-Waha) and Nasser fields, in the north-centre; and the Āmāl, Intiṣār, and Sarīr fields, located toward the east. Additional deposits have been located elsewhere in the country, including near Ghadāmis on the western border, Murzuq in the southwest, and the Al-Kufrah oasis in the southeast. Exploration for new deposits has concentrated on Tripolitania and offshore, where a large field was discovered northwest of Tripoli in 1988. Libya’s proven oil reserves represent a large part of Africa’s total reserves and about 3 percent of the world’s total reserves. Libyan crude oil is low in sulfur content and therefore causes less corrosion and less pollution than most crude oils, which has made it popular in countries that have imposed stringent emissions standards. The deposits are associated with natural gas.

The first pipeline was constructed from the Zalṭan (later Nasser) field to Marsā al-Burayqah in 1961. Since then, additional lines have been built from Dahra to Al-Sidrah and to Raʾs al-Unūf; other pipelines connect the Tobruk field to Marsā al-Ḥarīqah and the Intiṣār field to Al-Zuwaytīnah. Refineries are located at Al-Zāwiyah, Miṣrātah, Raʾs al-Unūf, and Tobruk. A natural-gas pipeline runs parallel to the oil pipeline from Nasser. The gas liquefaction plant at Marsā al-Burayqah is one of the world’s largest.

Sales of Libyan oil to Europe were enhanced by the closure of the Suez Canal between 1967 and 1975. During the 1980s, however, production and revenues declined because of an increased supply of oil on the world market. Libya has concluded barter agreements with some European and African countries to exchange petroleum for goods and services.

Other mineral resources are limited. There are important deposits of natron (hydrated sodium carbonate) in the Fezzan and potash in Al-Ḥamrāyah Desert near Marādah. Iron ore deposits at Shāṭiʾ, although low in iron content, supply the iron-steel complex at Miṣrātah. Marine salt is produced in Tripolitania, where there are also small deposits of gypsum, manganese, and lignite coal. Sulfur has been found in Al-Ḥamrāyah Desert, and there are scattered deposits of chalk, limestone, and marble that are quarried for the growing construction trade.

The production of electricity for public consumption is a government monopoly. There are also private plants, such as the 25,000-kilowatt facility built by an oil company at Marsā al-Burayqah. The total installed capacity, all thermal plants powered by oil, grew more than sevenfold during the 1970s. In the early 21st century, efforts were under way to convert Libya’s thermal plants from oil to natural gas in order to maximize petroleum available for export.

Industrial development is limited, although it expanded during the United Nations (UN) embargo of the country in the 1990s. Most factories are located in Tripoli and Banghāzī and are managed by Arabs. The industrial workforce is small, with many factories employing fewer than 100 people. A majority of the factories manufacture processed food, cement, and textiles. The government maintains monopolies for processing of tobacco, salt, and esparto grass. There are also oil-related industries, which produce steel drums, tanks, and pipe fittings; petrochemical plants are located near refineries.

Finance and trade
Financial services are headed by the Central Bank of Libya, which supervises the banking system, regulates credit and interest policies, and issues the national currency, the Libyan dinar. The Libyan Arab Foreign Bank has made some investments, primarily in Italy.

Since 1963, Libya has usually enjoyed a favourable balance of trade. Almost all its exports are represented by crude petroleum, but agricultural products and hides and skins also are exported. Imports consist of equipment for the oil and construction industries, farm machinery, consumer goods, and agricultural products. Most of the country’s imports come from Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and South Korea. Exports, almost all petroleum, usually go to Italy, Germany, Spain, France, Tunisia, and Turkey.

A large proportion of the Libyan workforce is engaged in the service industries. The country’s tourism industry, largely underdeveloped during Libya’s period under UN sanctions, has undergone significant expansion. In order to promote the growth of tourism, government finances were increasingly dedicated to the construction of hotels and tourist complexes and to the development of coastal areas.

Independent trade unions are not permitted in Libya. Libyan labourers are organized under the country’s single, government-controlled association, the National Trade Unions’ Federation, with the exception of foreign workers, who are not permitted to participate.

The majority of Libya’s labour force is employed in the services, with smaller proportions of the working population employed in various other sectors, including manufacturing and agriculture. Libyans are increasingly unable to rely upon employment with the state, where many once sought work. Rates of unemployment are generally high, especially among the country’s youth. At the beginning of the 21st century, women participated actively in the labour force, although discrimination in the workplace remained.

A large number of foreign migrant workers—mostly from sub-Saharan African countries—participate in the Libyan economy, particularly in agriculture and industry. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Libya periodically sought the repatriation of much of its unlicensed migrant population, citing its role in the high level of unemployment among Libyan youth; statements calling for the expulsion of the migrant community, however, were in general not fully implemented.

Transportation and telecommunications
The main road is the 1,100-mile (1,170-km) national coastal highway between the borders of Tunisia and Egypt. The Sabhā road runs from the coastal highway at Al-Qaddāḥiyyah south and southwest to Ghāt near the Algerian border. Other national roads run from Tripoli to Ghāt and Sabhā and from Ajdābiyā to Al-Kufrah. More than half the country’s roads are paved. The two railroads that served Tripoli and Banghāzī were closed in the late 1960s.

Tripoli is the main port, and Tripoli and Banghāzī together handle most of the country’s maritime trade. Tripoli handles the bulk of the imports, particularly those associated with the oil industry and the booming trade in consumer goods. There is also an important port located at Tobruk.

Petroleum is shipped from Al-Sidrah, Marsā al-Burayqah, Tobruk, and Al-Zuwaytīnah. Miṣrātah, Zuwārah, and Al-Khums have been developed as fishing ports. Libya’s merchant fleet is modest, and most oil is shipped in foreign vessels.

The country has several international airports, located in Tripoli, Banīnah (outside Banghāzī), Sabhā, and Miṣrātah. Domestic airfields include those at Marsā al-Burayqah, Tobruk, Al-Bayḍāʾ, Ghadāmis, and Ghāt. The Libyan Arab Airlines and foreign airlines operate domestic flights and services to countries in the Middle East and North Africa and to several countries in Europe. There are also domestic flights operated by the oil companies.

At the beginning of the 21st century, Libyan telecommunications services continued to reach a rather low proportion of that country’s population. The number of telephone main lines increased during the late 1990s. A mobile telephone system was set up in the mid-1990s, and Internet access increased in the early years of the 21st century.

Government and society
Constitutional framework
In September 1969 the monarchy of Idris I was overthrown and the constitution suspended in a military coup d’état. In 1977 the 12-member Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) formed after the coup was replaced by the General Secretariat of the General People’s Congress (GPC), with Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi as secretary-general. He resigned the post in 1979 but remained the de facto ruler of the country and head of the revolution. A General People’s Committee has replaced the original revolutionary cabinet, the Council of Ministers; each of the committee’s members is the secretary of a department. In 1988 all but 2 of the 19 secretariats were moved from Tripoli, most of them to Surt. The General People’s Congress serves as a parliament.

Local government
The country is divided into shaʿbiyyāt (municipalities), which in turn are subdivided into smaller administrative units. Citizens are members of more than 500 “basic popular congresses,” each headed by an appointed revolutionary committee. Delegates come together in a General People’s Congress on the national level. There are no recognized political parties.

The judicial system consists of the Supreme Court, located in Tripoli, with five chambers of five justices each; it is the final court of appeal. Regional courts of appeal, located in Tripoli, Banghāzī, and Sabhā, each with three justices, hear appeals from the courts of first instance and from summary courts, the basic judicial unit, each with one justice per court. Separate religious courts were abolished in 1973, and all judicial courts base their rulings on Libyan law, derived from the Sharīʿah (Islamic law).

Political process
The government is made up of a pyramid-shaped system of congresses and committees topped by the RCC and the GPC. The system’s broad base allows for the wide participation of Libyan citizens, with each group active in the selection of the tier above it. Although in principle governmental ideals call for significant decentralization, Libya’s political system is in fact quite centralized. A variety of organizations, including a number of Islamic and pro-democracy groups, are in opposition to the government. Women hold seats in the General People’s Committee, albeit in a small proportion.

Libya’s armed forces include an army, a navy, and an air force. After the 1970s Libya purchased arms from the Soviet Union and other communist states. Beginning in the mid-1980s, however, military expenditures and arms imports declined. Although Libya had long provided a base and support for foreign militant organizations, by the late 1990s Qaddafi’s policies began to shift. In 2003 he formally renounced terrorism as part of a broader effort to bring the country back into the global community. Internally, however, Qaddafi created a variety of military and quasi-military organizations over the years that reinforced his authority within the country. Initially important were the People’s Militia and the Revolutionary Committees, created in 1974 and 1977, respectively. Qaddafi subsequently invested substantial wealth and effort into creating more personal security organizations, such as the Intelligence Bureau of the Leader, the Military Secret Service, the Jamāhīriyyah Security Organization, the Revolutionary Guards, and the People’s Guard. Throughout his rule, Qaddafi relied on other informal groups to maintain stability and to protect himself and his interests.

Health and welfare
The chief health problems are typhoid, leishmaniasis, rabies, meningitis, and schistosomiasis (a parasitic infestation of the liver or intestines). The incidence of malaria has declined, but gastroenteritis and tetanus remain major diseases.

Medical and hospital care and medicines are free. Health care is provided by a mixture of public and private services. Most care is available in hospitals and at outpatient or specialized-care facilities or clinics.

Schools for medicine and dentistry opened in the 1970s, but the rapid expansion of facilities necessitated the continued hiring of expatriate staff. The number of medical personnel has been sharply increased. Some graduate medical students study abroad.

The National Social Insurance Institute operates social security programs. Workers covered by government insurance programs receive medical examinations and treatment, maternity benefits, and dental care. There are also old-age pensions and payments for incapacity or death as a result of work-related accidents.

Housing shortages in Libya intensified following independence owing to increased rates of urban migration. After coming to power, the RCC worked to expand adequate housing through a number of initiatives. Throughout the second half of the 20th century, funds from both public and private sources were directed toward construction projects to improve housing quality and alleviate the strain; nevertheless, shortages remained into the early 21st century. Some of the poorer migrant communities continue to live in informal settlements on the outskirts of a number of the country’s urban areas.

Public education is free, and primary education is compulsory for both boys and girls. Arabic is the language of instruction at all levels. The school system is composed of a six-year primary level, a three-year intermediate and vocational level, and a three-year secondary and advanced vocational level. There are also Qurʾānic schools, financed by the government. About four-fifths of the adult population is literate. In order to increase the literacy rate, the government has also sponsored an adult educational program.

Higher education is offered by the state institutions of the University of Libya, subdivided in 1973 into Al-Fāteḥ University, located at Tripoli, and Garyounis (Qāryūnis) University, located at Banghāzī. Advanced religious training is obtained at a branch of the university at Al-Bayḍāʾ. Libyan students also study abroad.

Cultural life
Cultural milieu
Cultural differences between the regions are significant. The population of the west is on the whole more cosmopolitan than that of the east and includes a higher proportion of people of Amazigh, Sub-Saharan African, and Turkish origin. Cyrenaica was profoundly affected by the teachings of the 19th-century Sanūsiyyah, an Islamic brotherhood, which had little influence in the west and south. The Fezzan was commercially and politically tied to the region historically known as the bilād al-sūdān (Arabic: “land of the black peoples”), which spanned the territory south of the Maghrib, Libya, and Egypt from West Africa to the Nilotic Sudan.

Since the 1969 coup, lifestyles have been strongly influenced by the revolutionary government’s restructuring of national and local government and its efforts to reduce the influence of the tribes. The government has also provided for the education of women and encouraged a broader participation by women in a number of capacities in mainstream Libyan society.

The arts
Libyan culture highlights folk art and traditions, which are highly influenced by Islam. The arts of weaving, embroidery, metal engraving, and leatherwork rarely depict people or animals because of the traditional Islamic prohibition against such representations. The dominant geometric and arabesque designs are best presented in the stucco and tiles of the Karamanli and Gurgi mosques of Tripoli. Other traditions include festivals, horse races, and folk dances.

Nonreligious literature has developed largely since the 1960s; nationalistic in character, it nonetheless reveals Egyptian influences. The arts are supported by the government through the Ministry of Information, the Ministry of Education and National Guidance, and the Al-Fikr Society, a group of intellectuals and professionals.

Cultural institutions
Libraries include the Government Library and the National Archives in Tripoli, the National Library of Libya and the Public Library, both in Banghāzī, the library of the Libyan Studies Centre, and the university libraries. The Department of Antiquities is responsible for the Archaeological Museum, the Leptis Magna Museum of Antiquities, the Natural History Museum, and the Sabratha Museum of Antiquities, all in Tripolitania, and the archaeological sites of Ptolemais and Appolonia in Cyrenaica. The Sabhā Museum contains exhibits of ancient remains from the Fezzan region.

As part of a historical region valued by many successive empires, numerous rich cultural and archaeological sites are located in present-day Libya. The remains of the ancient cities of Cyrene, Leptis Magna, Sabratha, and Ghadāmis, as well as the ancient rock art at Tadrart Acacus, have all been recognized as UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Sports and recreation
Football (soccer) is one of the most popular sports in Libya. The top national league includes a number of teams, and Tripoli and Banghāzī are each home to several clubs. Al-Ahlī of Tripoli has won numerous league titles since the 1960s. The national team was prohibited from participating in international competitions during the UN embargo, but the team returned to the world football stage in the spring of 1999 with an exhibition game against Senegal.

Racing is very popular in Libya. Horse racing is a traditional part of many holiday celebrations, and automobile racing also has a strong following. Tripoli was once a stop on the Grand Prix tour; the 1933 race became infamous when several drivers conspired to fix it. Libyans also enjoy tennis, and water sports are gaining popularity on the coast. Libya made its Olympic debut at the 1968 Mexico City Games.

Media and publishing
The government controls broadcasting and the press. Newspapers and periodicals are published by the Jamahiriya News Agency (JANA), government secretariats, the Press Service, and trade unions. JANA publishes Al-Fajr al-Jadīd (“New Dawn”) in Tripoli. Daily newspapers include Al-Shams (“The Sun”) and Al-Zaḥf al-Akhḍar (“The Green March”). Radio broadcasts from Tripoli and Banghāzī are in Arabic and English; the national television service broadcasts in Arabic, with limited hours in English, Italian, and French. Several publishers of general and academic books are located in Tripoli.

Dennis D. Cordell
Mukhtar Mustafa Buru
Gary L. Fowler

This discussion focuses on Libya since the 18th century. For a treatment of earlier periods and of the country in its regional context, see North Africa.

Largely desert with some limited potential for urban and sedentary life in the northwest and northeast, Libya has historically never been heavily populated or a power centre. Like that of its neighbour Algeria, Libya’s very name is a neologism, created by the conquering Italians early in the 20th century. Also like that of Algeria, much of Libya’s earlier history—not only in the Islamic period but even before—reveals that both Tripolitania and Cyrenaica were more closely linked with neighbouring territories Tunisia and Egypt, respectively, than with each other. Even during the Ottoman era, the country was divided into two parts, one linked to Tripoli in the west and the other to Banghāzī in the east.

Libya thus owes its present unity as a state less to earlier history or geographic characteristics than to several recent factors: the unifying effect of the Sanūsiyyah movement since the 19th century; Italian colonialism from 1911 until after World War II; an early independence by default, since the great powers could agree on no other solution; and the discovery of oil in commercial quantities in the late 1950s. Yet the Sanūsiyyah is based largely in the eastern region of Cyrenaica and has never really penetrated the more populous northwestern region of Tripolitania. Italian colonization was brief and brutal. Moreover, most of the hard-earned gains in infrastructure implanted in the colonial period were destroyed by contending armies during World War II. Sudden oil wealth has been both a boon and a curse as changes to the political and social fabric, as well as to the economy, have accelerated. This difficult legacy of disparate elements and forces helps to explain the unique character of present-day Libya.

Dennis D. Cordell
L. Carl Brown

Ottoman rule
Part of the Ottoman Empire from the early 16th century, Libya experienced autonomous rule (analogous to that in Ottoman Algeria and Tunisia) under the Karamanli dynasty from 1711 to 1835. In the latter year the Ottomans took advantage of a succession dispute and local disorder to reestablish direct administration. For the next 77 years the area was administered by officials from the Ottoman capital of Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) and shared in the limited modernization common to the rest of the empire. In Libya the most significant event of the period was the foundation in 1837 of the Sanūsiyyah, an Islamic order, or fraternity, that preached a puritanical form of Islam, giving the people instruction and material assistance and so creating among them a sense of unity. The first Sanūsī zāwiyah (monastic complex) in Libya was established in 1843 near the ruins of Cyrene in eastern Cyrenaica. The order spread principally in that province but also found adherents in the south. The Grand al-Sanūsī, as the founder came to be called, moved his headquarters to the oasis of Al-Jaghbūb near the Egyptian frontier, and in 1895 his son and successor, Sīdī Muḥammad Idrīs al-Mahdī, transferred it farther south into the Sahara to the oasis group of Al-Kufrah. Though the Ottomans welcomed the order’s opposition to the spread of French influence northward from Chad and Tibesti, they regarded with suspicion the political influence it exerted within Cyrenaica. In 1908 the Young Turk revolution gave a new impulse to reform; in 1911, however, the Italians, who had banking and other interests in the country, launched an invasion.

The Ottomans sued for peace in 1912, but Italy found it more difficult to subdue the local population. Resistance to the Italian occupation continued throughout World War I. After the war Italy considered coming to terms with nationalist forces in Tripolitania and with the Sanūsiyyah, which was strong in Cyrenaica. These negotiations foundered, however, and the arrival of a strong governor, Giuseppe Volpi, in Libya and a Fascist government in Italy (1922) inaugurated an Italian policy of thorough colonization. The coastal areas of Tripolitania were subdued by 1923, but in Cyrenaica Sanūsī resistance, led by ʿUmar al-Mukhtār, continued until his capture and execution in 1931.

Italian colonization
In the 1920s and ’30s the Italian government expended large sums on developing towns, roads, and agricultural colonies for Italian settlers. The most ambitious effort was the program of Italian immigration called “demographic colonization,” launched by the Fascist leader Benito Mussolini in 1935. As a result of these efforts, by the outbreak of World War II, some 150,000 Italians had settled in Libya and constituted roughly one-fifth of that country’s total population.

These colonizing efforts and the resulting economic development of Libya were largely destroyed during the North Africa campaigns of 1941–43. Cyrenaica changed hands three times, and by the end of 1942 all of the Italian settlers had left. Cyrenaica largely reverted to pastoralism. Economic and administrative development fostered by Italy survived in Tripolitania; however, Libya by 1945 was impoverished, underpopulated, and also divided into regions—Tripolitania, Cyrenaica, and Fezzan—of differing political, economic, and religious traditions.

The future of Libya gave rise to long discussions after the war. In view of the contribution to the fighting made by a volunteer Sanūsī force, the British foreign minister pledged in 1942 that the Sanūsīs would not again be subjected to Italian rule. During the discussions, which lasted four years, suggestions included an Italian trusteeship, a UN trusteeship, a Soviet mandate for Tripolitania, and various compromises. Finally, in November 1949, the UN General Assembly voted that Libya should become a united and independent kingdom no later than Jan. 1, 1952.

A constitution creating a federal state with a separate parliament for each province was drawn up, and the pro-British head of the Sanūsiyyah, Sīdī Muḥammad Idrīs al-Mahdī al-Sanūsī, was chosen king by a national assembly in 1950. On Dec. 24, 1951, King Idris I declared the country independent. Political parties were prohibited, and the king’s authority was sovereign. Though not themselves Sanūsīs, the Tripolitanians accepted the monarchy largely in order to profit from the British promise that the Sanūsīs would not again be subjected to Italian rule. King Idris, however, showed a marked preference for living in Cyrenaica, where he built a new capital on the site of the Sanūsī zāwiyah at Al-Bayḍāʾ. Though Libya joined the Arab League in 1953 and in 1956 refused British troops permission to land during the Suez Crisis, the government in general adopted a pro-Western position in international affairs.

The discovery of oil
With the discovery of significant oil reserves in 1959, Libya changed abruptly from being dependent on international aid and the rent from U.S. and British air bases to being an oil-rich monarchy. Major petroleum deposits in both Tripolitania and Cyrenaica ensured the country income on a vast scale. The discovery was followed by an enormous expansion in all government services, massive construction projects, and a corresponding rise in the economic standard and the cost of living.

Precipitated by the king’s failure to speak out against Israel during the June War (1967), a coup was carried out on Sept. 1, 1969, by a group of young army officers led by Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi, who deposed the king and proclaimed Libya a republic. The new regime, passionately Pan-Arab, broke the monarchy’s close ties to Britain and the United States and also began an assertive policy that led to higher oil prices along with 51 percent Libyan participation in oil company activities and, in some cases, outright nationalization.

The Qaddafi regime
Equally assertive in plans for Arab unity, Libya obtained at least the formal beginnings of unity with Egypt, Sudan, and Tunisia, but these and other such plans failed as differences arose between the governments concerned. Qaddafi’s Libya supported the Palestinian cause and intervened to support it, as well as other guerrilla and revolutionary organizations in Africa and the Middle East. Such moves alienated the Western countries and some Arab states. In July–August 1977 hostilities broke out between Libya and Egypt, and, as a result, many Egyptians working in Libya were expelled. Indeed, despite expressed concern for Arab unity, the regime’s relations with most Arab countries deteriorated. Qaddafi signed a treaty of union with Morocco’s King Hassan II in August 1984, but Hassan abrogated the treaty two years later.

The regime, under Qaddafi’s ideological guidance, continued to introduce innovations. On March 2, 1977, the General People’s Congress declared that Libya was to be known as the People’s Socialist Libyan Arab Jamāhīriyyah (the latter term is a neologism meaning “government through the masses”). By the early 1980s, however, a drop in the demand and price for oil on the world market was beginning to hamper Qaddafi’s efforts to play a strong regional role. Ambitious efforts to radically change Libya’s economy and society slowed, and there were signs of domestic discontent. Libyan opposition movements launched sporadic attacks against Qaddafi and his military supporters but met with arrest and execution.

Dennis D. Cordell
Nevill Barbour
L. Carl Brown

Libya’s relationship with the United States, which had been an important trading partner, deteriorated in the early 1980s as the U.S. government increasingly protested Qaddafi’s support of Palestinian Arab militants. An escalating series of retaliatory trade restrictions and military skirmishes culminated in a U.S. bombing raid of Tripoli and Banghāzī in 1986, in which Qaddafi’s adopted daughter was among the casualties. U.S. claims that Libya was producing chemical warfare materials contributed to the tension between the two countries in the late 1980s and ’90s. Within the region, Libya sought throughout the 1970s and ’80s to control the mineral-rich Aozou strip along the disputed border with neighbouring Chad. These efforts produced intermittent warfare in Chad and confrontation with both France and the United States. In 1987 Libyan forces were bested by Chad’s more mobile troops, and diplomatic ties with that country were restored late the following year. Libya denied involvement in Chad’s December 1990 coup led by Idriss Déby (see Chad: Civil war).

In 1996 the United States and the UN implemented a series of economic sanctions against Libya for its purported involvement in destroying a civilian airliner over Lockerbie, Scot., in 1988. In the late 1990s, in an effort to placate the international community, Libya turned over the alleged perpetrators of the bombing to international authorities and accepted a ruling by the international court in The Hague stating that the contested Aozou territory along the border with Chad belonged to that country and not to Libya. The United Kingdom restored diplomatic relations with Libya at the end of the decade, and UN sanctions were lifted in 2003; later that year Libya announced that it would stop producing chemical weapons. The United States responded by dropping most of its sanctions, and the restoration of full diplomatic ties between the two countries was completed in 2006. In 2007 five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor who had been sentenced to death in Libya after being tried on charges of having deliberately infected children there with HIV were extradited to Bulgaria and quickly pardoned by its president, defusing widespread outcry over the case and preventing the situation from posing an obstacle to Libya’s return to the international community.

In the years that followed the lifting of sanctions, one of Qaddafi’s sons, Sayf al-Islam al-Qaddafi, emerged as a proponent of reform and helped lead Libya toward adjustments in its domestic and foreign policy. Measures including efforts to attract Western business and plans to foster tourism promised to gradually draw Libya more substantially into the global community.

L. Carl Brown
Dennis D. Cordell



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