Libya is a country in the Maghreb region of North Africa bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, Egypt to the east, Sudan to the southeast, Chad and Niger to the south, and Algeria and Tunisia to the west.

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Libya (Arabic: ‏ليبيا‎ Lībyā, Berber: ⵍⵉⴱⵢⴰ Libya) is a country in the Maghreb region of North Africa bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, Egypt to the east, Sudan to the southeast, Chad and Niger to the south, and Algeria and Tunisia to the west. With an area of almost 1.8 million square kilometres (700,000 sq mi), Libya is the 17th largest country in the world.[6]

The largest city and capital, Tripoli, is home to 1.7 million of Libya's 6.4 million people. The three traditional parts of the country are Tripolitania, Fezzan and Cyrenaica. In 2009 Libya had the highest HDI in Africa and the fourth highest GDP (PPP) per capita in Africa, behind Seychelles, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. Libya has the 10th-largest proven oil reserves of any country in the world and the 17th-highest petroleum production.[7]

A civil war in 2011 resulted in the ousting and death of the country's former leader, Muammar Gaddafi, and the collapse of his 34-year-old Jamahiriya state. As a result, Libya is currently undergoing political reconstruction, and is governed under an interim constitution drawn up by the National Transitional Council (NTC).[8][9] Elections to a General National Congress were held on 7 July 2012, and the NTC handed power to the newly elected assembly on 8 August.[10] The assembly has the responsibility of forming a constituent assembly to draft a permanent constitution for Libya, which will then be put to a referendum.[11]


The name Libya (i/ˈlɪbiə/ or /ˈlɪbjə/; Arabic: ليبيا‎ Līb(i)yā [ˈliːb(i)jaː] ( listen); Libyan Arabic) was introduced in 1934 for Italian Libya, after the historical name for Northwest Africa, from the ancient Greek Λιβύη (Libúē).[12]

Libya united the provinces of Tripolitania, Cyrenaica (Barca) and Fezzan under the name, based on earlier use in 1903 by geographer Federico Minutilli,[13] and by the government in its "Regio Decreto di Annessione" (Royal Decree of Annexation) of the Ottoman provinces of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica dating 5 November 1911.[13]

Libya gained independence in 1951 as the United Libyan Kingdom (Arabic: المملكة الليبية المتحدة‎ al-Mamlakah al-Lībiyyah al-Muttaḥidah, : Regno Unito di Libia), changing its name to the Kingdom of Libya (Arabic: المملكة الليبية‎ al-Mamlakah al-Lībiyyah, : Regno di Libia) in 1963.[14] Following a coup d'état led by Muammar Gaddafi in 1969, the name of the state was changed to the Libyan Arab Republic (Arabic: الجمهورية العربية الليبية‎ al-Jumhūriyyah al-‘Arabiyyah al-Lībiyyah, : Repubblica Araba Libica), with "Republic" translating Gaddafi's term "Jamahiriya".

From 1977 to 2011, Libya was known as the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya at the United Nations. The official name during this period was "Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya" from 1977 to 1986, and "Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya"[15] (Arabic: الجماهيرية العربية الليبية الشعبية الاشتراكية العظمى‎ al-Jamāhīriyyah al-‘Arabiyyah al-Lībiyyah ash-Sha‘biyyah al-Ishtirākiyyah al-‘Uẓmá listen) from 1986 to 2011.

The National Transitional Council, established in 2011, referred to the state as simply "Libya", but there is some evidence that in the beginning they also used the term "Libyan Republic"[16][17] (Arabic: الجمهورية الليبية‎ al-Jumhūriyyah al-Lībiyyah). In late August 2011, Bosnia and Herzegovina used the term in its formal recognition of the NTC.[18]

As of September 2011, the United Nations recognized the change of name of the state from "Libyan Arab Jamahiriya" to "Libya",[19] based on a request from the Permanent Mission of Libya citing the Libyan interim Constitutional Declaration of 3 August 2011. In November 2011, the ISO 3166-1 was altered to reflect the new country name "Libya" in English, "Libye (la)" in French.[20]


Prehistoric and Berber Libya

Prehistoric Libyan rock paintings in Tadrart Acacus reveal a Sahara once lush in vegetation and wildlife.

Tens of thousands of years ago, the Sahara Desert, which now covers roughly 90% of Libya, was lush with green vegetation. It was home to lakes, forests, diverse wildlife and a temperate Mediterranean climate. Archaeological evidence indicates that the coastal plain of Ancient Libya was inhabited by Neolithic peoples from as early as 8000 BC. These peoples were perhaps drawn by the climate, which enabled their culture to grow; the Ancient Libyans were skilled in the domestication of cattle and the cultivation of crops.[21]

Rock paintings and carvings at Wadi Mathendous and the mountainous region of Jebel Acacus are the best sources of information about prehistoric Libya, and the pastoralist culture that settled there. The paintings reveal that the Libyan Sahara contained rivers, grassy plateaus and an abundance of wildlife such as giraffes, elephants and crocodiles.[22]

Pockets of the Berber populations still remain in most of modern Libya. Dispersal in Africa from the Atlantic coast to the Siwa Oasis in Egypt seems to have followed, due to climatic changes which caused increasing desertification. It is thought that the indigenous Libyan civilization of the Garamantes, based in Germa, originated from this time, or may have done so even earlier when the Sahara was still green. The Garamantes were a Saharan people of Berber origin who used an elaborate underground irrigation system, and founded a kingdom in the Fezzan area of modern-day Libya. They were probably present as tribal people in the Fezzan by 1000 BC, and were a local power in the Sahara between 500 BC and 500 AD. By the time of contact with the Phoenicians, the first of the Semitic civilizations to arrive in Libya from the East, the Lebu, Garamantes, Bebers and other tribes that lived in the Sahara were already well established.[citation needed]

The onset of the 5.9 kiloyear event's intense aridification resulted in the "green Sahara" rapidly transforming into the Sahara Desert.

Phoenician and Greek Libya

The temple of Zeus in the ancient Greek city of Cyrene. Libya has a number of World Heritage Sites from the ancient Greek era.

The Phoenicians were the first to establish trading posts in Libya, when the merchants of Tyre (in present-day Lebanon) developed commercial relations with the Berber tribes and made treaties with them to ensure their cooperation in the exploitation of raw materials.[23][24] By the 5th century BC, the greatest of the Phoenician colonies, Carthage, had extended its hegemony across much of North Africa, where a distinctive civilization, known as Punic, came into being. Punic settlements on the Libyan coast included Oea (later Tripoli), Libdah (later Leptis Magna) and Sabratha. These cities were in an area that was later called Tripolis, or "Three Cities", from which Libya's modern capital Tripoli takes its name.

In 630 BC, the Ancient Greeks colonized Eastern Libya and founded the city of Cyrene.[25] Within 200 years, four more important Greek cities were established in the area that became known as Cyrenaica: Barce (later Marj); Euhesperides (later Berenice, present-day Benghazi); Taucheira (later Arsinoe, present-day Taucheria); Balagrae (later Bayda and Beda Littoria under occupation, present-day Bayda); and Apollonia (later Susa), the port of Cyrene.[26] Together with Cyrene, they were known as the Pentapolis (Five Cities). Cyrene became one of the greatest intellectual and artistic centers of the Greek world, and was famous for its medical school, learned academies, and architecture. The Greeks of the Pentapolis resisted encroachments by the Ancient Egyptians from the East, as well as by the Carthaginians from the West, but in 525 BC the Persian army of Cambyses II overran Cyrenaica, which for the next two centuries remained under Persian or Egyptian rule. Alexander the Great was greeted by the Greeks when he entered Cyrenaica in 331 BC, and Eastern Libya again fell under the control of the Greeks, this time as part of the Ptolemaic Kingdom. Later, a federation of the Pentapolis was formed that was customarily ruled by a king drawn from the Ptolemaic royal house.

Roman Libya

The Arch of Septimius Severus at Leptis Magna. The patronage of Roman emperor Septimus Severus allowed the city to become one of the most prominent in Roman Africa.

After the fall of Carthage the Romans did not occupy immediately Tripolitania (the region around Tripoli), but left it under control of the kings of Numidia, until the coastal cities asked and obtained its protection.[27] Ptolemy Apion, the last Greek ruler, bequeathed Cyrenaica to Rome, which formally annexed the region in 74 BC and joined it to Crete as a Roman province. During the Roman civil wars Tripolitania (still not formally annexed) and Cyrenaica sustained Pompey and Marc Antony against respectively Caesar and Octavian.[27][28] The Romans completed the conquest of the region under Augustus, occupying northern Fezzan ("Fasania") with Cornelius Balbus Minor.[29] As part of the Africa Nova province, Tripolitania was prosperous,[27] and reached a golden age in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, when the city of Leptis Magna, home to the Severan dynasty, was at its height.[27] On the other side, Cyrenaica's first Christian communities were established by the time of the Emperor Claudius[28] but was heavily devastated during the Kitos War[30] and almost depopulated of Greeks and Jews alike,[31] and, although repopulated by Trajan with military colonies,[30] from then started its decadence.[28]

Regardless, for more than 400 years Tripolitania and Cyrenaica were part of a cosmopolitan state whose citizens shared a common language, legal system, and Roman identity. Roman ruins like those of Leptis Magna and Sabratha, extant in present-day Libya, attest to the vitality of the region, where populous cities and even smaller towns enjoyed the amenities of urban life—the forum, markets, public entertainments, and baths—found in every corner of the Roman Empire. Merchants and artisans from many parts of the Roman world established themselves in North Africa, but the character of the cities of Tripolitania remained decidedly Punic and, in Cyrenaica, Greek. Tripolitania was a major exporter of olive oil,[32] as well as a center for the trade of ivory and wild animals[32] conveyed to the coast by the Garamantes, while Cyrenaica remained an important source of wines, drugs, and horses. The bulk of the population in the countryside consisted of Berber farmers, who in the west were thoroughly "romanized" in language and customs.[33] Until the 10th century the African Romance remained in use in some Tripolitanian areas, mainly near the Tunisian border.[34]

The decline of the Roman Empire saw the classical cities fall into ruin, a process hastened by the Vandals' destructive sweep though North Africa in the 5th century. The region's prosperity had shrunk under Vandal domination, and the old Roman political and social order, disrupted by the Vandals, could not be restored. In outlying areas neglected by the Vandals, the inhabitants had sought the protection of tribal chieftains and, having grown accustomed to their autonomy, resisted re-assimilation into the imperial system.[citation needed]

When the Empire returned (now as East Romans) as part of Justinian's reconquests of the 6th century, efforts were made to strengthen the old cities, but it was only a last gasp before they collapsed into disuse. Cyrenaica, which had remained an outpost of the Byzantine Empire during the Vandal period, also took on the characteristics of an armed camp. Unpopular Byzantine governors imposed burdensome taxation to meet military costs, while the towns and public services—including the water system—were left to decay. Byzantine rule in Africa did prolong the Roman ideal of imperial unity there for another century and a half however, and prevented the ascendancy of the Berber nomads in the coastal region. By the beginning of the 7th century, Byzantine control over the region was weak, Berber rebellions were becoming more frequent, and there was little to oppose Muslim invasion.[35]

Islamic Libya

The Atiq Mosque in Awjila is the oldest mosque in the Sahara.

Tenuous Byzantine control over Libya was restricted to a few poorly defended coastal strongholds, and as such, the Arab horsemen who first crossed into the Pentapolis of Cyrenaica in September 642 AD encountered little resistance. Under the command of 'Amr ibn al-'As, the armies of Islam conquered Cyrenaica, and renamed the Pentapolis, Barqa. They took also Tripoli, but after destroying the Roman walls of the city and getting a tribute they withdrew.[36] In 647 an army of 40,000 Arabs, led by Abdullah ibn Saad, the foster-brother of Caliph Uthman, penetrated deep into Western Libya and took Tripoli from the Byzantines definitively.[36] From Barqa, the Fezzan (Libya's Southern region) was conquered by Uqba ibn Nafi in 663 and Berber resistance was overcome. During the following centuries Libya came under the rule of several Islamic dynasties, under various levels of autonomy from Ummayad, Abbasid and Fatimid caliphates of the time. Arab rule was easily imposed in the coastal farming areas and on the towns, which prospered again under Arab patronage. Townsmen valued the security that permitted them to practice their commerce and trade in peace, while the Punicized farmers recognized their affinity with the Semitic Arabs to whom they looked to protect their lands.[citation needed] In Cyrenaica, Monophysite adherents of the Coptic Church had welcomed the Muslim Arabs as liberators from Byzantine oppression. The Berber tribes of the hinterland accepted Islam, however they resisted Arab political rule.[37]

For the next several decades, Libya was under the purview of the Ummayad Caliph of Damascus until the Abbasids overthrew the Ummayads in 750, and Libya came under the rule of Baghdad. When Caliph Harun al-Rashid appointed Ibrahim ibn al-Aghlab as his governor of Ifriqiya in 800, Libya enjoyed considerable local autonomy under the Aghlabid dynasty. The Aghlabids were amongst the most attentive Islamic rulers of Libya; they brought about a measure of order to the region, and restored Roman irrigation systems, which brought prosperity to the area from the agricultural surplus. By the end of the 9th century, the Shiite Fatimids controlled Western Libya from their capital in Mahdia, before they ruled the entire region from their new capital of Cairo in 972 and appointed Bologhine ibn Ziri as governor. During Fatimid rule, Tripoli thrived on the trade in slaves and gold brought from the Sudan and on the sale of wool, leather, and salt shipped from its docks to Italy in exchange for wood and iron goods. Ibn Ziri's Berber Zirid dynasty ultimately broke away from the Shiite Fatimids, and recognised the Sunni Abbasids of Baghdad as rightful Caliphs. In retaliation, the Fatimids brought about the migration of thousands from two troublesome Arab Bedouin tribes, the Banu Sulaym and Banu Hilal to North Africa. This act drastically altered the fabric of the Libyan countryside, and cemented the cultural and linguistic Arabisation of the region.[27] Ibn Khaldun noted that the lands ravaged by Banu Hilal invaders had become completely arid desert.[38]

King Roger II of Sicily was the first Norman King to rule Tripoli when he captured it in 1146.

Zirid rule in Tripolitania was short-lived though, and already in 1001 the Berbers of the Banu Khazrun broke away. Tripolitania remained under their control until 1146, when the region was overtaken by the Normans of Sicily.[39] It was not until 1159 that the Moroccan Almohad leader Abd al-Mu'min reconquered Tripoli from European rule. For the next 50 years, Tripolitania was the scene of numerous battles between the Almohad rulers and insurgents of the Banu Ghaniya. Later, a general of the Almohads, Muhammad ibn Abu Hafs, ruled Libya from 1207 to 1221 before the later establishment of a Tunisian Hafsid dynasty[39] independent from the Almohads. The Hafsids ruled Tripolitania for nearly 300 years, and established significant trade with the city-states of Europe. Hafsid rulers also encouraged art, literature, architecture and scholarship. Ahmad Zarruq was one of the most famous Islamic scholars to settle in Libya, and did so during this time. By the 16th century however, the Hafsids became increasingly caught up in the power struggle between Spain and the Ottoman Empire. After a successful invasion of Tripoli by Habsburg Spain in 1510,[39] and its handover to the Knights of St. John, the Ottoman admiral Sinan Pasha finally took control of Libya in 1551.[39]

Ottoman Libya

The Siege of Tripoli in 1551 allowed the Ottomans to capture the city from the Knights of St. John.

After a successful invasion by the Habsburgs of Spain in the early 16th century, Charles V entrusted its defense to the Knights of St. John in Malta. Lured by the piracy that spread through the Maghreb coastline, adventurers such as Barbarossa and his successors consolidated Ottoman control in the central Maghreb. The Ottoman Turks conquered Tripoli in 1551 under the command of Sinan Pasha. In the next year his successor Turgut Reis was named the Bey of Tripoli and later Pasha of Tripoli in 1556. As Pasha, he adorned and built up Tripoli, making it one of the most impressive cities along the North African coast.[40] By 1565, administrative authority as regent in Tripoli was vested in a pasha appointed directly by the sultan in Constantinople. In the 1580s, the rulers of Fezzan gave their allegiance to the sultan, and although Ottoman authority was absent in Cyrenaica, a bey was stationed in Benghazi late in the next century to act as agent of the government in Tripoli.[28]

In time, real power came to rest with the pasha’s corps of janissaries, a self-governing military guild, and in time the pasha’s role was reduced to that of ceremonial head of state.[39] Mutinies and coups were frequent, and in 1611 the deys staged a coup against the pasha, and Dey Sulayman Safar was appointed as head of government. For the next hundred years, a series of deys effectively ruled Tripolitania, some for only a few weeks, and at various times the dey was also pasha-regent. The regency governed by the dey was autonomous in internal affairs and, although dependent on the sultan for fresh recruits to the corps of janissaries, his government was left to pursue a virtually independent foreign policy as well. The two most important Deys were Mehmed Saqizli (r. 1631–49) and Osman Saqizli (r. 1649–72), both also Pasha, who ruled effectively the region.[41] The latter conquered also Cyrenaica.[41]

Tripoli was the only city of size in Ottoman Libya (then known as Tripolitania Eyalet) at the end of the 17th century and had a population of about 30,000. The bulk of its residents were Moors, as city-dwelling Arabs were then known. Several hundred Turks and renegades formed a governing elite, a large portion of which were kouloughlis (lit. sons of servants—offspring of Turkish soldiers and Arab women); they identified with local interests and were respected by locals. Jews and Moriscos were active as merchants and craftsmen and a small number of European traders also frequented the city. European slaves and large numbers of enslaved blacks transported from Sudan were also a feature of everyday life in Tripoli. In 1551, Turgut Reis enslaved almost the entire population of the Maltese island of Gozo, some 6,300 people, sending them to Libya.[42] The most pronounced slavery activity involved the enslavement of black Africans who were brought via trans-Saharan trade routes. Even though the slave trade was officially abolished in Tripoli in 1853, in practice it continued until the 1890s.[43]

USS Enterprise of the Mediterranean Squadron capturing Tripolitan Corsair during the First Barbary War, 1801

Lacking direction from the Ottoman government, Tripoli lapsed into a period of military anarchy during which coup followed coup and few deys survived in office more than a year. One such coup was led by Turkish officer Ahmed Karamanli.[41] The Karamanlis ruled from 1711 until 1835 mainly in Tripolitania, but had influence in Cyrenaica and Fezzan as well by the mid 18th century. Ahmed was a Janissary and popular cavalry officer.[41] He murdered the Ottoman Dey of Tripolitania and seized the throne in 1711.[41] After persuading Sultan Ahmed III to recognize him as governor, Ahmed established himself as pasha and made his post hereditary. Though Tripolitania continued to pay nominal tribute to the Ottoman padishah, it otherwise acted as an independent kingdom. Ahmed greatly expanded his city's economy, particularly through the employment of corsairs (pirates) on crucial Mediterranean shipping routes; nations that wished to protect their ships from the corsairs were forced to pay tribute to the pasha. Ahmad's successors proved to be less capable than himself, however, the region's delicate balance of power allowed the Karamanli to survive several dynastic crises without invasion. The Libyan Civil War of 1791–1795 occurred in those years. In 1793, Turkish officer Ali Benghul deposed Hamet Karamanli and briefly restored Tripolitania to Ottoman rule. However, Hamet's brother Yusuf (r. 1795–1832) reestablished Tripolitania's independence.

In the early 19th century war broke out between the United States and Tripolitania, and a series of battles ensued in what came to be known as the Barbary Wars. By 1819, the various treaties of the Napoleonic Wars had forced the Barbary states to give up piracy almost entirely, and Tripolitania's economy began to crumble. As Yusuf weakened, factions sprung up around his three sons; though Yusuf abdicated in 1832 in favor of his son Ali II, civil war soon resulted. Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II sent in troops ostensibly to restore order, but instead deposed and exiled Ali II, marking the end of both the Karamanli dynasty and an independent Tripolitania.[44] Anyway, order was not recovered easily, and the revolt of the Libyan under Abd-El-Gelil and Gûma ben Khalifa lasted until the death of the latter in 1858.[44]

The second period of direct Ottoman rule saw administrative changes, and what seemed as greater order in the governance of the three provinces of Libya. It would not be long before the Scramble for Africa and European colonial interests set their eyes on the marginal Turkish provinces of Libya. Reunification came about through the unlikely route of an invasion (Italo-Turkish War, 1911–1912) and occupation starting from 1911 when Italy simultaneously turned the three regions into colonies.[45]

Italian Libya

Australian infantry at Tobruk during World War II. Beginning on 10 April 1941, the Siege of Tobruk lasted for 240 days.

From 1912 to 1927, the territory of Libya was known as North Africa. From 1927 to 1934, the territory was split into two colonies, Cyrenaica and Tripolitania, run by governors. Some 150,000 Italians settled in Libya, constituting roughly 20% of the total population.[46]

Omar Mukhtar was the leader of Libyan resistance in Cyrenaica against the colonization.

In 1934, Italy adopted the name "Libya" (used by the Greeks for all of North Africa, except Egypt) as the official name of the colony (made up of the three provinces of Cyrenaica, Tripolitania and Fezzan). Idris al-Mahdi as-Senussi (later King Idris I), Emir of Cyrenaica, led Libyan resistance to occupation between the two world wars. Ilan Pappé estimates that between 1928 and 1932 the military "killed half the Bedouin population (directly or through disease and starvation in camps)."[47] historian Emilio Gentile sets to about 50,000 the number of victims of the repression.[48]

From 1943 to 1951, Tripolitania and Cyrenaica were under British administration, while the French controlled Fezzan. In 1944, Idris returned from exile in Cairo but declined to resume permanent residence in Cyrenaica until the removal of some aspects of foreign control in 1947. Under the terms of the 1947 peace treaty with the Allies, Italy relinquished all claims to Libya.[49]


King Idris I announced Libya's independence on 24 December 1951, and was King until the 1969 coup that overthrew his government.

On 21 November 1949, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution stating that Libya should become independent before 1 January 1952. Idris represented Libya in the subsequent UN negotiations. On 24 December 1951, Libya declared its independence as the United Kingdom of Libya, a constitutional and hereditary monarchy under King Idris, Libya's only monarch.

1951 also saw the enactment of the Libyan Constitution. The Libyan National Assembly drafted the Constitution and passed a resolution accepting it in a meeting held in the city of Benghazi on Sunday, 6th Muharram, Hegiras 1371: 7 October 1951. Mohamed Abulas’ad El-Alem, President of the National Assembly and the two Vice-Presidents of the National Assembly, Omar Faiek Shennib and Abu Baker Ahmed Abu Baker executed and submitted the Constitution to King Idris following which it was published in the Official Gazette of Libya.[50]

The enactment of the Libyan Constitution was significant in that it was the first piece of legislation to formally entrench the rights of Libyan citizens following the post-war creation of the Libyan nation state. Following on from the intense UN debates during which Idris had argued that the creation of a single Libyan state would be of benefit to the regions of Tripolitania, Fezzan, and Cyrenaica, the Libyan government was keen to formulate a constitution which contained many of the entrenched rights common to European and North American nation states. Though, not creating a secular state - Article 5 proclaims Islam the religion of the State - the Libyan Constitution did formally set out rights such as equality before the law as well as equal civil and political rights, equal opportunities, and an equal responsibility for public duties and obligations, "without distinction of religion, belief, race, language, wealth, kinship or political or social opinions" (Article 11).

The discovery of significant oil reserves in 1959 and the subsequent income from petroleum sales enabled one of the world's poorest nations to establish an extremely wealthy state. Although oil drastically improved the Libyan government's finances, resentment among some factions began to build over the increased concentration of the nation's wealth in the hands of King Idris. This discontent mounted with the rise of Nasserism and Arab nationalism throughout North Africa and the Middle East, so while the continued presence of Americans, Italians and British in Libya aided in the increased levels of wealth and tourism following WWII, it was seen by some as a threat.[citation needed]

During this period, Britain was involved in extensive engineering projects in Libya and was also the country's biggest supplier of arms. The United States also maintained the large Wheelus Air Base in Libya.[51]

Arab Republic and Jamahiriya

On 1 September 1969, a small group of military officers led by 27-year-old army officer Muammar Gaddafi staged a coup d'état against King Idris, launching the Libyan Revolution.[52] Gaddafi was referred to as the "Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution" in government statements and the official Libyan press.[53]

Muammar Gaddafi, former leader of Libya, in 2009.

On the birthday of Muhammad in 1973, Gaddafi delivered a "Five-Point Address". He announced the suspension of all existing laws and the implementation of Sharia. He said that the country would be purged of the "politically sick". A "people's militia" would "protect the revolution". There would be an administrative revolution, and a cultural revolution. Gaddafi set up an extensive surveillance system. 10 to 20 percent of Libyans worked in surveillance for the Revolutionary committees, which monitored place in government, in factories, and in the education sector.[54] Gaddafi executed dissidents publicly and the executions were often rebroadcast on state television channels.[54][55] Gaddafi employed his network of diplomats and recruits to assassinate dozens of critical refugees around the world. Amnesty International listed at least 25 assassinations between 1980 and 1987.[54][56]

Flag of the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (lasting from 1977 to 2011), the national anthem of which was "الله أكبر" (English: Allahu Akbar)

In 1977, Libya officially became the "Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya". Gaddafi officially passed power to the General People's Committees and henceforth claimed to be no more than a symbolic figurehead,[57] but domestic and international critics claimed the reforms gave him virtually unlimited power. Dissidents against the new system were not tolerated, with punitive actions including capital punishment authorized by Gaddafi himself.[58] The new "jamahiriya" governance structure he established was officially referred to as a form of direct democracy,[59] though the government refused to publish election results.[60] Later that same year, Libya and Egypt fought a four-day border war that came to be known as the Libyan-Egyptian War, both nations agreed to a ceasefire under the mediation of the Algerian president Houari Boumediène.[61]

In February 1977, Libya started delivering military supplies to Goukouni Oueddei and the People's Armed Forces in Chad. The Chadian–Libyan conflict began in earnest when Libya's support of rebel forces in northern Chad escalated into an invasion. Hundreds of Libyans lost their lives in the war against Tanzania, when Gaddafi tried to save his friend Idi Amin. Gaddafi financed various other groups from anti-nuclear movements to Australian trade unions.[62]

From 1977 onward, per capita income in the country rose to more than US $11,000, the fifth-highest in Africa,[63] while the Human Development Index became the highest in Africa and greater than that of Saudi Arabia.[64] This was achieved without borrowing any foreign loans, keeping Libya debt-free.[65] In addition, the country's literacy rate rose from 10% to 90%, life expectancy rose from 57 to 77 years, equal rights were established for women and black people,[dubious ] employment opportunities were established for migrant workers, and welfare systems were introduced that allowed access to free education, free healthcare, and financial assistance for housing. The Great Manmade River was also built to allow free access to fresh water across large parts of the country.[64] In addition, financial support was provided for university scholarships and employment programs.[66]

Much of the country’s income from oil, which soared in the 1970s, was spent on arms purchases and on sponsoring dozens of paramilitaries and terrorist groups around the world.[67][68][69] An airstrike failed to kill Gaddafi in 1986. Libya was finally put under United Nations sanctions after the bombing of a commercial flight killed hundreds of travellers.[70]

Gaddafi assumed the honorific title of "King of Kings of Africa" in 2008 as part of his campaign for a United States of Africa.[71] By the early 2010s, in addition to attempting to assume a leadership role in the African Union, Libya was also viewed as having formed closer ties with Italy, one of its former colonial rulers, than any other country in the European Union.[72] The eastern parts of the country have been "ruined" due to Gaddafi's economic theories, according to The Economist.[73][74]

Revolution and civil war

Demonstrations in Bayda, on 22 July 2011

After popular movements overturned the rulers of Tunisia and Egypt, its immediate neighbors to the west and east, Libya experienced a full-scale revolt beginning on 17 February 2011.[75] By 20 February, the unrest had spread to Tripoli. In the early hours of 21 February 2011, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, oldest son of Muammar Gaddafi, spoke on Libyan television of his fears that the country would fragment and be replaced by "15 Islamic fundamentalist emirates" if the uprising engulfed the entire state. He admitted that "mistakes had been made" in quelling recent protests and announced plans for a constitutional convention, but warned that the country's economic wealth and recent prosperity was at risk and warned of "rivers of blood" if the protests continued.[76][77]

On 27 February 2011, the National Transitional Council was established under the stewardship of Mustafa Abdul Jalil, Gaddafi's former justice minister, to administer the areas of Libya under rebel control. This marked the first serious effort to organize the broad-based opposition to the Gaddafi regime. While the council was based in Benghazi, it claimed Tripoli as its capital.[78] Hafiz Ghoga, a human rights lawyer, later assumed the role of spokesman for the council.[79] On 10 March 2011, France became the first state to officially recognise the council as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people.[80][81]

By early March 2011, some parts of Libya had tipped out of Gaddafi's control, coming under the control of a coalition of opposition forces, including soldiers who decided to support the rebels. Eastern Libya, centred on the port city of Benghazi, was said to be firmly in the hands of the opposition, while Tripoli and its environs remained in dispute.[82][83][84] Pro-Gaddafi forces were able to respond militarily to rebel pushes in Western Libya and launched a counterattack along the coast toward Benghazi, the de facto centre of the uprising.[85] The town of Zawiya, 48 kilometres (30 mi) from Tripoli, was bombarded by air force planes and army tanks and seized by Jamahiriya troops, "exercising a level of brutality not yet seen in the conflict."[86]

In several public appearances, Gaddafi threatened to destroy the protest movement,[87] and Al Jazeera and other agencies reported his government was arming pro-Gaddafi militiamen to kill protesters and defectors against the regime in Tripoli.[88] Organs of the United Nations, including United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon[89] and the United Nations Human Rights Council, condemned the crackdown as violating international law, with the latter body expelling Libya outright in an unprecedented action urged by Libya's own delegation to the UN.[90][91] The United States imposed economic sanctions against Libya,[92] followed shortly by Australia,[93] Canada[94] and the United Nations Security Council, which also voted to refer Gaddafi and other government officials to the International Criminal Court for investigation.[95][96]

On 17 March 2011 the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1973 with a 10–0 vote and five abstentions. The resolution sanctioned the establishment of a no-fly zone and the use of "all means necessary" to protect civilians within Libya.[97]

Shortly afterwards, Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa stated that "Libya has decided an immediate ceasefire and an immediate halt to all military operations".[98]

On 19 March, the first Allied act to secure the no-fly zone began when French military jets entered Libyan airspace on a reconnaissance mission heralding attacks on enemy targets.[99] Allied military action to enforce the ceasefire commenced the same day when a French aircraft opened fire and destroyed a vehicle on the ground. French jets also destroyed five tanks belonging to the Gaddafi regime.[99] The United States and United Kingdom launched attacks on over 20 "integrated air defense systems" using more than 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles during operations Odyssey Dawn and Ellamy.[100]

On 27 June 2011, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Gaddafi, alleging that Gaddafi had been personally involved in planning and implementing "a policy of widespread and systematic attacks against civilians and demonstrators and dissidents".[101]

An effigy of Muammar Gaddafi hangs from a scaffold in Tripoli's Martyrs' Square, 29 August 2011

By 22 August 2011, rebel fighters had entered Tripoli and occupied Green Square,[102] which they renamed Martyrs' Square in honour of those killed since 17 February 2011. Meanwhile, Gaddafi asserted that he was still in Libya and would not concede power to the rebels.[102]

On 16 September 2011, the U.N. General Assembly approved a request from the National Transitional Council to accredit envoys of the country’s interim controlling body as Tripoli’s sole representatives at the UN, effectively recognising the National Transitional Council as the legitimate holder of that country’s UN seat.[103]

The National Transitional Council had been plagued by internal divisions during its tenure as Libya's interim governing authority. It postponed the formation of a caretaker, or "interim" government on several occasions during the period prior to the death of Muammar Gaddafi in his hometown of Sirte on 20 October 2011.[104][105] Mustafa Abdul Jalil led the National Transitional Council and was generally considered to be the principal leadership figure. Mahmoud Jibril served as the NTC's de facto head of government from 5 March 2011 through the end of the war, but he announced he would resign after Libya was declared to have been "liberated" from Gaddafi's rule.[106]

The "liberation" of Libya was celebrated on 23 October 2011, and Jibril announced that consultations were under way to form an interim government within one month, followed by elections for a constitutional assembly within eight months and parliamentary and presidential elections to be held within a year after that.[107] He stepped down as expected the same day and was succeeded by Ali Tarhouni.[108] At least 30,000 Libyans died in the civil war.[109]

On 7 July 2012, Libyans voted in their first parliamentary elections since the end of Gaddafi's rule. The election, in which more than 100 political parties registered, formed an interim 200-member national assembly. This will replace the unelected National Transitional Council,[110][111] name a prime minister, and form a committee to draft a constitution. The vote was postponed several times to resolve logistical and technical problems, and to give more time to register to vote, and to investigate candidates.[112]

On 8 August 2012, the National Transitional Council officially handed power to the wholly elected General National Congress, which is tasked with the formation of an interim government and the drafting of a new Libyan Constitution to be approved in a general referendum.[10]

On 25 August 2012, in what "appears to be the most blatant sectarian attack" since the end of the civil war, unnamed organized assailants bulldozed a Sufi mosque with graves, in broad daylight in the center of the Libyan capital Tripoli. It was the second such razing of a Sufi site in two days.[113]

On 7 October 2012, Libya's Prime Minister-elect Mustafa A.G. Abushagur stepped down[114] after failing a second time to win parliamentary approval for a new cabinet.[115][116] On 14 October 2012, the General National Congress elected former GNC member and human rights lawyer Ali Zeidan as prime minister-designate.[117] Zeidan will be sworn in after his cabinet has been approved by the GNC.[118]


Satellite image of Libya

Libya extends over 1,759,540 square kilometres (679,362 sq mi), making it the 17th largest nation in the world by size. Libya is somewhat smaller than Indonesia in land area, and roughly the size of the US state of Alaska. It is bound to the north by the Mediterranean Sea, the west by Tunisia and Algeria, the southwest by Niger, the south by Chad and Sudan and to the east by Egypt. Libya lies between latitudes 19° and 34°N, and longitudes 9° and 26°E.

At 1,770 kilometres (1,100 mi), Libya's coastline is the longest of any African country bordering the Mediterranean.[119][120] The portion of the Mediterranean Sea north of Libya is often called the Libyan Sea. The climate is mostly dry and desertlike in nature. However, the northern regions enjoy a milder Mediterranean climate.[121]

Natural hazards come in the form of hot, dry, dust-laden sirocco (known in Libya as the gibli). This is a southern wind blowing from one to four days in spring and autumn. There are also dust storms and sandstorms. Oases can also be found scattered throughout Libya, the most important of which are Ghadames and Kufra.[citation needed]

Libyan Desert

The Libyan Desert, which covers much of Libya, is one of the most arid places on earth.[52] In places, decades may pass without rain, and even in the highlands rainfall seldom happens, once every 5–10 years. At Uweinat, as of 2006 the last recorded rainfall was in September 1998.[122] There is a large depression, the Qattara Depression, just to the south of the northernmost scarp, with Siwa Oasis at its western extremity. The depression continues in a shallower form west, to the oases of Jaghbub and Jalu.[citation needed]

Libya is a predominantly desert country. Up to 90% of the land area is covered in desert.

Likewise, the temperature in the Libyan desert can be extreme; on 13 September 1922 the town of 'Aziziya, which is located southwest of Tripoli, recorded an air temperature of 57.8 °C (136.0 °F), considered to be a world record.[123] In September 2012, however, the world record figure of 57.8°C was overturned by the World Meteorological Organization.[124]

There are a few scattered uninhabited small oases, usually linked to the major depressions, where water can be found by digging to a few feet in depth. In the west there is a widely dispersed group of oases in unconnected shallow depressions, the Kufra group, consisting of Tazerbo, Rebianae and Kufra.[122] Aside from the scarps, the general flatness is only interrupted by a series of plateaus and massifs near the centre of the Libyan Desert, around the convergence of the Egyptian-Sudanese-Libyan borders.

Slightly further to the south are the massifs of Arkenu, Uweinat and Kissu. These granite mountains are ancient, having formed long before the sandstones surrounding them. Arkenu and Western Uweinat are ring complexes very similar to those in the Aïr Mountains. Eastern Uweinat (the highest point in the Libyan Desert) is a raised sandstone plateau adjacent to the granite part further west.[122] The plain to the north of Uweinat is dotted with eroded volcanic features. With the discovery of oil in the 1950s also came the discovery of a massive aquifer underneath much of the country. The water in this aquifer pre-dates the last ice ages and the Sahara desert itself.[125] The country is also home to the Arkenu craters, double impact craters found in the desert.[126][127]

Government and politics

Map of the traditional regions of Libya

The National Transitional Council was a political body formed to represent Libya by anti-Gaddafi forces during the Libyan civil war. On 5 March 2011 the council declared itself to be the "sole representative of all Libya". By October 2011 it had become recognized by 100 countries, including France,[128] Qatar,[129] Italy,[130] Germany,[131] Canada,[132] Russia[133] and Turkey.[134] It is also supported by several other Arab[135] and European countries.[136] On 16 September, the United Nations switched its official recognition to the NTC. The council formed an interim governing body, the Executive Board, on 23 March 2011 with Mahmoud Jibril as the Chairman.[137] The United States switched official recognition from the Gaddafi government to the National Transitional Council on 15 July 2011. The United Kingdom followed suit on 27 July 2011, expelling all Libyan government diplomats from the country before accrediting a National Transitional Council envoy to the Libyan Embassy in London.[138]

As the centre of the resistance against Gaddafi during the war, Benghazi, Libya's second largest city, served as the provisional seat for the NTC for the months following its creation.[139] On 25 August 2011, Finance Minister Ali Tarhouni announced that the NTC would move to Tripoli, which it claimed as the de jure capital of Libya, effective immediately.[140] However, as of early September 2011, many of the NTC's offices and ministers, including Chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil, remained in Benghazi due to the eastern city's more stable security situation and established infrastructure.[141]

On 24 October, NTC Chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil announced that existing laws that contradicted the teachings of Islam would be nullified, stating that Sharia law would be the basis of legislation. Abdul Jalil outlined several changes to be made including the lifting of restrictions on the number of wives a man can take.[142] On 1 November, the Libyan National Flag was raised above the court house in Benghazi, the court house being of symbolic importance as "the seat of the revolution."

On 7 July 2012, Libyans voted in their first parliamentary elections since the death of Gaddafi and the end of the civil war. The election, in which more than 100 political parties registered, formed an interim 200-member General National Congress. This will replace the unelected National Transitional Council,[110][111] name a prime minister, and form a committee to draft a constitution. The vote was postponed several times to resolve logistical and technical problems, and to give more time to register to vote, and to investigate candidates.[112] Early results of the vote showed the National Forces Alliance, led by former interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril, as front runner.[143]

Foreign relations

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Libyan Prime Minister Abdurrahim El-Keib conduct a press conference in Tripoli, Libya on 17 December 2011.

Amidst the Libyan civil war, at least 100 countries, as of 18 October 2011 (2011 -10-18)[update], as well as multiple supranational organisations and partially recognised states, had formally switched their diplomatic recognition to the National Transitional Council.

Officials of the National Transitional Council had asked for foreign aid, including medical supplies,[144] money,[145] and weapons,[146] and promised to pay off these debts to donor countries with oil deals[147] and frozen assets belonging to Gaddafi and his confidantes[148] after the civil war ended. They had also suggested that countries that were early to offer recognition and countries participating in the international military intervention in Libya may receive more favorable oil contracts and trade deals.[149]

Kingdom of Libya

King Idris with U.S. vice-president Richard Nixon (March 1957). Under Idris' rule, Libya sought cordial relations with the West – a prospect which has been renewed following the 17 February 2011 revolt.

Libya's foreign policies have fluctuated since 1951. As a Kingdom, Libya maintained a definitively pro-Western stance, and was recognized as belonging to the conservative traditionalist bloc in the League of Arab States (the present-day Arab League), of which it became a member in 1953.[150] The government was also friendly towards Western countries such as the United Kingdom, United States, France, Italy, Greece, and established full diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union in 1955.[citation needed]

Although the government supported Arab causes, including the Moroccan and Algerian independence movements, it took little active part in the Arab-Israeli dispute or the tumultuous inter-Arab politics of the 1950s and early 1960s. The Kingdom was noted for its close association with the West, while it steered a conservative course at home.[151]

Libya under Gaddafi

After the 1969 coup, Muammar Gaddafi closed American and British bases and partly nationalized foreign oil and commercial interests in Libya.

Gaddafi was known for backing a number of leaders viewed as anathema to Westernization and political liberalism, including Ugandan President Idi Amin,[152] Central African Emperor Jean-Bedel Bokassa,[153][154] Ethiopian strongman Haile Mariam Mengistu,[154] Liberian President Charles Taylor,[155] and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević.[156]

Relations with the West were strained by a series of incidents for most of Gaddafi's rule,[157][158][159] including the killing of London policewoman Yvonne Fletcher, the bombing of a West Berlin nightclub frequented by U.S. servicemen, and the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which led to UN sanctions in the 1990s, though by the late 2000s, the United States and other Western powers had normalised relations with Libya.[52]

Gaddafi's decision to abandon the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction after the Iraq War saw Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein overthrown and put on trial led to Libya being hailed as a success for Western soft power initiatives in the War on Terror.[160][161][162]

Human rights

According to the US Department of State’s annual human rights report for 2007, Libya’s authoritarian regime continued to have a poor record in the area of human rights.[163] Some of the numerous and serious abuses on the part of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya government included poor prison conditions, arbitrary arrest and prisoners held incommunicado, and political prisoners held for many years without charge or trial. The judiciary was controlled by the government, and there was no right to a fair public trial. Libyans under the Jamahiriya were lacking a clear and democratic method to change their government. Freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, and religion were restricted under the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya government. Independent human rights organisations were prohibited. Ethnic and tribal minorities suffered discrimination, and the state continued to restrict the labor rights of imported foreign workers.

In May 2010, Libya was elected by the UN General Assembly to a three-year term on the UN's Human Rights Council.[164] It was subsequently suspended from the Human Rights Council in March 2011.[165]

Libya's human rights record was put in the spotlight in February 2011, due to the Jamahiriya's response to pro-democracy protesters, when it killed hundreds of demonstrators.[166]

In 2011, Freedom House rated both political rights and civil liberties in Libya as "7" (1 representing the most free and 7 the least free rating), and gave it the freedom rating of "Not Free".[167]

Administrative divisions and cities

Map of Libya

Historically the area of Libya was considered three provinces (or states), Tripolitania in the northwest, Barka (Cyrenaica) in the east, and Fezzan in the southwest. It was the conquest by Italy in the Italo-Turkish War that united them in a single political unit. Under the Italians Libya, in 1934, was divided into four provinces and one territory (in the south): Tripoli, Misrata, Benghazi, Bayda, and the Territory of the Libyan Sahara.[168]

After independence, Libya was divided into three governorates (muhafazat)[169][dead link] and then in 1963 into ten governorates.[170][171] The governorates were legally abolished in February 1975, and nine "control bureaus" were set up to deal directly with the nine areas, respectively: education, health, housing, social services, labor, agricultural services, communications, financial services, and economy, each under their own ministry.[172][dead link] However, the courts and some other agencies continued to operate as if the governorate structure were still in place.[172] In 1983 Libya was split into forty-six districts (baladiyat), then in 1987 into twenty-five.[173][174][175] In 1995, Libya was divided into thirteen districts (shabiyah),[176] in 1998 into twenty-six districts, and in 2001 into thirty-two districts.[177] These were then further rearranged into twenty-two districts in 2007:

Arabic Transliteration Pop (2006)[178] Land area (km2) Number
(on map)
البطنان Butnan 159,536 83,860 1
درنة Derna 163,351 19,630 2
الجبل الاخضر Jabal al Akhdar 206,180 7,800 3
المرج Marj 185,848 10,000 4
بنغازي Benghazi 670,797 43,535 5
الواحات Al Wahat 177,047 6
الكفرة Kufra 50,104 483,510 7
سرت Sirte 141,378 77,660 8
مرزق Murzuq 78,621 349,790 22
سبها Sabha 134,162 15,330 19
وادي الحياة Wadi al Hayaa 76,858 31,890 20
مصراتة Misrata 550,938 9
المرقب Murqub 432,202 10
طرابلس Tripoli 1,065,405 11
الجفارة Jafara 453,198 1,940 12
الزاوية Zawiya 290,993 2,890 13
النقاط الخمس Nuqat al Khams 287,662 5,250 14
الجبل الغربي Jabal al Gharbi 304,159 15
نالوت Nalut 93,224 16
غات Ghat 23,518 72,700 21
الجفرة Jufra 52,342 117,410 17
وادي الشاطئ Wadi al Shatii 78,532 97,160 18

Libyan districts are further subdivided into Basic People's Congresses which act as townships or boroughs. The following table shows the largest cities, in this case with population size being identical with the surrounding district (see above).

No. City Population (2010)
1 Tripoli 1,800,000
2 Benghazi 650,000
3 Misrata 350,000
4 Bayda 250,000
5 Zawiya 200,000


Libya's economy relies heavily on oil. The ENI Oil Bouri DP4 in the Bouri Field is the biggest platform in the Mediterranean sea.

The Libyan economy depends primarily upon revenues from the oil sector, which constitute practically all export earnings and about one-quarter of gross domestic product (GDP). The discovery of the oil and natural gas reserves in the country in 1959 led to the transformation of Libya's economy from a poor country to (then) Africa's richest. The World Bank defines Libya as an 'Upper Middle Income Economy', along with only seven other African countries.[181] In the early 1980s, Libya was one of the wealthiest countries in the world; its GDP per capita was higher than that of developed countries such as Italy, Singapore, South Korea, Spain and New Zealand.[182]

High oil revenues and a small population gave Libya one of the highest GDPs per capita in Africa and have allowed the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya state to provide an extensive level of social security, particularly in the fields of housing and education.[183] Many problems still beset Libya's economy however; unemployment is the highest in the region at 21%, according to the latest census figures.[184]

Compared to its neighbors, Libya has enjoyed a low level of both absolute and relative poverty. In the first six years of the new millennium officials of the Jamahiriya era carried out economic reforms as part of a broader campaign to reintegrate Libya into the global capitalist economy.[185] This effort picked up steam after UN sanctions were lifted in September 2003, and as Libya announced in December 2003 that it would abandon programs to build weapons of mass destruction.[186]

Libya has begun some market-oriented reforms. Initial steps have included applying for membership of the World Trade Organization, reducing subsidies, and announcing plans for privatization.[187] Authorities privatized more than 100 government owned companies after 2003 in industries including oil refining, tourism and real estate, of which 29 were 100% foreign owned.[188] The non-oil manufacturing and construction sectors, which account for about 20% of GDP, have expanded from processing mostly agricultural products to include the production of petrochemicals, iron, steel and aluminum.[citation needed]

Pivot irrigation in Kufra, southeast Cyrenaica. Oil wealth has enabled Libya to pursue projects such as agriculture development and the Great Manmade River in the Sahara desert.

Climatic conditions and poor soils severely limit agricultural output, and Libya imports about 75% of its food.[185] Water is also a problem, with some 28% of the population not having access to safe drinking water in 2000.[189] The Great Manmade River project is tapping into vast underground aquifers of fresh water discovered during the quest for oil, and is intended to improve the country's agricultural output.[citation needed]

Under former Jamahiriya prime ministers Shukri Ghanem and Baghdadi Mahmudi, Libya underwent a business boom, with initiatives to privatize many government-run industries. Many international oil companies returned to the country, including oil giants Shell and ExxonMobil.[190][dead link]

Tourism was on the rise, bringing increased demand for hotel accommodation and for capacity at airports such as Tripoli International. A multi-million dollar renovation of Libyan airports was approved in 2006 by the government to help meet such demands.[191] Previously, 130,000 people visited the country annually; the Jamahiriya government hoped to increase this figure to 10,000,000 tourists. Libya had long been a notoriously difficult country for Western tourists to visit due to stringent visa requirements.[192] Since the overthrow of Gaddafi's government, there has been revived hope that an open society will encourage the return of tourists.[citation needed] Prior to the uprising, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the second-eldest son of Muammar Gaddafi, was involved in a green development project called the Green Mountain Sustainable Development Area, which sought to bring tourism to Cyrene and to preserve Greek ruins in the area.[193]

In August 2011, Ahmed Jehani, head of the Libyan Stabilisation Team appointed by the rebel National Transition Council, estimated it would take at least 10 years to rebuild Libya's infrastructure. He also noted that Libya's infrastructure was in a poor state, even before the 2011 civil war due to "utter neglect" by Gaddafi's administration.[194]


A map indicating the ethnic composition of Libya

Fareed Zakaria said in 2011 that "[t]he unusual thing about Libya is that it's a very large country with a very small population, but the population is actually concentrated very narrowly along the coast."[195] Population density is about 50 persons per km² (130/sq. mi.) in the two northern regions of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, but falls to less than one person per km² (2.6/sq. mi.) elsewhere. Ninety percent of the people live in less than 10% of the area, primarily along the coast. About 88% of the population is urban, mostly concentrated in the three largest cities, Tripoli, Benghazi and Misrata. Libya has a population of about 6.5 million, around half of whom are under the age of 15. In 1984 the population reached 3.6 million and was growing at about 4% a year, one of the highest rates in the world. The 1984 population total was an increase from the 1.54 million reported in 1964.[196]

The people of Libya are predominantly of the nomadic Arab-Berber race;[? clarification needed] however, the long series of foreign invaders have had a profound and lasting influence on Libya's demographics – namely, by the Arabs and the Turks.[197] Hence, Libyans are primarily Arab or a mixture of Arab and Berber ethnicities, or a mixture of Arab and Turkish ethnicities.[197][198] The Turkish minority are often called "Kouloughlis" and are concentrated in and around villages and towns.[199] Other ethnic minorities include Libyan blacks, the Tuaregs, and the Tebou.[198] Among foreign residents, the largest groups are citizens of other African nations – including North Africans (primarily Egyptians) – and Sub-Saharan Africans.[200] In 2011, there were also an estimated 60,000 Bangladeshis, 30,000 Chinese and 30,000 Filipinos in Libya.[201] Libya is home to a large illegal population which numbers more than one million, mostly Egyptians and Sub-Saharan Africans.[202] Libya has a small minority. Previously, there was a visible presence of settlers, but many left after independence in 1947 and many more left in 1970 after the accession of Muammar Gaddafi.[203]

The main language spoken in Libya is Arabic (the Libyan dialect) by 95% of Libyans, and Modern Standard Arabic is also the official language; the Berber languages spoken by 5% (i.e. Berber and Tuareg languages), which do not have official status, are spoken by Berbers and Tuaregs in the south part of the country beside the Arabic language.[204][dead link] Berber speakers live above all in the Jebel Nafusa region (Tripolitania), the town of Zuwara on the coast, and the small city-oases of Ghadames and Awjila. In addition, Tuaregs speak Tamahaq, the only known Northern Tamasheq language such as Ghat, also Toubou is spoken in some pockets in Qatrun and Kufra. and English are sometimes spoken in the big cities, although speakers are mainly among the older generation.

There are about 140 tribes and clans in Libya.[205] Family life is important for Libyan families, the majority of which live in apartment blocks and other independent housing units, with precise modes of housing depending on their income and wealth. Although the Libyan Arabs traditionally lived nomadic lifestyles in tents, they have now settled in various towns and cities.[206] Because of this, their old ways of life are gradually fading out. An unknown small number of Libyans still live in the desert as their families have done for centuries. Most of the population has occupations in industry and services, and a small percentage is in agriculture.

According to the World Refugee Survey 2008, published by the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, Libya hosted a population of refugees and asylum seekers numbering approximately 16,000 in 2007. Of this group, approximately 9,000 persons were from Palestine, 3,200 from Sudan, 2,500 from Somalia and 1,100 from Iraq.[207] Libya reportedly deported thousands of illegal entrants in 2007 without giving them the opportunity to apply for asylum. Refugees faced discrimination from Libyan officials when moving in the country and seeking employment.[207]

Largest cities


Al Manar Royal Palace in central Benghazi – the location of the University of Libya's first campus, founded by royal decree in 1955

Libya's population includes 1.7 million students, over 270,000 of whom study at the tertiary level.[208] Basic education in Libya is free for all citizens,[209] and is compulsory up to the secondary level. Libya's literacy rate is the highest in North Africa; over 82% of the population can read and write.[210]

After Libya's independence in 1951, its first university – the University of Libya – was established in Benghazi by royal decree.[211] In the 1975–76 academic year the number of university students was estimated to be 13,418. As of 2004, this number has increased to more than 200,000, with an extra 70,000 enrolled in the higher technical and vocational sector.[208] The rapid increase in the number of students in the higher education sector has been mirrored by an increase in the number of institutions of higher education.

Since 1975 the number of universities has grown from two to nine and after their introduction in 1980, the number of higher technical and vocational institutes currently stands at 84 (with 12 public universities).[? clarification needed][208] Since 2011 some new private universities such as the Libyan International Medical University have been established. Although before 2011 a small number of private institutions were given accreditation, the majority of Libya's higher education has always been financed by the public budget. In 1998 the budget allocation for education represented 38.2% of the Jamahiriya's total national budget.[211]

The main universities in Libya are:

The main technology institutions are:

  • The Higher Institute of Computer Technology Also known as The College of Computer Technology (Tripoli)
  • The Higher Institute of Electronics (Tripoli)


Religion in Libya
religion percent
Islam 96.7%
Christianity 2.0%
Other 1.3%

By far the predominant religion in Libya is Islam with 97% of the population associating with the faith.[212] The vast majority of Libyan Muslims adhere to Sunni Islam, which provides both a spiritual guide for individuals and a keystone for government policy, but a minority (between 5 and 10%) adhere to Ibadism (a branch of Kharijism), above all in the Jebel Nafusa and the town of Zuwara, west of Tripoli. A Libyan form of Sufism is also common in parts of the country.[213]

Mosque in Ghadames, close to the Tunisian and Algerian border. About 97% of Libyans are followers of Islam.

Before the 1930s, the Senussi Movement was the primary Islamic movement in Libya. This was a religious revival adapted to desert life. Its zawaaya (lodges) were found in Tripolitania and Fezzan, but Senussi influence was strongest in Cyrenaica. Rescuing the region from unrest and anarchy, the Senussi movement gave the Cyrenaican tribal people a religious attachment and feelings of unity and purpose.[214]

This Islamic movement, which was eventually destroyed by both invasion and later the Gaddafi government,[214] was very conservative and somewhat different from the Islam that exists in Libya today. Gaddafi asserted that he was a devout Muslim, and his government was taking a role in supporting Islamic institutions and in worldwide proselytising on behalf of Islam.[215]

Other than the majority of Sunni Muslims, there are also small foreign communities of Christians. Coptic Orthodox Christianity, which is the Christian Church of Egypt, is the largest and most historical Christian denomination in Libya. There are over 60,000 Egyptian Copts in Libya, as they comprise over 1% of the population.[216] There are an estimated 40,000 Roman Catholics in Libya who are served by two Bishops, one in Tripoli (serving the community) and one in Benghazi (serving the Maltese community). There is also a small Anglican community, made up mostly of African immigrant workers in Tripoli; it is part of the Anglican Diocese of Egypt.

Libya was until recent times the home of one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world, dating back to at least 300 BC.[217] In 1942 the Fascist authorities set up forced labor camps south of Tripoli for the Jews, including Giado (about 3,000 Jews) and Gharyan, Jeren, and Tigrinna. In Giado some 500 Jews died of weakness, hunger, and disease. In 1942, Jews who were not in the concentration camps were heavily restricted in their economic activity and all men between 18 and 45 years were drafted for forced labor. In August 1942, Jews from Tripolitania were interned in a concentration camp at Sidi Azaz. In the three years after November 1945, more than 140 Jews were murdered, and hundreds more wounded, in a series of pogroms.[218] By 1948, about 38,000 Jews remained in the country. Upon Libya's independence in 1951, most of the Jewish community emigrated.


A busy city beach in the Libyan capital Tripoli in the summer. The Mediterranean Sea plays an important role in Libyan culture, both historically and today.

Libya is culturally similar to its neighboring Maghrebian states. Libyans consider themselves very much a part of a wider Arab community. This is strengthened by Arabic being the only official language of the state. Under dictatorship the teaching of foreign languages previously taught in academic institutions was forbidden, along with even the use of the Berber language, leaving entire generations of Libyans with limitations in their comprehension of the English language.

Libyan Arabs have a heritage in the traditions of the previously nomadic Bedouin tribes and most Libyans will associate themselves with a particular family name originating from tribal or conquest based, typically from Ottoman forefathers, heritage.[citation needed]

There are few theaters or art galleries due to cultural repression and lack of infrastructure development under the regime of dictatorship.[219][220] For many years there have been no public theaters, and only very few cinemas showing foreign films. The tradition of folk culture is still alive and well, with troupes performing music and dance at frequent festivals, both in Libya and abroad.[221]

A large number of Libyan television stations are devoted to political review, Islamic topics and cultural phenomena. A number of TV stations air various styles of traditional Libyan music.[? clarification needed] Tuareg music and dance are popular in Ghadames and the south. Libyan television broadcasts air programs mostly in Arabic though usually have time slots for English and French programs.[? clarification needed] A 1996 analysis by the Committee to Protect Journalists found Libya’s media was the most tightly controlled in the Arab world during the country's dictatorship.[222] However as of 2012 hundreds of TV stations have begun to air due to the collapse of censorship from the old regime and the initiation of "free media".

Traditional dancing in Bayda in 1976.

Many Libyans frequent the country's beach and they also visit Libya's archaeological sites—especially Leptis Magna, which is widely considered to be one of the best preserved Roman archaeological sites in the world.[223] The most common form of public transport between cities is the bus, though many people travel by automobile.[224] There are no railway services in Libya, but these are planned for construction in the near future (see rail transport in Libya).[224] The nation's capital, Tripoli, boasts many museums and archives; these include the Government Library, the Ethnographic Museum, the Archaeological Museum, the National Archives, the Epigraphy Museum and the Islamic Museum. The Red Castle Museum located in the capital near the coast and right in the city center, built in consultation with UNESCO, may be the country's most famous.[225]

Libyan cuisine

Libyan cuisine is culturally diverse and ranges from the generally simple dishes to the vibrant fusions between different culinary traditions be it or Bedouin / traditional Arab Libyan food (similar to Sahara cuisine).[226] Pasta is a staple diet of the Western side of Libya whereas rice is generally the food staple of the east. Some common Libyan foods include several variations of, sometimes hot or spicy, red (tomato) sauce based pasta (cut short of left long) dishes (similar to the Sugo all'arrabbiata dish) or rice, usually with lamb or chicken (typically stewed, fried, grilled, or boiled in-sauce), couscous which is steam cooked whilst held over boiling red (tomato) sauce and meat (sometimes also containing courgettes and chickpeas) which is typically served with it along with cucumber slices, lettuce and olives. Bazeen (a dish which is similar to a type of unsweetened cake, made from barley flower, served with red tomato sauce and customarily eaten communally with several others sharing the same dish usually by hand - this dish is commonly served at traditional weddings or festivities), Ousba`an (a sweet version of Bazeen, made from white flower and served with a mix of honey, ghee or butter) and shurba, which is a red tomato sauce based soup usually served with small grains of pasta.[226] A very common snack eaten by Libyan is known as 'khubs bi' tun' literally meaning bread with tuna fish, served as usually a baked baguette or pita bread stuffed with tuna fish that has been mixed with Harissa (chili sauce) and usually olive oil, many snack vendors prepare these sandwiches and can be found all over Libya. Libyan restaurants may serve international cuisine, or may serve simpler fare such as lamb, chicken, vegetable stew, potatoes and macaroni.[226] Due to severe lack of infrastructure, many under-developed areas and small towns do not have restaurants and instead food stores may be the only source to obtain food products.[226] Alcohol consumption is illegal in the entire country.[227]

There are four main ingredients of traditional Libyan food: olives (and olive oil), palm dates, grains and milk.[228] Grains are roasted, ground, sieved and used for making bread, cakes, soups and bazeen. Dates are harvested, dried and can be eaten as they are, made into syrup or slightly fried and eaten with bsisa and milk. After eating, Libyans often drink black tea. This is normally repeated a second time (for the second glass of tea), and in the third round the tea is served with roasted peanuts or roasted almonds known as 'shahi bil louse' (mixed with the tea in the same glass).[228]

More information

Airports144 (2012)
Borders WithAlgeria
Borders WithChad
Borders WithEgypt
Borders WithNiger
Borders WithSudan
Borders WithTunisia
Coastline1,770 km
Coordinates25 00 N, 17 00 E
Ethnic GroupBerber and Arab 97%
Ethnic Groupother 3% (includes Greeks, Maltese, Italians, Egyptians, Pakistanis, Turks, Indians, and Tunisians)
Female Life Expectancy80.27 years (2012 est.)
Female Median Age24.7 years (2012 est.)
Fertility Rate2.12 children born/woman (2012 est.)
GDP$38.98 billion (2011 est.)
GDP$96.7 billion (2010 est.)
GDP$93.25 billion (2009 est.)
GDP Growth-59.7% (2011 est.)
GDP Growth3.7% (2010 est.)
GDP Growth-1.4% (2009 est.)
Government typeoperates under a transitional government
Highest PointBikku Bitti 2,267 m
Land Area1,759,540 sq km
Land boundary4,348 km
LanguageArabic (official)
LanguageEnglish (all widely understood in the major cities); Berber (Nafusi, Ghadamis, Suknah, Awjilah, Tamasheq)
LocationNorthern Africa, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, between Egypt and Tunisia
Lowest PointSabkhat Ghuzayyil -47 m
Male Life Expectancy75.5 years
Male Median Age24.8 years
Population Growth2.007% (2012 est.)
RegionNorthern Africa
Roadways100,024 km
Terrainmostly barren, flat to undulating plains, plateaus, depressions
Total Area1,759,540 sq km
Total Life Expectancy77.83 years
Total Median Age24.8 years
Water Area0 sq km


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This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the CIA World Factbook.
This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Department of State (Background Notes).

Neighboring countries

Important people