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Libya (lĭbˈēə), republic (2015 est. pop. 6,235,000), 679,358 sq mi (1,759,540 sq km), N Africa. It borders on Algeria in the west, on Tunisia in the northwest, on the Mediterranean Sea in the north, on Egypt in the east, on Sudan in the southeast, and on Chad and Niger in the south. Tripoli is the capital of Libya and its largest city. Other cities include Ajdabiyah, Al Bayda, Al Marj, Benghazi, Darnah, Misratah, and Tobruk.

Land and People

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Since the fall of the Qaddafi regime, Libya has struggled to establish a new central government. Interim governments have served while the various parties have negotiated for a new procedure to establish an elected ruler. Elections planned for Dec. 2021 were cancelled at the last minute, leaving the form government going forward uncertain.


Through the Nineteenth Century

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

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

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

Italian Rule, Independence, and the Discovery of Oil

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

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

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

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

The Qaddafi Regime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The political situation subsequently deteriorated as Islamist and regional militias and government forces fought for control of Tripoli and Benghazi. In August and September, Islamists from Misrata established control over Tripoli and reestablished the national congress, in which Islamists had been dominant. Other Islamists fought government forces for Benghazi, seizing control for a time. In October the army regained much of the city, but control subsequently seesawed as fighting there continued. The newly elected House meanwhile established itself in Tobruk, and by August Libya had rival legislatures and prime ministers, with al-Thinni again holding that post in Tobruk; his government was generally recognized internationally. In November, the Libyan supreme court, which had remained the Tripoli, declared the election of the House of Representatives unconstitutional; the House denounced the verdict, saying it was influenced by Islamists militias.

Forces aligned with the rival governments subsequently fought for control of the country's oilfields and oil terminals, and in 2015 militants aligned with the Islamic State (IS) became a significant third force, based primarily in Surt (Sirte), which it largely controlled. In early 2015 the Tobruk government overturned the ban on the participation of former Qaddafi officials in the government, and subsequently Khalifa Haftar was appointed to lead its military forces. Some members of the rival parliaments signed a political agreement in Dec., 2015, that called for both bodies to participate in a government of national accord, but the heads of the legislatures did not participate.

Despite divisions in Tripoli and Tobruk over whether to support the new unity government, steps toward its establishment continued. In Mar., 2016, the unity government began setting up offices in Tripoli, and it subsequently appeared to win the acceptance of many in the Tripoli government, but it did not gain support in Tobruk. Tobruk's forces, led by Haftar, gained control of most of Benghazi by mid-2016, and E Libyan government eventually reestablished itself there. Forces aligned with the unity government mounted an offensive against IS forces in Surt and recaptured the city in December; IS forces then established camps in the desert.

In September, Haftar's forces seized control of three oil ports on central coast; they lost control of them to Benghazi Islamic militias for several days in Mar., 2017. Two of the ports were again contested in June, 2018, but Haftar's forces regained control. At the same time his forces were involved in fighting to seize control of Derna, on the E coast. In July, Haftar returned control of the oil ports his forces had seized to the national oil company, which had forced the halt of oil exports from the ports after they were seized. In Aug.–Sept., fighting over funds and power among militias aligned with the unity government led to the worst violence in Tripoli in four years.

In Apr., 2019, after successes in Libya's south, Haftar's forces moved against Tripoli and had some success. In November, the Tripoli government signed maritime and military agreements with Turkey, and in 2019 and 2020 Turkey sent Syrian fighters and Turkish forces to Libya in support of Tripoli. Meanwhile, in December, Haftar's forces began a new push on the capital; the following month they captured Surt (Sirte). A cease-fire was established, but in the subsequent weeks it broke down, was reestablished, and broke down again. Forces allied with Haftar also shut down most oil production and exports in early 2020, depriving the Tripoli government of oil revenue.

With Turkish aid, forces aligned with Tripoli government secured Tripoli and surrounding areas in May and June, and then advanced toward Surt. In July, the Benghazi government called on Egypt to intervene in the conflict to counter Turkish support for Tripoli. At the same time, the victories exposed divisions in the Tripoli government. Protests in September over living conditions in E Libya led Haftar's forces to lift their oil blockade. Both sides signed a cease-fire in October, which largely held, but subsequent negotiations on forming a transitional government proved difficult.

Both sides have received backing from foreign governments, with the Tripoli-based government supported by Qatar and Italy (in addition to Turkey), and Haftar's forces supported by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Russia, and France. In addition to the Syrian fighters aligned with the Tripoli government's forces, Russian mercenaries have been reported fighting with Haftar's forces, and both sides have used Sudanese mercenaries. In October 2020, a ceasefire was declared and in March 2021 an interim unity government was formed. Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh is serving as interim Prime Minister. Elections planned for Dec. 24, 2021 (the 70th anniversary of Libya's independence) to establish a new government were cancelled at the last minute and delayed at least for a month, leaving the country in uncertainty as to its leadership.


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

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Greek Libye, from Libyes, the name of the tribes inhabiting North Africa west of Egypt), the ancient Greek name for Africa or, more precisely, for the portion of it known in antiquity. Until the fifth century B.C. this area was regarded as part of Asia. With the broadening of geographic knowledge at the time of Herodotus and Scylax (fifth and fourth centuries B.C.), “Libya” came to denote the area adjoining the Mediterranean that lay between Egypt (sometimes the Isthmus of Suez) and the Atlantic Ocean, including the adjacent oases.


Thomson, J. Istoriia drevnei geografii. Moscow, 1953. (Translated from English.)



Libyan Arab Republic (al-Jumhuriyya al-Arabiyya al-Libiya).

A state in North Africa, Libya is bounded by Tunisia and Algeria on the west, Niger and the Republic of Chad on the south, the Sudan on the southeast, the Arab Republic of Egypt on the east, and the Mediterranean Sea on the north. Area, 1,759,500 sq km. Population, 2.08 million (1972 estimate). The capital is Tripoli (since 1975). Administratively, Libya is divided into 46 municipalities.

Libya is a republic and has belonged to the Federation of Arab Republics since 1971. The Constitutional Proclamation of Dec. 11, 1969, serves as an interim constitution.

The highest state organ, the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), is also a legislative body and determines the government’s overall policies. The chairman of the RCC, who is the supreme commander in chief of the armed forces, is regarded as the head of state. The RCC appoints the government—the Council of Ministers—which drafts legislation for confirmation by the RCC; the parliament was dissolved after the coup d’etat of Sept. 1, 1969.

The muhafazat are administered by local councils and the cities by municipal councils. Districts are headed by mutasarrifs and subdistricts by mudirs.

The judicial system includes the Supreme Court, whose members are appointed by the RCC, three appellate courts, courts of the first instance, and summary courts having one judge. A decree of October 1969 created the People’s Court to consider cases involving political or administrative corruption and various other cases referred to it by the RCC. There is a system of sharia (Islamic) courts.

A subtropical semidesert in the north and a tropical desert in the south account for 98 percent of the country’s total area. The coastline is not highly indented, with only one large gulf, the Gulf of Sidra. West of the gulf the coast is primarily low-lying, sandy, and rimmed with lagoons, and to the east it is steep and mountainous.

TERRAIN AND GEOLOGICAL STRUCTURE. Most of the country is a plateau with elevations ranging from 200 to 600 m, divided by vast depressions into three sections: al-Hammadah al-Hamra and the Jabal Nafusah scarp (to 968 m) in the northwest, in Tripolitania; al-Jabal al-Akhdar (876 m) in the northeast, in Cyrenaica; and sandstone plateaus and spurs of the Tibesti Highlands (to 2,286 m) in the south. The eastern portion of the country is occupied by the Libyan Desert, and the western part, by the vast Fezzan Basin, covered with large sand dunes (Ide-han-Ubari, Idehan-Muruq). Some ridges of these dunes are dozens or hundreds of km long and attain relative heights of 150–200 m.

Geologically, Libya forms part of the northern slope of the African platform. In the extreme south, the center, and the southeast, crystalline Precambrian rocks are exposed in outcroppings of the basement. Depressions in the basement (the Khamfa, Muruq, al-Kufrah, and East Libyan basins) are covered with a sedimentary mantle of marine and continental deposits of the Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic. Central Libya is traversed by fractures associated with young lava fields. The Mediterranean coast is also rimmed with fractures. Adjoining the Gulf of Sidra on the southeast is the Sidra graben, filled with marine deposits (chiefly carbonaceous and some of reef origin) of the Upper Cretaceous-Paleogene. The major petroleum deposits are found here. In 1971 proven petroleum reserves amounted to 3,282,500,000 tons.

CLIMATE. Libya has a tropical, desert climate, with sharp seasonal and daily temperature variations and extremely dry air. In the north the climate is of the subtropical, Mediterranean type. The average temperature in the coolest month, January, is 11°-12°C in the north and 15°-18°C in the south. Temperatures for the hottest month, July, average 27°-29°C in the north and 32°-35°C in the south. The maximum temperature (more than 50°C) occurs in the center of the Libyan Desert. The northern sections receive the most precipitation, ranging from 250–350 mm in Tripoli to 400–625 mm in Cyrenaica. To the south and east, annual precipitation decreases to 100 mm, and in the Libyan Desert, to 25 mm. Hot desiccating winds and dust storms —the ghibli and khamsin —often sweep over the country.

RIVERS AND LAKES. Although Libya has no perennially flowing rivers, there are large groundwater reserves. Oases with fertile soils are found where the water lies close to the surface. There are many dry valleys, called wadis, particularly near the coast of the Gulf of Sidra, in Cyrenaica, and in Fezzan.

SOILS, FLORA, AND FAUNA. Subtropical semidesert flora predominates in the coastal region. Here sparse acacias, sycamores, and tamarisks grow on sierozem and gray-cinnamon soils; in moister places there are maquis thickets and cedar and juniper groves. Wormwood and tough, low grasses and shrubs grow between the coastal belt and the desert. The vast desert expanses, virtually devoid of a plant cover, support only sparse shrubs, xerophytic prickly shrubs and semishrubs, and saltworts.

Fauna is represented by few species, chiefly snakes and lizards, and there are many scorpions. Hyenas, jackals, foxes, hares, and wild boars inhabit the northern regions, and birds nest in the oases.


Libyans constitute more than 90 percent of the population (1970 estimate). There are also about 75,000 Berbers, who are almost indistinguishable from the Arabs (the majority speak Arabic). Small groups of Hausa and Tubu live in Jabal Nafusah and in oases of the Libyan Desert. The official language is Arabic. The state religion is Islam (most Muslims are Sunnites). Both the Muslim (Hegira) and Gregorian calendars are used.

Between 1963 and 1971 the annual population growth rate, both natural increase and immigration, averaged 3.7 percent. The work force totals 514,000 persons (1970 estimate), of whom 43 percent are employed in agriculture, about 25 percent in industry and construction, and about 32 percent in trade, handicrafts, and other occupations. Population distribution is extremely uneven: about 90 percent of the people live in the north, either along the coast or on the adjoining plateau. The most densely settled muhafaza is Tripoli, where about one-fourth of the total population lives. In the Libyan Desert the density is less than one person per sq km. The development of the petroleum industry has resulted in the mass migration of the rural population to the cities and settlements that have developed around the petroleum ports. A portion of the population is nomadic. Most of the people in the northwestern part of the country lead a settled way of life, raising field crops and fruit. In the northeast and southwest, in addition to the settled population, there are a number of seminomadic and nomadic tribes. The settled population of the desert lives in oases and oil-drilling centers. Urban dwellers accounted for 30.5 percent of the total population in 1970. The largest cities are Tripoli (344,000 inhabitants in 1972) and Benghazi (280,000 inhabitants in 1971).

To THE EARLY 16TH CENTURY. The territory of present-day Libya was first settled by man in earliest antiquity. The nomadic tribes inhabiting ancient Libya—ancestors of the Berbers—engaged in hunting and, later, in livestock raising. The primitive communal system existed for several thousand years. Libyan territory was conquered by foreigners in ancient times, but Libyans also often conquered neighboring countries. From the mid-tenth to the mid-eighth century B.C., dynasties of Libyan origin ruled Egypt. Three Phoenician colonies, Leptis Magna, Sabratha, and Oea, were founded in western Libya in the first half of the first millennium (the Greek name for western Libya, Tripolitania, means three cities). In the seventh century Greek colonies were established in eastern Libya, the most important of which was Cyrene. (The historical region of Cyrenaica derived its name from the colony.) In the mid-fifth century a large part of Libya, chiefly in the west, came under the domination of Carthage. The Achaemenids conquered part of Cyrenaica in the late sixth and early fifth centuries, and later it was conquered by Alexander the Great.

After the fall of Carthage in the second century B.C., Libya was conquered by Rome. In the fifth century A.D. it was captured by the Vandals, and in the sixth century it became part of the Byzantine Empire. In the seventh century, as a result of the Arab conquests, it was incorporated into the Arab Caliphate of the Umayyads and later the Abbasids. Subsequently, it fell completely or partially under the domination of the Muslim feudal dynasties ruling over neighboring Egypt and Tunisia—the Aghlabids, Fatimids, Almohads, Hafsids, and Mamelukes. The mass migration of Arab tribes to Libya resulted in the gradual Arabization of the local population. Islam became the dominant religion.

FOREIGN RULE (16 TH CENTURY TO 1951). In the 16th century Libya became part of the Ottoman Empire (the pasalik of Tripoli). The Turkish sultan’s power over Libya had virtually disappeared by the early 18th century, and from 1711 to 1835 the country was ruled by the Karamanli dynasty. Although the Turks reestablished their rule in 1835, they actually controlled only the coastal regions. The second period of Turkish rule was marked by the Libyan people’s numerous anti-Turkish actions. In the mid-19th century the struggle was led by the Sanussi brotherhood.

In the late 19th century Libya became an objective in the struggle between the imperialist powers. In 1911, Italy began an imperialist war with Turkey for control of Libya, resulting in Italian sovereignty. However, the Italians succeeded in occupying only the coastal regions. The local population stubbornly resisted the Italian colonialists. During World War I (1914–18), Italy had to withdraw a large part of its forces from Libya, holding only the cities of al-Khums, Tripoli, and Benghazi. Cyrenaica was controlled by the Sanussi brotherhood, and a republic was proclaimed in Tripolitania in 1918. Threatened with the loss of its colony, the Italian government made concessions. It recognized Idris al-Sanussi, head of the Sanussi brotherhood, as ruler of the unoccupied region of Cyrenaica, and in 1919 it signed an agreement with representatives of the Republic of Tripolitania granting it internal autonomy and a constitution.

In January 1922, Idris al-Sanussi and representatives of the government of Tripolitania signed a pact declaring Tripolitania’s and Cyrenaica’s cooperation in the struggle against the Italian invaders. Idris al-Sanussi was proclaimed emir of both regions. After the fascists came to power in Italy in 1922, the Italian government resumed military operations in Libya, accompanied by the mass annihilation and deportation of the local population. In Cyrenaica alone, more than 4,000 people were executed and about 142,000 driven from their homeland or killed between 1923 and 1929. The land owned by the local population was expropriated and given to Italian colonists. By 1940, more than 800,000 hectares of land had been confiscated, and more than 100,000 colonists had settled in Libya. All branches of the economy came under Italian control.

The movement to drive out the Italian imperialists intensified. Not until 1928 did the Italian aggressors capture Tripolitania; in 1930 they gained control over Fezzan. The armed resistance in Cyrenaica was led by the Sanussi sheikh Omar al-Mukhtar. Despite the military superiority of the Italian colonialists, the Libyans continued their heroic resistance into the early 1930’s. In 1939, Cyrenaica, Tripolitania, and Fezzan became part of Italy, under an Italian governor-general.

During World War II (1939–45), Italy planned to use Libya as a base for further conquests in Africa. Colonial troops were recruited, military bases and highways built, and ports equipped and modernized. However, the Italian army that invaded Egypt from Libya in late 1940 was repulsed by British forces, who occupied Cyrenaica in January and February 1941. After Rommel’s tank corps was sent to Libya, Italo-German forces captured Cyrenaica. After Hitler’s forces were routed at Stalingrad, the Italian and German forces were withdrawn from all of Libya. In late 1942 and early 1943, the French occupied Fezzan, and the British held Cyrenaica and Tripolitania. The people of Libya, as well as military units composed of Libyan patriots who had been in exile in Egypt, took an active part in expelling the Italian and German forces.

In 1943, a British military administration was established in Cyrenaica and Tripolitania, and the French administered Fezzan. Great Britain, France, and the USA established military bases on Libyan soil (the USA, Wheelus Air Base; Great Britain, bases in Tubruq and al-Adem; and France, bases in Fezzan).

Libya’s fate, as well as that of the other former Italian colonies, was discussed between 1945 and 1948, first in the Council of Foreign Ministers (an international body established to prepare postwar peace treaties) and then in the UN. Striving to maintain the occupation regime, the governments of the imperialist countries prevented the adoption of a unanimous resolution and insisted on the partition of Libya and on the maintenance of military bases on Libyan soil. Libya’s national interests were consistently defended by the Soviet Union and the other socialist countries, which advocated granting immediate independence to a unified Libya, withdrawal of foreign troops, and removal of military bases.

In November 1949 the General Assembly of the UN adopted a resolution granting Libya independence by Jan. 1, 1952. The National Constituent Assembly, convened in 1950, adopted a constitution, and on Dec. 24, 1951, the independent United Kingdom of Libya was proclaimed, a federation consisting of the provinces of Cyrenaica, Tripolitania, and Fezzan. Idris al-Sanussi (Idris I) became king.

INDEPENDENCE. As a result of protracted foreign rule, Libya was an underdeveloped feudal country in the early 1950’s. Nomadic or seminomadic tribes constituted the greater part of the population. Most of the industrial enterprises and farms producing for the market belonged to Italian colonists. Libya remained dependent on the imperialist states. The Anglo-Libyan treaty of 1953 and the American-Libyan treaty of 1954 reaffirmed the right of Great Britain and the USA to maintain troops and military bases in Libya.

In the mid-1950’s, when rich petroleum deposits were discovered, there was a great influx of foreign capital. Between 1954 and 1964 alone, foreign oil monopolies invested $1.5 billion in Libya. Petroleum production increased rapidly, and a working class emerged, composed chiefly of workers in the petroleum industry. The position of the national bourgeoisie was strengthened somewhat; national capital was invested chiefly in trade, handicrafts, light industry, and housing construction.

After the proclamation of independence, several measures were taken to develop the national economy. Between 1960 and 1963 the Council of Economic Development was created, a special committee to protect Libyan enterprises from foreign competition was formed, and several national companies were organized. Also established were the Central Bank of Libya, the National Planning Council, and the Ministry of Planning and Development. Steps were taken to strengthen the machinery of government. In 1963, Libya was declared a unitary state. Women gained the right to vote. Public opinion and the active anti-imperialist struggle in other Arab countries caused the government to consider the removal of foreign military bases in 1964. In the spring of 1966 some British troops were evacuated (French troops had been withdrawn in 1956). However, British and American military bases remained. The great feudal lords and tribal sheikhs, who supported the royal regime, continued to dominate economic and political life. The developing democratic movement was brutally suppressed. In 1952 a law was enacted banning political parties; in 1955 a decree was issued giving the government the right to declare a state of emergency; and in 1956 a law was passed restricting assemblies and demonstrations and banning strikes. The difficult economic situation, Libya’s dependence on the imperialist monopolies, the presence of foreign military bases, and the country’s isolation from progressive Arab states caused discontent among broad strata of the population, including the intelligentsia, military circles, and the national bourgeoisie.

On Sept. 1, 1969, a coup d’etat was staged by a group of young army officers belonging to the secret political organization Free Unionist-Socialist Officers. The royal regime was overthrown, and the Libyan Arab Republic (LAR) was proclaimed. Power passed to the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), headed by one of the organizers of the Free Officers, Captain M. al-Qaddafi. The crown prince and all the high officials of the royal regime were arrested (King Idris I was abroad at the time). Political prisoners were released. In its first proclamations, the RCC stated that the LAR rejected capitalism as Libya’s path of development. In subsequent speeches the leaders of the LAR stressed that Libya would build “Libyan Islamic socialism.” In November 1971 the RCC established a commission to review all legislation in accordance “with the basic principles of the Islamic sharia.” Measures aimed at strengthening the national economy were carried out between 1969 and 1972, and in 1970 all foreign military bases were removed.

A labor law permitting workers to organize trade unions according to industry was enacted in May 1970. The RCC raised the minimum wage from 15 to 40 dinars a month and reduced the cost of medical services. A trade union center, the General Federation of Trade Union Workers of the LAR, was organized in 1972. The country’s sole political organization, the Arab Socialist Union (ASU), was also founded in that year. The ASU proclaimed the “third theory,” based on religion and nationalism, to be its ideological foundation. By an edict of June 31, 1972, all political activity outside the ASU was banned.

In foreign policy, the RCC proclaimed a policy of “positive neutrality” and declared the necessity of participating more actively in the Arabs’ struggle against imperialism and Israeli aggression and of consolidating the Arabs into a single state. On Sept. 1, 1971, Libya, Egypt, and Syria formed the Federation of Arab Republics (FAR).

Diplomatic relations between Libya and the USSR were established in 1955. In 1963 a trade agreement was signed by Libya and the USSR, and in 1972 an agreement on economic and technical cooperation was concluded.


Lenin, V. I. “Konets voiny Italii s Turtsiei.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 22.
Lutskii, V. B. Novaia istoriia arabskikh stran, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1966.
Noveishaia istoriia arabskikh stran (1917–1966). Moscow, 1968.
Noveishaia istoriia Afriki, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1968.
Bodianskii, V. L., and V. E. Shagal’. Sovremennaia Liviia: Spravochnik Moscow, 1965.
Arsharuni, N. A. Liviia. Moscow, 1965.
Arsharuni, N. A. Inostrannyi kapital v Livii (1911–1967 gg.). Moscow, 1970.
Muhammad Fuad Shukri. Milad Dawla Libiya al-Haditha. (The Birth of the Modern State of Libya.) Cairo, 1957.
Mahmud Hasan Sulayman. Libiya bayna al-Madi wa al-Hadir. (Libya Past and Present.) Cairo, 1962.
Evans-Pritchard, E. The Sanusi of Cyrenaica. Oxford, 1949.
Majid Khadduri. Modern Libya. Baltimore, 1963.
Wright, J. Libya. New York-Washington, 1969 (Bibliography, pp. 281–87).


GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS. In the colonial period Italian capital dominated the main branches of the economy. Prior to World War II (1939–45), the economy was based on nomadic livestock raising and, to a lesser extent, farming. After the proclamation of independence in 1951, the government took measures to develop the national economy. The fundamental social and economic problems, however, were not solved. In agriculture, the chief form of land tenure remained the leasing of land from landlords in return for labor services or sharecropping; the Italian colonists owned about 250,000 hectares. The discovery and development of large petroleum deposits in the 1950’s considerably altered the country’s economy. Oil production, begun in 1961, grew at a rapid rate and came to occupy the leading place in the economy (about 80 percent of the country’s revenues). Libya is the leading oil-producing country in Africa and the sixth largest producer in the capitalist world (1972), after the USA, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and Kuwait. The rich oil deposits are exploited by foreign oil companies, chiefly US; in 1969 these companies owned 80 percent of the capital investments and 87.5 percent of the oil produced. The country’s oil revenues, including taxes and royalties, amounted to about $2 billion in 1971.

The government that came to power in September 1969 began to restrict the activity of foreign capital, nationalizing the land holdings of foreigners without compensation (1970). The functions of the Libyan National Oil Company (Linoco, the former Libyan Oil Company, founded in 1968) were expanded, and its role in the oil industry grew substantially. The country’s income increased as a result of the higher price of Libyan oil and higher taxes on the profits of foreign oil companies. By a decree issued in January 1971 all mineral resources were nationalized, and prospecting and extraction of minerals were to be carried out only with the permission of the government. In August 1971 state control was established over the import trade. In December 1971 the British Petroleum Company, which owned 50 percent of the shares of the Serir deposits, was completely nationalized, and in June 1973 the remaining 50 percent of the shares of the American oil company Bunker Hunt were nationalized. In September 1973 the government of Libya nationalized 51 percent of the property of all foreign oil companies. Between 1969 and 1971 foreign banks, all Italian-owned land, and the immovable property (including gas stations) belonging to foreign companies were nationalized. Thus, the present economy has a mixed structure: capitalist relations predominate in industry, and in agriculture vestiges of the tribal system are combined with feudal and capitalist relations.

The three-year development plan (1973–75) was intended to create a diversified national economy in order to lessen the country’s dependence on foreign products. The plan provided for the strengthening of the state sector and for the development of industry (32 percent of all allocations), agriculture (21 percent), and other branches. In 1971 the per capita gross national product was 675 Libyan dinars (in current prices).

AGRICULTURE. According to the agricultural census of 1960, large landowners with holdings exceeding 50 hectares (ha) accounted for only one-eighth of all farms but about two-thirds of the cultivated land; peasants with plots of up to 5 ha accounted for one-third of all farms and only 3 percent of the cultivated area. In July 1971 the Organization for Agrarian Reform and Land Reclamation was established, and in September a law was enacted on the sale of state lands to certain categories of peasants. The cooperative movement was encouraged. In 1969 agricultural land and wooded areas occupied 4.2 million ha (about 2.4 percent of the total area), of which 2.5 million ha (including perennial plantings) were cultivated land (nearly all in the northwest) and 1.1 million ha were pasture. Dry farming predominates; irrigated lands total 124,000 ha (1970). The principal crops are cereals (barley and wheat). Vegetables (chiefly potatoes and tomatoes), fruits (dates, citrus fruits, and grapes), peanuts, olives, and tobacco are also grown. The main farming regions lie along the coast (west of Misratah) and on the Al-Jabal al-Akhdar Plateau. Esparto grass, used in making higher grades of paper, pulp, and wicker products, is harvested in the northwestern regions.

Table 1. Sown area and yield of main crops
 Sown area (hectares)Yield (tons)
1 Yearly average 21970 3Estimate NA indicates not available

Livestock raising is important. In such regions as the Libyan Sahara it is the traditional primary occupation of most nomads and seminomads. The population of northern Libya practices transhumance stockraising, combined with farming. In 1970–71 there were 2.2 million head of sheep, 1.2 million goats, 109,000 head of cattle, 160,000 camels, 24,000 horses, and 96,000 donkeys. Tuna and sardines are caught in the coastal waters, and sponges are gathered.

INDUSTRY. The chief industry is petroleum extraction, conducted by oil monopolies: the American monopolies Esso, Oasis Oil Company of Libya, Occidental Oil of Libya, and Amoseas; the US-West German firm Mobil-Gelsenberg; and the state corporation Linoco. The principal deposits that are worked are located in northern Libya, relatively close to the coast. In early 1969, there were 869 oil wells, each with an average annual output of about 170,000 tons (one of the highest rates in the world). The main deposits are Zelten, Intisar, Jalo, Serir, Nefoora, Amal, Waha, and Raguba. By 1970 oil production was 18 times that of 1962, reaching 162 million tons (as compared with 41.6 million tons in 1964 and 72.5 million tons in 1966). A policy of protecting oil reserves from depletion caused output to fall to 132 million tons in 1971 and 108 million tons in 1972.

The extraction of natural gas began in 1968. The total capacity of electric power plants was 140 megawatts in 1970. Steam power plants, fueled by oil, produced 560 million kilowatt-hours in 1971–72. The most important steam power plant is in Tripoli, and there is another large plant in Benghazi.

The chief manufacturing industries are oil refining, gas liquefaction, the processing of food and condiments, and the production of textiles, leather, and cement. About 75 percent of the industrial enterprises are concentrated in Tripoli, with the remaining 25 percent in Benghazi and other cities. Oil refining, gas liquefaction, and chemical production are developing rapidly. The Esso company has built an oil refinery with a capacity of 1,400 tons of crude oil per day and a large gas liquefaction plant in the port of Marsa al-Burayqah. Occidental Oil is building (1973) plants for the production of ammonia, liquefied gas, and gasoline near the Intisar deposits. The other manufacturing industries are represented by domestic and semidomestic enterprises. The food and condiments industry produces vegetable oil (chiefly from olives), canned vegetables and fish, flour and baked goods, and tobacco. The oldest light industry is the textile industry, which manufactures chiefly woolen fabrics. There are also garment, leather, footwear, and soap enterprises. Handicrafts are well developed both along the coast and in the interior regions; carpet weaving is important, particularly in Misratah.

TRANSPORTATION. Motor vehicles provide the basic means of transportation (100,000 automobiles and 45,400 trucks in 1970). There are about 5,000 km of roads (1970). The major artery is a highway running along the Mediterranean coast from the Egyptian to the Tunisian border. Paved and dirt roads link the coast with interior regions; the most important of these are the highway to the oases of Sabhah and Ghat (1,250 km) and the Waddan-Surt Highway (260 km). Most of the country has only unpaved roads and caravan tracks. The total length of pipelines is about 1,800 km. The longest pipelines are the Zelten-Marsa al-Burayqah, Raguba-Marsa al-Burayqah, Jalo-Waha-Samah-Dahra-al-Sidr, Hofra-Ras al-Unuf, Serir-Marsa al-Hariqa, and Intisar-al-Zuwaytinah.

Sea transport is used to export petroleum and to carry nearly all other foreign-trade commodities. Some 75 percent of foreign trade (excluding oil) passes through the port of Tripoli, and 20 percent is handled by the port of Benghazi. Oil is exported through the oil ports of Marsa al-Burayqah, Ras al-Unuf, al-Sidr, Marsa al-Hariqa, and al-Zuwaytinah. Air transportation is provided chiefly by foreign airlines; the national carrier is Libya Arab Airlines. There are international airports at Tripoli, Benghazi, and Sabhah.

FOREIGN TRADE. Oil accounted for more than 99 percent of the country’s exports in 1971. It is exported chiefly to Italy (24 percent of the total value of oil exports), the Federal Republic of Germany (17.5 percent), Great Britain (16.5 percent), France (12.5 percent), and the Netherlands (9.5 percent). In 1970 machinery and equipment for the petroleum industry accounted for 30 percent of imports; foodstuffs, for about 21 percent; industrial goods, for 37 percent; chemical products, for 5.7 percent; and petroleum products, for 3.2 percent. The principal importing countries in 1971 were Italy (23.4 percent of the total value of imports), the USA (7 percent), Great Britain (10 percent), and the Federal Republic of Germany (9 percent).

Trade between Libya and the USSR is expanding. From the USSR, Libya imports rolled ferrous metals, steel, pipes, cement, lumber, and foodstuffs. The monetary unit is the Libyan dinar. According to the exchange rate of the State Bank of the USSR in September 1973, one Libyan dinar equaled 2 rubles 52 kopeks.



Hajjaji Salem Ali. The New Libya. [Tripoli, 1967.]

Libya’s armed forces consist of an army, air force, and navy. The supreme commander in chief is the chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council. Troops are directed by the minister of defense and the General Staff. The armed forces, made up of volunteers, numbered about 25,000 men in 1972, of which about 3,000 were in the air force and about 2,000 in the navy.

Between 1965 and 1970 the birth rate averaged 45.9 per thousand inhabitants, and the mortality rate, 15.8 per thousand. Infant mortality is high (140–145 per thousand live births); its main causes are tetanus, malnutrition, lung disease, and gastrointestinal diseases. Infectious and parasitic diseases predominate. Trachoma and tuberculosis are major public health problems. Typhoid and paratyphoid, venereal diseases, helminthiases, epidemic hepatitis, and leprosy are widespread.

The pattern of diseases is fairly uniform throughout the country, with the exception of the narrow coastal strip. Here acute infections of the respiratory tract are common, a type of tropical ulcer is encountered, and the incidence of tuberculosis is lower than in other regions. Diseases elsewhere in the country include echinococcus and periodic outbreaks of skin and visceral leishmaniasis, relapsing fever (in the muhafazat of Benghazi, Darnah, and Al-Jabal al-Akhdar), and Q fever (in the northwest).

In 1970 there were 63 hospitals with 7,600 beds (3.9 beds per thousand inhabitants) of which 56 were state hospitals. Outpatient care is provided by outpatient divisions of hospitals, public health centers, and private general practitioners. In 1970 there were 730 doctors, or four doctors per 10,000 inhabitants (700 were in state service), eight doctors’ assistants, 52 dentists, 167 pharmacists, and about 3,000 intermediate medical personnel. Only intermediate medical personnel are trained in Libya. In 1969–70 government expenditures on public health amounted to 10.8 percent of the state budget.


VETERINARY SERVICES. The abundance of tick carriers in desert scrub regions has caused widespread babesiasis of sheep and goats, theileriasis of cattle, and other piroplasmoses. Mycoses, including actinomycosis, Q fever of sheep and goats, sheep pox, foot-and-mouth disease, and tuberculosis and brucellosis of cattle are also common. Helminthiases, particularly echinococcus and cysticercosis of cattle and camels, have been recorded. Coccidiosis is prevalent among birds, and trypanosomiasis, among horses. Rabies occur among dogs and wild animals. There were 65 veterinarians in 1972. A laboratory for hygiene and disease prevention has been established in Tripoli.

In 1968, 73 percent of the population was illiterate. After the republic was proclaimed in 1969, elementary education was made compulsory. Instruction is free in all schools. The educational system includes kindergartens for children four to six years of age, compulsory six-year elementary schools, and secondary schools consisting of two levels of three years each. There are a number of religious schools. In 1970–71 there were 350,200 students attending elementary schools and 45,500 students enrolled in secondary schools (37,000 in the lower level and 8,500 in the upper level). Among the Arab countries, Libya has one of the highest rates of school enrollment: more than 60 percent of school-age children attend elementary schools and more than 15 percent study in secondary schools. Teachers in the elementary and the lower secondary schools receive a four-year course of training upon completing the lower secondary school. In 1970–71 there were 5,400 students in the teacher training program.

Vocational and technical education is not highly developed; a four-year program is available to those who have completed the elementary school or the lower level of the secondary school. In 1970–71 more than 3,000 students were enrolled in vocational and technical schools.

Higher education is provided by the University of Libya, founded in Benghazi in 1955; beginning in 1957 several faculties were established in Tripoli. As of 1971 the faculties of arts, commerce and economics, and law were located in Benghazi and those of the natural sciences, agriculture, engineering, and pedagogy in Tripoli. The faculty of pedagogy trains teachers for upper-level secondary schools. In 1971–72 the university had an enrollment of 3,600 students, both Libyans and students from other Arab countries.

The largest libraries are the university library in Benghazi (more than 77,600 volumes) and the Government Library in Tripoli (more than 35,500 volumes). Tripoli has museums of archaeology and natural history, and there are archaeological museums in Leptis Magna and Sabrata.


In 1975 the leading Arabic-language newspapers were al-Fajr al-Jadid (founded in 1966, a government organ), al-Rai (founded in 1973, a government organ), al-Fatih (founded in 1974, the organ of the Revolutionary Command Council and the Arab Socialist Union), and al-Jihad (founded in 1972). Magazines in Arabic include al-Wahda, founded in 1971, and Jaysh al-Shaab, the organ of the Libyan armed forces.

Radio broadcasting was initiated in 1957. The six radio stations, including those in Tripoli, Benghazi, and al-Bayda, broadcast in Arabic and English. Television broadcasting was inaugurated in 1968. There are television stations in Tripoli and Benghazi.

After the Arab conquests of the seventh and early eighth centuries, literature in Libya developed within the mainstream of Arabic culture. Beginning in the 16th century, when Libya fell under Turkish domination, literary life declined. Nonetheless, the 17th and 18th centuries produced two outstanding Sufi poets who adhered to the traditions of ancient Arabic poetry, Omar ibn al-Farid and Ahmad al-Bahluli (died in 1701). The gasida of the poets Ahmad al-Sharif (1864–1918), Mustafa ibn Zikri (1853–1918), and Sulayman al-Baruni (died in 1914) called for struggle against the Turkish colonialists. Liberation was a recurrent theme in the poetry of the period of Italian colonization (1912–43), notably the poems of Ahmad Rafiq al-Mahdawi (died in 1961), Ibrahim al-Usta Umar (1907–50) and al-Saiid Ahmad Ghannab.

After independence was proclaimed in 1951, several poets emerged who rejected the classical forms of Arabic versification and showed an interest in social problems, particularly the life of the common people: Ali Sidqi Abd al-Kadir, Ahmad Fuad Shinnib, and Ali al-Ruqii. Arising in the 1940’s and 1950’s, Libyan prose dealt with the struggle for true independence and social equality and condemned prejudice. The heroes of the short stories of Mustafa al-Misurati, Abu Harrus, Rishad al-Huni, Muhammad Afif, Talib al-Rawi, Zaima Sulayman al-Baruni, and other prose writers are Bedouins, fishermen, fellahin, and artisans. Prose was strongly influenced by the works of Egyptian writers, particularly Taha Hussein and Tawfiq al-Hakim. Among the promising young prose writers and poets who emerged in the 1960’s and early 1970’s were Jumah al-Farani, Ahmad al-Nuayri, Fuazia Bariyun, and Abd al-Hafiz al-Mayar. The Office for Artistic and Literary Affairs plays an important role in the cultural life of the country.


Muhammad Sadiq Afifi. “Poety i poeziia Livii.” In Sovremennaia arabskaia literatura. Moscow, 1960. (Translated from Arabic.)
Bodianskii, V. L., and V. E. Shagal’. Sovremennaia Liviia: Spravochnik. Moscow, 1965.
Krymskii, A. E. Istoriia novoi arabskoi literatury, XlX-nach. XX v. Moscow, 1971.


Neolithic rock engravings depicting elephant and bison hunts have been found at al-Uwaynat. Relics of Phoenician art (first millennium B.C.) include clay statues, painted black lacquer pottery, glass vessels, and necklaces (Leptis Magna). There are ruins of classical Greek, Roman, and Byzantine buildings decorated with mosaics and sculpture, notably the theater in Sabrata, dating from the late second and early third centuries. Outstanding examples of classical applied art, combining Greek and Syrian-Mesopotamian elements, have been unearthed. Works dating from the Byzantine period include the mosaic floor of the Justinian basilica in Sabrata (Archaeological Museum, Sabrata).

After the Arab conquest in the seventh and early eighth centuries, an Arab-Berber culture evolved in Libya. Medina cities arose, characterized by narrow, winding streets, one-or two-story pise houses with flat roofs and interior courtyards, mosques, and minarets. The interiors of the multidomed mosques of the 18th and 19th centuries were decorated with ornamental carving, wall paintings, and richly colored majolicas, for example, the mosque in Darnah. In outlying regions the mosques were rectangular, fortress-like pise buildings.

During the period of Italian rule (1912–43), European quarters developed in the cities. Since independence, modern schools, hospitals, residences, and administrative buildings have been built. Roman aqueducts, cisterns, and dams are being restored and used.

Folk art includes carpets with bright geometric patterns, leather articles with stamped or embroidered floral and geometric designs, engraved copper vessels, jewelry, and mats and baskets woven from palm leaves.


Graziosi, P. L’arte rupestre della Libia. Naples, 1942.
Schiffers, H. Libyen und Sahara. Bonn, 1962.

Various folk traditions—the khayal al-zill, or shadow theater, the qaragoz, or puppet shows, and the sunduq al-dunya, a kind of oral news account—contributed to the development of the modern theater. The first theatrical company was formed by Muhammad Abd al-Hadi in 1935 in Darnah. Libyan theater was also influenced by Egyptian and European theatrical art. In the 1940’s plays were staged by various amateur groups and by a professional Italian company.

After independence several amateur and professional groups were organized, notably the national musical-dramatic company formed by Mukhtar Ramadan al-Aswad; al-Amal, headed by Abd al-Hamid al-Mijrab in Tripoli; and al-Taj al-Fiddi in Misratah. In 1951 the playwright, director, and actor Mustafa Muhammad Lamir founded the National Theater Association, a union of actors and playwrights. This was the first Libyan theater with a permanent company and repertory, including works by Molière, N. V. Gogol, and modern Egyptian and Libyan playwrights. A school of music and drama was opened in Tripoli in 1963. Several music and dance ensembles perform in Tripoli (since 1963), in Benghazi (since 1968), in Darnah (since 1969), and in Misratah (since 1970). Traveling theatrical groups include the folk theater in Benghazi and the national theaters in Darnah and Tripoli.

Along with plays by such Egyptian playwrights as Yusuf Idris and Abd al-Rahman al-Sharqawi, works by young Libyan writers depicting the life of the people and their struggle for independence are staged. The first national theater festival, dedicated to the Arabs’ struggle against imperialism, was held in 1971.


Muhammad Jusuf Najm. Al-Masrahiyya fi al-Adab al-Arabi al-Hadith. (Drama in Modern Arabic Literature.) Beirut, 1967.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Official name: Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya

Capital city: Tripoli

Internet country code: .ly

Flag description: Plain green; green is the traditional color of Islam (the state religion)

Geographical description: Northern Africa, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, between Egypt and Tunisia

Total area: 679,358 sq. mi. (1,759,540 sq. km.)

Climate: Mediterranean along coast; dry, extreme desert interior

Nationality: noun: Libyan(s); adjective: Libyan

Population: 6,036,914 (July 2007 CIA est.)

Ethnic groups: Berber and Arab 97%, other (including Greeks, Maltese, Italians, Egyptians, Pakistanis, Turks, Indians, and Tunisians) 3%

Languages spoken: Arabic, English, French, Italian

Religions: Sunni Muslim 97%, other 3%

Legal Holidays:

British Evacuation DayMar 28
Day of MourningOct 26
Declaration of Jamahiriya DayMar 2
Evacuation of Foreign Bases DayJun 11
Independence DayDec 24
Italian Evacuation DayOct 7
Revolution DaySep 1
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.


a republic in N Africa, on the Mediterranean: became an Italian colony in 1912; divided after World War II into Tripolitania and Cyrenaica (under British administration) and Fezzan (under French); gained independence in 1951; monarchy overthrown by a military junta in 1969. It consists almost wholly of desert and is a major exporter of oil. Official language: Arabic. Official religion: (Sunni) Muslim. Currency: Libyan dinar. Capital: Tripoli. Pop.: 5 659 000 (2004 est.). Area: 1 760 000 sq. km (680 000 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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In its economic outlook on Libya in October 2017, the World Bank
The Islamist government based in Libya's capital Tripoli did not sign that deal, because of opposition by the Qatar/Turkey-backed Muslim Brotherhood (MB).
During the second world war, the Italians were pushed out of Libya in 1943 and from 1943 to 1951, the British administered Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, while Fezzan was controlled by the French.
The chairman of the Eastern NOC, Nagi Maghrabi, accused Qatar of using Glencore's sales of Libya's crude oil to finance terrorists, he said on Friday to the ( Cairo-based Youm7 newspaper .
According to Al-Zaatary, the medical supplies stock is expected to run out soon; approximately 200,000 people do not have access to nutrition and thousands of others are displaced in Libya as a result of the security unrest and presence of "Islamic State" (IS) militants in some cities.
Gen Haftar is a controversial figure in Libya. In 1969 he joined former dictator Muammar Qaddafi in his coup against the former king, Idris.
The disintegration of Libya is a major global concern, but it is also a matter of urgency for Libya's neighbours, who have seen fighters from Libya cause huge problems.