Libya map

Libya flag
Flag description: plain green; green is the traditional colour of Islam (the state religion).

Location: Northern Africa, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, between Egypt and Tunisia.

Geographic coordinates: 25 00 N, 17 00 E.

Climate: Mediterranean along coast; dry, extreme desert interior.

Independence: 24 December 1951 (from Italy) (Revolution Day, 1 September (1969).

Nationality: Libyan(s).

Capital City: Tripoli.

Population: 5,115,450.

Head of State: Revolutionary Leader Col. Muammar Abu Minyar al-QADHAFI (since 1 September 1969); note - holds no official title, but is de facto chief of state.

Area: 1,759,540 sq km.

Type of Government: Jamahiriya (a state of the masses) in theory, governed by the populace through local councils; in fact, a military dictatorship.


Major peoples: Berber and Arab 97%, Greeks, Maltese, Italians, Egyptians, Pakistanis, Turks, Indians, Tunisians.

Religion: Sunni Muslim 97%.

Official Language:

Principal Languages: Arabic, Italian, English, all are widely understood in the major cities.

Major Exports: crude oil, refined petroleum products, natural gas.

History: Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans all established colonies in the area of present-day Libya. Arab domination began in the 7th century. In 1510, Spain conquered Tripoli and ruled until 1551 when Turkish forces made Libya part of the OTTOMAN EMPIRE.

In 1711 the area became virtually autonomous and enjoyed 125 years of prosperity based on piracy directed by the Karamanli family; in 1835, however, Ottoman rule was reasserted.

In 1911, Italy declared war on Turkey and annexed Libya, making it a colony in 1934. Italian settlement was opposed by the nationalist Sanusi (conservative Sunni Muslims), whose leaders subsequently returned from exile to fight alongside the Allies and drive Italian and German forces out of Libya during World War II. After the war, Libya was placed under British and French administration.

Italy gave up attempts to regain control in 1947, and the United Nations granted Libya independence effective in 1951 as the United Kingdom of Libya; the Sanusi leader Muhammad Idris of Cyrenaica became King IDRIS I.

In 1969, Idris was deposed, and Qaddafi and the Revolutionary Command Council seized power. Qaddafi, known for his radical Arab nationalism, has been a persistent foe of Israel and has attempted unsuccessfully to merge Libya with Egypt, Syria, Sudan, Tunisia, Chad, Morocco, and Algeria. Qaddafi has been accused of interfering in the internal affairs of a number of African states; he provided arms and military training to various rebel groups, including the one that overthrew the government of Chad in December 1990.

Qaddafi's activities also involved him in conflicts with the United States, France, and Great Britain.

After the United States launched air attacks on Libyan targets in 1986 in retaliation for Qaddafi's support of international terrorism, government agencies were moved from Tripoli to remote villages. Qaddafi survived coup attempts in 1970, 1975, and 1984. He released many political prisoners and moderated some of his radical economic policies in 1988. But popular discontent again mounted after the UN ordered a ban on arms sales and airline flights to Libya on Apr. 15, 1992.

The sanctions were imposed because Qaddafi refused to turn over two Libyan security agents, suspected of involvement in the 1988 downing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, for trial outside Libya.