Show Summary Details

Quick Reference

A country on the north coast of Africa, bounded by Tunisia and Algeria on the west, Niger and Chad on the south, and Sudan and Egypt on the east.


The north‐west region, Tripolitania, is cultivable near the coast, which has a Mediterranean climate; while inland the ground rises to a high desert of mainly limestone rocks. In Cyrenaica, the north‐east region, some of the coast is high tableland, with light rain supporting forests. Southward the ground is low and sandy, though studded with oases. There are reserves of oil in huge quantities. The south of the country lies within the Sahara; but to the west, in the Fezzan region, there are a few large oases among the otherwise bare, stony plains and scrub‐covered hills.


The economy and exports are dominated by crude oil. Attempts at diversification and infrastructural development, such as the ambitious project (Great Man‐Made River) to bring water from the Mediterranean to the south, have been slowed by declining oil revenues. Industry is limited mainly to petroleum by‐products and agriculture is limited by the arid nature of most of the country.


During most of its history Libya has been inhabited by Arab and Berber nomads, only the coastlands and oases being settled. Greek colonies existed in ancient times, and later under the Romans; under the Arabs the cultivated area lapsed into desert. Administered by the Turks from the 16th century, Libya was annexed by Italy after a brief war in 1911–12. The Italians, however, like the Turks before them, never succeeded in asserting their full authority over the Sanussi tribesmen of the interior desert.

Heavily fought over during World War II, Libya was placed under a military government by the Allies before becoming an independent monarchy in 1951 under Emir Sayyid Idris al‐Sanussi, who in 1954 granted the USA military and air bases. Idris was overthrown by radical Islamic army officers in 1969, and Libya emerged as a radical socialist state under the charismatic leadership of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. It has used the wealth generated by exploitation of the country's rich oil resources to build up its military might and to interfere in the affairs of neighbouring states. Libyan involvement in Arab terrorist operations has blighted its relations with western states and produced armed confrontations with US forces in the Mediterranean. In April 1986, there were US air strikes against Tripoli and Benghazi. In 1989 it joined the Maghreb Union, a trading agreement of north‐west African states. President Gaddafi condemned the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait in 1990, taking a neutral stance. But Libya again clashed with the USA during 1992 over its refusal to extradite two Libyans accused of organizing the bombing of a PanAm aircraft over Lockerbie in Scotland in 1988. In April 1992 the UN Security Council imposed sanctions on this issue. The sanctions were tightened in 1993 and began to affect the economy. In 1994 a peace settlement with Chad was agreed concerning the Aouzou Strip, in Northern Chad, which Libya had seized in 1973. Sanctions were lifted in 1999 when the Lockerbie suspects were handed over to the UN; and there was a further thaw in relations with the West in 2003 with the abandonment of Libya's nuclear weapons programme. The USA restored full diplomatic relations in 2006.


Subjects: History.

Reference entries

See all related reference entries in Oxford Index »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content. subscribe or login to access all content.