Last Update: 22.07.2013


Source: The World Factbook

Geography and climate

Libya is located in North Africa. It borders Egypt to the east, Sudan to the south-east, Chad to the south, Niger to the south-west, Algeria to the west and Tunisia to the north-west, while facing the Mediterranean Sea all along her northern shores. Libya is traditionally divided into three main geographic and cultural regions: Tripolitania (NW), Cyrenaica (E) and Fezzan (SW). The two most important cities are Tripoli (the capital as well as the main demographic and financial centre) and Benghazi, counting 2,220 thousand and 630 thousand inhabitants respectively. The country has a long and fertile coastline, where most important cities are located. A large part of it spreads along the Gulf of Sidra, while quickly giving space to the Sahara Desert covering all the rest of the country’s 1,759,540 km2 surface as soon as one heads towards the interior. The Libyan desert is dominated by wide, sandy plateaus and flatlands. Semi-desert heights are found around Benghazi and along the Algeria and Chad border. The oasis of Kufra is located in the southern part of the country. The climate, mild along the coastline, is mostly hot and dry in the rest of the country, with arable land accounting for less than 1% of the overall territory.

Demographics and society

Libya is a predominantly Muslim country, with the almost totality of her population (97%) adhering to Sunni Islam. The national as well as official language is Arabic, with its eastern and western Libyan colloquial variety being generally used in familiar, everyday life situations and the modern standard one being employed in formal settings and for administrative purposes. Berber groups tend to speak their own language. In foreign business and tourism English and, to a lesser extent Italian, are also widely employed. Libya has a population of 6,002,347 inhabitants, a rough half of whom live in the cities of Tripoli and Benghazi. The overwhelming majority of them is ethnically Arab or has some kind of – mostly Amazigh – Berber background, the two components having however since a long time undergone a process of amalgamation and resulting therefore in being nowadays deeply intermingled, making it oftentimes extremely difficult, if not non possible, to draw a clear distinction between them. Even tough an overwhelming majority of the population is now urbanized, the there is still a significant proportion of tribe-groups, particularly in the interior, who practice a nomadic life-style. The median age is 27 years, with about 45% of Libyans being below 25. Average life expectancy is 74 years for men and 77 for women. Population balance is clearly positive, with a birth rate of 18,7/1000 and a remarkably lower death one of 3,5. Literacy rate is 89% (95 for males, 82 for females). Human development index: 64.

Economy and ties with the EU

In 2012, the country’s GDP was 81 bln $, the average salary 1,400 $/month. The main revenue source is by far the energy sector, which accounts for 95% of export earnings, 80% of the GDP and 98% of government income. Some 9,97 bln m3 of natural gas have left the country in 2009, while some other 84,490 bar./day of refined oil and 1.039 mln bar./day of crude one have followed the same path in 2008 and 2010 respectively. Rising revenues combined with scarce population have traditionally given Libyans one of the highest living standards in the North African and Mediterranean region. However, despite low inflation (3%), unemployment remains at significant levels (30%), with some 4% of the population living below poverty line. Services is the most important productive sector, accounting for 58% of the GDP and 59% of labour force occupation. Industry also generates a significant GDP share of 40%, despite having a more than half lower labour force (23%). Agriculture’s inefficiency is testified by its production of a slight 2% of the GDP, even though it employs nearly ten times such amount in terms of labour force (17%). Libya’s export is approximately 51 bln $, almost completely made up of crude or refined oil and natural gas, while her import is worth about 16 bln, mostly in machinery, semi-finished goods, food and consumer products. The most important export partners are Italy (22,8%), followed by Germany (14,3), France (14,2), China (10,7), Spain (5,2) and Tunisia (4,8) – the main import ones Tunisia (13,3%), Turkey (9,1), China (8,8), Italy (8,4), Egypt (6,7), Syria (5,2), France (4,9) and Germany (4,8).

Ties between Libya and the European Union are quite strong, despite the trade balance being clearly negative for the latter. In 2012, EU imports from Libya amounted to 32,771 mln €, accounting for some significant 1,8% of EU overall figure, while EU exports to Libya were equal to 6,375 mln (0,4% of EU total). The respective figures for 2010 were 29,230 and 7,087. The ones for 2008, which may be taken as a typical year, were 35,308 and 5,836. Libya currently has an observer status in the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. The EU strongly supports, and actively works for, the establishment of a bilateral Free Trade Agreement for the restriction-free movement of goods, services and investments. The two parties have several points of shared interest and common concern. Owing to a favourable fiscal policy and eased bureaucratic procedures, many foreign private businesses and major companies related mostly – but not only – to the oil and gas sectors have made substantial investments in Libya in the last two decades. The situation came to a virtual freeze during the 2011 military conflict, but it returned to flourish, re-reaching or even surpassing pre-war levels after the chaos was over. Post-2011 scenario saw the strengthening of the position of French (Total) and British (BP, BG) companies, who were among the main beneficiaries of the new contracts alongside with American ones (Chevron, ExxonMobile). Italian AGIP and ENI were able to keep their consolidated presence. In the humanitarian field, it still remains to be effectively tackled the long dating issue of the periodically fluctuating yet never completely ceasing arrivals of illegal immigrants from Libyan ports to the EU’s southern shores, particularly Italy.

The widely felt need for improvement and modernization has lifted several calls for the reform of the out-dated and largely inefficient banking sector, the centralized, state-controlled structure of which has proved clearly ill suited for an investment-focused, free market economy. As of June 16, 2013, 1 Libyan dinar exchanges at 0,79 US dollars.

Telecommunications and media

State-run and private-owned TV stations are present. In some parts of the country, provincial stations are also operative; pan-Arab ones are widely available. Several radio stations are operative as well. The country has an average of 270 radio and 150 TV receivers every 1000 inhabitants.

Internet was introduced in the first years 2000. Even though in the beginning it was not present outside few state-controlled premises, subsequent private investments led to the rapid broadening of its availability and quick mushrooming cybercafés, where low surfing prices made it an easily affordable tool. However, despite a dramatic increase in the last few years, internet coverage still does not go beyond 20% of the country’s territory; furthermore, due to ADSL devices expensiveness and the limited number of PCs per capita (24 every 1000 people), few private households have access to the web. A fast growth notwithstanding, the number of internet users remains therefore relatively low (1 mln). Libya does however have one of the highest mobile phones per people ratio in the world (745/1000), with many individuals owing more than one device.

History and recent developments

Italy started her attack on then-Ottoman provinces of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica on September 29, 1911, which were formally annexed to Italian sovereignty some weeks later. Effective control went little beyond the main coastline centres until a series of «pacification» campaigns was set into place following the arrival to power of fascism in 1922. The newly created colony of «Libya», consisting of four provinces and one military territory, was put under the governorship of Italo Balbo in 1934 and formally incorporated into metropolitan Italy in 1939. The colony was occupied by German Axis forces in 1942 and taken by British and French Allies in 1943. Italy officially renounced her claims in 1947, and the territory was put under UK- and France-administered UN-sponsored trusteeship. Libya gained her independence as a federal monarchy under the rule of King Idriss Al-Sanussi on December 24, 1951. The discovery of oil was by far the major event of the decade, leading to a massive increase in state revenues and a substantial improvement of general living standards. Financial mismanagement resulted however in the widening of the gap between richer and poorer and, collaterally, in the abolition of the federal system in 1963. Widespread popular dissatisfaction led to the coup d’état that overthrew the monarchy and put in power nasserist-inspired top army officer Mu‘ammar Qaddhafi on September 1, 1969, who established a strongly authoritarian regime. Oil-fuelled largesse led to the implementation of socialist policies that found their culminating point in the promulgation of the Green Book-sponsored, so-called «Declaration of the Establishment of People’s Authority» and the proclamation of the «Jamāhīriyyah» in March 1977. Poor long-term investments meant however a gradual deterioration of the economic situation that led Qaddhafi to the pursuit of an active, purposely unbalanced, seemingly irrational and increasingly confrontational foreign policy towards the West in general and the US in particular in order to bolster his popular legitimacy at home. Tension reached a peak with Washington’s bombing of his private compound in the outskirts of Tripoli in April 1986 and the subsequent Colonel’s retaliation through the blow-up of a civilian PanAm airliner over the skies of Lockerbie in December 1988. A new slow yet perceptible decline of the economic condition led the Libyan government to a rapprochement with western chancelleries and to the opening to foreign investment. Diplomatic relations with the US were re-established in 2003 shortly after the lifting of UN sanctions, while several European and American companies and businesses, dealing mostly (but not only) with the oil sector made their entrance into or strengthened their position within the North-African country. On February 17, 2011, the arrest of a human rights activist led to the outbreak of an uprising in the eastern city of Benghazi, which rapidly escalated into a full-scale confrontation between armed rebel groups and government security forces. On March 19, in accordance with a two-day-earlier UN Security Council resolution calling for the imposition of a no-fly zone, the NATO started a series of air-based targeted attacks and military operations with the goal of actively supporting the rebels, who were able to re-advance westwards, re-taking possession of many positions lost some weeks earlier. British, French and to a lesser extent American forces played a prominent role both in logistic backing and in material assistance. On August 21, after long and intense fighting, the rebels entered Tripoli. Qaddhafi was found and killed in a last stronghold some 500 km outside the capital on October, 10. Thirteen days later, the civil war was declared officially over.

Politics, government and security situation

On February 23, 2011 the rebels created their own governmental and representative body in the shape of the Transitional National Council. On March 5, the TNC declared itself «the only legitimate body representing the people of Libya and the Libyan state», and a Cabinet was formed with Mustafa Abdul Jalil as Prime Minister. On the 23rd of the following month, the TNC formed also an Executive Board headed by Mahmud Jibril. In August, a Constitutional Declaration was issued. Over a relatively short period of time, the TNC was recognized by France, the UK, the US, the EU, the ad-hoc established Libya Contact Group, the Arab League, and the African Union, among others, even though political endorsement had come much earlier. On September 16, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution assigning Libya’s seat to the TNC.

At present, the State of Libya, as it is officially known, is administratively divided into twenty-two provinces (sha‘biyyāt). The current head of government is Prime Minister Ali Zeidan. The Acting President of the Parliament (National General Congress), who operates as de facto head of state, is Juma Ahmed Atigha. Following the July 2012 elections, the TNC ceased to exist on August 8, handing all its powers to the newly created General National Congress.

The current Cabinet, the components of which have been nominated by the Prime Minister on October 30, 2012, consists of thirty-three members, including the Prime Minister himself, and encompasses one First, Second and Third Deputy Prime Ministers. The holders of some of the most important Ministries (namely, Interior, Defence, Justice, Finance and Foreign Affairs) were purposely chosen among so-called «independents» not officially affiliated to any political party. The Cabinet received official parliamentary approval on October 31, and started its works the following month. Legitimacy issues have however posed quite a few challenges ahead of its path, as many of its members have become the object of strong Parliament criticism and – often complied to – resignation requests.

The Parliament (GNC), which in the monarchic period used to be composed of two chambers (upper, king-appointed and lower, people-elected) and was formally dissolved during Qaddhafi’s time under the system of national, provincial and local People’s Committees and Congresses in accordance to the so-called «masses rule» doctrine, was officially reintroduced after the latter’s ousting, and currently consists of a unicameral body with 200 seats – 80 for party members and 120 for independents with no official party affiliation. Decisions are usually taken via absolute majority, for some more important ones a qualified 2/3 is required. In the first and up to present only post-Qaddhafi elections, which have taken place on July 7, 2012, then-PM Jibril-headed liberal islamist National Front Alliance has by far gained the highest number of party-allotted seats (39), followed at some visible distance by conservative islamist Justice and Construction Party (17). Other four parties, mostly liberal progressive or moderate religious, have obtained between 3 and 2 seats, while other fifteen have gained 1. Some 130, ranging from social democracy to salafism, have not obtained any. The independents, some of whom are known to have direct ties with parties, spread across a heterogeneous spectrum of political ideologies (liberal, islamist, progressist, conservative, etc.) and, perhaps more importantly, come from a wide range of professional backgrounds (including lawyers, professors, activists, and businessmen). Since many of them do not have a fixed ideology, they are expected to be in many ways the real decision makers within the parliament, and to receive strong pressure by the main two parties in order to gain their support. Their leaning behaviour is foreseen to be crucial for the GNC’s balance of power. The next elections are due to be held six months after the entrance into force of the new Constitution.

As a result of historical stratification and cultural heritage, the legal system shows influences from various time periods and thought traditions, taking from Ottoman, Italian, British, French, Egyptian as well as sharia sources. Ideologically, a strong socialist mark was present during Qaddhafi’s regime, largely disappearing in favour of a more liberal one after 2011. Beside the Constitutional Declaration, the Penal and Civil code and their respective Procedure ones, all of them largely based on their Italian counterparts, are the most important operative documents. French influence is particularly visible in commercial law and Ottoman in the administrative, with sharia being employed as a customary source and for issues relating to personal status. The Supreme Court is the top judicial institution. Since its issuance in August 2011, the Constitutional Declaration has been serving as the fundamental law. The document states that it is the duty of the GNC to form a Constituent Assembly for the drafting of a permanent Constitution to be approved by popular referendum. However, it is still unclear whether its members should be appointed by the parliament or elected through popular vote.

One of the main political issues in last months Libya has been concerning the measures to – or not to – be taken in relation to former Qaddhafi government officials. On May 4, 2013 the GNC has passed the so-called «Political Isolation Law» forbidding anybody who has held a public office during the previous regime to do the same in the current administration. This could potentially mean the expulsion from their post, or the prevention of the entrance into any, for any person who has served at any level of state administration or has performed any task within it in the last four decades. The issue has proved very divisive and intensely debated, as testified by the long time needed for the bill’s approval, as well as by the violent clashes that have taken place between supporters and opponents a few days later. Yet, the decision is reportedly regarded with favour by many, as it has been shown by the strong pressure that has been put on the government, particularly by armed militia groups: in mid March, the GNC building was stormed by armed gunmen while a session was in course in order to force the hand to its members. On April 28, the Foreign Ministry was seized by heavily weaponed militia-men who took control of its premises and forced all officials to leave. The Ministry of Justice received the same fate two days later while the minister himself was in his cabinet. Both of them were not evacuated until eight days after the law’s entrance into force. In these same days, fire had been exchanged in front of the Finance Ministry. The Interior, the Electricity and the Water Resources Ministries had also been target of violence. On May 28, GNC President Muhammad Al-Magarief resigned from his post in compliance to the new law.

Although the post-2011 institutional transition process has been generally smooth, things have proven definitely more complicated outside government palaces. The fluid passage from the TNC to the GNC may easily be seen as a major remarkable achievement for a country that has only recently come out of a full-scale, nation-wide military conflict. Yet, two years after Qaddhafi’s toppling, general security remains precarious, as armed militia groups pose serious challenges to law enforcement in a context of infight and violence. The militias consist of groups as diverse as former civil war rebel fighters who have refused to hand down their weapons after the hostilities’ termination, radical islamists, pro-Qaddhafi sympathizers, and even post-war-end-created armed groups. The assassination of US ambassador J. C. Stevens in September 2012, when a group of gunned men believed to be tied to Salafi militias stormed the compound of the consulate of Benghazi, as well as the severe damaging of the French embassy in Tripoli by a car bomb that exploded in front of the main entrance, may be taken as clear evidence of the improvements that are still needed to be made in order to tightly secure authorities control.


Vandewalle D. J., A history of modern Libya, CUP, Cambridge, 2006

Related Information

The Middle East at Crossroads
Panel discussion at the C·A·P
19.08.2013 · C·A·P

Germany's Libya policy reveals a nation in transition
Statements by Edmund Ratka
13.09.2011 ·

Konflikt in Libyen
Michael Bauer, Nahost-Experte des C·A·P, analysiert die Möglichkeiten einer Verhandlungslösung
05.04.2011 · DW World

Krieg in Libyen - Deutschland hält sich zurück
Audio-Interview mit Michael Bauer, C·A·P-Nahostexperte
21.03.2011 · Radio M94,5

Bürgerkrieg in Libyen
Audio-Statement von Michael Bauer, C·A·P-Nahostexperte
18.03.2011 · Radio M94,5

European leaders calling for Gaddafi’s departure
Statement by Michael Bauer
11.03.2011 · CfJ topline