From the 1970s onwards, Libya appeared frequently on international news because of the attitudes of its head of state, Muammar al Gaddafi, accused of supporting terrorism. Muslim country in which several Mediterranean cultures left their mark, Libya has most of its desert territory, but on oil sheets.
The Libyan People’s and Socialist Arab Republic is a large country in north-central Africa, with an area of 1,757,000 km2. It is limited to the east with Egypt, to the south with Niger, Chad and Sudan, and to the west with Tunisia and Algeria. To the north it borders the Mediterranean, facing the Italian and Greek coastlines.
The Libyan territory consists of plateaus 200 to 600m high, which make the country the highest in North Africa. Its lands are part of the Sahara, except in the coastal zone, where two regions are clearly differentiated: Tripolitânia and Cirenaica, respectively to the west and east of the Gulf of the Great Sirte, which are the only fertile areas of the country besides some oases. The typical Libyan landscape shows large stretches of sand, with mountainous spots that appear occasionally. In the arid region of Fezã, the dunes reach hundreds of meters in height. The highest peak, Bete (2,286m), is to the south, in the Tibesti mountains.
According to PARADISDACHAT, the climate is desert, although the influence of the Mediterranean softens the temperatures, which range from 11 to 28 ° C on the coast and from 18 to 38 ° C in the interior. Precipitation, which is generally sparse, ranges from 400 to 500 mm in the north, against 25 mm in the Libyan desert. The scarcity of permanent river courses is compensated by the existence of extensive groundwater deposits and several oases.
The rigor of natural conditions also makes plant life very scarce: plants, generally short-lived, grow when it rains and wither away quickly. The fauna, typical of African deserts, consists of rodents, foxes, jackals, hyenas, gazelles, wild cats, eagles and vultures.
Libyans are predominantly Berbers and most of them have embraced Arab culture. Some minority groups retain the Berber language, even though Arabic is the official language. Other ethnic minorities are blacks, Jews and small groups of Italians and Greeks, whose numbers have decreased since the late 1960s. Small groups of Tuaregs live in the southwestern oases, who have left their traditional nomadic lives behind.
Three-quarters of the urban population live in Tripoli, the capital, and in Bengazi (Banghazi), which also hosts important administrative functions. The Mediterranean coastal strip is the area with the highest concentration of inhabitants. In the last decade of the twentieth century, the population density barely reached two inhabitants per square kilometer, due to the huge desert extensions.
The birth rate is high and the mortality rate relatively low, which results in high population growth. The census records a relatively larger male population, due to the custom of sometimes not registering female births.
Libya is a socialist republic. The government controls and plans the economy, fundamentally based on the extraction and export of oil and natural gas, a sector responsible for more than half of the gross domestic product. The country is poor in agricultural resources; the sector’s production does not reach three percent of the gross domestic product. Tomatoes, wheat, potatoes and olives are mainly grown on the coastal strip and dates in the oases. Herds consist mainly of sheep, goats and cows for milk and meat, as well as camels and horses, used as means of transport. In fishing, mainly exploited by Greeks, Italians and Maltese, tuna predominates.
The necessary infrastructure for the exploitation of mineral resources was implemented, from the end of the 1950s, by oil multinationals, which explored the wells through concessions until they were nationalized in 1973 by the government of Colonel Muammar al Gaddafi. Libya, however, lacks its own technology and qualified national labor, so it uses foreign technicians. Thanks to oil revenues, Libyans have a high per capita income. The country has other mineral resources, such as plaster.
The industry is sparsely developed. Among the main products are lime, cement and oil products. There are projects for the production of nuclear energy, but almost all of the electricity comes from fuel oil thermal power stations.
The countries with which Libya has the most trade are those of the European Community, especially Italy. Major imports include food, transportation equipment and machinery. Crude oil is the most important export product. The transport network is limited almost exclusively to the coastal area, although the oases of the interior have good communication with the rest of the country. The most important ports are Tripoli and Bengazi, cities where the main airports are also located.
Society and culture
The foreign currency derived from oil allowed the Libyan government to implement social welfare plans that, in certain fields, have considerably improved the living conditions of the people. An extensive network of hospitals and health centers provides free medical care to the entire population. Even so, hepatitis, typhoid fevers, venereal diseases and meningitis continue to make victims. The problem of malnutrition, however, has been eradicated.
Between the ages of six and 15, a stage corresponding to the primary and intermediate cycles, education is free and compulsory. Libya has two universities, in Tripoli and Bengazi. The religion practiced by the vast majority of the population is Islam. A minority profess Christianity. The state guarantees religious freedom to citizens.
Cultural life revolves around popular traditions. Traditional music is typically Arabic, played on sets of flutes and drums. Popular handicrafts produce fabrics, embroidery and tapestry. As Islam forbids the representation of animals and people, the motives for these works tend to be arabesques and geometric designs. The government provides funds for the maintenance and encouragement of arts and folklore in general.