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Libya, country in northern Africa that borders the Mediterranean Sea. Libya is one of the largest countries in Africa. Despite its size Libya is thinly settled. The Sahara, the vast desert of northern Africa, covers much of the country. Nearly all of Libya’s inhabitants live near the coast. Tripoli, located on the Mediterranean coast, is the capital and largest city.

Most of Libya’s people are descended from a mixture of Berbers, the country’s original inhabitants, and Arabs, who arrived in the 7th century ad. Small numbers of Berbers still live in the extreme south of the country. The great majority of the people are Muslims, and Islam is the official state religion. Arabic is the official language.

Libya was a poor country until the discovery of oil in the 1950s. Since then its large reserves of petroleum have made Libya one of the wealthiest countries in Africa. Many of its people, however, still live by farming and grazing livestock, despite the extremely limited amount of good farmland.

The site of ancient Phoenician, Roman, and Arab settlements, Libya was colonized by Italy in the early 20th century. The country became an independent monarchy in 1951, and in 1969 young army officer Muammar al-Qaddafi seized power. Qaddafi proceeded to create a new Libya based on his theories of socialism and Arab nationalism. He renamed the country the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. The word Jamahiriya was coined by Qaddafi, who defines it as a state run by all its people. Most outsiders viewed Libya as a military dictatorship, however.

Sources

For younger readers

Gottfried, Ted. Libya: Desert Land in Conflict. Millbrook, 1994. For readers in grades 7 and up.

Malcolm, Peter. Libya. Marshall Cavendish, 1996. For readers in grades 4 to 7.

Libya

El-Kikhia, Mansour O. Libya's Qaddafi: The Politics of Contradiction. University Press of Florida, 1997. A Libyan exile examines Qaddafi's politics, plans, and philosophy.

Rogerson, Barnaby. A Traveler's History of North Africa. Interlink, 1998. North African history from Carthaginian times to the kings, colonels, and presidents of modern times. Includes a chronology of major events, historical maps, a list of rulers, and a gazetteer.

Sanders, Renfield. Libya. Chelsea House, 1999. A survey of the people and culture of Africa's fourth largest country. For middle school readers.

St. John, Ronald B. Historical Dictionary of Libya. Scarecrow, 1998. A good general reference, complete with a chronology, maps, and a glossary of Libyan terminology.

Vandewalle, Dirk, ed. Title: Qadhafi's Libya: 1969-1994 St. Martin's, 1995. A collection of essays presents a portrait of Libya under Qaddafi.

Contributors

Anderson, Lisa, B.A., M.A.L.D., Ph.D. Dean of the School of International and Public Affairs and Professor of Political Science, Columbia University. Author of The State and Social Transformation in Tunisia and Libya, 1830-1980.

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