Libya country profile

  • 16 November 2015
  • From the section Africa
Map of Libya with pre-Gaddafi era flag

Libya, a mostly desert and oil-rich country with an ancient history, has more recently been known for the 42-year rule of the mercurial Col Muammar Gaddafi - and the chaos that followed his departure.

Libya was under foreign rule for centuries until it gained independence in 1951. Soon after oil was discovered and earned the country immense wealth.

Col Gaddafi seized power in 1969 and ruled for four decades until he was toppled in 2011 following an armed rebellion assisted by Western military intervention.

In recent years the country has been a key springboard for migrants heading for Europe. Concerns have also been raised over the rise of Islamist militancy there.


State of Libya

Capital: Tripoli

  • Population 6.4 million

  • Area 1.77 million sq km (685,524 sq miles)

  • Major language Arabic

  • Major religion Islam

  • Life expectancy 73 years (men), 78 years (women) (UN)

  • Currency Libyan dinar

Getty Images


Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Libya has been beset by instability since the ouster of long-term leader Muammar Gaddafi

The toppling of long-term leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 led to a power vacuum and instability, with no authority in full control.

The National Transitional Council (NTC), a rebel leadership council which had fought to oust the Gaddafi government, declared Libya ''liberated'' in October 2011 and took over the running of the country.

However, it struggled to impose order on the many armed militia that had become active in the months leading up to the ouster of Gaddafi.

In August 2012 the NTC handed power to the General National Congress (GNC), an elected parliament which went on to select an interim head of state.

Voters chose a new parliament to replace the GNC in June 2014 - the Council of Representatives (CoR), which relocated to Tobruk.

The former GNC, dominated by Islamists, reconvened shortly afterwards and selected its own prime minister, challenging the authority of the CoR at a time of fighting in which even the capital Tripoli changed hands.


Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The capital Tripoli includes a mix of ancient and modern buildings

Libya's media environment has undergone a dramatic transformation in recent years.

The overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi in 2011 ended a 42-year dictatorship during which the media sector was under almost total state control and no independent or critical voices were tolerated.

The media environment since then has boomed, with the mushrooming of both independent and state-owned outlets.


Some key dates in Libya's history:

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Muammar Gaddafi seized power as a young officer and became increasingly eccentric during his four decades in power

7th century BC - Phoenicians settle in Tripolitania in western Libya, which was hitherto populated by Berbers.

4th century BC - Greeks colonise Cyrenaica in the east of the country, which they call Libya.

74 BC - Romans conquer Libya.

AD 643 - Arabs conquer Libya and spread Islam.

16th century - Libya becomes part of the Ottoman Empire, which joins the three provinces of Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan into one regency in Tripoli.

1911-12 - Italy seizes Libya from the Ottomans. Omar al-Mukhtar begins 20-year insurgency against Italian rule.

1942 - Allies oust Italians from Libya, which is then divided between the French and the British.

1951 - Libya becomes independent under King Idris al-Sanusi.

1969 - Col Muammar Gaddafi, aged 27, deposes the king in a bloodless military coup.

1992 - UN imposes sanctions on Libya over the bombing of a PanAm airliner over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in December 1988.

2011 - Violent protests break out in Benghazi and spread to other cities. This leads to civil war, foreign intervention and eventually the ouster and killing of Gaddafi.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The eastern city of Benghazi has seen much conflict over the past few years

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