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Libya: Country Profile

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Libya: Country Profile

Libya

Basics:

Official country name: Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Republic
Area: 679,362 sq miles (1,759,540 sq km)
Population: 6 million, including some 500,000 non-Libyan, sub-Saharan Africans working in Libya (2006 est.)
Median age: 23.3
Ethnic Groups: Arab-Berber 97 percent; the remaining 3 percent includes Greeks, Maltese, Italians, Egyptians, Pakistanis, Turks, Indians, and Tunisians.
GDP and GDP per capita: $51 billion and $8,470 (2006 estimates)

Government and Politics:

Libya is an absolute dictatorship under the control of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi since Sept. 1969. Various committees and congresses are in place, including the parliamentary General People’s Congress. But there are no elections and no political parties, and the state derives its ideology from Qaddafi’s Green Book, a collection of his sayings and philosophies loosely based on an amalgam of socialism, economics, Islamic law and Qaddafi’s idea of socio-anthropology (quote: “As the man does not get pregnant, he is not liable to the feebleness which woman, being female, suffers”).

Religion:

Libya is 97 percent Sunni Muslim. Qaddafi controls the country’s mosques and Islamic institutions such as Islamic schools. He promotes a conservative form of Islam based on his belief that modern believers have strayed from Islam’s original tenets. But he opposes extremist or fundamentalist Islam, considering it a threat to his power. Small communities of Christians, Hindus, Baha’is and Buddhists, usually foreigners working in Libya, are allowed to practice their faith unless the government suspects the practice to be politically motivated.

Economy:

Oil and gas account for 95 percent of Libyan export revenue, 75 percent of its government revenue and 30 percent of the country’s total economic output. Agriculture accounts for 18 percent of Libya’s economy, but the country must import most of its food. Gypsum, iron ore, potassium, magnesium, sulphur and phosphate mining, the iron and steel industries and construction account for other shares of the economy. Most of the economy is nationalized. Tourism is growing rapidly.

Military:

All men and women who reach 18 theoretically are to be conscripted in the Libyan military. In practice, however, many men aren’t educated enough to participate, and many women simply don’t. Globalsecurity.com estimates that 45,000 soldiers serve in the Libyan army, including 25,000 draftees, and 25,000 in the Libyan air force. until a $400 million arms deal with France in 2007, the military has been mostly furnished by the former Soviet Union.

Human Rights, Civil Rights and Media:

While Libya has released some political prisoners, including 86 members of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2006, others remain in prison for violating Law 17, which forbids political activity at variance with the government’s ideology. One man (Fathi al-Jahmi) has been in prison since 2004 for slandering Qaddafi and faces execution. There is no freedom of association or freedom of expression, and no free press, although the government only occasionally blocks web sites critical of the regime, which are numerous.

History:

Libyan history dates back to ancient times, when Egyptian influence spilled over and influenced local tribes. With Egypt’s decline, Phoenicians settled the Libyan coast, then Greeks, then Romans, and beginning in the 7th century, invaders from the Arab peninsula, who brought Islam. Ottoman rule after the 16th century never took hold too firmly, and from 1711 to 1835 an independent, indigenous dynasty started by Ahman Qaramanli ruled until Ottomans again regained control, followed by Italians in 1911. Libya got its independence in 1952. Co. Muammar el-Qaddafi assumed power in a coup in 1969.

Current Issues:

After sponsoring terrorism and meddling into numerous other countries’ affairs in the 1970s and 1980s, and spending the 1990s isolated from a United Nations-sanctioned embargo, Libya sought rehabilitation early in the 21st century. It formally renounced terrorism in 2003 in a letter to the United Nations Security Council. It renounced plans to acquire nuclear weapons. It’s been courting foreign investment and tourism with limited success, but Qaddafi’s Libya remains a closed society.
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