Where is it?:
In North Africa, on the southern edge of the Mediterranean Sea, with Egypt to the east, Algeria and Tunisia to the west, and Niger and Chad to the south. In the heart of the Sahara desert. The third-largest country in Africa with land area slightly larger than the U.S. state of Alaska. A country that has seen occupation from Ottomans and Italians, independence followed by a decades-long dictatorship, and freedom in one of the most risky and hard-fought Arab Spring rebellions.
Tripoli, a coastal city in the northwestern part of the country and also the country's largest city with more than a million people. An ancient city rich in cultural treasures that was founded in the 7th Century B.C. by the Phoenicians. It later fell into the hands of the Romans, and the 2nd Century Arch of Marcus Aurelius is one of these cultural sites. The city would also be part of the Berber Almohad empire and then the Ottoman Empire. It was even a base of operation for Barbary pirates, which led to Tripoli's involvement in the Barbary Wars. Italy defeated the Ottomans in 1911 to take the city, which it ruled until defeated by Allied forces there during World War II. The British then governed until the country's 1951 independence.
The national anthem "Allahu Akbar" (God is great) was borrowed from the Egyptian military and adopted in 1969 by dictator Moammar Gadhafi. With Gadhafi's overthrow, the National Transitional Council went back to the country's original anthem, "Libya, Libya, Libya," adopted back at the time of 1951 independence. The flag of Libya was also returned to its pre-Gadhafi incarnation: red, black, and green horizontal stripes with an Islamic crescent and star. The dictator's flag, in line with his "Green Book" political philosophy, was just a plain green banner. Libya has yet to adopt a coat of arms since the fall of Gadhafi.
Arabic is the official language, yet Italian and English are also widely understood in urban areas. Other languages spoken include the Berber dialects of Nafusi, Ghadamis, Suknah, Awjilah, and Tamasheq.
There are about 5.6 million people in Libya, including a significant minority population of illegal immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa. The population is highly concentrated along the coast, with a small number of nomads still living in the desert. The official religion is Sunni Islam, and about 97 percent are of this religion.
Modern Libya gained its independence in 1951, and the discovery of oil in 1959 made the kingdom wealthy. In 1969, Lieutenant Moammar Gadhafi led a small group of junior officers in a bloodless military coup that ousted King Idris while the monarch was in Turkey. He promoted himself to Col. Gadhafi and led an isolationist, dictatorial regime guided by his "Green Book" Marxist political philosophy. In the 1980s, the Libyan regime became associated with state-sponsored terrorism, and the increasingly eccentric Gadhafi harshly cracked down on growing dissent within his Jamahiriya. Gadhafi lost a months-long revolution in conjunction with the Arab Spring rebellions, and was captured and killed in his hometown Sirte on Oct. 20, 2011. The transition to Libya's first modern democracy then began.
Hydrocarbons made up 65 percent of Libya's GDP, and these high energy revenues are in relation to the country's small population. Still, unemployment is high and about a third of Libyans live at or below the poverty line. The economy began to improve after sanctions were lifted as Gadhafi gave up his weapons of mass destruction programs. Libya can now open oil and gas leasing in its rich reserves to foreign investors. Gadhafi's economy was socialist, but the post-revolution era has a free market-based economy on the horizon to encourage entrepreneurs and investors.
The Libyan armed forces are in a rebuilding stage since the fall of Gadhafi, as the new government attempts to staff the military with a combination of rebels and former members of the Gadhafi army. The government also faces the task of disarming militias that defeated Gadhafi but have perpetuated a lawlessness on the streets of the newly free country.
Type of government:
The country is in its transition to a parliamentary democracy with a National Congress after four decades of authoritarian rule under which no political parties were allowed and dissent against Gadhafi's rule was harshly punished. The first elections to pick the Congress were on July 7, 2012, and about 1.7 million voters cast a ballot. The liberal National Forces Alliance won the bulk of the seats. Mustafa A.G. Abushagur, an independent, became the first elected prime minister of modern Libya on Sept. 12, 2012.