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Before independence

Libya has a long history. Romans, Arabs, Ottomans and Italy ruled the country for shorter or longer periods. Lasting has been the footprint of the Arabs, who conquered the area in the 7th century and mixed with the Berbers. From the 16th century, parts of Libya fell to the Ottoman Empire. The beys of Tripoli enjoyed a large degree of independence. In 1911 Italy conquered Libya from Turkey. Only in 1931 did armed Libyan resistance come to an end. The heirs of the religious leader Muhammed Ibn Al-Sanussi, whose influence spread over the population centres Tripolitana, Cyrenaica and Fezzan in the 19th century, led the fight against the Italians. During the Second World War, Emir Sayyid Idris Sanussi sided with the Allies. After the Allied victory in North Africa, there was British military rule in Tripolitana and Cyrenaica and French military rule in Fezzan. The 1947 peace treaty with Italy stipulated that this country lost its claims to Libya. In 1949, Cyrenaica, which was the tribal territory of the Sanussis, gained independence. Later that year a UN decision followed that a united Libya would become independent in 1951.


On 24 December 1951 Emir Idris Sanussi declared independence. Libya's form of government was a constitutional monarchy with Idris I as king. After independence Libya faced serious political, economic and financial difficulties. Libya received financial support from the United States and Great Britain in exchange for the establishment of American and British military bases on its territory. A major change in the economic situation occurred when in 1959 it was discovered that Libya had the richest oil reserves on the African continent. The Libyan government was able to negotiate favourable concessions for the exploitation of the oil, which ensured the country's financial independence.

Kaddafi period

On 1 September 1969, a group of army officers staged a coup led by Colonel Muammar al-Kaddafi. The monarchy was abolished and the Libyan Arab Republic was proclaimed. Kaddafi set himself up as the champion of Arab unity and promised social justice and equal distribution of wealth in his own country. In 1970, the United Kingdom and the United States lost military bases and the oil sector was nationalised.

In the second half of the 1970s, Kaddafi's Libya took an increasingly activist course. A wide range of organisations received Libyan support, varying from the South African ANC to the Irish IRA. Kaddafi intervened militarily in Chad and Libyan soldiers also appeared as advisers elsewhere in Africa. In 1981, Libya chose open confrontation with the US; the Libyan air force fired on American fighter planes over the Gulf of Sirte, which Libya considers to be its territory. This was followed by a US import ban on Libyan oil. In 1984, the UK suspended all relations with Libya after a police officer was shot dead from the Libyan embassy in London.

A series of attacks in the second half of the 1980s led to the isolation of Libya. The attack on Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie in Scotland in 1988 is the best known. Libya was also suspected in the attacks in 1986 on the Berlin 'La Belle' discotheque and in 1989 on a flight of the French airline UTA over Mali. In 1999, a French court found six Libyans guilty of the UTA attack and sentenced them to life in prison (in absentia). In 2001, a Scottish court at Camp Zeist found one of two Libyan Lockerbie suspects guilty and sentenced them to life in prison. Also in 2001, a German court found an employee of the Libyan Embassy in Berlin guilty of the 'La Belle' attack. He received a 16-year prison sentence.

In 1986, the US and the EU decided on sanctions against Libya. This was followed in 1992 by United Nations sanctions in connection with the Lockerbie attack. In 1999, UN sanctions were suspended after Libya complied with the Security Council's call to extradite suspects from the Lockerbie attack. On 12 September 2003, all UN sanctions were terminated after Libya declared itself responsible for the actions of the convicted Lockerbie bomber, agreed a compensation scheme for relatives of Lockerbie attack victims with the US and UK and renounced terrorism.

After the attacks in the United States on 11 September 2001, Kaddafi expressed his horror at the events and declared his willingness to help in the fight against al-Qa`ida. On 19 December 2003, after months of secret negotiations with the US and the UK, Libya openly admitted to having worked on the development of weapons of mass destruction and declared its readiness to submit to international non-proliferation control regimes.

The trial in which, in the eyes of the international world, innocent five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian assistant were sentenced to death in 2004 and again in 2006 for infecting more than 400 Libyan children with HIV is an obstacle to the full normalisation of relations. In July 2007, the death penalty was commuted to life imprisonment and they were released shortly afterwards in a deal with the EU.

In January 2008, Libya is given the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council, a sign that the Western world has a different view of the Gaddafi regime. In February, Gaddafi was elected president of the African Union. In June 2009 Gaddafi visited former coloniser Italy, now Libya's main trading partner. In August, Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, one of the perpetrators of the Lockerbie attack, was pardoned for humanitarian reasons. He was given a hero's welcome in Libya, but this was met with great rejection from the Western world. In March 2010, the diplomatic row with the EU over the arrest of Gaddafi's son was resolved.

In early 2011, Libya was confronted with a massive popular uprising against the Gaddafi regime. There is also a Dutch twist to the situation, as three soldiers are captured during an evacuation attempt to pick up a Dutchman from Libya. Libya released the soldiers on 11 March 2011 after mediation by Greece and other countries. On 17 March, the United Nations Security Council agreed to a resolution allowing for military intervention in Libya. The resolution also provides for the establishment of a no-fly zone over Libya. After months of stalemate, rebels stormed Tripoli in August 2011 and Gaddafi was killed a few weeks later.

After Kadaffi

Elections for a General National Congress were held in July 2012, the country's first free national elections in six decades. The Congress appointed Ali Zeidan as Prime Minister. In October, an interim government was tasked with preparing a new constitution and new parliamentary elections in 2013. In June 2013, the National Congress elected independent councillor Nouri Abushmen as president. In January 2014, Deputy Minister of Industry Hasan al-Droui was assassinated. Parliamentary elections were held in July 2014. Since August 2014, Issa, the leader of the House of Representatives, has served as head of state. Since the beginning of 2016, a government of national unity supported by him and led by Prime Minister Fayez el Sarraj has been formed. This government was formed in exile and with the support of the United Nations. In March 2016, the government arrived in Tripoli. In December 2017, the UN evacuated thousands of migrants following reports of the existence of slave markets in Libya.

In September 2017, UN Special Representative Ghassan Salame announced a new roadmap for national political reconciliation. In November 2018, international partners supported Salame's recalibrated plan of action for Libya, which aimed to break the political deadlock by holding a national conference in early 2019. However, these plans were derailed when the east-based Libyan National Army (LNA) launched an offensive to take Tripoli in April 2019. International forces aggravated the battle for the capital by sending armed personnel and advanced military equipment to Libya. The LNA offensive collapsed in June 2020, and a subsequent UN-sponsored ceasefire in October 2020 helped formalise the pause in fighting between rival factions, although foreign troops assisting the eastern and western factions during the fighting remain in Libya.

In early 2021, the UN-led Libyan Political Dialogue Forum elected a new president (Mohammed al-Menfi) and prime minister (Abdul Hamid al-Dbeibeh) for an interim government, the Government of National Unity (GNU), to prepare for presidential and parliamentary elections in December 2021, giving Libya a unity government for the first time since 2014. On 22 December 2021, the Libyan parliament postponed the first round of presidential elections to an as yet unspecified date in the future.


Elmar Landeninformatie

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated May 2024
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