Independent since 24 December 1951, the Kingdom of Libya was ruled by the Sanusi Sufi Brotherhood leader, King Idriss, until he was overthrown by a coup d’état on 1 September 1969. The country became the Libyan Arab Republic, ruled by Colonel Mu’ammar Qadhafi since 1st September 1969. In 1977 it changed its name again to The Popular Socialist Libyan Arab Jamahiriyya, i.e. the Country Of the Masses.
Libya is bordered to the north by Mediterranean, to the west by Algeria, to the north-west by Tunisia, to the east by Egypt and Sudan, and to the south and south-west by Niger and Chad. The total area is 1,759,540 sq. km, much of it the bleakest and most arid part of the Sahara. Libya still claims about 32,000 sq. km. in a long-standing border dispute still reflected on Libyan maps covering south eastern Algeria.
The population at present is about six million. Libyans are of mixed Berber and Arab origin. However, due to Arabic language teaching and other political factors, the Berber language and culture has been completely eradicated. Libyans are of Sunni Muslim of the Malikite school.
The entire Libyan economy is totally dependent on oil which was discovered in 1959 and on natural gas and gypsum. There is some light industry: textiles, tanning, cement, brickmaking, soap and matches. The most advanced is the food processing industry, which processes olive oil, tomatoes, and dates. Only one per cent of the land is cultivable: but less than half that is actually farmed and Libya imports about 75 per cent of its food at present. Since 2003, Libya is making slow progress toward economic liberalisation, but due to political ideology, the market-based reforms will be slow coming.
In the 1970s there was a steady number of visitors to the peaceful, unspoiled country and the ancient monuments at Sabratha, Cyrene, Apollonia and Leptis; since the late 1970s there have been very few tourists. In fact, the tourism infrastructure is non-existent at present.
Travellers must have a valid passport and a visa for travel to, within or through Libya. Short-term closure of land borders occur with little notice even to travellers having a valid Libyan visa. Visitors may at times be placed under surveillance. Hotel room telephones may be monitored. Taking photographs of anything that could be remotely perceived as being of military or security interest can result in arrest.
Arabic is the national language of the country and commerce, but Italian and English are understood in the major cities. Libya is an authoritarian state, and political parties and independent media are not allowed.