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About Libya

Basic Facts

Full country name

Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.


1.75 million sq km.


5.7 million.


Arab (92%), Berbers (5%), plus Tuareg, Toubou, Black Africans and some Europeans - mostly Italians.


Arabic, English, Italian.


Sunni Muslim.


Jamahiriya, or 'state of the masses', theoretically governed by the people.

Head of State

de facto head of state Colonel Mu'ammar Abu Minyar Gaddafi.


US$45.4 billion

GDP per capita


Annual Growth




Major Industries

petroleum, food processing, textiles, handicrafts, cement

Major Trading Partners

Italy, Germany, Spain, France, Turkey, Tunisia



Increasingly popular among tourists, desert safaris are the big guns in most tour providers' arsenals.
One of the most popular destinations is the Idehan Ubari, with its towering sand dunes and desert lakes.
Further south, the prehistoric rock art of the Jebal Acacus is also a major drawcard.
Libya's coastline is dappled with excellent beaches, some of which are all-natural and unadorned, while others have been thoroughly resortified.

The ones closest to central Tripoli are usually somewhat messy, though the water's clean enough and they are convenient. For a more natural setting, try hitting the sands around Benghazi in Cyrenaica.
A nascent diving industry has begun making bubbles in Libya, with the submerged ruins near Leptis Magna and Apollonia as their most exciting offerings, and there are a few water sports available at the beaches just south of Tripoli.


Libya has a population of over five million, around half of whom are under the age of 15. Most Libyans are Arabs (and nearly all think of themselves as such), although ethnically there is quite a mixture of races, including Turks, Berbers, and sub-Saharan Africans. In the south, especially around Ghat, there are large Tuareg communities, most of whom now live in towns and settlements rather than pursuing a life of desert nomadism. Away from the more cosmopolitan coastal cities, tribalism remains strong, especially affecting family relationships, matrimony and social structures.

Modern Libyans adhere to the traditions of Muslim society, which revolve around family life. Most visitors' overall impressions of Libya are of modest material comforts but with none of the flashy wealth of some oil-rich nations. As a result, there is none of the general hassle toward tourists that you find in other North African countries, such as locals begging for baksheesh or hustling you to buy something. In fact, an offer of payment for a small (or even large) kindness would probably cause offence to a Libyan.

Arabic is the official language of Libya, though English is often spoken by businesspeople in the main centres and some older Libyans speak Italian. Some Berber groups still speak their own language, and Tuaregs in the south speak Tifinagh as well as Arabic. However, all road, shop and other public signs are in Arabic, so it's extremely useful if not requisite to know at least a few words. In religion, Libyans are Sunni Muslims almost across the board; they are, in general, conservative without being fundamentalist in their outlook.

There has recently been something of a revival of the arts in Libya, especially in the field of painting, and private galleries are springing up to provide a showcase for new talent. Conversely, for many years there have been no public theatres and only a few cinemas showing foreign films. The tradition of folk culture is still alive and well, with troupes performing music and dance at frequent festivals, both in Libya and abroad. The lion's share of Libyan TV is devoted to showcasing various styles of traditional Libyan music. Traditional Tuareg music and dance are popular in Ghadhames and the south.


The Islamic (or Hjira) calendar is a full 11 days shorter than the Gregorian (western) calendar, so public holidays and festivals fall 11 days earlier each year.

In March in 2003 and February for the next few years, Ras as-Sana is the Islamic celebration of the new year. Also known as Eid al-Adha or the Great Feast, Tabaski commemorates the moment when Abraham was about to sacrifice his son in obedience to God's command, only to have God jump in at the last minute and substitute a ram instead. It's held each year in January.
Eid al-Moulid, in May for the next few years, celebrates the prophet Mohammed's birthday, while Ramadan is celebrated during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar (in December in 2003-5), commemorating the month when the Quran was revealed to Mohammed. Out of deference, Muslims take neither food nor water until after sunset each day. The end of Ramadan, called Eid al-Fitr, comes around a month later. The fasting breaks amid much celebration.
The main secular holiday in Libya is Revolution Day, which is marked with a week of public parades, rallies and events in September. Folk troupes, horsemen, musicians and various military groups are bussed into Tripoli for the occasion, and Gaddafi usually gives a pep talk in Green Square. Slightly lower in key is the date-harvest festival held in various parts of the country during October.
Public Holidays

February/March - Ras as-Sana, Tabaski

2 March - Declaration of the People's Authority Day

May - Eid al-Moulid

11 June - Evacuation Day

1 September - Revolution Day

26 October - Day of Mourning

December - Eid al-Fitr

Getting Around

Libyan Arab Airlines has flights between all major Libyan towns. There are two flights daily between Tripoli and Benghazi and there are twice-weekly flights (Wednesday and Saturday) from Tripoli to Sebha, from where you can make a connection to Ghat or Ghadames. Flights from Benghazi to Sebha and Kufra are also available. All internal flights are prone to unexpected delays and cancellations.

There's also been no railroad in operation since 1965, and all the systems of yesteryear have since been dismantled. (Libya recently announced plans to construct a rail network with the assistance of China. It's projected that over 3000km (1900mi) of rail tracks will link the country's major urban centres.)

Libyas road system is sometimes excellent, smooth and fast, and other times it is rough, slow and downright dicey. Although air-con buses and yellow-and-white shared taxis (called roumees or aujra) cover most of the country, because of the restrictions on individual travel youre more likely to spend most of your time aboard 4WD vehicles. This obviously depends on which Libyan travel company you choose to travel with.


In the middle of Mediterranean North Africa, Libya is surrounded by Chad and Niger to the south, Egypt and the Sudan to the east and Algeria and Tunisia to the west. A bit smaller than the US state of Alaska and more than three times the size of France, the country clocks in as the fourth largest country in Africa. Within its boundaries, Libya is divided into three main regions: Tripolitania covers the north-western corner of the country, the Fezzan everything south of Tripolitania, and Cyrenaica the entire eastern half. Each of these divisions is further subdivided by several large municipalities.

Only a narrow coastal strip receives enough rainfall to be suitable for agriculture, and it's here that you'll find the capital city, Tripoli, as well as 90% of the population. North-eastern Libya, the Jebel Akhdar area (also known as the Green Mountains), is the most verdant and arguably the most beautiful part of the country. Its interior, on the other hand, is largely uninhabited desert peppered with small oasis communities. In the extreme south are the Tibesti and Tassili mountains of the central Sahara, while the Calanscio Sand Sea, a vast area of shifting sand dunes, lies in the east near the Egyptian border. The Murzuk and Ubari sand seas lie in the west.

There are no permanent rivers in Libya, only wadis (watercourses), which catch the infrequent runoff from rainfall. The discovery of vast fossil aquifers in the south and south-east has prompted the building of a huge pipeline to bring water to the coastal areas for use in agriculture and industry. The Great Man-Made River project is among the largest, most expensive engineering schemes in history.
Inland, the only vegetation is largely confined to the oases, where the date palm reigns supreme, along with figs and oleander. Outside the oases, the acacia tree can sometimes be found providing the only shade in the middle of a wilderness. On the coast, the usual array of Mediterranean flora thrives, including large areas of olive and citrus cultivation.

A wonderful variety of bird life can be seen all over Libya, as it lies on the migratory route of many species. In the desert regions, the camel is the most common animal that visitors will come across, but there are still a few herds of gazelle in remote areas, and the nocturnal fennec (a small, big-eared fox) can be seen from time to time. Lizards, snakes (some of which are poisonous) and scorpions are also quite common.

Libya's climate is influenced by the massive expanse of desert to the south and by the Mediterranean Sea to the north. The coastal regions enjoy moderate temperatures, averaging 30C (86F) in summer and 8C (46F) in winter in Tripoli. Some 380mm (15in) of rain falls mainly in winter. Semi-arid conditions predominate in the central plains, while the southern deserts are subject to frequent periods of drought. A hot, dry, sand-laden wind called the ghibli occasionally blows into the usually humid coastal towns in spring and fall.



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