When Libya declared its independence on December 24, 1951, it was the first country to achieve independence through the United Nations and one of the first former European possessions in Africa to gain independence.
Libya is the 17th largest nation on earth in terms of physical size. However the small population of 5.5 million makes it one of the least crowded countries on earth.
Libya is roughly the size of Alaska and is located in Northern Africa. It is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, Algeria and Tunisia to the west, and Niger in the southwest, Chad and Sudan to the south and Egypt on its eastern side.
Libya was once one of the world’s poorest counties but the discovery of oil in 1959 enabled it to become very wealthy, at least as measured by per capita GDP. Although oil revenue improved the country’s finances, resentment in the general populous grew as wealth was concentrated in the hands of the elite.
On September 1, 1969, a group of military officers staged a coup d’etat. Led by a 28-year-old army officer Mu’ammar Abu Minyar al-Qadhafi, the new regime formed a secular, socialist government, implementing radical reforms and nationalization of key industries. Qadhafi installed a dictatorial government that controlled most aspects of everyday life in the country. Today the Libyan government asserts that Qadhafi currently holds no official position. However it is interesting to note that he is referred to in official government issued statements as the "Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution." To the average Libyan, there appears little doubt that Qadhafi continues to control Libya.
In 1988 Libya was implicated in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. United Nations sanctions were imposed in 1992. Subsequent resolutions were passed in 1992 and 1993 obliging Libya to fulfill requirements related to the bombing before the sanctions would be removed. The Brother Leader, Qadhafi, refused to comply and as a result Libya was politically and economically isolated for most of the 1990s.
Following the 9/11 attacks and subsequent invasions by the United States of Afghanistan and Iraq, Libya agreed to comply with the UN resolutions. In September of 2004, American President George Bush ended the economic sanctions that had been imposed.
With the lifting of sanctions, Americans are no longer prohibited from traveling to the country or working in Libya. Increasingly American and European companies are seeking investment opportunities in the country. Recently British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced that British Petroleum (BP) signed a major deal with Colonel Qadhafi to further develop oil production in the country. Tourism is beginning at a trickle but expected to grow rapidly in the coming years. The Libyan government has unveiled extensive plans to increase foreign investment in the oil and gas sectors to boost production capacity. The government is also pursuing a number of major construction projects such as highways, railways, telecommunications backbones, and irrigation. These projects will have significant involvement from foreign firms.
Travelers to Libya will find a Mediterranean climate and weather along the coastline and more arid, desert conditions inland. The hill country around Jebel Akhdar is the wettest area. The summer months, even along the coastline are subject to strong, hot winds and windstorms.
Tripoli is the capital and largest city. Most travelers to Libya will go to Tripoli. Hotel options are limited but expanding. The increase of tourism has led to a mini building boom. A number of airlines offer service to Libya including British Airways, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Swiss Air and Libyan Arab Airlines. No US carriers currently offer direct flights.
There are numerous sites to visit including 5 World Heritage Sites for those interested in the ancient world. Shopping is limited but locals offer a wide mix of crafts and local art.
Travelers to Libya will find crime rates relatively low. There is a low risk of terrorism so normal precautions should be taken. We strongly recommend travelers purchase an Intelligence Brief before departing to receive complete information on safety conditions. They should also enroll in the Destination Tracker to have their trip monitored for continuous updates during their travels.
English is not widely spoken. The country is alcohol-free and many aspects of society are strictly controlled. Credit card use is very limited. The people are generally friendly to westerners.
Obtaining visas is difficult and can take several months. Travelers should consult a Libyan consulate early for details and procedures. Anticipate a 2-3 month process.