Libya, independent Arab republic in North Africa, consisting of 10 administrative divisions that occupy an area of 685,524 sq mi (1,775,500 sq km). Less than 10% of Libya's land is fertile, most of the remainder being part of the Sahara Desert. The exploitation of oil resources (discovered in the late 1950s) provides the wealth that is transforming Libya from a poor peasant nation into an educated and affluent one.
Land and climate
Most of Libya is covered by the shifting sands of the Sahara, though the fertile strip along the Mediterranean coast, with an average rainfall of 10 in (15 cm) and mild winters, supports some cultivation. Even on the coast the rainfall fails about 2 years in every 10. Inland extreme desert conditions exist, and many areas do not see rain for several years at a time. The range of temperature is very wide, from over 120°F (48°C) in summer, to frost level in winter. Suffocating dry desert winds, the quibli, bring quantities of dust that destroy much vegetation in the interior. Most of the country's inhabitants live within 75 mi (120 km) of the Mediterranean coast. In this belt enough rain falls to grow citrus fruit, barley, wheat, dates, olives, and almonds. Further inland is a grazing area in which only scrub or tough esparto grasses can grow. In the central part of the Sahara region, there are massifs as high as 2,000 ft (610 m) but no real mountains exist in the country other than the low Tibesti Mountains on the southern border, with altitudes of 4,000 ft (1,220 m) or more. The highest point in Libya is Bette Peak in the south, at 7,500 ft (2,286 m).
Though the economy depends on the export of crude oil, which accounts for more than 95% of export revenue, agriculture employs 15% of the labor force. In the coastal area barley, wheat, millet, oranges, olives, almonds, and groundnuts are grown. Dates are plentiful in the desert oases, and nomads raise livestock. Libya consumes much of its own agricultural produce and is a net importer of foodstuffs. Petrochemicals have been added to the traditional textile and leather industries.
Because of Libya's strategic position on the Mediterranean coast, it has been occupied by many foreign powers—the ancient Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, Arabs, and Ottoman Turks controlled the country successively. In 1912 Italy annexed Libya, although it was not able to end Libyan armed opposition until 1932. In World War II Libya was an Axis military base and the scene of desert fighting between the Axis powers and the British. In 1951 the United Nations declared Libya an independent sovereign state under the rule of King Idris I. He was overthrown in 1969 by a military coup led by Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi, who proclaimed Libya a republic; it is now in effect an Islamic military dictatorship. In 1973 Qaddafi launched a “cultural revolution,” including nationalization of key industries. A prominent follower of pan-Arabism, he has attempted to unite Libya with Egypt (1973), Tunisia (1974), and Syria (1980), and has intervened militarily in Chad (1980–94). Qaddafi is a fervent opponent of Israel. The United States launched an air strike on Tripoli (1986) and shot down 2 Libyan fighter (1989) in retaliation of alleged Libyan backing of terrorist activities. In 1998, negotiations began regarding the trial in The Hague of two Libyans who were involved in the Lockerbie aircraft disaster.