Country of North Africa bounded by the Mediterranean Sea on the N, Egypt on the E, Sudan on the SE, Chad and Niger on the S, Algeria on the W, and Tunisia on the NW.
Libya’s barren desert land s have been passed from empire to empire. The country has two major regions, Cyrenaica, colonized by Greece in the fourth century b.c.; and Tripolitana (now Tripolitania) linked to Phoenicia and Carthage. Both sections had become provinces of Rome by the first century b.c. Vand als invaded the area in a.d. 455 and held the country until 533, when Justinian’s Byzantine troops expelled them.
In the seventh century the Arab conquest of North Africa rolled through Libya. The country was converted to Islam by the 11th century, and Egypt and Tunisia jockeyed for its control. In the 16th century, however, the Ottoman Empire conquered Libya and ruled via proxy. From 1801 to 1805 Libya and the United States were at war over Tripoli’s pirate operations and demand s for tribute. In 1835 the Ottoman Empire assumed direct control of Libya and administered it as a province until 1911, when Italy began a war of conquest that lasted until 1933. Fierce fighting raged across Libya’s deserts in World War II. Following Italy’s defeat, Libya’s independence was planned under United Nations guidance, and in 1951 it became an independent country under Idris I. The United States and Great Britain maintained military bases in Libya in exchange for economic aid to the desperately poor nation, but the discovery of massive oil reserves in 1959 changed its situation. In 1969 the monarchy was overthrown by a military coup led by Colonel Muammar Qaddafi. Under his leadership Libya is a strictly traditional Islamic state but with socialist policies, bitterly opposed to Israel and non-Muslim powers. Qaddafi supported the regime of Idi Amin in Ugand a and gave the brutal dictator asylum after his overthrow in 1979. Using Libya’s great oil wealth as a political lever, Qaddafi attempted to make Libya the spearhead of a holy war of Muslim fundamentalism throughout the world. His government supported President Oueddi of Chad during the civil war there in 1980 and sent troops into the country. Libyan relations with the United States were strained and have resulted in the breaking of diplomatic relations and armed conflict in the Gulf of Sidra in 1981. The United States placed a ban on Libyan oil imports in 1982, and in 1986, U.S. president Ronald Reagan ordered air strikes against targets in Tripoli and Benghazi in retaliation for the Libyan-sponsored terrorist attack in West Berlin that had killed two American servicemen. In 1988 a bomb blew up on a Pan Am commercial airplane over Lockerbie, Scotland , killing 270 people that was found to be instigated by Libya. In 1989, Libya was also implicated in the similar bombing of a French airliner over Niger in which 170 people died. In 1989 a West German company was reported selling Libya equipment for the construction of a chemical weapons plant at Rabta, leading to American and UN sanctions against Libya in 1992. In 1994 Libya withdrew from N Chad, after the World Court rejected its claim to that territory.
In the late 1990s Libya started to moderate its policies to repair its stand ing in the international community, and embarked on a series of moves designed to end its estrangement from Western nations. In 1999, Libya hand ed over the suspects in the Lockerbie crash to the United Nations, where they were tried in international court under Scottish law. At the end of 1999, Qaddafi pledged not to aid or protect terrorists. In 2003, Libya paid damages to the families of the victims in the Lockerbie and UTA bombings and the UN lifted its sanctions. Libya has acknowledged that it had indeed produced chemical weapons and has renounced the production and use of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons and agreed to submit to unannounced international inspections. The U.S. has resumed diplomatic relations with Libya and lifted many of its sanctions.