For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.
Location: North Africa, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, between Egypt, Tunisia, and Algeria, southern border with Chad, Niger, and Sudan.
Area: 1,759,540 sq. km.
Cities: Tripoli (capital), Benghazi.
Terrain: Mostly barren, flat to undulating plains, plateaus, depressions.
Climate: Mediterranean along coast; dry, extreme desert interior.
Land use: Arable land--1.03%; permanent crops--0.19%; other--98.78%.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Libyan(s).
Population (July 2010 est.): 6,461,454.
Annual population growth rate (2010 est.): 2.117%. Birth rate (2010 est.)--24.58 births/1,000 population. Death rate (2010 est.)--3.45 deaths/1,000 population.
Ethnic groups: Berber and Arab 97%; other 3% (includes Greeks, Maltese, Italians, Egyptians, Pakistanis, Turks, Indians, and Tunisians).
Religion: Sunni Muslim 97%, other 3%.
Languages: Arabic is the primary language. English and Italian are understood in major cities.
Education: Years compulsory--9. Attendance--90%. Literacy (age 15 and over who can read and write)--total population 82.6%; male 92.4%; female 72% (2003 est.).
Health (2010 est.): Infant mortality rate--20.87 deaths/1,000 live births. Life expectancy--total population 77.47 yrs.; male 75.18 yrs.; female 79.88 yrs.
Work force (2010 est.): 1.686 million.
Official name: Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.
Type: "Jamahiriya" is a term Col. Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi coined and which he defines as a "state of the masses" governed by the populace through local councils. In practice, Libya is an authoritarian state.
Independence: Libya declared independence on December 24, 1951.
Revolution Day: September 1, 1969.
Constitution: No formal document. Revolutionary edicts establishing a government structure were issued on December 11, 1969 and amended March 2, 1977 to establish popular congresses and people's committees that constitute the Jamahiriya system.
Administrative divisions: 32 municipalities (singular--"shabiya", plural--"shabiyat"): Butnan, Darnah, Gubba, al-Jebal al-Akhdar, Marj, al-Jebal al-Hezam, Benghazi, Ajdabiya, Wahat, Kufra, Surt, Al Jufrah, Misurata, Murgub, Bani-Walid, Tarhuna and Msallata, Tripoli, Jfara, Zawiya, Sabratha and Surman, An Nuqat al-Khams, Gharyan, Mezda, Nalut, Ghadames, Yefren, Wadi Alhaya, Ghat, Sabha, Wadi Shati, Murzuq, Tajura and an-Nuwaha al-Arba'a.
Political system: Political parties are banned. According to the political theory of Col. Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi, multi-layered popular assemblies (people's congresses) with executive institutions (people's committees) are guided by political cadres (revolutionary committees).
Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal and compulsory.
Real GDP (2009 est.): $85.04 billion.
GDP per capita (PPP, 2009 est.): $13,400.
Real GDP growth rate (2009 est.): -0.7%.
Natural resources: Petroleum, natural gas, gypsum.
Agriculture: Products--wheat, barley, olives, dates, citrus, vegetables, peanuts, soybeans; cattle; approximately 75% of Libya's food is imported.
Industry: Types--petroleum, food processing, textiles, handicrafts, cement.
Trade: Exports (2009 est.)--$34.24 billion: crude oil, refined petroleum products, natural gas, chemicals. Major markets (2009 est.)--Italy (37.65%), Germany (10.11%), Spain (7.94%), France (8.44%), Switzerland (5.93%), U.S. (5.27%). Imports (2009 est.)--$22.11 billion: machinery, transport equipment, food, manufactured goods, consumer products, semi-finished goods. Major suppliers (2009)--Italy (18.9%), China (10.54%), Turkey (9.92%), Germany (9.78%), Tunisia (5.25%), South Korea (4.02%).
Libya has a small population in a large land area. Population density is about 50 persons per sq. km. (80/sq. mi.) in the two northern regions of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, but falls to less than one person per sq. km. (1.6/sq. mi.) elsewhere. Ninety percent of the people live in less than 10% of the area, primarily along the coast. More than half the population is urban, mostly concentrated in the two largest cities, Tripoli and Benghazi. Thirty-three percent of the population is estimated to be under age 15.
Native Libyans are primarily a mixture of Arabs and Berbers. Small Tebou and Tuareg tribal groups in southern Libya are nomadic or semi-nomadic. Among foreign residents, the largest groups are citizens of other African nations, including North Africans (primarily Egyptians and Tunisians), West Africans, and other Sub-Saharan Africans.
For most of their history, the peoples of Libya have been subjected to varying degrees of foreign control. The Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Vandals, and Byzantines ruled all or parts of Libya. Although the Greeks and Romans left impressive ruins at Cyrene, Leptis Magna, and Sabratha, little else remains today to testify to the presence of these ancient cultures.
The Arabs conquered Libya in the seventh century A.D. In the following centuries, most of the indigenous peoples adopted Islam and the Arabic language and culture. The Ottoman Turks conquered the country in the mid-16th century. Libya remained part of their empire, although at times virtually autonomous, until Italy invaded in 1911 and, in the face of years of resistance, made Libya a colony.
In 1934, Italy adopted the name "Libya" (used by the Greeks for all of North Africa, except Egypt) as the official name of the colony, which consisted of the Provinces of Cyrenaica, Tripolitania, and Fezzan. King Idris I, Emir of Cyrenaica, led Libyan resistance to Italian occupation between the two world wars. Allied forces removed Axis powers from Libya in February 1943. Tripolitania and Cyrenaica came under separate British administration, while the French controlled Fezzan. In 1944, Idris returned from exile in Cairo but declined to resume permanent residence in Cyrenaica until the removal in 1947 of some aspects of foreign control. Under the terms of the 1947 peace treaty with the Allies, Italy relinquished all claims to Libya.
On November 21, 1949, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution stating that Libya should become independent before January 1, 1952. King Idris I represented Libya in the subsequent UN negotiations. 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 was proclaimed a constitutional and a hereditary monarchy under King Idris.
The discovery of significant oil reserves in 1959 and the subsequent income from petroleum sales enabled what had been one of the world's poorest countries to become extremely wealthy, as measured by per capita GDP. Although oil drastically improved Libya's finances, popular resentment grew as wealth was increasingly concentrated in the hands of the elite. This discontent continued to mount with the rise throughout the Arab world of Nasserism and the idea of Arab unity.
On September 1, 1969, a small group of military officers led by then 28-year-old army officer Mu'ammar Abu Minyar al-Qadhafi staged a coup d'etat against King Idris, who was subsequently exiled to Egypt. The new regime, headed by the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), abolished the monarchy and proclaimed the new Libyan Arab Republic. Qadhafi emerged as leader of the RCC and eventually as de facto head of state, a political role he still plays. The Libyan Government asserts that Qadhafi currently holds no official position, although he is referred to in government statements and the official press as the "Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution," among other honorifics.
The new RCC's motto became "freedom, socialism, and unity." It pledged itself to remedy "backwardness," take an active role in the Palestinian cause, promote Arab unity, and encourage domestic policies based on social justice, non-exploitation, and an equitable distribution of wealth.
An early objective of the new government was withdrawal of all foreign military installations from Libya. Following negotiations, British military installations at Tobruk and nearby El Adem were closed in March 1970, and U.S. facilities at Wheelus Air Force Base near Tripoli were closed in June 1970. That July, the Libyan Government ordered the expulsion of several thousand Italian residents. By 1971, libraries and cultural centers operated by foreign governments were ordered closed.
In the 1970s, Libya claimed leadership of Arab and African revolutionary forces and sought active roles in international organizations. Late in the 1970s, Libyan embassies were re-designated as "people's bureaus," as Qadhafi sought to portray Libyan foreign policy as an expression of the popular will. The people's bureaus, aided by Libyan religious, political, educational, and business institutions overseas, attempted to export Qadhafi's revolutionary philosophy abroad.
Qadhafi's confrontational foreign policies and use of terrorism, as well as Libya's growing friendship with the U.S.S.R., led to increased tensions with the West in the 1980s. Following a terrorist bombing at a discotheque in West Berlin frequented by American military personnel, in 1986 the U.S. retaliated militarily against targets in Libya, and imposed broad unilateral economic sanctions.
After Libya was implicated in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, UN sanctions were imposed in 1992. UN Security Council resolutions (UNSCRs) passed in 1992 and 1993 obliged Libya to fulfill requirements related to the Pan Am 103 bombing before sanctions could be lifted. Qadhafi initially refused to comply with these requirements, leading to Libya's political and economic isolation for most of the 1990s.
In 1999, Libya fulfilled one of the UNSCR requirements by surrendering two Libyans who were suspected to have been involved with the bombing for trial before a Scottish court in the Netherlands. One of these suspects, Abdel Basset Ali Mohamed al-Megrahi, was found guilty; the other was acquitted. Al-Megrahi's conviction was upheld on appeal in 2002. On August 19, 2009, al-Megrahi was released from Scottish prison on compassionate grounds due to a terminal illness and returned to Libya. In August 2003, Libya fulfilled the remaining UNSCR requirements, including acceptance of responsibility for the actions of its officials and payment of appropriate compensation to the victims' families. UN sanctions were lifted on September 12, 2003. U.S. International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA)-based sanctions were lifted September 20, 2004.
On December 19, 2003, Libya publicly announced its intention to rid itself of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR)-class missile programs. Subsequently, Libya cooperated with the U.S., the U.K., the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons toward these objectives. Libya has also signed the IAEA Additional Protocol and has become a State Party to the Chemical Weapons Convention. These were important steps toward full diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Libya.
Nationwide political violence erupted in February 2011, following the Libyan Government’s brutal suppression of popular protests against Libyan leader Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi. Opposition forces quickly seized control of Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city, as well as significant portions of eastern Libya and some areas in western Libya. Drawing from the local opposition councils which formed the backbone of the “February 17” revolution, the Libyan opposition announced the formation of a Transitional National Council (TNC) on February 27, 2011. The Council has stated its desire to remove Qadhafi from power and establish a unified, democratic, and free Libya that respects universal human rights principles.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
Libya's political system is in theory based on the political philosophy in Qadhafi's Green Book, which combines socialist and Islamic theories and rejects parliamentary democracy and political parties. In reality, Qadhafi exercises near-total control over major government decisions. During the first 7 years following the revolution, the Revolutionary Command Council, which included Colonel Qadhafi and 12 fellow army officers, began a complete overhaul of Libya's political system, society, and economy. In 1973, Qadhafi announced the start of a "cultural revolution" in schools, businesses, industries, and public institutions to oversee administration of those organizations in the public interest. On March 2, 1977, Qadhafi convened a General People's Congress (GPC) to proclaim the establishment of "people's power," change the country's name to the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, and to vest, theoretically, primary authority in the GPC.
The GPC is the legislative forum that interacts with the General People's Committee, whose members are secretaries of Libyan ministries. It serves as the intermediary between the masses and the leadership and is composed of the secretariats of some 600 local "basic popular congresses." The GPC secretariat and the cabinet secretaries are appointed by the GPC secretary general and confirmed by the annual GPC congress. These cabinet secretaries are responsible for the routine operation of their ministries, but Qadhafi exercises real authority directly or through manipulation of the peoples and revolutionary committees.
Qadhafi remained the de facto head of state and secretary general of the GPC until 1980, when he gave up his office. Although he holds no formal office, Qadhafi exercises power with the assistance of a small group of trusted advisers, who include relatives from his home base in the Sirte region, which lies between the traditional commercial and political power centers in Benghazi and Tripoli.
In the 1980s, competition grew between the official Libyan Government, military hierarchies, and the revolutionary committees. An abortive coup attempt in May 1984, apparently mounted by Libyan exiles with internal support, led to a short-lived reign of terror in which thousands were imprisoned and interrogated. An unknown number were executed. Qadhafi used the revolutionary committees to search out alleged internal opponents following the coup attempt, thereby accelerating the rise of more radical elements inside the Libyan power hierarchy.
In 1988, faced with rising public dissatisfaction with shortages in consumer goods and setbacks in Libya's war with Chad, Qadhafi began to curb the power of the revolutionary committees and to institute some domestic reforms. The regime released many political prisoners and eased restrictions on foreign travel by Libyans. Private businesses were again permitted to operate.
In the late 1980s, Qadhafi began to pursue an anti-Islamic fundamentalist policy domestically, viewing fundamentalism as a potential rallying point for opponents of the regime. Qadhafi's security forces launched a pre-emptive strike at alleged coup plotters in the military and among the Warfallah tribe in October 1993. Widespread arrests and government reshufflings followed, accompanied by public "confessions" from regime opponents and allegations of torture and executions. The military, once Qadhafi's strongest supporters, became a potential threat in the 1990s. In 1993, following a failed coup attempt that implicated senior military officers, Qadhafi began to purge the military periodically, eliminating potential rivals and inserting his own loyal followers in their place.
Qadhafi's strategy of frequent re-balancing of roles and responsibilities of his lieutenants makes it difficult for outsiders to understand Libyan politics. Several key political figures hold overlapping portfolios, and switch roles in a country where personalities and relationships often play more important roles than official titles. While high-ranking officials may have official portfolios, it is not uncommon for supposed subordinates to report directly to Qadhafi on issues thought to be within the purview of other officials. Foreign Minister Abdulati al-Obeidi was appointed to his position in March 2011, following the defection of his predecessor, Musa Kusa. Prime Minister al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi oversees the day-to-day operation of the Libyan cabinet, and plays a key role in setting financial and regulatory affairs, as well as domestic policies. Qadhafi’s sons play an important role in government circles. Qadhafi’s second son, Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi, was previously viewed as a reformer but has emerged as a strong defender of the regime following the outbreak of political violence. His Qadhafi International Charity and Development Foundation (QDF) had served as a platform to advocate for greater respect for human rights, civil society development, and political and economic reforms. The QDF also played a key role in brokering dialogue with former Libyan Islamic Fighting Group members (LIFG), which led to their subsequent release from prison, and recantation of violence as a tool of jihad. Qadhafi’s younger sons, Khamis and Saadi, are commanding military units, while his fourth son, Mutassim, had served as National Security Adviser and continues to be involved in security and military relations.
The Libyan court system consists of three levels: the courts of first instance; the courts of appeals; and the Supreme Court, which is the final appellate level. The GPC appoints justices to the Supreme Court. Special "revolutionary courts" and military courts operate outside the court system to try political offenses and crimes against the state. "People's courts," another example of extrajudicial authority, were abolished in January 2005. Libya's justice system is nominally based on Shari'a law.
The Libyan Transitional National Council has set up a rival government in Benghazi. The 45-member Council includes representatives from throughout Libya and is headed by Chairman (and former Qadhafi Minister of Justice) Mustafa Abdul Jalil. The Council acts as the opposition’s legislative branch and has appointed an executive committee, headed by Mahmoud Jibril, to oversee interim governance issues. The TNC has stated repeatedly its desire to serve only as an interim body and has issued plans to draft a constitution and hold nationwide elections as soon as Qadhafi is removed from power.
Principal Government Officials
De facto Head of State--Mu'ammar Abu Minyar al-Qadhafi ("the Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution")
Secretary General of the General People's Committee (Prime Minister)--Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmudi
Secretary of the General People's Committee for Foreign Liaison and International Cooperation (Foreign Minister)--Abdulati al-Obeidi
The Libyan People’s Bureau (embassy-equivalent) is located at 2600 Virginia Avenue NW, Suite 705, Washington DC 20037 (tel. 202-944-9601, fax 202-944-9603). However, it suspended operations on March 16, 2011, at the behest of the U.S. State Department.
The government dominates Libya's socialist-oriented economy through control of the country's oil resources, which account for approximately 95% of export earnings, 75% of government receipts, and 25% of gross domestic product. Oil production, previously constant at just below Libya’s Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) quota of 1.4 million barrels per day (bpd), ground to a halt following the outbreak of political violence in February 2011. Oil revenues constitute the principal source of foreign exchange. Much of the country's income over the years has been lost to waste, corruption, conventional armaments purchases, and attempts to develop weapons of mass destruction, as well as to large donations made to developing countries in attempts to increase Qadhafi's influence in Africa and elsewhere. Although oil revenues and a small population have given Libya one of the highest per capita GDPs in Africa, the government's mismanagement of the economy has led to high inflation and increased import prices. These factors resulted in a decline in the standard of living from the late 1990s through 2003, especially for lower and middle income strata of the Libyan society.
On September 20, 2004, President George W. Bush signed an Executive Order ending economic sanctions imposed under the authority of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA). Under the 2004 order, U.S. persons were no longer prohibited from working in Libya, and many American companies in diverse sectors actively sought investment opportunities in Libya. In 2008, the government announced ambitious plans to increase foreign investment in the oil and gas sectors to significantly boost production capacity from 1.2 million bpd to 3 million bpd by 2012, a target that the National Oil Corporation later estimated would to slip to 2017. In February 2011, the U.S. and UN imposed sanctions on Libya following the outbreak of political violence.
The government had been pursuing a number of large-scale infrastructure development projects such as highways, railways, air and seaports, telecommunications, water works, public housing, medical centers, shopping centers, and hotels. Despite efforts to diversify the economy and encourage private sector participation, extensive controls of prices, credit, trade, and foreign exchange have constrained growth. Import restrictions and inefficient resource allocations have caused periodic shortages of basic goods and foodstuffs, shortages that are worsening as the political unrest continues. Libya faces a long road ahead in liberalizing the socialist-oriented economy and recovering from the losses of the ongoing conflict, but initial steps, including applying for World Trade Organization (WTO) membership, reducing some subsidies, and announcing plans for privatization, have laid the groundwork for a transition to a more market-based economy. The non-oil manufacturing and construction sectors, which account for more than 20% of GDP, have expanded from processing mostly agricultural products to include the production of petrochemicals, iron, steel, and aluminum. Climatic conditions and poor soils severely limit agricultural output, and Libya imports about 75% of its food. Libya's primary agricultural water source remains the Great Manmade River Project, but significant resources have been invested in desalinization research to meet growing water demands. Government officials have also indicated interest in developing markets for alternative sources of energy, pharmaceuticals, health care services, and oil production byproducts.
Since 1969, Qadhafi has determined Libya's foreign policy. His principal foreign policy goals have been Arab unity, the incorporation of Israel and the Palestinian Territories into a single nation of "Isratine," advancement of Islam, support for Palestinians, elimination of outside, particularly Western, influence in the Middle East and Africa, and support for a range of "revolutionary" causes.
After the 1969 coup, Qadhafi closed American and British bases on Libyan territory and partially nationalized all foreign oil and commercial interests in Libya. He also played a key role in promoting the use of oil embargoes as a political weapon for challenging the West, hoping that an oil price rise and embargo in 1973 would persuade the West, especially the United States, to end support for Israel. Qadhafi rejected both Soviet communism and Western capitalism, and claimed he was charting a middle course.
Libya's relationship with the former Soviet Union involved massive Libyan arms purchases from the Soviet bloc and the presence of thousands of east bloc advisers. Libya's use, and heavy loss, of Soviet-supplied weaponry in its war with Chad was a notable breach of an apparent Soviet-Libyan understanding not to use the weapons for activities inconsistent with Soviet objectives. As a result, Soviet-Libyan relations reached a nadir in mid-1987.
After the fall of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union, Libya concentrated on expanding diplomatic ties with Third World countries and increasing its commercial links with Europe and East Asia. These ties significantly diminished after the imposition of UN sanctions in 1992. Following a 1998 Arab League meeting in which fellow Arab states decided not to challenge UN sanctions, Qadhafi announced that he was turning his back on pan-Arab ideas, which had been one of the fundamental tenets of his philosophy.
Instead, over the last decade, Libya pursued closer bilateral ties with North African neighbors Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco, and greater Africa. It has sought to develop its relations with Sub-Saharan Africa, leading to Libyan involvement in several internal African disputes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Mauritania, Somalia, Central African Republic, Eritrea, and Ethiopia. Libya has also sought to expand its influence in Africa through financial assistance, granting aid donations to impoverished neighbors such as Niger and oil subsidies to Zimbabwe, and through participation in the African Union. Qadhafi has proposed a borderless "United States of Africa" to transform the continent into a single nation-state ruled by a single government. This plan has been greeted with skepticism. In recent years, Libya has played a helpful role in facilitating the provision of humanitarian assistance to Darfur refugees in Chad, contributing to efforts to forge a ceasefire between Chad and Sudan, and bringing an end to the conflict in Darfur.
One of the longest-standing issues in Libya's relationship with the European Union and the international community was resolved in July 2007 with the release of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor who had been convicted in 1999 of deliberately infecting over 400 children in a Benghazi hospital with the HIV virus. The six medics were sentenced to death in 2004, a sentence that was upheld by the Libyan Supreme Court, but commuted in July 2007 by the Higher Judicial Council to life in prison. Under a previous agreement with the Bulgarian Government on the repatriation of prisoners, the medics were allowed to return to Bulgaria to finish their sentence, where upon arrival the Bulgarian president pardoned all six. The Benghazi International Fund, established by the United States and its European allies, raised $460 million to distribute to the families of the children infected with HIV, each of whom received $1 million.
Following Libya’s 2003 decision to dismantle its WMD programs and renounce terrorism, it sought to actively reengage the international community through improved bilateral relations with the West, as well as seeking leadership positions within international organizations. Libya served on the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Board of Governors from 2007-2008. From 2008-2009, it served a 2-year non-permanent tenure on the UN Security Council representing the Africa group. In 2009, Libya became chair for 1 year of the African Union and played host to several AU summits. The same year, it assumed the UN General Assembly presidency. Libya took over the Arab League presidency in 2010 and hosted the March and October 2010 Arab League summits and an Arab-African summit in October 2010.
After 40 years in power, Qadhafi made his first trip to the United States in September 2009 to participate in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York City and deliver his country’s speech. Qadhafi’s UNGA speech reinforced Libya’s assimilation within the international community and its emerging importance on the African scene. The trip came on the heels of the release from Scotland and return to Libya of convicted Pan Am 103 bomber Abdel Basset Ali Mohamed al-Megrahi.
Libya’s relations with the rest of the world deteriorated sharply following Qadhafi’s brutal suppression of popular protests in February 2011. The UN quickly took action to try to end the violence, passing UNSCR 1970 on February 26, which called for a referral to the International Criminal Court, an arms embargo, a travel ban, an asset freeze, and sanctions. UNSCR 1973, adopted on March 17, authorized member states to take military action to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack. Under the auspices of UNSCR 1973, the U.S., U.K., and France launched military action in Libya on March 20; NATO continued these efforts as “Operation Unified Protection.”
Working through the international Contact Group on Libya, key members of the international community, including the U.S., have joined together to increase pressure on the Qadhafi regime and support the TNC. Several countries, including France, Italy, Qatar, and the U.K., have recognized the TNC as Libya’s governing authority; countless others, including the U.S., have identified the TNC as the credible interlocutor of the Libyan people. More than 20 nations have diplomatic representation in Benghazi.
In 1999, the Libyan Government surrendered two Libyans suspected of involvement in the Pan Am 103 bombing, leading to the suspension of UN sanctions. On January 31, 2001, a Scottish court seated in the Netherlands found one of the suspects, Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, guilty of murder in connection with the bombing, and acquitted the second suspect, Al-Amin Khalifa Fhima. Megrahi's conviction was upheld on March 14, 2002, but in October 2008 the Scottish High Court permitted Megrahi to appeal aspects of his case, formal hearings for which started in March 2009, when two separate requests for Megrahi’s release where concurrently considered by Scottish Justice authorities: the first involved Libya’s request for Megrahi’s transfer under the U.K.-Libya Prisoner Transfer Agreement, and the other for his release on compassionate grounds. After a Scottish medical committee announced that Megrahi’s life expectancy was less than 3 months (thereby falling under compassionate release guidelines), Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill granted Megrahi’s release from prison, and permitted him to return to Libya on August 20, 2009. The decision provoked widespread objections by the Lockerbie bombing victims’ families, who were particularly enraged by what appeared to be a “hero’s welcome” in Tripoli.
UN sanctions were lifted on September 12, 2003 following Libyan compliance with its remaining UNSCR requirements on Pan Am 103, including acceptance of responsibility for the actions of its officials and payment of appropriate compensation. Libya had paid compensation in 1999 for the death of British policewoman Yvonne Fletcher, a move that preceded the reopening of the British Embassy in Tripoli, and had paid damages to the non-U.S. families of the victims in the bombing of UTA Flight 772. With the lifting of UN sanctions in September 2003, each of the families of the victims of Pan Am 103 received $4 million of a maximum $10 million in compensation. After the lifting of U.S. IEEPA-based sanctions on September 20, 2004, the families received a further $4 million.
On November 13, 2001, a German court found four persons, including a former employee of the Libyan embassy in East Berlin, guilty in connection with the 1986 La Belle disco bombing, in which two U.S. servicemen were killed. The court also established a connection to the Libyan Government. The German Government demanded that Libya accept responsibility for the La Belle bombing and pay appropriate compensation. A compensation deal for non-U.S. victims was agreed to in August 2004.
By 2003, Libya appeared to have curtailed its support for international terrorism, although it may have retained residual contacts with some of its former terrorist clients. In an August 2003 letter to the UN Security Council, Libya took significant steps to mend its international image and formally renounced terrorism. In August 2004, the Department of Justice entered into a plea agreement with Abdulrahman Alamoudi, in which he stated that he had been part of a 2003 plot to assassinate Saudi Crown Prince Abdallah (now King Abdallah) at the behest of Libyan Government officials. In 2005, the Saudi Government pardoned the individuals accused in the assassination plot.
During the 2005 UN General Assembly session, Libyan Foreign Minister Abd al-Rahman Shalgam issued a statement that reaffirmed Libya's commitment to the statements made in its letter addressed to the Security Council on August 15, 2003, renouncing terrorism in all its forms and pledging that Libya would not support acts of international terrorism or other acts of violence targeting civilians, whatever their political views or positions. Libya also expressed its commitment to continue cooperating in the international fight against terrorism. On June 30, 2006, the U.S. rescinded Libya's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.
In May 2008, the U.S. and Libya began negotiations on a comprehensive claims settlement agreement to resolve outstanding claims of American and Libyan nationals against each country in their respective courts. On August 4, 2008 President Bush signed into law the Libyan Claims Resolution Act, which Congress had passed on July 31. The act provided for the restoration of Libya’s sovereign, diplomatic, and official immunities before U.S. courts if the Secretary of State certified that the United States Government had received sufficient funds to resolve outstanding terrorism-related death and physical injury claims against Libya. Subsequently, both sides signed a comprehensive claims settlement agreement on August 14. On October 31, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice certified to Congress that the United States had received $1.5 billion pursuant to the U.S.-Libya Claims Settlement Agreement. These funds were sufficient to provide the required compensation to victims of terrorism under the Libyan Claims Resolution Act. Concurrently, President Bush issued an executive order to implement the claims settlement agreement.
In September 2009, several leading members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) released a more than 400-page document in which they renounced violence and laid out what they claimed to be a clearer understanding of the ethics of Islamic Shari’a law and jihad, parting ways with Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups whose violent methods they described as ignorant and illegitimate. The release of this revisionist manuscript shortly followed a public statement in August 2009, in which LIFG’s leaders apologized to the Libyan leader for their violent acts and pledged to continue working toward a complete reconciliation with remaining elements of LIFG in Libya or abroad. LIFG’s revised ideology and the subsequent release of many of its imprisoned members was due in large part to a 2-year initiative by Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi, in his capacity as Chairman of the Qadhafi International Charity and Development Foundation, to broker the reconciliation between the Libyan Government and elements of LIFG leadership.
The United States supported the UN resolution providing for Libyan independence in 1951 and raised the status of its office in Tripoli from a consulate general to a legation. Libya opened a legation in Washington, DC in 1954. Both countries subsequently raised their missions to embassy level.
After Qadhafi's 1969 coup, U.S.-Libyan relations became increasingly strained because of Libya's foreign policies supporting international terrorism and subversion against moderate Arab and African governments. In 1972, the United States withdrew its ambassador. Export controls on military equipment and civil aircraft were imposed during the 1970s, and U.S. embassy staff members were withdrawn from Tripoli after a mob attacked and set fire to the embassy in December 1979. The U.S. Government designated Libya a "state sponsor of terrorism" on December 29, 1979. In May 1981, the U.S. Government closed the Libyan "people's bureau" (embassy) in Washington, DC, and expelled the Libyan staff in response to a general pattern of conduct by the people's bureau contrary to internationally accepted standards of diplomatic behavior.
In August 1981, two Libyan jets fired on U.S. aircraft participating in a routine naval exercise over international waters of the Mediterranean claimed by Libya. The U.S. planes returned fire and shot down the attacking Libyan aircraft. In December 1981, the State Department invalidated U.S. passports for travel to Libya and, for purposes of safety, advised all U.S. citizens in Libya to leave. In March 1982, the U.S. Government prohibited imports of Libyan crude oil into the United States and expanded the controls on U.S.-origin goods intended for export to Libya. Licenses were required for all transactions, except food and medicine. In March 1984, U.S. export controls were expanded to prohibit future exports to the Ras Lanuf petrochemical complex. In April 1985, all Export-Import Bank financing was prohibited.
Due to Libya's continuing support for terrorism, the United States adopted additional economic sanctions against Libya in January 1986, including a total ban on direct import and export trade, commercial contracts, and travel-related activities. In addition, Libyan Government assets in the United States were frozen. When evidence of Libyan complicity was discovered in the Berlin discotheque terrorist bombing that killed two American servicemen, the United States responded by launching an aerial bombing attack against targets near Tripoli and Benghazi in April 1986. Subsequently, the United States maintained its trade and travel embargoes and brought diplomatic and economic pressure to bear against Libya. This pressure helped to bring about the 2003 Lockerbie settlement and Libya's renunciation of WMD and MTCR-class missiles.
In 1991, two Libyan intelligence agents were indicted by federal prosecutors in the U.S. and Scotland for their involvement in the December 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103. In January 1992, the UN Security Council approved Resolution 731 demanding that Libya surrender the suspects, cooperate with the Pan Am 103 and UTA 772 investigations, pay compensation to the victims' families, and cease all support for terrorism. Libya's refusal to comply led to the approval of UNSC Resolution 748 on March 31, 1992, imposing sanctions designed to bring about Libyan compliance. Continued Libyan defiance led to passage of UNSC Resolution 883, a limited assets freeze and an embargo on selected oil equipment, in November 1993. UN sanctions were lifted on September 12, 2003, after Libya fulfilled all remaining UNSCR requirements, including renunciation of terrorism, acceptance of responsibility for the actions of its officials, and payment of appropriate compensation to the victims' families.
On December 19, 2003, Libya announced its intention to rid itself of WMD and MTCR-class missile programs. Subsequently, it cooperated with the U.S., the U.K., the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons toward these objectives. Libya has also signed the IAEA Additional Protocol and has become a State Party to the Chemical Weapons Convention.
In recognition of these actions, the U.S. began the process of normalizing relations with Libya. The U.S. terminated the applicability of the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act to Libya, and President Bush signed an Executive Order on September 20, 2004 terminating the national emergency with respect to Libya and ending IEEPA-based economic sanctions. This action had the effect of unblocking assets blocked under the Executive Order sanctions. Restrictions on cargo aviation and third-party code-sharing were lifted, as were restrictions on passenger aviation. Certain export controls remained in place.
U.S. diplomatic personnel reopened the U.S. Interest Section in Tripoli on February 8, 2004. The mission was upgraded to a U.S. Liaison Office on June 28, 2004, and to a full embassy on May 31, 2006. The establishment in 2005 of an American School in Tripoli demonstrated the increased presence of Americans in Libya and the normalization of bilateral relations. Libya re-established its diplomatic presence in Washington with the opening of an Interest Section on July 8, 2004, which was subsequently upgraded to a Liaison Office in December 2004 and to a full embassy on May 31, 2006.
On May 15, 2006, the State Department announced its intention to rescind Libya's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism in recognition of the fact that Libya had met the statutory requirements for such a move: it had not provided any support for acts of international terrorism in the preceding 6-month period, and had provided assurances that it would not do so in the future. On June 30, 2006, the U.S. rescinded Libya's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.
In 2007, there were a series of senior-level meetings between U.S. and Libyan officials that focused on a broad array of issues, including regional security and counterterrorism cooperation. Secretary Rice, in her meeting with Foreign Minister Shalgam on the margins of the UN General Assembly, discussed the resolution of outstanding issues and charting a path for future cooperation. On July 11, President Bush nominated career diplomat Gene A. Cretz as U.S. Ambassador to Libya.
On January 3, 2008, Foreign Minister Shalgam made an official visit to Washington, the first official visit by a Libyan Foreign Minister since 1972. During that visit the United States and Libya signed a science and technology cooperation agreement, their first bilateral agreement since the downgrading of diplomatic relations.
In 2008, the U.S. and Libya concluded the U.S.-Libya Claims Settlement Agreement to resolve outstanding claims of American and Libyan nationals against each country in their respective courts. The same year, the Libyan Claims Resolution Act was signed into law by President Bush, providing for the restoration of Libya’s sovereign, diplomatic, and official immunities before U.S. courts.
Resolution of outstanding claims permitted full normalization of ties and the exchange of ambassadors in January 2009 for the first time since 1973. U.S. Ambassador Gene A. Cretz was sworn in on December 17, 2008 and submitted his credentials to the General People’s Committee on January 11, 2009. Libyan Ambassador Ali Suleiman Aujali submitted his credentials to President Bush on January 8, 2009. (He resigned on February 22, 2011 due to the Libyan Government’s suppression of popular protests and became the TNC’s representative to Washington.)
The normalization of relations provided the United States and Libya with increased opportunities to push for progress in areas of mutual concern, such as nonproliferation, counterterrorism, trade and investment, human rights, and economic development. On January 16, 2009, the U.S. and Libya signed a Defense Contacts and Cooperation Memorandum of Understanding. On April 21, 2009, National Security Adviser Mutassim al-Qadhafi visited Washington, DC and met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as well as other senior U.S. Government officials. In September 2009, Qadhafi visited the U.S. for the first time to participate in the UN General Assembly in New York. In May 2010, the U.S. and Libya signed a Trade Investment Framework Agreement.
Relations with Libya deteriorated sharply following the Qadhafi regime’s brutal suppression of popular protests. The U.S. suspended Embassy operations in Tripoli on February 25, 2011 and ordered the Libyan Government to suspend its Embassy operations in Washington on March 16. A mob overran and burned the U.S. Embassy on May 1. The U.S. imposed sanctions on Libya on February 25 and, in compliance with UNSCR 1970, froze more than $30 billion in Libyan Government assets. The U.S. appointed a special envoy to the Libyan opposition in March and has had a diplomatic presence in Benghazi since April 5, 2011.
Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--Gene A. Cretz (currently in Washington)
Envoy to the Libyan Opposition--J. Christopher Stevens
The U.S. Embassy in Libya is located on Jeraba Street behind the Libyan British Clinic in Tripoli (tel. 218-91-220-3239), but it suspended operations on February 25, 2011. American citizens are warned against travel to Libya, and any U.S. citizens present in Libya are urged to depart immediately. Please direct inquiries regarding U.S. citizens in Libya to LibyaEmergencyUSC@state.gov. Callers in United States and Canada may dial the toll-free number 1-888-407-4747. Callers outside the United States and Canada may dial 1 -202-501-4444.