LAND - Libya, located on the north central coast of Africa, embraces the former Turkish and Italian provinces of Tripolitania, Fezzan and Cyrenaica. About the size of Alaska, Libya is bounded on the north by the Mediterranean Sea. Neighboring countries are Egypt, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Algeria and Tunisia. As much as 95 percent of Libya is desert or barren rockstrewn land. Cultivation and settlement is largely confined to a narrow strip along the 1,100 miles of Mediterranean coast. But Libya's reputation as a country devoid of natural resources changed when oil was discovered in the late 1950s.
PEOPLE - Libya's population of about 2.7 million consists primarily of Arabs and Berbers and is about 97 percent Moslem. Though small compared to the country's land size, the population has one of the highest annual growth rates in the world: 3.7 percent.
About 90 percent of Libya's people live in less than 10 percent of the total land area, mainly along the coast. Small nomadic tribal groups inhabit southern Libya. About 27 percent of the population is urban, concentrated in the two largest cities: the capital, Tripoli, and Benghazi. Ethnic groups in Lybya include black Africans, Greeks, Maltese, Italians and Egyptians.
HISTORY - Ruled by foreigners for most of its history, Libya emerged as an independent nation in December 1951 under King Idris. He ruled until September 1969, when he was overthrown by a military-led revolution that installed Col. Muammar Quaddafi as de facto chief of state.
After a legacy of rule by Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans and others, Libya was conquered in the 7th century by the Arabs, who gave the country its language, culture and religion. The Ottoman Turks took over in the 16th century, and Libya remained in their empire until Italy invaded in 1911 and made the country an Italian colony.
King Idris, then the emir of Cyrenaica, joined forces with the Allies to liberate the country from Italian control during World War II and became head of state after British and French administration ended in accord with a U.N. resolution of 1949.
GOVERNMENT - Col. Qaddafi and his Revolutionary Command Council ran Libya's government from 1969 until 1977, then nominally gave way to a General People's Congress. At the same time, the country's name was changed from the Libyan Arab Republic to the Popular Socialist Libyan Arab State of the Masses. The ruling structure remained essentially the same, as Col. Qaddafi continued to exercise the functions of a chief of state in his new capacity as secretary general of the Secretariat of the General People's Congress.
ECONOMY - Libya's oil-based economy has expanded rapidly since the 1973 oil price increases, although the government has deliberately cut back production from a high of 3.7 million barrels a day in 1970 to about 2 million barrels a day at present.
While the petroleum sector is by far the most important, Libya has given its highest priority to agriculture. Libya's goal is agricultural selfsufficiency, but the country has far to go to reverse the effects of its oil boom, which has led to imports that now total 60 percent of Libya's food consumption.