Libya (LY)

Capital

Tripoli

Population

6.4 million

Constitution

Interim Government of National Unity

Head of state

Position currently vacant - presidential elections are planned for December 2021

National Day

December 24th

Libya's Ambassador to the UK

H.E. Mr Mahmud Nacua

Embassy of Libya, 15 Knightsbridge, London, SW1X 7LY

UK's Ambassador to Libya

H.E. Ms Caroline Hurndall MBE

The British Embassy Tunis, Rue du Lac Windermere, Les Berges du Lac, Tunis, 1053, Tunisia*

(*British Embassy Tripoli has temporarily suspended operations since August 4th 2014.)

Libya emerged from more than 40 years of dictatorship of the erratic Muammar Gaddafi only to enter a bitter decade-long civil war. Presidential elections are earmarked for December 24th, but renewed instability means there is currently no guarantee they will take place.

Libya is mostly a desert and oil-rich country with an ancient history that encompasses the Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans. In the 7th century, the Arabs seized Libya and spread Islam throughout the region and, almost a thousand years later, the country was absorbed into the Ottoman Empire.

Italian colony and resistance

In 1911, Italy seized Libya from the Ottomans, leading to a 20-year insurgency in eastern Libya led by resistance leader and former teacher, Omar al-Mukhtar, "The Lion of the Desert". He was captured by the Italians in September 1931 and promptly hanged in front of his followers at the age of 73. He remains a national hero to Libyans.

Italy ejected

An increasingly brutal 30-year occupation by Italy ended with Mussolini’s ejection from Libya by the Allies in World War II.

In 1951, Libya gained independence under King Idris al-Sanusi, who had been a resistance leader against the Italians. The King was deposed in 1969 in a bloodless coup led by a 27-year-old army officer called Muammar Gaddafi.

 International pariahdom

Over the years, the international community observed Gaddafi's increasingly erratic behaviour with alarm. A number of tragic incidents led Gaddafi down the path towards international pariahdom. In 1984, a British woman police officer was murdered in London by a gunman from inside the Libyan Embassy.

Tripoli was blamed for the bombing of a Berlin nightclub in April 1986 which killed 3 people and injured 1oos more. 9 days later, the US launched retaliatory airstrikes against Tripoli and Benghazi. Gaddafi's adopted daughter was said to be among those killed.

Lockerbie

Above all, it was the bombing of a Pan Am airliner over the small Scottish town of Lockerbie in December 1988 which really saw Gaddafi dangerously ostracised by the international community. 243 passengers and 16 crew died in the disaster.

In November 1991, the FBI and the Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary issued arrest warrants for 2 Libyan suspects, including an intelligence officer called Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi. 

UN Sanctions

In 1992, the UN imposed sanctions on Libya over the bombing. In 2001, a special Scottish court found al-Megrahi, guilty and sentenced him to life imprisonment. In 2003, Libya signed a deal worth $2.7 billion to compensate families of the Lockerbie victims. In 2009, al-Megrahi was freed from jail in Scotland and returned to Libya where he was greeted as a hero.

In 2004, Libya wrote a note to the UN Security Council in which it took responsibility for the bombing. Later that year, the UN lifted sanctions which it had imposed on Libya. A year later, Libya paid $35 million to compensate victims and their families for the bombing of a Berlin nightclub in 1986.

In from out of the cold

The 2000s saw something of a rapprochement between the one-time pariah Gaddafi and the West. In 2004, Gaddafi received a visit from the then British prime minister Tony Blair and even signed an immigration agreement with the EU. In 2009, the colonel paid an official visit to Libya's one-time colonial masters, Italy, which became Tripoli's main trading partner. 

Revolution and civil war

Civil war broke out in February 2011 following violent protests in the eastern city of Benghazi. In March 2011, the UN Security Council authorised a no-fly zone over Libya, as well as air strikes to protect civilians and rebel militias. NATO assumed control of the air operation that proved decisive in the eventual defeat, and death, of Gaddafi in October 2011.

Chaos and intermittent conflict followed in Libya over the next decade, as various militias vied for control of this huge country. In 2014, the Islamic State group also became active in Libya, occupying the coastal cities of Sirte and Derna, east of Benghazi. The group also launched a 3-year campaign to take Benghazi, which ultimately failed.

Libya's 2nd civil war

Chaos followed the fall of Gaddafi. Competing militias ruled the roost in Libya and took sides with 2 competing administrations in Libya's 2nd Civil War which broke out in 2014 and would last another 6 years. Islamist militias, including the Islamic State group/Daesh and Ansar al Sharia, took advantage of the mayhem to seize key towns and territory.

In late 2013, the Tripoli-based General National Council GNC), a provisional government which supposedly had authority in Libya after Gaddafi,  voted to extend its power by another year. Initially, the GNC accepted the results of elections to Libya's new House of Representatives - held in June 2014 - but rejected the results later. The GNC pointed to the decision of Libya's Supreme Court that nullified an amendment relating to the roadmap for Libya's transition. This also nullified the HoR election results.

Armed Islamist militias took control of the capital Tripoli while the House of Representatives moved to the port city of Tobruk, almost 800 miles along the Libyan coast to the east of Tripoli.

The rise of General Khalifa Haftar

The Spring of 2014 saw the start of the rise of ex-general  Khalifa Haftar, regarded by his detractors as a renegade and a warlord. Haftar  and his so-called "Libyan National Army" (LNA) took the side of the House of Representatives, and immediately launched a military assault against Islamist militias in Benghazi, 270 miles to the west of his Tobruk strong-hold. Haftar called his campaign "Operation Dignity".

In 2016, Haftar seized key control of the state oil company, as well important eastern oil terminals, including those at Ra's Lanuf and Brega. In 2017, he claimed to have taken over the city of Derna, which lies approximately 180 miles to the east of Benghazi. he also announced victory over the islamist militias of Benghazi.

In April 2019, Haftar began his determined but ultimately doomed assault on western Libya and the capital, Tripoli, "Operation Flood of Dignity". The UN-backed Government of National Accord drove Haftar from Tripoli as well the nearby city of Tarhouna, which was the general's last western stronghold.

Haftar remains a controversial figure in Libya. To his supporters, he is a national hero who unified and led the fight fought against Islamist armed groups, including Ansar al-Sharia and the Libyan branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, as well the Islamic State group/Daesh.

To his critics, Haftar is a warlord and tyrant who rejected the UN-backed Government of National Accord in 2016 and committed war crimes and human rights abuses. He has announced his intention to stand for Libya's presidency in elections planned for December 2021.

Government of National Accord 

The Government of National Accord was a United Nations-led initiative to establish an acting government for Libya. It was signed into existence in December 2015 and first met in Tunis in January 2016. It struggled to assert any authority over the country or its warring militias and competing tribal interests. Its mandate expired in 2017- according to the Libyan Political Agreement under which it had been established and and signed by the UN and Parliament. But the GNA continued and went on to play a key role against Haftar and his Libyan National Army in the so-called Western Libyan Campaign of 2019.

Government of National Unity  - a hope for peace and stability 

In February 2021, the UN-convened Libyan Political Dialogue Forum elected a new "Government of National Unity." In March, Libya's House of Representatives formally approved the formation of the new GNU - to be based at Tripoli and led by Mohamed al-Menfi as Chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya.

The primary aims of the GNU, a provisional government, are to unify the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord with the Haftar-backed government based in Tobruk, and see Libya through to legislative elections at the end of the year.

Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh took over as the acting prime minister of the Government of National Unity  in Tripoli. Elections are planned for December 2021. 

However, in September 2021, the National Assembly voted to withdraw confidence in the GNU, causing further international concern about the prospects of a successful national election. Also the lives of ordinary Libyans, particularly in western Libya, continue to be blighted by the warring and activities of competing militias.

Key dates

74 BC
Rome completes conquest of Libya that began after its defeat of Carthage
643 AD
Arabs conquer Libya and spread Islam throughout the region
1500s
Ottoman Empire annexes all 3 provinces making up modern Libya
1911
Italy begins its annexation of Libya sparking 20 year insurgency by Omar al Mukhtar
Sept' 1931
"THE LION OF THE DESERT": Libyan rebel leader Omar Al-Mukhtar is hanged at the age of 73 before his followers by the Italians. Al-Mukhtar remains a Libyan national hero
1942
WORLD WAR 2: Allies oust Italy from Libya and the country is divided between French and British forces
1951
INDEPENDENCE: Libya becomes independent under King Idris al-Sanusi
Jan' 1969
GADDAFI COUP DEPOSES KING IDRIS: 27 year old Muammar Gaddafi deposes the King Idris in a bloodless coup
1970
Gaddafi orders closure of British airbase in the eastern city of Tobruk and the giant US Wheelus Airbase in Tripoli. Nationalises Italian property
1973
CULTURAL REVOLUTION: Gaddafi announces a "cultural revolution" which includes formation of "people's committees" in workplaces such as hospitals, schools and universities
1973
CHAD: Gaddafi annexes the Aouzou Strip across its southern border with Chad
1974 - 1988
MILITARY CONFLICT IN CHAD: Following his occupation of the Aouzou Strip in Chad, Gaddafi becomes increasingly involved in the civil conflicts and politics of his southern neighbour.
1981
US jets shoot down 2 Libyan aircraft which challenged them over the Gulf of Sirte, claimed by Libya as its territorial waters
April 1984
LIBYAN EMBASSY MURDER: The UK severs diplomatic relations with Libya after a British police woman, PC Yvonne Fletcher, is shot dead outside Libyan Embassy in London during anti-Gaddafi protests
April 1986
BERLIN DISCO BOMBING: Berlin's La Belle disco, known to be frequented by US military personnel, is bombed. 3 people die and another 229 are injured in the blast
April 1986
US RETALIATORY AIRSTRIKE: US launches airstrikes against military facilities and residential areas in Tripoli and Benghazi in retaliation for the Berlin bombing. Gaddafi's adopted daughter is among the dead
Dec' 1988
LOCKERBIE DISASTER: Pan Am Flight 103 is destroyed by a bomb over the small Scottish town of Lockerbie, killing all 243 passengers and 16 crew aboard
Aug' 1989
CHAD PEACE TALKS: Libyan and Chadian representatives meet in Algiers to resolve Aouzou Strip territorial issue
Nov' 1991
LOCKERBIE ARREST WARRANTS: The US FBI and Scotland's Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary issue arrest warrants for 2 Libyan men in connection with the Lockerbie bombing
1992
UN SANCTIONS: The UN imposes sanctions on Libya over alleged involvement in the bombing over Lockerbie of PanAm airliner
Feb' 1994
CHAD GETS AOUZOU: The International Court of Justice awards sovereignty over the Aouzou Strip to Chad
1995
PALESTINIANS THROWN OUT: Gaddafi expels approximately 30,000 Palestinians in protest over the Oslo Accords, signed by the PLO and Israel
1999
LOCKERBIE TRIAL: Lockerbie suspects in the Netherlands under Scottish Law. UN sanctions suspended . Diplomatic relations restored
Sept' 2000
Libyan mobs attack and kill dozens of immigrants mainly from sub-Saharan countries
Jan' 2001
LOCKERBIE: Special Scottish Court in Netherlands finds one of the 2 Lockerbie defendants, Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi guilty of involvement in Lockerbie bombing and sentences him to life in prison. Co-defendant is found not guilty
Jan' 2002
RAPPROCHEMENT WITH WEST: The US and Libya hold talks in attempt to resolve differences
Aug' 2003
LOCKERBIE COMPENSATION: Libya signs a deal worth $2.7 billion to compensate families of Lockerbie. Libya takes responsibility for the bombing in letter to UN Security Council
Sept' 2003
SANCTIONS LIFTED: The UN Security Council vote to lift sanctions on Libya
Dec' 2003
WMD PLEDGE: Libya vows to abandon programmes to develop Weapons of Mass Destruction
March 2004
British prime minister Tony Blair visits Libya to see Gaddafi, the first such visit by a serving UK PM since 1943
May 2006
US RESTORES DIPLOMATIC TIES: The US says it will restore full diplomatic ties with Libya
Aug' 2008
ITALIAN COMPENSATION: Italy's prime minister Silvio Berlusconi apologises to Libya for damage caused by Italy's colonialisation and and signs a $5billion investment deal as way of compensation
June 2009
GADDAFI ITALY VISIT: Gaddafi visits Italy, now Libya's biggest trading partner
Aug' 2009
LOCKERBIE-AL-MEGRAHI FREED: Convicted Lockerbie bomber Al-Megrahi is released from Scottish jail on compassionate grounds and flown to Libya where he is given a hero's welcome
Oct' 2010
EU IMMIGRATION DEAL: Tripoli and the EU sign a deal to slow illegal immigration through Libya
Feb' 2011
REVOLUTION AND WAR: Violent protests in Benghazi lead to civil war resulting in foreign intervention and Gaddafi's defeat and death
March 2011
NATO NO FLY ZONE: The UN Security Council authorises a no-fly zone over Libya and to launch airstrikes to protect civilians. NATO assumes control of operations
July 2011
INTERNATIONAL RECOGNITION OF REBELS: The International Contact Group on Libya recognise main opposition group, the National Transitional Council (NTC) as legitimate Libyan government
Aug' 2011
TRIPOLI FALLS: Rebels capture the capital Tripoli and Gaddafi goes into hiding
Oct' 2011
GADDAFI DIES: Rebels kill Gaddafi at Sirte, approximately 285 miles to the east of Tripoli. But conflict and instability remain intermittently for at least another decade
Jan - Feb' 2012
BENGHAZI: Militias clash in Libya's main eastern city of Benghazi as discontent grows over the National Transitional Council's handling of post-war Libya
Aug' 2012
GENERAL NATIONAL CONGRESS: transitional government hands authority over to General National Congress
Sept' 2012
RISE OF ISLAMIST MILITIAS- BENGHAZI ATTACK ON US: US Ambassador to Libya, J. Christoper Stevens, and computer expert Sean Smith die in an attack on the US consulate in Benghazi. Jihadist elements of Ansar al-Sharia are reported to be among the attackers
Aug' 2013
OIL BLOCKADE: Petroleum Facilities Guard Militia starts to blockade oil export terminals
Feb' 2014
CIVIL WAR 2: General National Congress refuses to disband after expiration of mandate- there are public protests
May 2014
RISE OF HAFTAR: General Khalifa Haftar and his so-called "Libyan National Army" launches military assault against Islamist groups in east and Benghazi. He tries to seize parliament building - accusing PM Ahmed Mateeq of being controlled by the Islamists
June 2014
ELECTIONS: Islamists fare poorly in elections, but renewed fighting breaks out between forces loyal to the out-going GNC and those supporting the new parliament
July 2014
EMBASSY EVACUATIONS: UN and foreign embassies pull out staff and shut up shop as security situation worsens
Sept' 2014
ISLAMISTS TAKE OVER TRIPOLI: Armed Islamists take control of Tripoli and rival parliament, the General National Congress
Sept' 2014
TOBRUK, HAFTAR & HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: House of Representatives moves to Tobruk where it receives support from Haftar and his "Libyan National Army"
Jan' 2015
Libyan army and Tripoli-based militia alliance declare partial ceasefire after UN-sponsored talks in Geneva
Feb' 2015
ISLAMIC STATE/DAESH: IS establishes presence in Libya, principally at the eastern city of Derna, 180 miles east of Benghazi. IS bead 21 Christians at Derna
Feb' 2015
DERNA RETAKEN: Libyan Army pushes IS out of Derna, but the militants establish control over Sirte, half way between Tripoli and Benghazi
2016
A new UN-backed government is installed but militias still continue civll conflict
Sept' 2016
Libyan National Army led by Khalifa Haftar seizes key eastern oil terminals
2016-2017
Islamic State group seize coastal town of Sirte but fail to take Benghazi after 3 years fighting
April 2019
HAFTAR AND CAMPAIGN IN THE WEST: Haftar launches Operation Flood of Dignity in his attempt to take Tripoli and western Libya, sparking conflict with forces of UN-backed Tripoli-based Government of National Accord
May 2019
HAFTAR TRIPOLI ADVANCE: Haftar advances into Tripoli and occupies the capital's battered airport
July 2019
LNA MIGRANT CENTRE STRIKE: An airstrike by Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) on the Tajoura migrants detention centre kills at least 53 migrants
Apr'19 - July'20
HAFTAR SEIGE OF TRIPOLI: Haftar attempts to take Tripoli in 14 month assault on western Libya
June 2020
HAFTAR REPELLED: Government of National Accord (GNA) forces capture Tripoli airport and regain control of entire city
June 2020
HAFTAR LOSES WESTERN FOOTHOLD: GNA forces drive Haftar out of Tarhouna near Tripoli, his last western stronghold, and take other key cities such as Bani Walid. Western analysts ascribe rapid GNA success to Turkish military aid
Feb' 2021
GOVERNMENT OF NATIONAL UNITY: The UN-backed Libyan Political Dialogue forum choose a provisional government for Libya called the Government of National Unity
Mar' 2021
GOVERNMENT OF NATIONAL UNITY: House of Representatives approves new Government of National Unity - Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh becomes acting PM of GNU Mohamed al-Menfi becomes Chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya
Sept' 2021
GNU CONFIDENCE VOTE; House of Representatives votes by a majority to withdraw confidence from the GNU. Votes causes international concern about prospects of planned elections