issue 177 - November 1987
Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
Libya presents an enigma. It is a thinly populated country on the margin of the Arab world, yet it appears to exercise a far greater influence than its economic and strategic importance would suggest. Last year it attracted not only headlines but President Reagan's bombers as well. 1951 Libya has been regarded by Westerners as not much more than a useless tract of desert. Its main exports were ones they could largely do without: esparto grass used for paper, and scrap metal from relics of World War Two battles.
But then came oil. American companies played the leading role in opening up the oilfields and Libya was soon in the fast lane to economic development.
The process of rapid change dealt King Idris' regime a fatal blow, and in 1969 a group of nationalist army officers under Colonel Muammar Gaddafi took power.
Gaddafi and his Revolutionary Command Council describe their philosophy as 'socialist' and 'revolutionary'. As a 'Jamahiriya' - a state of the masses - Libya's system of government is supposedly based on the exercise of power by the people. Libyans who disagree, arguing that the popular committees which formally run the country represent little more than a political party loyal to the colonel, get short shrift from the Government.
For almost 15 years Gaddafi was able to use oil money to finance the country's changes. The intensive agriculture developed. A welfare state was established and for the first time Libyans were provided with homes, education and an effective health service.
Today there are signs of strain as falling oil prices have exposed the fragility of the Libyan economy. With no alternative source of revenue, the pace of development has slackened and people's living standards are declining.
The Colonel's foreign policy has also come under pressure. The continuing scrimmage with Chad over the Aouzou strip, and support for guerrilla/opposition movements there and elsewhere soaks up large sums of money as well as bringing down the wrath of many governments - and their bombs too in the case of the United States.
With the money running out, Gaddafi may have to retire from the international involvements. His people are restless. Their expectations, fired by almost a generation of growth, have been dashed by the ailing economy and a rigid political system. For the first time since 1969 the Colonel looks vulnerable - though his image as an uncorrupted ruler still remains untarnished.
Leader: Colonel Muammar Gaddafi
Economy: GNP per capita $8,520 (US $15,390)
People: 3.6 million
Health: Infant mortality 90 per 1,000 live births (US 11 per 1,000)
Culture: Sixty per cent of the population is urban with most people living in the four major cities on the coastal strip. The bulk of the rural people live in the eastern province of Cyrenaica practising traditional agriculture, or in the rapidly developing oases of the south. All Libyans regard themselves as Arab.
Sources: State of the World's Children 1987, The Middle East Review 1987.
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