Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
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The North African nation of Libya has the Mediterranean Sea as its northern border creating a narrow, fertile, coastal strip where the majority of the nation’s 6 million people live. Outside of this coastal strip 93% of the country’s 1,760,000 sq km (680,000 sq miles) area is taken up by the arid Saharan Plateau. The earliest known inhabitants were the Berbers, known to neighboring Egyptians as Libu, from which the name Libya is derived. In the eleventh century B.C. Phoenicians founded Cyrene and at one time ruled parts of Libya. Later settled by the Greeks, Libya became a part of the empire of Alexander the Great. Following the Greeks the Romans ruled for five hundred years before losing to the Vandals in an invasion about 420 A.D. In the seventh century Arab armies swept across Libya establishing control over the region that would last for seven centuries before being lost to Ottoman Turks in 1551. In 1911 Italy occupied the nation and 30,000 Italians immigrated to the Jefra Plain to establish a farming community. It became independent in 1951 and in 1969 Muammar al Gaddafi led a bloodless coup and established a dictatorial Socialist state. Today the General People’s Congress is the single legislative body of the government.
Because more than 90% of Libya is covered by the Sahara Desert and only 1% of the land is arable, agriculture is largely confined to the Jefra Plain, producing some cereals, mainly barley; Fezzan, producing sorghum; and some dates and figs grown in scattered oases. Oil provides almost all the nation’s export earnings and one-third of the gross domestic product. The world’s largest water development project is currently being carried out in Libya with the Great Manmade River Project under construction to bring water from large aquifers under the Sahara to the coastal cities. Tourism to ancient Roman ruins, particularly the theater at Leptis Magna, is important.
Brief, historic pockets of Christianity have appeared in Libya but thirteen centuries of Islamic dominance in the region have left Libya an Islamic state. Colonel Gaddafi’s 1969 Constitution established the primacy of Shari‘ah, Islamic law. Ninety-seven percent of the population professes Sunni Islam.
In the 1960s American a cappella Churches of Christ missionary Bob Douglas worked in Libya. After that time several Americans employed by secular corporations, such as Exxon, lived in Libya and formed a small American congregation. That congregation ceased to meet when President Ronald Reagan ordered all Americans to leave the country. In the 1990s another congregation, made up of non-Libyan Africans, was meeting in Tripoli under the direction of a leader from Ghana.
Clinton J. Holloway
National Profiles Editor
For further historical reference:
Churches of Christ Around the World, Lynn, Mac, 21st Century Christian Publications, Nashville, TN, 2003.
For online directories of a cappella Churches of Christ see: