Until independence in 1951, the history of Libya was essentially that of tribes, regions, and cities, and of the empires of which it was a part. 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. From 1943 to 1951, Tripolitania and Cyrenaica were under 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.
Muammar Al Qadhafi came to power in a coup on 1 September 1969 which toppled the monarchy of King Idris. The ideological basis of Qadhafi’s regime was his own political philosophy, the Third Universal Theory, set out in his Green Book. Drawing heavily on Islam, socialism and Bedouin tradition, the Third Universal Theory calls for a system of direct rule by the people through a series of committees. It was intended as an alternative to capitalism and communism, and was applicable to all countries. In March 1979 Qadhafi renounced virtually all his positions in government and thereafter became known by the title “Leader of the Revolution and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.” He was known locally as the "Brother Leader". There were at least six failed coup plots during Qadhafi’s period in power.
The era since 1969 brought many important changes. The Qadhafi regime made the first real attempt to unify Libya's diverse peoples and to create a distinct Libyan state and identity. It created new political structures and made a determined effort at diversified economic development financed by oil revenues. The regime also aspired to leadership in Arab and world affairs. As a consequence of these developments, Libyan society was subjected to a significant degree of government direction and supervision, much of it at the behest of Qadhafi himself.
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 stated its desire to remove Qadhafi from power and establish a unified, democratic, and free Libya that respects universal human rights principles.
On October 23, 2011, 3 days after Qadhafi’s death, the TNC officially declared Libya liberated. The TNC subsequently moved from Benghazi to Tripoli and formed a transitional government (i.e., an executive branch). On February 7, 2012, it approved an election law, and the Supreme Election Commission has started preparing for June elections for the General National Conference, to consist of 200 elected representatives.
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