Gaining its independence in the aftermath of World War II, Libya struggled for 42 years under the totalitarian regime of Muammar Qaddafi. Vast oil reserves created enormous wealth, much of which Qaddafi spent on paramilitary and terrorist groups throughout the world. Declared a "state supporter of terrorism" at one point by the United States, Libya is now at a pivotal moment. The civil war that resulted in Qaddafi's death has positioned the country to write a new chapter in its history. Join Active Minds as we review the story of Libya and where it may head from here.

Key Lecture Points

  • Libya, from its early history to the 20th century, was a colony of other powers, from the Ancient Greeks, Phoenicians and Romans to the Ottoman Turks. More recently, Italy occupied Libya in 1911 and did not relinquish control until after defeat in WWII.
  • Conflict between the US and Libya goes back to America’s earliest history. The Barbary Wars against the pirates of Tripoli were the first wars fought by the newly independent United States. Later the US fought the Axis Powers in Libya during WWII. America’s interests again clashed with Libya over Colonel Muammar Qadhafi’s support of terrorism. In 1986, President Reagan bombed targets in Libya in retaliation for the Libyan bombing of a disco in West Germany.
  • Qadhafi came to power in 1969 after leading a military coup that ousted King Idris, who had himself risen to power when Libya achieved its independence in 1951. Qadhafi’s ruthless regime lasted 42 years until he was killed by opposition fighters in 2011. He was ostracized internationally in the 1990s for his support of terrorism, including the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie.
  • The Arab Spring hit Libya in February 2011 with the arrest of a human rights activist in Benghazi. The fighting quickly spread throughout Libya. In response to Qadhafi’s attacks on his own people, the Arab League and the UN called for the protection of the country’s civilians. In March, NATO put in place a “no-fly” zone over Libya. On October 20, 2011 opposition forces captured and killed Qadhafi, ending the fighting. Libya was declared liberated on October 23 to great jubilation across the country.
  • President Obama established a new model in Libya for dealing with oppressive regimes. Instead of an American invasion, the US acted as part of a multinational coalition that relied on Libyan opposition fighters on the ground with assistance from NATO air support. As a result, the liberation was achieved with no loss of American lives.
  • The Transitional National Council is recognized by the UN as the interim governing authority in liberated Libya. Mustafa Abdel Jalil is the acting chief of state. Abdurrahim el-Keib was selected October 31, 2011 as interim prime minister. He is charged with putting together a cabinet that will prepare the country for elections.
  • Now that the Qadhafi regime is over, the TNC’s major challenges are: finding a unifying point now that Qadhafi is dead, disarming the militias and securing the flood of weapons in the country, creating a government and holding elections, resolving tribal and regional differences and bringing oil production back to pre-civil war levels.

Exploration Questions

  • What are the major challenges facing the new Libyan government, now that Qadhafi has been ousted?
  • How was the Libyan liberation different from the other Arab Spring countries of Egypt and Tunisia? How is Libya different from Iraq?

Reflective Questions

  • Have you ever been to North Africa? The Sahara? What impressed you most about this unique land?
  • Do you remember the North African campaigns during WWII? How do you think desert warfare was different in WWII from our experience in Iraq?

More to Explore

  • US Library of Congress study of Libya Click here

Books For Further Reading

  • Jeffrey, sb. A Brief History of Modern Libya from the Barbary Wars to Gaddafi’s Reign. (paperback) Sbj Press, 2011. 144 pages. History of Libya from its ancient peoples to Gaddfi.
    Click here to order
  • Branum, Miles. A Reference Guide to Libya: History, Politics, Geography, Economy, Culture and More. (paperback) Webster’s Digital Services, 2011. 190 pages. Describes Libya’s history, economy and culture.
    Click here to order
  • Matar, Hisham. In The Country of Men. Dial Press Trade Paperback, 2008. 256 pages. A novel about a young boy growing up in 1979 Libya and the complexities of life in Libya at the time.
    Click here to order