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Libya - The Society


LIBYAN SOCIETY IN the late 1980s was in a state of transition from one set of structures and values to another. For nearly two decades the country's leader, Muammar al Qadhafi, had sought to transform Libya from an underdeveloped backwater into a modern socialist state compatible with the dictates of the Quran and the heritage of Islam. The regime's policies and goals often aroused controversy as the country moved away from the Libyan-Arab mold of the past in which heredity and patronage determined social distinction and toward the new egalitarian society that was the Qadhafi regime's ideal.

The changes the society was undergoing were made possible in large measure by petroleum wealth, which had converted the country from one of the world's poorest at the time of independence in 1951 to one of the most prosperous. By the 1980s, most Libyans enjoyed educational opportunities, health care, and housing that were among the best in Africa and the Middle East. Responsibility for the care of the old and the needy had been largely shifted from the extended family to a comprehensive system of social security. Education and medical care were free, and when necessary the state subsidized housing and other necessities. Life expectancy, perhaps the ultimate measure of living standards, had lengthened by ten years since 1960, and social mobility was much improved.

In 1984 the population reached 3.6 million and was growing at about 4 percent a year, one of the highest rates in the world. Unlike its neighbors, the Libyan government welcomed this rate of growth, which it hoped would eventually remedy the country's shortage of labor. The population was overwhelmingly concentrated along the Mediterranean coast, much of it around Benghazi and Tripoli. Villagers and rural tribesmembers continued to migrate to cities and towns, seeking better-paying jobs in industry or in the service sector of the modern economy. The number of jobs far exceeded the number of qualified Libyans; consequently, the population included at least 260,000 expatriate workers who were essential for the functioning of the economy.

Roughly one-half of the population was under the age of fifteen. The prospects for future employment and a fruitful life were such that Libyan youth for the most part were not the discontented lot found elsewhere in North Africa.

The status of women continued to undergo modification at the behest of the revolution's leaders. Especially in urban areas, women in ever- greater numbers were entering schools and the universities and finding employment in professions newly opened to them. Although tradition remained quite strong, the role of women was in the midst of what was for Libya a remarkable transformation.

In spite of the gains of the revolution, however, Libyan society was deeply divided. Little sense of national unity, identity, or purpose had developed, and the old ethnic and geographic divisions among Cyrenaica, Fezzan, and Tripolitania were still very evident. Alienation from the Qadhafi regime and its policies was widespread, a sentiment reinforced by shortages of consumer goods and by persistent exhortations to participate in governing the country. Whole segments of the populace were so disaffected that they either did not participate or did so only minimally, retreating into apathy and private matters. Qadhafi's campaign to discredit Islamic authorities and creeds and to enlist young women in the armed forces similarly offended Libyan sensitivities.

Most foreign observers believed that the regime faced a difficult task in convincing the majority of Libyans of the need for further social change. In the 1980s, Libyan society remained profoundly conservative and resistant to the impulses for change that emanated from its leaders. The wisdom of current social policies was being questioned, and it was obvious that many Libyans were not enthusiastic about the course of action that the revolutionary government had laid out.


Libya - Population


As of 1987, the most recent census was that taken in July 1984, but the only available data showed a provisional population figure of 3.637 million inhabitants--one of the smallest totals on the African continent. Of these, an estimated 1.950 million were men, and 1.687 million women. Having slightly more men than women in the population was characteristic of developing countries such as Libya where health practices and sanitation were fast improving but where female mortality relating to childbirth and favoritism toward male over female children caused a slight skewing of the population profile. In addition, underreporting of females is fairly common in many Muslim societies.

The 1984 population total was an increase from the 2.29 million reported in 1973 and 1.54 million in 1964. Included in the census were at least 260,000 expatriate workers, but the total number of foreigners in Libya in 1984 was unavailable. This uncertainty was in keeping with a general lack of reliable, current, social statistics for Libya in the 1980s, in marked contrast with the situation a decade earlier.

The population was exceptionally young and was growing at a rapid pace. Estimates placed those under the age of fifteen at up to half the total population. Based on results of the 1984 census, the United Nations (UN) placed the annual rate of increase for the 1980-84 period at an extremely high 4.5 percent, but the Central Bank of Libya placed the figure at 3.9 percent annually for nationals only. Official sources put the average annual growth rate for the 1970-86 period at 4 percent, a figure that agreed with World Bank data; the bank projected that this rate would prevail until the year 2000, when Libya's population would total 6 million.

This high rate of population increase reflected an official policy of fostering rapid growth to meet labor needs and to fuel economic development. It was also well above comparable rates in other Maghribi states, which had instituted family planning programs to contain their burgeoning numbers. Libya had no such national program. On the contrary, the government offered incentives to encourage births and had improved health facilities to ensure infant survivability. Libyan population policy thus emphasized growth over restraint, large families over small ones, and an ever-expanding population--luxuries Libya felt it could afford, given the vastness of its wealth in petroleum and area.

According to UN estimates for the years 1980-85, life expectancy was fifty-six years for men and fifty-nine years for women, a gain of more than ten years for each sex since 1960. The crude birth rate was 46 per 1,000, down 7 percent since 1965, while the crude death rate was 11 per 1,000, a decline of 40 percent over 20 years. The infant mortality rate had similarly declined from 140 deaths per 1,000 in 1965 to 92 in 1985, still high by Western standards but not by those of North Africa.

The population was by no means distributed evenly across the country. About 65 percent resided in Tripolitania, 30 percent in Cyrenaica, and 5 percent in Fezzan, a breakdown that had not changed appreciably for at least 30 years. Within the two northern geographic regions, the population was overwhelmingly concentrated along the Mediterranean littoral. Along the coast, the density was estimated at more than fifty inhabitants per square kilometer, whereas it fell to less than one per square kilometer in the interior. The average for the country as a whole was usually placed at two.

In the 1980s, Libya was still predominantly a rural country, even though a large percentage of its people were concentrated in the cities and nearby intensively cultivated agricultural zones of the coastal plains. Under the impact of heavy and sustained country-to-town migration, the urban sector continued to grow rapidly, averaging 8 percent annually in the early 1980s. Reliable assessments held the country to be about 40 percent urban as compared with a 1964 figure of 27 percent. Some sources, such as the World Bank, placed the rate of urbanization at more than 60 percent, but this figure was probably based on 1973 census data that reflected a radical change in the definition of urban population rather than an unprecedented surge of rural inhabitants into cities and towns. In spite of sizable internal migration into urban centers, particularly Benghazi and Tripoli, Libya remained less urbanized than almost any other Arab country. The government was concerned about this continual drain from the countryside. Since the late 1970s, it had sponsored a number of farming schemes in the desert, designed in part to encourage rural families to remain on the land rather than to migrate to more densely populated areas.

In the early 1980s, the urban concentrations of Tripoli and Benghazi dominated the country. These two cities and the neighboring coastal regions contained more than 90 percent of Libya's population and nearly all of its urban centers, but they occupied less than 10 percent of the land area. Several factors accounted for their dominance, such as higher rates of fertility, declining death rates because of improved health and sanitation measures, and long-term internal migration.

As the capital of the country, Tripoli was the larger and more important of the two cities. Greater Tripoli was composed of six municipalities that stretched nearly 100 kilometers along the coast and about 50 inland. At the heart of this urban complex was the city of Tripoli, the 1984 population of which was 990,000 and which contained several distinct zones. The medina was the oldest quarter, many of its buildings dating to the Ottoman era. Here a traditionally structured Islamic society composed of artisans, religious scholars and leaders, shopkeepers, and merchants had survived into the mid- twentieth century. The manufacture of traditional handicrafts, such as carpets, leather goods, copper ware, and pottery, was centered in the medina.

The Italian city, constructed between 1911 and 1951 beyond the medina, was designed for commercial and administrative purposes. It featured wide avenues, piazzas, multistoried buildings, parks, and residential areas where Italian colonials once lived. The Libyan- built modern sector reflected the needs of government, the impact of large-scale internal migration, new industrialization, and oil income. Independence brought rapid rural-to-urban migration as a result of employment opportunities in construction, transportation, and municipal services, especially after the discovery of oil. This period also brought new government facilities, apartment buildings, and the first public housing projects as well as such industries as food-processing, textiles, and oil refining.

Metropolitan Tripoli sprawled in an arc around the harbor and medina. In addition to its political, commercial, and residential structures and functions, the city was a seat of learning and scholarship centered in religious seminaries, technical colleges, and a university. Planners hoped to channel future growth east and west along the coast and to promote expansion of surrounding towns in an effort to reduce urban density and to preserve contiguous agricultural zones. They also envisaged revitalization of the medina as they strove to preserve the city's architectural and cultural heritage in the midst of twentieth- century urbanization.

As a consequence of its small population and work force, Libya has had to import a large number of foreign workers. Expatriate workers, most of them from nearby Arab countries, flowed into Libya after the discovery of oil. There were about 17,000 of them in 1964, but the total had risen to 64,000 by 1971 and to 223,000 in 1975, when foreign workers made up almost 33 percent of the labor force. The official number of foreign workers in Libya in 1980 was 280,000, but private researchers argued persuasively that the true number was more than 500,000 because of underreporting and illegal entry.

The most acute demand was for managerial and professional personnel. A large percentage of the expatriates were unskilled laborers, who were widely distributed throughout the economy. On paper, there was ample legislation to ensure that foreigners were given employment only where qualified Libyans could not be found. But the demand for labor of all kinds was such that the availability of aliens made it possible for Libyans to select the choice positions for themselves and leave the less desirable ones to foreigners.

In 1980 nonnationals were found mainly in construction work, where they numbered almost 130,000 or 46 percent of those employed in that industry, according to official statistics. Their numbers in such work were expected to decline after the mid-1980s, at the same time that ever-larger numbers of foreigners were expected to fill jobs in manufacturing, where they constituted more than 8 percent of the 1980 labor force. Significant numbers of expatriates were found in agriculture (8 percent) and education (l0 percent) as well. Few were employed in the petroleum sector, however, only 3,000 or 1 percent of all foreign workers in 1980.

In 1983 there were more than 560,000 foreigners resident in Libya, about 18 percent of the total population, according to the Secretariat of Planning. By far the most numerous were Egyptians (l74,000) and Tunisians (73,600); the largest Western groups were Italians (l4,900) and British (10,700). During 1984, however, a large portion of the foreign work force departed as a result of restrictions on repatriation of earnings. In 1985, for reasons that appeared more political than economic, Libya expelled tens of thousands of workers, including 20,000 Egyptians, 32,000 Tunisians, and several thousand from Mali and Niger. This exodus continued the following year when some 25,000 Moroccans were forced to depart.

The number of resident foreigners thus declined drastically in the mid-l980s. The exact dimensions of the decline as well as its impact upon the country, however, remained unclear. Minimum estimates of the number of nonnationals still in Libya in l987 ranged upward of 200,000, a reasonable figure given Libya's dependence upon imported labor for essential skills and services.

<>Black Africans
<>Languages of Libya

Updated population figures for Libya.


Libya - Arabs


The successive waves of Arabs who arrived beginning in the seventh century imposed Islam and the Arabic language along with their political domination. Conversion to Islam was largely complete by 1300, but Arabic replaced the indigenous Berber dialects more slowly. Initially, many Berbers fled into the desert, resisting Islam and viewing it as a urban religion. In the eleventh century, however, tribes of the beduin Bani Hilal and Bani Salim invaded first Cyrenaica and later Tripolitania and were generally effective in imposing their Islamic faith and nomadic way of life. This beduin influx disrupted existing settlements and living patterns; in many areas tribal life and organization were introduced or strengthened. A further influx of Arabic-speaking peoples occurred in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries as a result of the upheavals accompanying the fall to the Christians of the last Muslim kingdom in Spain.

It is estimated that the total number of Arabs who arrived in North Africa during the first two migrations did not exceed 700,000 and that in the twelfth-century population of 6 or 7 million they did not constitute more than 10 percent of the total. Arab blood later received some reinforcement from Spain, but throughout North Africa Berber background heavily outweighed Arab origin. Arabization of the Berbers advanced more rapidly and completely in Libya than elsewhere in the Maghrib and by the mid-twentieth century relatively few Berber speakers remained. By contrast, in Morocco and Algeria, and to a lesser extent in Tunisia, Berbers who had yet to become Arabized continued to form substantial ethnic minorities.

In the countryside traditional Arab life, including customary dress, was still predominant at the time of Libyan independence in 1951. The subsequent discovery of petroleum and the new wealth that resulted, the continuing urban migration, and the sometimes extreme social changes of the revolutionary era, however, have made progressive inroads in traditional ways. For example, in the cities, already to some extent Europeanized at the time of the revolution in 1969, men and some younger women frequently wore Western clothing, but older women still dressed in the customary manner.

Among the beduin tribes of the desert, seasonal shifts to new grazing lands in pursuit of rainfall and grass growth remained widespread. Some tribes were seminomadic, following their herds in summer but living in settled communities during the winter. Most of the rural population was sedentary, living in nuclear farm villages. But often the nomadic and the sedentary were mixed, some members of a clan or family residing in a village while younger members of the same group followed their flocks on a seasonal basis.

The distinction between individual tribes was at least as significant as the distinction between Arab and non-Arab. Tracing their descent to ascribed common ancestors, various tribal groups have formed kinship and quasi-political units bound by loyalties that override all others. Although tribal ties remained important in some areas, the revolutionary government had taken various measures to discourage the nomadic way of life that was basic to tribal existence, and by the 1980s it appeared that tribal life was fast becoming a thing of the past.

Arab influence permeates the culture, among both the common people and the social, political, economic, and intellectual elite. The cultural impact of the Italian colonial regime was superficial, and Libya--unlike other North African countries, with their legacy of French cultural domination--suffered no conflict of cultural identity. As a rule, those few Libyans achieving higher education obtained it not in Europe but in neighboring Arab countries.



Libya - Berbers


Part of what was once the dominant ethnic group throughout North Africa, the Berbers of Libya today live principally in remote mountain areas or in desert localities where successive waves of Arab migration failed to reach or to which they retreated to escape the invaders. In the 1980s Berbers, or native speakers of Berber dialects, constituted about 5 percent, or 135,000, of the total population, although a substantially larger proportion is bilingual in Arabic and Berber. Berber place-names are still common in some areas where Berber is no longer spoken. The language survives most notably in the Jabal Nafusah highlands of Tripolitania and in the Cyrenaican town of Awjilah. In the latter, the customs of seclusion and concealment of women have been largely responsible for the persistence of the Berber tongue. Because it is used largely in public life, most men have acquired Arabic, but it has become a functional language for only a handful of modernized young women.

By and large, cultural and linguistic, rather than physical, distinctions separate Berber from Arab. The touchstone of Berberhood is the use of the Berber language. A continuum of related but not always mutually intelligible dialects, Berber is a member of the Afro-Asiatic language family. It is distantly related to Arabic, but unlike Arabic it has not developed a written form and as a consequence has no written literature.

Unlike the Arabs, who see themselves as a single nation, Berbers do not conceive of a united Berberdom and have no name for themselves as a people. The name Berber has been attributed to them by outsiders and is thought to derive from barbari, the term the ancient Romans applied to them. Berbers identify with their families, clans, and tribe. Only when dealing with outsiders do they identify with other groupings such as the Tuareg. Traditionally, Berbers recognized private property, and the poor often worked the lands of the rich. Otherwise, they were remarkably egalitarian. A majority of the surviving Berbers belong to the Khariji sect of Islam, which emphasizes the equality of believers to a greater extent than does the Maliki rite of Sunni Islam, which is followed by the Arab population. A young Berber sometimes visits Tunisia or Algeria to find a Khariji bride when none is available in his own community.

Most of the remaining Berbers live in Tripolitania, and many Arabs of the region still show traces of their mixed Berber ancestry. Their dwellings are clustered in groups made up of related families; households consist of nuclear families, however, and the land is individually held. Berber enclaves also are scattered along the coast and in a few desert oases. The traditional Berber economy has struck a balance between farming and pastoralism, the majority of the village or tribe remaining in one place throughout the year while a minority accompanies the flock on its circuit of seasonal pastures.

Berbers and Arabs in Libya live together in general amicability, but quarrels between the two peoples occasionally erupted until recent times. A short-lived Berber state existed in Cyrenaica during 1911 and 1912. Elsewhere in the Maghrib during the 1980s, substantial Berber minorities continued to play important economic and political roles. In Libya their number was too small for them to enjoy corresponding distinction as a group. Berber leaders, however, were in the forefront of the independence movement in Tripolitania.



Libya - Tuareg


About 10,000 Tuareg nomads live scattered in the southwest desert, wandering in the general vicinity of the oasis towns of Ghat and Ghadamis. They claim close relationship with the much larger Tuareg population in neighboring Algeria and with other Tuareg elsewhere in the Sahara. Like other desert nomads, they formerly earned their livelihood by raiding sedentary settlements, conducting long-distance trading, and extracting protection fees from caravans and travelers. The ending of the caravan trade and pacification of the desert, however, have largely deprived this proud people of their livelihood and have reduced many to penury.

The Tuareg language, Tamasheq, is a Berber dialect, and the Tuareg adhere to a form of Sunni Islam that incorporates nonorthodox magical elements. Men--but not women--wear veils, and the blue dye used in the veils and clothing of nobles frequently transfers to the skin, causing the Tuareg to be known as "blue men." Marriage is monogynous, and Tuareg women enjoy high status; inheritance is through the female line, and as a general rule only women can read and write.



Libya - Black Africans


In southernmost Libya live about 2,600 Tebu, part of a larger grouping of around 215,000 Tebu in northern Chad, Niger, and Sudan. Their ethnic identity and cohesion are defined by language, not social organization or geography, although all Tebu share many cultural traits. Their language, Tebu, is a member of the NiloSaharan language family, not all dialects being mutually intelligible. The basic social unit is the nuclear family, organized into patrilineal clans. The Tebu economy is a combination of pastoralism, farming, and date cultivation. The Tebu are Muslim, their Islam being strongly molded by Sanusi proselytizing in the nineteenth century. Neighboring peoples view them as tough, solitary, desert and mountain people.

A significant number of sub-Saharan Africans live in desert and coastal communities, mixed with Arabs and Berbers. Most of them are descended from former slaves--the last slave caravan is said to have reached Fezzan in 1929--but some immigrated to Tripoli during World War II. In recent years, waves of migrant workers from Mali, Niger, Sudan, and other Sahelian countries have arrived. A majority work as farmers or sharecroppers in Fezzan, but some have migrated to urban centers, where they are occupied in a variety of jobs considered menial.

Another distinct but numerically small group of blacks, the harathin (plowers, cultivators) have been in the Saharan oases for millennia. Their origins are obscure, but they appear to have been subservient to the Tuareg or other Libyan overlords for at least the last millennium. As with other blacks, their status has traditionally been quite low. In Libya as a whole, dark-skinned people are looked down upon, the degree of discrimination increasing with the darkness of the skin.



Libya - Languages of Libya


All but a small minority of the Libyan people are native Arabic-speakers and thus consider themselves to be Arabs. Arabic, a Semitic language, is the mother tongue of almost all peoples of North Africa and the Middle East. Three levels of the language are distinguishable: classical, the language of the Quran; modern standard, the form used in the present-day press; and the regional colloquial dialects. In Libya classical Arabic is used by religious leaders; modern standard Arabic appears in formal and written communication and sometimes in the schools. Many people learn Quranic quotations without being able to speak the classical language.

In classical Arabic, as in other Semitic scripts, the text is read from right to left, and only consonants are written. Vowel signs and other diacritical marks appear sometimes in printed texts as aids to pronunciation. Modern standard is grammatically simpler than classical and includes numerous words unknown to the Quran.

The spoken dialects of Tripolitania and Fezzan belong to the Maghribi group, used throughout the Maghrib. They are mutually intelligible but differ considerably from dialects in the Middle East. Dialects of Cyrenaica resemble those of Egypt and the Middle East. Urban dialects differ somewhat from those of the hinterland, and in the southern part of the country some Sudanese influence exists.

Arabs find great beauty and style in their language. It is a keystone of Arab nationalism and a symbol of Arab creativity. Libya has played a leading part in the campaign to make Arabic an official language in the forums of the UN and other international organizations. Yet although Arabic has a richness of sound and a variety of vocabulary that make it a tongue for poets, its syntactic complexity makes it one of the world's most complex written languages. Its intricate vocabulary also is not well suited as a medium for technical and scientific expression. Even modern standard Arabic contains little in the way of a technical vocabulary , in part because many Arabs are purists about their language and resist the intrusion of foreign words.

These deficiencies of Arabic, coupled with a tradition in Arab schools of learning by rote methods, have seriously interfered with scientific and technical advancement. In Libya, as well as in the other Maghribi countries where a similar problem exists, educators reluctantly recognize that preparation of suitable Arabic vocabulary additions, textbooks, and syllabi are still a generation or more away. In the meantime, scientific and technical subjects in the Libyan universities are in large part taught by foreigners employing foreign languages.

Under the colonial regime, Italian was the language of instruction in schools, but only a scattering of Muslim children attended these institutions. As a consequence, the Italian language did not take root in Libya to the extent that French did elsewhere in North Africa. Nevertheless, the strong wave of nationalism accompanying the 1969 revolution found expression in a campaign designed to elevate the status of the Arabic language. An order was issued requiring that all street signs, shop window notices, signboards, and traffic tickets be written in Arabic. This element of Arabization reached its apogee in 1973, when a decree was passed requiring that passports of persons seeking to enter the country contain the regular personal information in Arabic, a requirement that was strictly enforced.

Despite the progress of Arabization during the 1970s, English occupied an increasingly important place as the second language of the country. It was taught from primary school onward, and in the universities numerous scientific, technical, and medical courses were conducted in English. A Tripoli shopkeeper or a hotel doorman was unlikely to speak the language, but business people were accustomed to corresponding in it. The government also issued at least some internal statistical documents and other publications in a bilingual English-Arabic format. In 1986 Qadhafi announced a policy of eliminating the teaching of English in favor of instruction in Russian at all levels. Whether this policy would actually be carried out remained to be seen in 1987, but it seemed safe to assume that English would remain in wide use for the immediate future if not longer.





Well into the postindependence period, tradition and traditional values dominated social life. Established religious and tribal practices found expression in the policies and personal style of King Idris and his regime. The discovery of oil, however, released social forces that the traditional forms could not contain. In terms of both expectation and way of life, the old order was permanently disturbed.

The various pressures of the colonial period, independence, and the development of the oil industry did much to alter the bases of urban society and to dissolve the tribal and village social structure. In particular, as the cash economy spread into the countryside, rural people were lured out of their traditional groups and into the modern sector. Values, too, began to change under the impact of new prosperity and the arrival of large numbers of foreigners. Since 1969 the pace of change has greatly quickened. Yet, for all the new wealth from petroleum and despite relentless government-inspired efforts to remake Libyan society, the pace of social change was slow, and the country remained one of the most conservative in the Arab world.

Evolutionary Changes in a Traditional Society

To a great extent, the cities have been crucibles of social change in modern Libya. The Sanusi brotherhood drew its strength from the tribal system of the desert, and the cities were marginal. More recently, however, they have become centers of attraction, drawing people out of the tribal and village systems and to some extent dissolving the bonds that held these systems together.

Before the arrival of the Europeans in the 1920s, urban centers had been organized around specific areas referred to as quarters. A city was composed of several quarters, each consisting of a number of families who had lived in that place for several generations and had become bound by feelings of solidarity. Families of every economic standing resided in the same quarter; the wealthy and the notable assumed leadership. Each quarter had leaders who represented it before the city at large, and to a great extent the quarter formed a small subsociety functioning at an intimate level in a manner that made it in some respects similar to a country village.

Occupations had different levels of acceptability. Carpenters, barbers, smiths of all kinds, plumbers, butchers, and mechanics were held in varying degrees of low esteem, with these kinds of work frequently performed by minority-group members. The opprobrium that continued to attach to the occupations even after independence, despite the good pay frequently obtainable, has been attributed to the fact that such jobs did not originate in the pastoral and agrarian life that was the heritage of most of the population.

The arrival of the Europeans disturbed the traditional equili- brium of urban life. Unaccustomed to the ways of life appropriate to traditional housing, the newcomers built new cities along European lines, with wide streets, private lawns, and separate houses. As growing numbers of Libyans began to copy Europeans in dress and habits and to use European mass-produced products, local artisans were driven into reduced circumstances or out of business. European-style housing became popular among the well-to-do, and the old quarters gradually became neighborhoods of the poor.

Urban migration, which began under the Italians, resulted in an infusion of progressively larger numbers of workers and laid the basis for the modern working class. The attractions of city life, especially for the young and educated, were not exclusively material. Of equal importance was the generally more stimulating urban environment, particularly the opportunity to enjoy a wider range of social, recreational, cultural, and educational experiences.

As urban migration continued to accelerate, housing shortages destroyed what was left of quarter solidarity. The quarters were flooded with migrants, and old family residences became tenements. At the same time, squatter slums began to envelop the towns, housing those the town centers could not accommodate. In place of the old divisions based primarily on family background, income became the basic determinant of differentiation between residential neighborhoods.

Italian hegemony altered the bases of social distinction somewhat, but the change was superficial and transitory; unlike the other Maghribi countries, Libya did not receive a heavy infusion of European culture. As a result, the Libyan urban elite did not suffer the same cultural estrangement from the mass of the people that occurred elsewhere in North Africa. At the end of the colonial period, vestiges of Italian influence dropped quickly, and Arab Muslim culture began to reassert itself.

Before independence rural Libyans looked upon their tribal, village, and family leaders as the true sources of authority, and, in this sense, as their social elite. Appointments to government positions were largely political matters, and most permanent government jobs were allocated through patronage. Local governments were controlled largely by traditional tribal leaders who were able to dispense patronage and thus to perpetuate their influence in the changing circumstances that attended the discovery of oil.

The basic social units were the extended family, clan, and tribe. All three were the primary economic, educational, and welfare-providing units of their members. Individuals were expected to subordinate themselves and their interests to those units and to obey the demands they made. The family was the most important focus of attention and loyalty and source of security, followed by the tribe. In most cases, the most powerful family of a clan provided tribal leadership and determined the reputation and power of the tribe.

Various criteria were used to evaluate individuals as well as families in the competition for preeminence. Lineage, wealth, and piety were among the most prominent. Throughout Libya's history, and especially during the period of the monarchy, family prominence and religious leadership became closely intertwined. Indeed, religious leadership tended to reside within selected family groupings throughout the country and to be passed successively from generation to generation. By the 1960s, local elites were still composed of individuals or families who owed their status to these same criteria. Local elites retained their position and legitimacy well into the mid-1970s, by which time the revolutionary government had attempted to dislodge them, often without success.

Rural social structures were tribally based, with the nomadic and seminomadic tribesmen organized into highly segmented units, as exemplified by the Sanusi of Cyrenaica. Originally, tribe members had been nomads, some of the beduin tracing their origins to the Arabian Peninsula. Pride in tribal membership remained strong, despite the fact that many nomads had become sedentary. At the same time, tribally based social organization, values, and world view raised formidable obstacles to the creation of a modern nation-state, because there were virtually no integrative or unifying institutions or social customs on the national level.

In the mid-1970s, the nomads and seminomads who made up most of the effective tribal population were rapidly dwindling in numbers. Tent dwellers numbered an estimated 200,000 in 1973, less than 10 percent of the population, as compared with about 320,000 nomads in 1964. Most of them lived in the extreme north of the country.

By this time, the revolutionary government had come to look upon tribal organization and values as antithetical to its policies. Even Qadhafi, despite his beduin roots, viewed tribes as anachronistic and as obstacles to modernization. Consequently, the government sought to break the links between the rural population and its traditional leaders by focusing attention on a new elite--the modernizers who represented the new leadership. The countryside was divided into zones that crossed old tribal boundaries, combining different tribes in a common zone and splitting tribes in a manner that weakened traditional institutions and the force of local kinship. The ancient ascriptive qualifications for leadership--lineage, piety, wealth--gave way to competence and education as determined by formal examination.

Tribal leaders, however, scoffed at efforts encouraging members to drop tribal affiliations, and pride in tribal lineage remained strong. This was remarkable in light of the fact that many tribes had long ago shed their beduin trappings and had become agrarian villagers. In effect, the government had brought about the abolition of the tribal system but not the memories of tribal allegiance. According to a 1977 report, a survey of tribes had found that more than three-fourths of the members canvassed were still proud of their tribe and of their membership in it. Yet the attitude shown was a generally mild one; there was little opposition to the new programs and some recognition of the government's efforts on their behalf.

The conversion of nomads into sedentary villagers was accompanied or followed by the selective depopulation of many villages, as a disproportionate number of men between fifteen and forty-five left their herds, farms, and villages to seek urban employment. Their defection was a decisive factor in a decline in agricultural production during the 1970s. As a result, the revolutionary government adopted a variety of measures aimed at stemming the migration. Of particular importance was an extremely ambitious 10-year agricultural land reclamation and farmer resettlement scheme initiated in 1972; its aim was to reclaim 1 million hectares of land and provide farms for tens of thousands of rural families. The hold of tradition showed in Cyrenaica, however, where farmers chose to resettle only in projects located in their tribal areas, where they could preserve both tribal and territorial linkages.

Still, many of the most energetic and productive were leaving the countryside to seek employment in cities, oil fields, or construction work or to become settlers in the new agricultural development schemes. In some cases entire farm villages considered by the government to be no longer viable were abandoned and their populations were moved elsewhere; thus, the social and political influence of local leaders was ended forever. At the same time modernization was coming to villages in the form of schools, hospitals, electric lights, and other twentieth-century features. In an increasing number of rural localities, former farm laborers who had received titles to farms also owned a house in which electricity, water, and modern appliances (including a radio and perhaps a television set) made their residences almost indistin- guishable from those of prosperous urban dwellers.

<>The Revolution and Social Change


Libya - The Revolution and Social Change


In their September 1969 revolution, Qadhafi and the young officers who provided most of his support aimed with idealistic fervor at bringing to an end the social inequities that had marked both the colonial periods and the monarchical regime. The new government that resulted was socialist, but Qadhafi stressed that it was to be a kind of socialism inspired by the humanitarian values inherent in Islam. It called for equitable distribution to reduce disparities between classes in a peaceful and affluent society, but in no sense was it to be a stage on the road to communism.

On the eve of the 1969 revolution, the royal family and its most eminent supporters and officeholders, drawn from a restricted circle of wealthy and influential families, dominated Libyan society. These constituted what may be termed the traditional sociopolitical establishment, which rested on patronage, clientage, and dependency. Beneath this top echelon was a small middle class. The Libyan middle class had always been quite small, but it had expanded significantly under the impact of oil wealth. In the mid- l960s, it consisted of several distinct social groupings: salaried religious leaders and bureaucrats, old families engaged in importing and contracting, entrepreneurs in the oil business, shopkeepers, self-employed merchants and artisans and prosperous farmers and beduin. Workers in small industrial workshops, agricultural laborers, and peasant farmers, among others, composed the lower class.

Most of the urban population consisted of the families of first-generation workers, small shopkeepers, and a horde of public workers. Above them were thin layers of the newly rich and of old, prosperous families. An urban working class, however, had largely failed to develop, and the middle class was a feeble one that in no way resembled the counterpart element that had become a vital political force in many other countries of the Arab world.

At the top of the rural social structure, the shaykhs of the major tribes ruled on the basis of inherited status. In the cities, corresponding roles were played by the heads of the wealthy families and by religious figures. These leaders were jealous of their position and, far from concerning themselves with furthering social progress, saw modernization as a threat. In no way, however, did the leaders present a united front.

The development of the petroleum industry was accompanied by profound technical and organizational changes and by the appearance of a younger elite whose outlook had been greatly affected by technological advances: among their number were technocrats, students, and young army officers. Not the least notable of the factors that set this new element apart was age. The civilians of this group, as well as the military officers, were for the most part in their thirties or younger, and their views had little in common with those of the aging authorities who had long controlled a swollen bureaucracy (11 percent of the 1969 labor force). More urbanized and better educated than their elders, this new group entertained hopes and aspirations that had been frustrated by the group surrounding King Idris. In particular, resentment had been aroused by the arbitrariness, corruption, and inefficiency of Idris' government as well as by its questionable probity in the distribution of oil-funded revenues.

The young officers who formed the Free Officers Movement and its political nucleus, the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), showed a great deal of dedication to the revolutionary cause and a high degree of uniformity in political and economic outlook. In Libya, as in a number of other Arab countries, admission to the military academy and careers as army officers were options available to members of the less privileged economic strata only after national independence was attained. A military career, offering new opportunities for higher education and upward economic and social mobility, was thus a greater attraction for young men from poorer families than for those of the wealthy and the traditional elite. These youthful revolutionaries came from quite modest social backgrounds, representing the oases and the interior as opposed to the coastal cities, and the minor suppressed tribes as opposed to the major aristocratic ones.

The officers of the RCC--all captains and lieutenants-- represented the forefront of a social revolution that saw the middle and lower middle classes assert control over social and political prerogatives heretofore denied them. They quickly displaced the former elite of the Idris era and became themselves the prime movers of the Libyan state. Numbering only about a dozen men, they were gradually joined by sympathetic civilian and military personnel in constituting a new elite.

By the late 1980s, this governing class consisted of Qadhafi and the half-dozen remaining members of the Free Officers Movement, government ministers and other high state officials and managers, second-echelon officers of the Free Officers Movement, and top officials and activists of local mass organizations and governing councils. Civilian officials and bureaucrats as a whole were considerably better educated than their military colleagues. Many of them possessed college degrees, came from urban middle-class backgrounds, and were indispensable for the administrative functioning of government and the economy. Below this elite was the upper middle class composed of educated technocrats, administrators, and remnants of a wealthy commercial and entrepreneurial class. The lower middle class contained small traders, teachers, successful farmers, and low-level officials and bureaucrats. This new and small revolutionary elite sought to restructure Libyan society. In broad terms, the young officers set off to create an egalitarian society in which class differences would be minimal and the country's oil wealth would be equally shared. Their aim was to curb the power and wealth of the old elite and to build support among the middle and lower middle classes from which they had come and with which they identified. The policies they devised to remold society after 1969 entailed extension of state control over the national economy, creation of a new political structure, and redistribution of wealth and opportunity through such measures as minimum wage laws, state employment, and the welfare state.

The Arab Socialist Union (ASU) created in 1971 was thus intended as a mass mobilization device. Its aim was the peaceful abolition of class differences to avoid the tragedy of a class struggle; the egalitarian nature of its composition was shown by a charter prescribing that, at all levels, 50 percent of its members must be peasants and laborers. At the heart of the cultural revolution of 1973 was the establishment of people's committees. These were made up of working-level leaders in business and government, who became the local elites in the new society. That same year brought enactment of a law requiring that larger business firms share profits with their personnel, appoint workers to their boards of directors, and establish joint councils composed of workers and managers.

At the same time, the government launched a long-term campaign against a new privileged class pejoratively identified as "bourgeois bureaucrats." Multiple dismissals at this time included top university administrators, hospital directors, and oil-industry officials, as well as numerous lower ranking employees. However, in 1975, public administrators, including educational and public health service, made up nearly 24 percent of the labor force---more than twice the proportion at the time of the monarchy's demise. Late in 1976, a newspaper editorial complained that the labor force still contained tens of thousands of administrators and supervisors--most of them in the public sector---while in other countries this element seldom exceeded 2 percent of the total.

Having attacked the bureaucracy and concentrations of wealth and privilege, the regime in the later 1970s dealt with the entrepreneurial middle class. The first restrictions on private traders appeared as early as 1975, but the real blows came a few years later. A 1978 law struck at much-prized investments in private property by limiting ownership of houses and apartments to one per nuclear family, although the government promised compensation to the dispossessed. New restrictions were placed on commercial and industrial establishments, foreign trade became a monopoly of public corporations, workers assumed control of major industrial and commercial enterprises, and private wholesale trade was abolished. Finally, state investments and subsidies were shifted away from small businesspeople.

Although the Libyan middle class was suppressed by the abovementional restrictions in the late 1970s, it was not destroyed. Indeed, a significant number of its members adapted themselves to the social dictates of the revolutionary regime by cooperation with it or by recruitment into the modernizing state apparatus. Its ranks still contained educated technocrats and administrators, without whose talents the state could not function, as well as remnants of the commercial and entrepreneurial class, some of them well-to-do. A separate category of small traders, shopkeepers, and farmers could also be identified. They, too, sought careers in the state sector, although many of them continued to operate small businesses alongside public enterprises. Those who could not adapt or who feared persecution fled abroad in significant numbers.

In contrast with the old regime, it was now possible for members of the middle and lower classes to seek and gain access to positions of influence and power. The former criteria of high family or tribal status had given way to education to a considerable degree, although patronage and loyalty continued to be rewarded as well. But in general, social mobility was much improved, a product of the revolutionary order that encouraged participation and leadership in such new institutions as the Basic People's Congress and the revolutionary committees. Only the highest positions occupied by Qadhafi and a small number of his associates were beyond the theoretical reach of the politically ambitious.

The core elite in the 1980s, which consisted of Qadhafi and the few remaining military officers of the RCC, presented a significant contrast of its own with respect to the top political leadership of the Idris era. This was the result of a commitment to national unity and identity, as well as of common social background. Within this small group, the deeply ingrained regional cleavages of the past, particularly that between Cyrenaica and Tripolitania, had almost disappeared and were no longer of political significance. Similarly, the ethnic distinction between Arab and Berber within the elite was no longer important. The old urban-rural and center- periphery oppositions, remained very important, but they did not characterize the core elite itself. Rather, they differentiated the core elite from the country's former rulers, because the revolutionary leadership was deeply rooted in the rural periphery, not the Mediterranean coastal centers.

The rest of society, including government officials immediately below Qadhafi, appeared to be a good deal less unified. Despite the exertions of the core elite, a sense of national unity and identity had not yet developed in the late 1980s, and loyalty to region, tribe, and family remained stronger than allegiance to the state. There was much alienation from the regime, often expressed in terms of lethargy and passivity. Incessant pressures on the part of the regime to enlist as many people as possible in running public affairs had provoked much resentment and resistance. Many adults did not participate, despite the exhortations and oversight of the revolutionary committees, themselves a source of uncertainly and anxiety.

All of these pressures applied to the educated middle class, estimated to number perhaps 50,000 out of a total population of 3.6 million. Many were clearly alienated by the shortages of consumer goods, the militarization of society, and the constant demands to participate actively in the institutions of the jamahiriya, sentiments that characterized other social classes as well. Like their fellow citizens, the educated sought refuge in the affairs of their families, demonstrating yet again the strength of traditional values over revolutionary norms, or in foreign travel, especially in Europe.

The country's youth were also pulled in opposite directions. By the mid-1980s, the vast majority knew only the revolutionary era and its achievements. Because these gains were significant, not surprisingly young people were among the most dedicated and visible devotees of the revolution and Qadhafi. They had benefited most from increased educational opportunities, attempted reforms of dowry payments, and the emancipation of young women. Libyan youth also enjoyed far more promising employment prospects than their counterparts elsewhere in the Maghrib.

With few outlets such as recreation centers or movies for their energies, a large number of the youth were found in the revolutionary committees, where they pursued their task of enforcing political conformity and participation with a vigor that at times approached fanaticism. Others kept watch over the state administration and industry in an attempt to improve efficiency. Not all were so enthusiastic about revolutionary goals, however. For instance, there was distaste for military training among students in schools and universities, especially when it presaged service in the armed forces. In the 1980s, some of this disdain had resulted in demonstrations and even in executions.

By the late 1980s, Libyan society clearly showed the impact of almost two decades of attempts at restructuring. The country was an army-dominated state under the influence of no particular class or group and was relatively free from the clash of competing interests. Almost all sources of power in traditional life had been eliminated or coopted. Unlike states such as Saudi Arabia that endeavored to develop their societies within the framework of traditional political and economic systems, Libya had discarded most of the traditional trappings and was using its great wealth to transform the country and its people.

With its highly egalitarian socialist regime, Libya differed considerably in its social structure from other oil-rich states. Salaries and wages were high, and social services were extensive and free. There was much less accumulation of private wealth than in other oil states, and social distinction was discouraged as a matter of deliberate public policy. But Libyan society was deeply divided, and entire segments of the population were only superficially committed to the course that the revolutionary regime had outlined. And while the old order was clearly yielding to the new, there was much doubt and unease about where society and state were headed.




Social life in Libya centered traditionally on the individual's family loyalty, which overrode other obligations. Ascribed status often outweighed personal achievement in regulating social relationships, and the individual's honor and dignity were tied to the good repute of the kin group, especially to that of its women.

Women have played a role secondary to that of men in most aspects of life, and tradition has prescribed that they remain in the home, often in seclusion. The status of women in the 1970s, however, improved substantially, and the once-common seclusion became less common, Nonetheless, to a considerable extent the two sexes continued to constitute largely separate subsocieties, each with its own values, attitudes, and perceptions of the other.

<>The Traditional View of Men and Women
<>Society of the Revolutionary Era


Libya - Family


Libyans reckon kinship patrilineally, and the household is based on blood ties between men. A typical household consists of a man, his wife, his single and married sons with their wives and children, his unmarried daughters, and perhaps other relatives, such as a widowed or divorced mother or sister. At the death of the father, each son ideally establishes his own household to begin the cycle again. Because of the centrality of family life, it is assumed that all persons will marry when they reach an appropriate age. Adult status is customarily bestowed only on married men and, frequently, only on fathers.

In traditional North African society, family patriarchs ruled as absolute masters over their extended families, and in Libya the institution seems to have survived somewhat more tenaciously than elsewhere in the area. Despite the changes in urban and rural society brought about by the 1969 revolution, the revolutionary government has repeatedly stated that the family is the core of society.

The 1973 census, the last for which complete data were available in mid-1987, showed that the typical household consisted of five to six individuals and that about 12 percent of the households were made up of eight or more members. The pattern was about the same as that reported from the 1964 census, and a 1978 Tripoli newspaper article called attention to the continued strength of the extended family. Individuals subordinated their personal interests to those of the family and considered themselves to be members of a group whose importance outweighed their own. Loyalty to family, clan, and tribe outweighed loyalty to a profession or class and inhibited the emergence of new leaders and a professional elite.

Marriage is more a family than a personal affair and a civil contract rather than a religious act. Because the sexes generally were unable to mix socially, young men and women enjoyed few acquaintances among the opposite sex. Parents arranged marriages for their children, finding a mate either through their own social contacts or through a professional matchmaker. Unions between the children of brothers were customarily preferred, or at least matches between close relatives or within the same tribe. One study, however, showed that many marriages occurred outside these bounds, the result of increased levels of education and internal migration. Nomads, particularly the Tuareg, have always allowed much more freedom of choice and courtship.

According to law, the affianced couple must have given their consent to the marriage, but in practice the couple tends to take little part in the arrangements. The contract establishes the terms of the union and outlines appropriate recourse if they are broken. The groom's family provides a dowry, which can amount to the equivalent of US$10,000 in large cities. Accumulation of the requisite dowry may be one reason that males tend to be several years older than females at the time of marriage.

Islamic law gives the husband far greater discretion and far greater leeway with respect to marriage than it gives the wife. For example, the husband may take up to four wives at one time, provided that he can treat them equally; a woman, however, can have only one husband at a time. Despite the legality of polygyny, only 3 percent of marriages in the 1980s were polygynous, the same as a decade earlier. A man can divorce his wife simply by repeating "I divorce thee" three times before witnesses; a woman can initiate divorce proceedings only with great difficulty. Any children of the union belong to the husband's family and remain with him after the divorce.

Both the monarchical and revolutionary governments enacted statutes improving the position of females with respect to marriage. The minimum age for marriage was set at sixteen for females and at eighteen for males. Marriage by proxy has been forbidden, and a 1972 law prescribes that a girl cannot be married against her will or when she is under the age of sixteen. Should her father forbid her marriage to a man whom she has chosen for herself, a girl who is a minor (under the age of twenty-one) may petition a court for permission to proceed with her marriage.

The revolutionary government has enacted several statutes expanding women's rights and restricting somewhat those of men in matters of divorce. Women received increased rights to seek divorce or separation by either customary or legal means in cases of abandonment or mistreatment. Other laws prohibit a man from taking a second spouse without first obtaining the approval of his first wife and forbid a divorced man from marrying an alien woman, even an Arab from another country. A companion law prohibits men in the employ of the state from marrying non-Arab women. Yet the child born abroad of a Libyan father is eligible for Libyan citizenship irrespective of the mother's nationality, while a child born to a Libyan mother would not be accorded automatic Libyan citizenship.

In a society as tradition-bound as Libya's, the effects of these new laws were problematic. Despite the backing of the regime and Qadhafi's calls for still further modifications in favor of women, the society reportedly was not yet ready to acknowledge the new rights, and women were still hesitant in claiming them.


Libya - The Traditional View of Men and Women


The social setting of the family significantly affects the circumstances of a wife. Until the discovery of petroleum--and to a lesser degree until the 1969 revolution--conservative attitudes and values about women dominated society. By the 1980s, however, modifications in the traditional relationship between the sexes were becoming evident, and important changes were appearing in the traditional role of women. These varied with the age, education, and place of residence of the women.

In traditional society, beduin women--who did not wear the veil that symbolized the inferior and secluded status of women--played a relatively open part in tribal life. Women in villages also frequently were unveiled and participated more actively in the affairs of their community than did their urban counterparts. Their relative freedom, however, did not ordinarily permit their exposure to outsiders. A sociologist visiting a large oasis village as recently as the late 1960s told of being unable to see the women of the community and of being forced to canvass their opinions by means of messages passed by their husbands. The extent to which the community was changing, however, was indicated by the considerable number of girls in secondary school and the ability of young women to find modern-sector jobs--opportunities that had come into being only during the 1960s.

Urban women tended to be more sophisticated and socially aware, but they were also more conservative in social relations and dress. For example, unlike rural women, who moved freely in the fields and villages, urban women walked in the street discreetly in veiled pairs, avoiding public gathering places as well as social contact with men. Among the upper class urban families, women fulfilled fewer and less important economic functions, and their responsibilities were often limited to the household. Greater sexual segregation was imposed in the cities than in the countryside because tribal life and life in farm villages made segregation virtually impossible.

While women remained in the home, men formed a society organized into several recognizable groupings. These consisted of such coteries as school classmates, village or family work associates, athletic clubs, or circles of friends meeting in a cafe. In earlier times, the group might have been a religious brotherhood.

Like all Arabs, Libyans valued men more highly than women. Girls' upbringing quickly impressed on them that they were inferior to men and must cater to them; boys learned that they were entitled to demand the care and concern of women. Men regarded women as creatures apart, weaker than men in mind, body, and spirit. They were considered more sensual, less disciplined, and in need of protection from both their own impulses and the excesses of strange men.

The honor of the men of the family, easily damaged and nearly irreparable, depended on the conduct of their women. Wives, sisters, and daughters were expected to be circumspect, modest, and decorous, with their virtue above reproach. The slightest implication of unavenged impropriety, especially if made public, could irreparably destroy a family's honor. Female virginity before marriage and sexual fidelity thereafter were essential to honor's maintenance, and discovery of a transgression traditionally bound men of the family to punish the offending woman.

A girl's parents were eager for her to marry at the earliest possible age in order to forestall any loss of her virginity. After marriage, the young bride went to the home of her bridegroom's family, often in a village or neighborhood where she was a stranger and into a household where she lived under the constant and sometimes critical surveillance of her mother-in-law, a circumstance that frequently led to a great deal of friction. In traditional society, girls were married in their early teens to men considerably their senior. A woman began to attain status and security in her husband's family only if she produced boys. Mothers accordingly favored sons, and in later life the relationship between mother and son often remained warm and intimate, whereas the father was a more distant figure. Throughout their years of fertility, women were assumed to retain an irrepressible sexual urge, and it was only after menopause that a supposed asexuality bestowed on them a measure of freedom and some of the respect accorded senior men. Old age was assumed to commence with menopause, and the female became an azuz, or old woman.


Libya - Society of the Revolutionary Era


The roles and status of women have been the subject of a great deal of discussion and legal action in Libya, as they have in many countries of the Middle East. Some observers suggested that the regime made efforts on behalf of female emancipation because it viewed women as an essential source of labor in an economy chronically starved for workers. They also postulated that the government was interested in expanding its political base, hoping to curry favor by championing female rights. Since independence, Libyan leaders have been committed to improving the condition of women but within the framework of Arabic and Islamic values. For this reason, the pace of change has been slow.

Nonetheless, by the 1980s relations within the family and between the sexes, along with all other aspects of Libyan life, had begun to show notable change. As the mass media popularized new ideas, new perceptions and practices appeared. Foreign settlers and foreign workers frequently embodied ideas and values distinctively different from those traditional in the country. In particular, the perceptions of Libyans in everyday contact with Europeans were affected.

The continued and accelerating process of urbanization has broken old kinship ties and association with ancestral rural communities. At the same time, opportunities for upward social movement have increased, and petroleum wealth and the development plans of the revolutionary government have made many new kinds of employment available--for the first time including jobs for women. Especially among the educated young, a growing sense of individualism has appeared. Many of these educated and increasingly independent young people prefer to set up their own households at marriage rather than live with their parents, and they view polygyny with scorn. In addition, social security, free medical care, education, and other appurtenances of the welfare state have lessened the dependence of the aged on their children in village communities and have almost eliminated it in the cities.

In the 1970s, female emancipation was in large measure a matter of age. One observer generalized that city women under the age of thirty-five had discarded the traditional veil and were quite likely to wear Western-style clothing. Those between the ages of thirty-five and forty-five were increasingly ready to consider such a change, but women over the age of forty-five appeared reluctant to give up the protection their veils and customary dress afforded. A decade later, veiling was uncommon among urban women, as it had always been in rural areas. Women were also increasingly seen driving, shopping, or traveling without husbands or male companions.

Since the early 1960s, Libyan women have had the right to vote and to participate in political life. They could also own and dispose of property independently of their husbands, but all of these rights were exercised by only a few women before the 1969 revolution. Since then, the government has encouraged women to participate in elections and national political institutions, but in 1987 only one woman had advanced as far as the national cabinet, as an assistant secretary for information and culture.

Women were also able to form their own associations, the first of which dated to 1955 in Benghazi. In 1970 several feminist organizations merged into the Women's General Union, which in 1977 became the Jamahiriya Women's Federation. Under Clause 5 of the Constitutional Proclamation of December 11, 1969, women had already been given equal status under the law with men. Subsequently, the women's movement has been active in such fields as adult education and hygiene. The movement has achieved only limited influence, however, and its most active members have felt frustrated by their inability to gain either direct or indirect political influence.

Women had also made great gains in employment outside the home, the result of improved access to education and of increased acceptance of female paid employment. Once again, the government was the primary motivating force behind this phenomenon. For example, the 1976-80 development plan called for employment of a larger number of women "in those spheres which are suitable for female labor," but the Libyan identification of what work was suitable for women continued to be limited by tradition. According to the 1973 census, the participation rate for women (the percent of all women engaged in economic activity) was about 3 percent as compared with 37 percent for men. The participation was somewhat higher than the 2.7 percent registered in 1964, but it was considerably lower than that in other Maghrib countries and in most of the Middle Eastern Arab states.

In the 1980s, in spite of the gain registered by women during the prior decade, females constituted only 7 percent of the national labor force, according to one informed researcher. This represented a 2-percent increase over a 20-year period. Another source, however, considered these figures far too low. Reasoning from 1973 census figures and making allowances for full- and part- time, seasonal, paid, and unpaid employment, these researchers argued convincingly that women formed more than 20 percent of the total economically active Libyan population. For rural areas their figure was 46 percent, far higher than official census numbers for workers who in most cases were not only unpaid but not even considered as employed.

Among nonagricultural women, those who were educated and skilled were overwhelmingly employed as teachers. The next highest category of educated and skilled women was nurses and those found in the health-care field. Others areas that were open to women included administrative and clerical work in banks, department stores, and government offices, and domestic services. Women were found in ever larger numbers as nurses and midwives, but even so, Libyan health care facilities suffered from a chronic shortage of staff.

By contrast, in clerical and secretarial jobs, the problem was not a shortage of labor but a deep-seated cultural bias against the intermingling of men and women in the workplace. During the 1970s, the attraction of employment as domestics tended to decline, as educated and ambitious women turned to more lucrative occupations. To fill the gap, Libyan households sought to hire foreigners, particularly Egyptians and Tunisians.

Light industry, especially cottage-style, was yet another outlet for female labor, a direct result of Libya's labor shortage. Despite these employment outlets and gains, female participation in the work force of the 1980s remained small, and many so-called "female jobs" were filled by foreign women. Also, in spite of significant increases in female enrollments in the educational system, including university level, few women were found, even as technicians, in such traditionally male fields as medicine, engineering, and law.

Nonurban women constituted a quite significant if largely invisible proportion of the rural work force, as mentioned. According to the 1973 census, there were only l4,000 economically active women out of a total of 200,000 rural females older than age 10. In all likelihood, however, many women engaged in agricultural or domestic tasks worked as unpaid members of family groups and hence were not regarded as gainfully employed, accounting at least in part for the low census count. Estimates of actual female rural employment in the mid-1970s, paid and unpaid, ranged upward of 86,000, as compared with 96,000 men in the rural work force. In addition to agriculture, both rural and nomadic women engaged in the weaving of rugs and carpets, another sizable category of unpaid and unreported labor.

Beginning in 1970, the revolutionary government passed a series of laws regulating female employment. Equal pay for equal work and qualifications became a fundamental precept. Other statutes strictly regulated the hours and conditions of work. Working mothers enjoyed a range of benefits designed to encourage them to continue working even after marriage and childbirth, including cash bonuses for the first child and free day-care centers. A woman could retire at age fifty-five, and she was entitled to a pension. Recently, the regime has sought to introduce women into the armed forces. In the early 1980s the so-called Nuns of the Revolution were created as a special police force attached to revolutionary committees. Then in 1984 a law mandating female conscription that required all students in secondary schools and above to participate in military training was passed. In addition, young women were encouraged to attend female military academies, the first of which was established in 1979. These proposals originated with Qadhafi, who hoped that they would help create a new image and role for the Libyan woman. Nonetheless, the concept of female training in the martial arts encountered such widespread opposition that meaningful compliance seemed unlikely.

The status of women was thus an issue that was very much alive. There could be no doubt that the status of women had undergone a remarkable transformation since the 1969 revolution, but cultural norms were proving to be a powerful brake on the efforts of the Qadhafi regime to force the pace of that transformation. And despite the exertions and rhetoric of the government, men continued to play the leading roles in family and society. As one observer pointed out, political and social institutions were each pulling women in opposite directions. In the late 1980s, the outcome of that contest was by no means a foregone conclusion.




Nearly all Libyans adhere to the Sunni branch of Islam, which provides both a spiritual guide for individuals and a keystone for government policy. Its tenets stress a unity of religion and state rather than a separation or distinction between the two, and even those Muslims who have ceased to believe fully in Islam retain Islamic habits and attitudes. Since the 1969 coup, the Qadhafi regime has explicitly endeavored to reaffirm Islamic values, enhance appreciation of Islamic culture, elevate the status of Quranic law and, to a considerable degree, emphasize Quranic practice in everyday Libyan life.

In A.D. 610, Muhammad (the Prophet), a prosperous merchant of the town of Mecca, began to preach the first of a series of revelations said to have been granted him by God (Allah) through the agency of the archangel Gabriel. The divine messages, received during solitary visits into the desert, continued during the remainder of his life.

Muhammad denounced the polytheistic paganism of his fellow Meccans, his vigorous and continuing censure ultimately earning him their bitter enmity. In 622 he and a group of his followers were forced to flee to Yathrib, which became known as Medina (the city) through its association with him. The hijra (flight: known in the West as the hegira) marked the beginning of the Islamic era and of Islam as a powerful historical force; the Muslim calendar begins with the year 622. In Medina Muhammad continued his preaching, ultimately defeated his detractors in battle, and had consolidated the temporal as well as spiritual leadership of most Arabs in his person before his death in 632.

After Muhammad's death, his followers compiled his words that were regarded as coming directly from God in a document known as the Quran, the holy scripture of Islam. Other sayings and teachings of the Prophet, as well as the precedents of his personal behavior as recalled by those who had known him, became the hadith ("sayings"). From these sources, the faithful have constructed the Prophet's customary practice, or sunna, which they endeavor to emulate. Together, these documents form a comprehensive guide to the spiritual, ethical, and social life of the faithful in most Muslim countries.

In a short time, Islam was transformed from a small religious community into a dynamic political and military authority. During the seventh century, Muslim conquerors reached Libya, and by the eighth century most of the resistance mounted by the indigenous Berbers had ended. The urban centers soon became substantially Islamic, but widespread conversion of the nomads of the desert did not come until after large-scale invasions in the eleventh century by beduin tribes from Arabia and Egypt.

A residue of pre-Islamic beliefs blended with the pure Islam of the Arabs. Hence, popular Islam became an overlay of Quranic ritual and principles upon the vestiges of earlier beliefs--prevalent throughout North Africa--in jinns (spirits), the evil eye, rites to ensure good fortune, and cult veneration of local saints. The educated of the cities and towns served as the primary bearers and guardians of the more austere brand of orthodox Islam.

<>Saints and Brotherhoods
<>Islam in Revolutionary Libya


Libya - Islam


The shahadah (profession of faith, or testimony) states succinctly the central belief, "There is no God but God Allah, and Muhammad is his Prophet." The faithful repeat this simple profession on ritual occasions, and its recital designates the speaker as a Muslim. The term Islam means submission to God, and he who submits is a Muslim.

The God preached by Muhammad was previously known to his countrymen, for Allah is the general Arabic term for the supreme being rather than the name of a particular deity. Rather than introducing a new deity, Muhammad denied the existence of the pantheon of gods and spirits worshipped before his prophethood and declared the omnipotence of God, the unique creator. Muhammad is the "Seal of the Prophets," the last of the prophetic line. His revelations are said to complete for all time the series of revelations that had been given earlier to Jews and Christians. God is believed to have remained one and the same throughout time, but humans are seen as having misunderstood or strayed from God's true teachings until set aright by Muhammad. Prophets and sages of the biblical tradition, such as Abraham, Moses, and Jesus are recognized as inspired vehicles of God's will. Islam, however, reveres as sacred only the message, rejecting Christianity's deification of the messenger. It accepts the concepts of guardian angels, the Day of Judgment, resurrection, and the eternal life of the soul.

The duties of the Muslim form the "five pillars" of the faith. These are shahadah, salat (daily prayer), zakat (almsgiving), sawm (fasting), and hajj (pilgrimage). The believer prays facing Mecca at five specified times during the day. Whenever possible, men observe their prayers in congregation at a mosque under direction of an imam, or prayer leader, and on Fridays are obliged to do so. Women are permitted to attend public worship at the mosque, where they are segregated from men, but their attendance tends to be discouraged, and more frequently they pray in the seclusion of their homes.

In the early days of Islam, a tax for charitable purposes was imposed on personal property in proportion to the owner's wealth; the payment purified the remaining wealth and made it religiously legitimate. The collection of this tax and its distribution to the needy were originally functions of the state. But with the breakdown of Muslim religiopolitical authority, alms became an individual responsibility. With the discovery of petroleum in Libya and the establishment of a welfare society, almsgiving has been largely replaced by public welfare and its significance diluted accordingly.

Fasting is practiced during the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, Ramadan, the time during which the first chapters of the Quran were revealed to Muhammad. It is a period during which most Muslims must abstain from food, drinking, smoking, and sexual activity during the daylight hours. The well-to-do accomplish little work during this period, and many businesses close or operate on reduced schedules. Because the months of the lunar calendar revolve through the solar year, Ramadan occurs during various seasons. In Libya, among the strictest of Muslim countries, cafes must remain closed during the day. But they open their doors after dark, and feasting takes place during the night.

Finally, at least once during their lifetime all Muslims should make the hajj to the holy city of Mecca to participate in the special rites that occur during the twelfth month of the lunar calendar. Upon completion of this and certain other ritual assignments, the returning pilgrim is entitled to the honorific "al Haj," before his name.

In addition to prescribing specific duties, Islam imposes a code of conduct entailing generosity, fairness, honesty, and respect for others. Its proscribes adultery, gambling, usury, and the consumption of carrion, blood, pork, and alcohol. Although proscription of alcohol is irregularly enforced in most Muslim countries, the Libyan revolutionary government has been strict in ensuring that its prohibition be effective, even in the households of foreign diplomats.

Muslims traditionally are subject to the sharia, or religious law, which--as interpreted by religious courts--covers most aspects of life. In Libya the Maliki school is followed. One of several schools of Islamic law, it predominates throughout North Africa. The sharia, which was developed by jurists from the Quran and from the traditions of the Prophet, provides a complete pattern for human conduct.


Libya - Saints and Brotherhoods


Islam as practiced in North Africa is interlaced with indigenous Berber beliefs. Although the orthodox faith preached the unique and inimitable majesty and sanctity of God and the equality of God's believers, an important element of North African Islam for centuries has been a belief in the coalescence of special spiritual power in particular living human beings. The power is known as baraka, a transferable quality of personal blessedness and spiritual force said to lodge in certain individuals. Those whose claim to possess baraka can be substantiated--through performance of apparent miracles, exemplary human insight, or genealogical connection with a recognized possessor--are viewed as saints. These persons are known in the West as marabouts, a French transliteration of al murabitun (those who have made a religious retreat), and the benefits of their baraka are believed to accrue to those ordinary people who come in contact with them.

The cult of saints became widespread in rural areas; in urban localities, Islam in its orthodox form continued to prevail. Saints were present in Tripolitania, but they were particularly numerous in Cyrenaica. Their baraka continued to reside in their tombs after their deaths. The number of venerated tombs varied from tribe to tribe, although there tended to be fewer among the camel herders of the desert than among the sedentary and nomadic tribes of the plateau area. In one village, a visitor in the late 1960s counted sixteen still-venerated tombs.

Coteries of disciples frequently clustered around particular saints, especially those who preached an original tariqa (devotional "way"). Brotherhoods of the followers of such mystical teachers appeared in North Africa at least as early as the eleventh century and in some cases became mass movements. The founder ruled an order of followers, who were organized under the frequently absolute authority of a leader, or shaykh. The brotherhood was centered on a zawiya (pl., zawaya.

Because of Islam's austere rational and intellectual qualities, many people have felt drawn toward the more emotional and personal ways of knowing God practiced by mystical Islam, or Sufism. Found in many parts of the Muslim world, Sufism endeavored to produce a personal experience of the divine through mystic and ascetic discipline.

Sufi adherents gathered into brotherhoods, and Sufi cults became extremely popular, particularly in rural areas. Sufi brotherhoods exercised great influence and ultimately played an important part in the religious revival that swept through North Africa during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In Libya, when the Ottoman Empire proved unable to mount effective resistance to the encroachment of Christian missionaries, the work was taken over by Sufi-inspired revivalist movements. Among these, the most forceful and effective was that of the Sanusis, which extended into numerous parts of North Africa.


Libya - Sanusi


The Sanusi movement was a religious revival adapted to desert life. Its zawaayaa could be found in Tripolitania and Fezzan, but Sanusi influence was strongest in Cyrenaica. Rescuing the region from unrest and anarchy, the Sanusi movement gave the Cyrenaican tribal people a religious attachment and feelings of unity and purpose.

The Sanusis formed a nucleus of resistance to the Italian colonial regime. As the nationalism fostered by unified resistance to the Italians gained adherents, however, the religious fervor of devotion to the movement began to wane, particularly after the Italians destroyed Sanusi religious and educational centers during the 1930s. Nonetheless, King Idris, the monarch of independent Libya, was the grandson of the founder of the Sanusi movement, and his status as a Sanusi gave him the unique ability to command respect from the disparate parts of his kingdom.

Despite its momentary political prominence, the Sanusi movement never regained its strength as a religious force after its zawaya were destroyed by the Italians. A promised restoration never fully took place, and the Idris regime used the Sanusi heritage as a means of legitimizing political authority rather than of providing religious leadership.

After unseating Idris in 1969, the revolutionary government placed restrictions on the operation of the remaining zawaya, appointed a supervisor for Sanusi properties, and merged the Sanusi-sponsored Islamic University with the University of Libya. The movement was virtually banned, but in the 1980s occasional evidence of Sanusi activity was nonetheless reported.


Libya - Islam in Revolutionary Libya


Under the revolutionary government, the role of orthodox Islam in Libyan life has become progressively more important. Qadhafi is a highly devout Muslim who has repeatedly expressed a desire to exalt Islam and to restore it to its proper--i.e., central--place in the life of the people. He believes that the purity of Islam has been sullied through time, particularly by the influence of Europeans during and after the colonial period, and that its purity must be restored--by such actions as the restoration of sharia to its proper place as the basis of the Libyan legal system, the banning of "immodest" practices and dress, and the symbolic purification of major urban mosques that took place in 1978.

Qadhafi also believes in the value of the Quran as a moral and political guide for the contemporary world, as is evident from his tract, The Green Book, published in the mid-1970s. Qadhafi consideres the first part of The Green Book to be a commentary on the implications of the Quranic injunction that human affairs be managed by consultation. For him, this means direct democracy, which is given "practical meaning" through the creation of people's committees and popular congresses. Qadhafi feels that, inasmuch as The Green Book is based solely on the Quran, its provisions are universally applicable--at least among Muslims.

Soon after taking office, the Qadhafi government showed itself to be devoutly fundamentalist by closing bars and nightclubs, banning entertainment deemed provocative or immodest, and making use of the Muslim calendar mandatory. The intention of reestablishing sharia was announced, and Qadhafi personally assumed chairmanship of a commission to study the problems involved. In November 1973, a new legal code was issued that revised the entire Libyan judicial system to conform to the sharia, and in 1977 the General People's Congress (GPC) issued a statement that all future legal codes would be based on the Quran.

Among the laws enacted by the Qadhafi government a series of legal penalties prescribed during 1973 included the punishment of armed robbery by amputation of a hand and a foot. The legislation contained qualifying clauses making its execution unlikely, but its enactment had the effect of applying Quranic principles in the modern era. Another act prescribed flogging for individuals breaking the fast of Ramadan, and yet another called for eighty lashes to be administered to both men and women guilty of fornication.

In the early 1970s, Islam played a major role in legitimizing Qadhafi's political and social reforms. By the end of the decade, however, he had begun to attack the religious establishment and several fundamental aspects of Sunni Islam. Qadhafi asserted the transcendence of the Quran as the sole guide to Islamic governance and the unimpeded ability of every Muslim to read and interpret it. He denigrated the roles of the ulama, imams, and Islamic jurists and questioned the authenticity of the hadith, and thereby the sunna, as a basis for Islamic law. The sharia itself, Qadhafi maintained, governed only such matters as properly fell within the sphere of religion; all other matters lay outside the purview of religious law. Finally, he called for a revision of the Muslim calendar, saying it should date from the Prophet's death in 632, an event he felt was more momentous than the hijra ten years earlier.

These unorthodox views on the hadith, sharia, and the Islamic era aroused a good deal of unease. They seemed to originate from Qadhafi's conviction that he possessed the transcendant ability to interpret the Quran and to adapt its message to modern life. Equally, they reinforced the view that he was a reformer but not a literalist in matters of the Quran and Islamic tradition. On a practical level, however, several observers agreed that Qadhafi was less motivated by religious convictions than by political calculations. By espousing these views and by criticizing the ulama, he was using religion to undermine a segment of the middle class that was notably vocal in opposing his economic policies in the late 1970s. But Qadhafi clearly considered himself an authority on the Quran and Islam and was not afraid to challenge traditional religious authority. He also was not prepared to tolerate dissent.

The revolutionary government gave repeated evidence of its desire to establish Libya as a leader of the Islamic world. Moreover, Qadhafi's efforts to create an Arab nation through political union with other Arab states were also based on a desire to create a great Islamic nation. Indeed, Qadhafi drew little distinction between the two.

The government took a leading role in supporting Islamic institutions and in worldwide proselytizing on behalf of Islam. The Jihad Fund, supported by a payroll tax, was established in 1970 to aid the Palestinians in their struggle with Israel. The Faculty of Islamic Studies and Arabic at the University of Benghazi was charged with training Muslim intellectual leaders for the entire Islamic world, and the Islamic Mission Society used public funds for the construction and repair of mosques and Islamic educational centers in cities as widely separated as Vienna and Bangkok. The Islamic Call Society (Ad Dawah) was organized with government support to propagate Islam abroad, particularly throughout Africa, and to provide funds to Muslims everywhere.

Qadhafi has been forthright in his belief in the perfection of Islam and his desire to propagate it. His commitment to the open propagation of Islam, among other reasons, has caused him to oppose the Muslim Brotherhood, an Egyptian-based fundamentalist movement that has used clandestine and sometimes subversive means to spread Islam and to eliminate Western influences. Although the brotherhood's activities in Libya were banned in the mid-1980s, it was present in the country but maintained a low profile. In 1983 a member of the brotherhood was executed in Tripoli, and in 1986 a group of brotherhood adherents was arrested after the murder of a high-ranking political official in Benghazi. Qadhafi has challenged the brotherhood to establish itself openly in non-Muslim countries and has promised its leaders that, if it does, he will support its activities.

Qadhafi has stressed the universal applicability of Islam, but he has also reaffirmed the special status assigned by the Prophet to Christians. He has, however, likened them to misguided Muslims who have strayed from the correct path. Furthermore, he has assumed leadership of a drive to free Africa of Christianity as well as of the colonialism with which it has been associated.




Social Welfare

A government advertisement appearing in an international publication in 1977 asserted that the Libyan social security legislation of 1973 ranked among the most comprehensive in the world and that it protected all citizens from many hazards associated with employment. The social security program instituted in 1957 had already provided protection superior to that available in many or most developing countries, and in the 1980s the welfare available to Libyans included much more than was provided under the social security law: work injury and sickness compensation and disability, retirement, and survivors' pensions. Workers employed by foreign firms were entitled to the same social security benefits as workers employed by Libyan citizens.

Subsidized food, inexpensive housing, free medical care and education, and profit-sharing were among the benefits that eased the lives of all citizens. The government protected the employed in their jobs and subsidized the underemployed and unemployed. In addition, there were nurseries to care for the children of working mothers, orphanages for homeless children, and homes for the aged. The welfare programs had reached even the oasis towns of the desert, where they reportedly were received with considerable satisfaction. The giving of alms to the poor remained one of the pillars of the Islamic faith, but the extent of public welfare was such that there was increasingly less place for private welfare. Nonetheless, the traditional Arab sense of family responsibility remained strong, and provision for needy relatives was still a common practice.

Medical Care

The number of physicians and surgeons in practice increased fivefold between 1965 and 1974, and large increases were registered in the number of dentists, medical, and paramedical personnel. Further expansion and improvement followed over the next decade in response to large budgetary outlays, as the revolutionary regime continued to use its oil income to improve the health and welfare of all Libyans. The number of doctors and dentists increased from 783 in 1970 to 5,450 in 1985, producing in the case of doctors a ratio of 1 per 673 citizens. These doctors were attached to a comprehensive network of health care facilities that dispensed free medical care. The number of hospital beds increased from 7,500 in 1970 to almost 20,000 by 1985, an improvement from 3.5 beds to 5.3 beds per 1,000 citizens. During the same years, substantial increases were also registered in the number of clinics and health care centers.

A large proportion of medical and paramedical personnel were foreigners brought in under contract from other Arab countries and from Eastern Europe. The major efforts to "Libyanize" health care professionals, however, were beginning to show results in the mid1980s . Libyan sources claimed that approximately 33 percent of all doctors were nationals in 1985, as compared with only about 6 percent a decade earlier. In the field of nursing staff and technicians, the situation was considerably better--about 80 percent were Libyan. Schools of nursing had been in existence since the early 1960s, and the faculties of medicine in the universities at Tripoli and Benghazi included specialized institutes for nurses and technicians. The first medical school was not established until 1970, and there was no school of dentistry until 1974. By 1978 a total of nearly 500 students was enrolled in medical studies at schools in Benghazi and Tripoli, and the dental school in Benghazi had graduated its first class of 23 students. In addition, some students were pursuing graduate medical studies abroad, but in the immediate future Libya was expected to continue to rely heavily on expatriate medical personnel.

Among the major health hazards endemic in the country in the 1970s were typhoid and paratyphoid, infectious hepatitis, leishmaniasis, rabies, meningitis, schistosomiasis, and venereal diseases. Also reported as having high incidence were various childhood diseases, such as whooping cough, mumps, measles, and chicken pox. Cholera occurred intermittently and, although malaria was regarded as having been eliminated in the 1960s, malaria suppressants were often recommended for use in desert oasis areas.

By the early 1980s, it was claimed that most or all of these diseases were under control. A high rate of trachoma formerly left 10 percent or more of the population blinded or with critically impaired vision, but by the late 1970s the disease appeared to have been brought under control. The incidence of new cases of tuberculosis was reduced by nearly half between 1969 and 1976, and twenty-two new centers for tuberculosis care were constructed between 1970 and 1985. By the early 1980s, two rehabilitation centers for the handicapped had been built, one each in Benghazi and Tripoli. These offered both medical and job-training services and complemented the range of health care services available in the country.

The streets of Tripoli and Benghazi were kept scrupulously clean, and drinking water in these cities was of good quality. The government had made significant efforts to provide safe water. In summing up accomplishments since 1970, officials listed almost 1,500 wells drilled and more than 900 reservoirs in service in 1985, in addition to 9,000 kilometers of potable water networks and 44 desalination plants. Sewage disposal had also received considerable attention, twenty-eight treatment plants having been built.




Under the monarchy, all Libyans were guaranteed the right to education. Primary and secondary schools were established all over the country, and old Quranic schools that had been closed during the struggle for independence were reactivated and new ones established, lending a heavy religious cast to Libyan education. The educational program suffered from a limited curriculum, a lack of qualified teachers--especially Libyan--and a tendency to learn by rote rather than by reasoning, a characteristic of Arab education in general. School enrollments rose rapidly, particularly on the primary level; vocational education was introduced; and the first Libyan university was established in Benghazi in 1955. Also under the monarchy, women began to receive formal education in increasing numbers, rural and beduin children were brought into the educational system for the first time, and an adult education program was established.

Total school enrollment rose from 34,000 on the eve of independence in 1951, to nearly 150,000 in 1962, to about 360,000 at the time of the 1969 revolution. During the 1970s, the training of teachers was pushed in an effort to replace the Egyptian and other expatriate personnel who made up the majority of the teaching corps. Prefabricated school buildings were erected, and mobile classrooms and classes held in tents became features of the desert oases.

In 1986 official sources placed total enrollments at more than 1,245,000 students, of whom 670,000 (54 percent) were males and 575,000 (46 percent) were females. These figures meant that one-third of the population was enrolled in some form of educational endeavor. For the 1970-86 period, the government claimed nearly 32,000 primary, secondary, and vocational classrooms had been constructed, while the number of teachers rose from nearly 19,000 to 79,000. The added space and increased number of new teachers greatly improved student-teacher ratios at preprimary and primary levels; rising enrollments in general secondary and technical education, however, increased the density of students per classroom at those levels.

At independence, the overall literacy rate among Libyans over the age of ten did not exceed 20 percent. By 1977, with expanding school opportunities, the rate had risen to 51 percent overall, or 73 percent for males and 31 percent for females. Relatively low though it was, the rate for females had soared from the scanty 6 percent registered as recently as 1964. In the early 1980s, only estimates of literacy were available--about 70 percent for men and perhaps 35 percent for women.

In 1987 education was free at all levels, and university students received substantial stipends. Attendance was compulsory between the ages of six and fifteen years or until completion of the preparatory cycle of secondary school. The administrative or current expenses budget for 1985 allocated 7.5 percent of the national budget (LD90.4 million) to education through university level. Allocations for 1983 and 1984 were slightly less--about LD85 million), just under 6 percent of total administrative outlays.

From its inception, the revolutionary regime placed great emphasis education, continuing and expanding programs begun under the monarchy. By the 1980s, the regime had made great strides, but much remained to be done. The country still suffered from a lack of qualified Libyan teachers, female attendance at the secondary level and above was low, and attempts in the late 1970s to close private schools and to integrate religious and secular instruction had led to confusion. Perhaps most important were lagging enrollments in vocational and technical training. As recently as 1977, fewer than 5,000 students were enrolled in 12 technical high schools. Although unofficial estimates placed technical enrollments at nearly 17,000 by 1981, most doctors, dentists, and pharmacists in the early 1980s still came from abroad. Young Libyans continued to shun technical training, preferring white collar employment because it was associated with social respect and high status. As a consequence, there seemed to be no immediate prospect for reducing the heavy reliance on expatriate workers to meet the economy's increasing need for technical skills.

A major source of disruption was the issue of compulsory military training for both male and female students. Beginning in 1981, weapons training formed part of the curriculum of secondary schools and universities, part of a general military mobilization process. Both male and female secondary students wore uniforms to classes and attended daily military exercises; university students did not wear uniforms but were required to attend training camps. In addition, girls were officially encouraged to attend female military academies. These measures were by no means popular, especially as they related to females, but in the mid-1980s it was too soon to assess their impact on female school attendance and on general educational standards.

Primary and Secondary Education

In 1987 the school program consisted of six years of primary school, three years of preparatory school (junior high), and three years of secondary (high) school. A five-year primary teaching program could be elected upon completion of primary school. A technical high-school program (including industrial subjects or commerce and agriculture) and two-year and four-year programs for the training of primary-school teachers were among the offerings at the secondary level. In the mid-1970s, nearly one-half of the primary, preparatory, and secondary enrollments were in Tripoli and Benghazi, but by the late 1980s schools were well distributed around the country, and boarding facilities for students from remote areas were available at some schools at all academic levels.

The enrollment of girls in primary schools increased from 34 percent of the total in 1970 to nearly 47 percent in 1979. During the same period, female enrollment in secondary schools was up from 13 percent to 23 percent, and in vocational schools from 23 percent to 56 percent of total enrollment. However, the number of girls attending school in some rural areas was well below the national average, and a high female dropout rate suggested that many parents sent their daughters to school only long enough to acquire basic skills to make them attractive marriage partners.

During the early 1980s, a variety of courses were taught in primary and secondary classes. English was introduced in the fifth primary grade and continued thereafter. Islamic studies and Arabic were offered at all levels of the curriculum, and several hours of classes each week were reportedly devoted to Qadhafi's Green Book.

Higher Education

The University of Libya was founded in Benghazi in 1955, with a branch in Tripoli. In 1973 the two campuses became the universities of Benghazi and Tripoli, respectively, and in 1976 they were renamed Gar Yunis University and Al Fatah University, respectively. In 1981 a technical university specializing in engineering and petroleum opened at Marsa al Burayqah. Enrollments were projected at 1,700 students. In addition, there were technical institutes at Birak, Hun, and Bani Walid. By the early 1980s, schools of nuclear and electronic engineering and of pharmacy had been established at Al Fatah University, while plans called for the construction of an agricultural school at Al Bayda for 1,500 students.

Expansion of facilities for higher education was critical to meeting skilled personnel requirements. Technical education was being emphasized in keeping with a trend toward more specialized facilities for both secondary and university studies. In 1982 the GPC passed a resolution calling for the replacement of secondary schools by specialized training institutes whose curricula would be closely integrated with those of the universities and technical institutes. In 1985 the GPC called for a further expansion of vocational and professional training centers and for measures to compel technically trained students to work in their fields of specialization. Students were also expected to play a more active role in the economy as the country attempted to overcome the shortage of skilled manpower caused by the expulsion of foreign workers in 1985. In view of declining allocations for education in the mid-1980s, however, it was doubtful if these and other goals would be met.

University enrollment figures for the 1980s were unavailable in 1987. However, they had risen without interruption since the 1950s, and it seemed probable that this trend was continuing. About 3,000 students were enrolled in the University of Libya in 1969. By 1975 the figure was up to 12,000, and a 1980 total of 25,000 was projected. Female enrollments rose dramatically during this period, from 9 percent of total enrollments in the 1970-71 period, to 20 percent in the 1978-79 period, to 24 percent in the early 1980s.

In the 1970s, many students went abroad for university and graduate training; in 1978 about 3,000 were studying in the United States alone. In the early 1980s, however, the government was no longer willing to grant fellowships for study abroad, preferring to educate young Libyans at home for economic and political reasons. In 1985 Libyan students in Western countries were recalled and their study grants terminated. Although precise information was lacking, many students were reportedly reluctant to interrupt their programs and return home.

University students were restless and vocal but also somewhat lacking in application and motivation. They played an active role in university affairs through student committees, which debated a wide range of administrative and educational matters and which themselves became arenas for confrontation between radical and moderate factions. University students were also among the few groups to express open dissatisfaction with the Qadhafi government. One major source of tension arose from the regime's constant intervention to control and politicize education on all levels, whereas most Libyans regarded education as the path to personal and social advancement, best left free of government meddling.

In 1976 students mounted violent protests in Benghazi and Tripoli over compulsory military training. More recently, in March 1986 students of the faculties of English and French at Al Fatah University successfully thwarted Qadhafi's attempt to close their departments and to destroy their libraries, part of the Arabization campaign and another of Qadhafi's steps to eliminate Western influence. A compromise was worked out whereby the departmental libraries were spared, but both foreign languages were gradually to be phased out of university curricula. After this incident, Qadhafi announced that Russian would be substituted for English in Libyan schools, a policy which, if implemented, was certain to cause both practical and political difficulties.


CITATION: Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress. The Country Studies Series. Published 1988-1999.

Please note: This text comes from the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The Country Studies Series presents a description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world.

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