For many people, mention of Libya conjures up images of the country's notorious leader, Muammar al-Qadhafi, or the terrorist bombing of PanAm Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. However, in more recent decades, world events - such as the invasion and dismantlement of the Iraqi regime due to nuclear and chemical weapon investigations - have caused Libyan leadership to alter its outlook and become less isolationist in foreign relations.
With sanctions lifting, additional foreign investment - particularly in the oil industry - is expected to increase, as will the number of expatriate assignees. Libya also indicated an interest in growing the tourism industry.
Colonel Muammar al-Qadhafi took control of Libya in a military coup over King Idris' monarchy in September 1969, while the King was away in Turkey. Note that Qadhafi's name has been transliterated a number of ways, hence there are various spellings. After short-lived power struggles with younger and older officers, a 27-year-old Qadhafi assumed the presidency in 1970.
Qadhafi invented his own political theory called the Third Universal Theory and wrote the Green Book, which all Libyans were required to learn from an early age. His theory was based on Islam, socialism, and Bedouin culture. It required that a state be ruled directly by the people through committees, referred to as Jamahiriya, or a state of the masses.
Libya has been governed this way in theory. In reality, however, the government has long been a form of military dictatorship. In 1979, when the General People's Committee (GPC) announced that power had been transferred to the masses, Qadhafi gave up all titles, but remained head of state. Qadhafi's control remained absolute, despite several military coup attempts since 1970.
However, that all changed on October 20, 2011. Muammar Gaddafi, leader for 42 years of a one-man rule, was killed by rebel Libyan fighters in his hometown of Sirte.
With Qadhafi removed from power, the head of Libya's government is the Prime Minister, currently Mahmoud Jibril, who hopes to start a new, united Libya, saying, One people, one future.
The legislative branch is formed by a unicameral General People's Congress, whose members are elected indirectly by over 2,000 people's committees.
The Supreme Court heads the judicial branch. The legal system is a combination of Italian civil law system, from colonial days, and Islamic law.
With regard to Libya's foreign relations, neither geographic proximity nor Islamic ties are indicators for positive associations. Foreign policy varies by country, rather than by region. Libya's interest in dealing with specific countries depends on specific political and economic situations with each country, and fluctuates often.
Some history: Qadhafi's regime set foreign relations on a completely different course from King Idris', establishing policies based primarily on pro-Arab, anti-Israel, and African unity ideals. Many attempts were made to unite the Arab states, as well as to unite the African continent. Arab alliance attempts have failed due to lack of agreement. However, African accord has been more successful with the 1998 creation of the Saharan and Sahelian States (CENSAD), a 1999 summit for the African Union (AU).
These efforts to create unity have not been without problems. When other governments were uncooperative, the Libyan government was said to resort to threatening and subverting with alleged plots, which it would deny. These and other events have, at times, put Libya at odds with many of the same countries they wanted to befriend.
The 1970s and 1980s were decades of isolationism and of falling out of favor with the European and North American countries because of terrorist involvement. In contrast, the 1990s and 2000s have been decades to reestablish those ties. The heavy burden of sanctions and potential threats of invasion to the regime from both terrorist-opposed Western states and fundamentalist Islamic opposition groups led to the change in policy.
To improve relations with the Middle East as well as the Western world, Qadhafi became more moderate in his political ideologies and appeared more humble in foreign relations. Libya has taken a number of steps to demonstrate these new principles, which include being one of the first Arab nations to condemn the 2001 United States' Al Qaeda terrorist attacks, publicly apologizing for the 1998 Lockerbie plan bombing and compensating victims' families, and declaring and agreeing to dismantlement of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs. In 2004, several European leaders reestablished diplomatic ties by visiting, and the United States opened a liaison office in Tripoli.
Libya is a member of various African, Arab, and international organizations, including the United Nations (UN) and World Health Organization (WHO). In July 2004, the World Trade Organization (WTO) members agreed to allow Libya to apply for membership.
Until the 1959 discovery of oil, Libya's revenue was derived primarily from agriculture. Considering how little land is arable, it follows that Libya was one of the poorest countries in Africa. Agriculture now makes up only five percent of revenue.
Unearthing oil was momentous, since the revenue it produced allowed Libya to invest in infrastructure. Education and health care improved in quality and became free to Libyan citizens. Social security replaced the need for extended family to care for the elderly. Libya went from being one of the poorest countries in Africa to having the highest per capita GDP on the continent.
About 95 percent of Libya's export earnings come from hydrocarbons.
Italy has been Libya's most reliable trade partner for both imports and exports, even through years of trade sanctions. Other countries of significant Libyan oil export include Germany, Spain, Turkey, France, and Switzerland. In addition to Italy, imports are also received from Egypt, Germany, Turkey, and Tunisia.
A look ahead
Libya is currently in a state of transition. As the country looks ahead, it is hopeful that improved diplomatic relations and other positive developments should bring additional income and economic security. Foreign contracts will bring additional investment, such as the Libyan oil pipeline constructed to supply Italy. Increases in oil prices will also help raise revenue.
Stability will be essential, of course, to achieving any diplomatic footholds or in diversifying the economy.