For most of their history, the peoples of Libya have been subjected to varying degrees of foreign control. The Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Vandals, and Byzantines ruled all or parts of Libya. Although the Greeks and Romans left impressive ruins at Cyrene, Leptis Magna, and Sabratha, little else remains today to testify to the presence of these ancient cultures.
The Arabs conquered Libya in the seventh century A.D. In the following centuries, most of the indigenous peoples adopted Islam and the Arabic language and culture. The Ottoman Turks conquered the country in the 16th century. Libya remained part of their empire--although at times virtually autonomous--until Italy invaded in 1911 and, after years of resistance, made Libya a colony.
In 1934, Italy adopted the name "Libya" (used by the Greeks for all of North Africa, except Egypt) as the official name of the colony, which consisted of the Provinces of Cyrenaica, Tripolitania, and Fezzan. King Idris I, Emir of Cyrenaica, led Libyan resistance to Italian occupation between the two World Wars. From 1943 to 1951, Tripolitania and Cyrenaica were under British administration; the French controlled Fezzan. In 1944, Idris returned from exile in Cairo but declined to resume permanent residence in Cyrenaica until the removal in 1947 of some aspects of foreign control. Under the terms of the 1947 peace treaty with the Allies, Italy relinquished all claims to Libya.
On November 21, 1949, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution stating that Libya should become independent before January 1, 1952. King Idris I represented Libya in the subsequent UN negotiations. When Libya declared its independence on December 24, 1951, it was the first country to achieve independence through the United Nations. Libya was proclaimed a constitutional and a hereditary monarchy under King Idris. The discovery of significant oil reserves in 1959 and the subsequent income from petroleum sales enabled what had been one of the world's poorest countries to become extremely wealthy, as measured by per capita GDP. King Idris ruled the Kingdom of Libya until he was overthrown in a military-led coup on September 1, 1969. The new regime, headed by the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), abolished the monarchy and proclaimed the new Libyan Arab Republic. Col. Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi emerged as leader of the RCC and eventually as de facto chief of state, a position he currently holds. He has no official position.
Seeking new directions, the RCC's motto became "freedom, socialism, and unity." It pledged itself to remove backwardness, take an active role in the Palestinian Arab cause, promote Arab unity, and encourage domestic policies based on social justice, non-exploitation, and an equitable distribution of wealth.
An early objective of the new government was withdrawal of all foreign
military installations from Libya. Following negotiations, British
military installations at Tobruk and nearby El Adem were closed in March
1970, and U.S. facilities at Wheelus Air Force Base near Tripoli were
closed in June 1970. That July, the Libyan Government ordered the
expulsion of several thousand Italian residents. By 1971, libraries and
cultural centers operated by foreign governments were ordered closed.
During the years since the revolution, Libya claimed leadership of Arab
and African revolutionary forces and sought active roles in various
international organizations. Late in the 1970s, Libyan embassies were
redesignated as "people's bureaus," as Qadhafi sought to portray Libyan
foreign policy as an expression of the popular will. The people's
bureaus, aided by Libyan religious, political, educational, and business
institutions overseas, exported Qadhafi's revolutionary philosophy abroad.