Country Profile: Libya
Updated March 2013
Population: 5.6 million
Religion: Muslim 97%; Christian 2.6%; Other 0.4%
History and society
A former Roman colony, Libya has had more than its fair share of invaders including the Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs, Turks and more recently the Italians.
For much of the international community, Libya’s identity was inextricably linked with Gaddafi’s 42-year rule. The country spent many years in the political wilderness after his arrival because of his staunchly anti-Western views.
His Green Book, a work outlining his views and political philosophy, proposes an alternative to both communism and capitalism. He also introduced a new calendar based around the date on which Islam’s prophet, Mohammed, died.
Gaddafi’s name became synonymous with the sponsorship of terrorist groups, including the Irish Republican Army and the Palestine Liberation Organisation. Libya’s alleged involvement in attacks in Europe in the 1980s triggered US military strikes in 1986.
Libya was shunned by much of the international community because of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing of a PanAm plane, in which 270 people died. But Tripoli took responsibility for the bombing in 2003, handing over for trial two men suspected of masterminding the bombing.
Gaddafi also renounced weapons of mass destruction, paving the way for improved relations with the West.
Yet, discontent was mounting at home. A popular uprising in February 2011, inspired by the wider ‘Arab Spring’, was brutally suppressed, triggering civil war. Rebels finally overran Tripoli in August 2011; several weeks later, Gaddafi was found and killed on the outskirts of Sirte.
The National Transitional Council (NTC), which led the revolt, established a transitional Government and Libya’s first free national elections in six decades were held in 2012. Instability and regional and ethnic tensions continue to plague the nation.
Conversion to Christianity has been forbidden in Libya and there are few native Libyan believers.
Almost all Christians are foreign workers and the Government strictly monitors their meetings. Open evangelism is not possible and any Christian literature has to be smuggled into the country.
Gaddafi had publicly dismissed the Bible as a ‘forgery’ and declared that Christianity is ‘not a faith for people in Africa’. The country’s new interim constitution protects religious freedom and the transitional Government has spoken of the need to uphold religious freedom.
However, early in 2013, several expatriate Christians, including four Egyptians and three non-Arabs, were detained, accused of proselytising. One, an Egyptian named Ezzat Hakim Atalla Abdel-Malak, died in detention in the March, apparently as a result of physical abuse in custody. All had links with one of the detainees, the owner of a bookshop in Benghazi whose stock included Christian literature.
Meanwhile, militant Islamist groups are said to be growing in strength inside Libya.
Current and recent projects include:
- Release currently has no projects in Libya.
Sources: BBC; International Christian Concern; Operation World 2010; Release International; The World Factbook 2013; US State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2011.
Updated March 2013