Geography of Libya

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Libya is fourth in size among the countries of Africa and seventeenth among the countries of the world. Its coastline lies between Egypt and Tunisia. Although the oil discoveries of the 1960s have brought it immense petroleum wealth, at the time of its independence it was an extremely poor desert state whose only important physical asset appeared to be its strategic location at the midpoint of Africa's northern rim. It lay within easy reach of the major European nations and linked the Arab countries of North Africa with those of the Middle East, facts that throughout history had made its urban centers bustling crossroads rather than isolated backwaters without external social influences. Consequently, an immense social gap developed between the cities, cosmopolitan and peopled largely by foreigners, and the desert hinterland, where tribal chieftains ruled in isolation and where social change was minimal.

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Geographical summary

The Mediterranean coast and the Sahara Desert are the country's most prominent natural features. There are several highlands but no true mountain ranges except in the largely empty southern desert near the Chadian border, where the Tibesti Massif rises to over 2,200 meters. A relatively narrow coastal strip and highland steppes immediately south of it are the most productive agricultural regions. Still farther south a pastoral zone of sparse grassland gives way to the vast Sahara Desert, a barren wasteland of rocky plateaus and sand. It supports minimal human habitation, and agriculture is possible only in a few scattered oases.

Between the productive lowland agricultural zones lies the Gulf of Sidra, where along the coast a stretch of 500 kilometers of wasteland desert extends northward to the sea. This barren zone, known as the Sirtica, has great historical significance. To its west, the area known as Tripolitania has characteristics and a history similar to those of nearby Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. It is considered with these states to constitute a supranational region called the Maghrib. To the east, the area known historically as Cyrenaica has been closely associated with the Arab states of the Middle East. In this sense, the Sirtica marks the dividing point between the Maghrib and the Mashriq.

Along the shore of Tripolitania for more than 300 kilometers, coastal oases alternate with sandy areas and lagoons. Inland from these lies the Jifarah Plain, a triangular area of some 15,000 square kilometers. About 120 kilometers inland the plain terminates in an escarpment that rises to form the Nafusa Mountains, with elevations of up to 1,000 meters, which is the northern edge of the Tripolitanian Plateau.[1]

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