December 24, 1951: Libya becomes independent

On this day in 1951, Libya became an independent state under its absolute monarch, King Idris.


King Indris broadcasting to the nation on the occasion of independence

Libya's close proximity to many of the Mediterranean trade routes has made it attractive to various empires. Divided into two parts, Tripolitania and Cyrenacia, itwas controlledby the Ottoman Empire from1551 to 1911, both directly and through clients such as the Barbary States.

It was also a base for pirates, with 20% of government revenues coming from tribute in 1800. This led to two naval wars with the United States in the early 19thcentury.

In 1911, the declining power of the Ottoman Empire allowed Italy to invade. While it initially kept Tripolitania and Cyrenacia as separate colonies, it decided to merge them into one country, Libya, in 1934.

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During World War Two, Libya was a key battleground in the fight for North Africa. In 1951 it became independent under King Idris. Butthe discovery of oil in 1959 proved to be too big a temptation for a group of officers who overthrow the kingin 1969, propelling their leader, Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi, into power. Gaddafi nationalised the oil industry and pursued an anti-Western foreign policy, including support for terrorist groups.

Although oil revenues ensured that living standards rose, Libya's involvement in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing (which would eventually cost the country $2.3bn in compensation) made the country an international pariah. Gaddafi also diverted large amounts of Libya's wealth into his back pocket, building a reported personal fortune of $200bn.

After a civil war in the spring and sumer of 2011 Gaddafiwas finally deposed (with help from the US and UK) in August 2011. Since then the country has split between the official government in Benghazi and an Islamist regime in Tripoli. Despite an agreement between the two earlier this month, Libya is still bitterly divided.

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

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