This was an extremely informative meeting, with quite a few surprises regarding life in today's Libya.
HAGSA members Esther Franklin and Patricia Pratt traveled there in 2004, as part of an international delegation of peace activists who had been invited by the Revolutionary Committee of Tripoli to spend 10 days there. They were free to move about, but had many planned activities. The younger members of the delegation were more adventurous is exploring areas not in the established itinerary.
Long a pariah nation and "state sponsor of terrorism," which Americans were usually prohibited from visiting, Libya has partially opened up in the last year. The leader, Muammar al-Qaddafi, long thought of as a madman in many circles, gave up his plans to develop nuclear weapons and provided evidence of Pakistani complicity in his efforts. This change in policy along with greater cooperation in other matters has led to the lifting of the sanctions that had been imposed by our government and others.
Esther and Patricia spoke of the country from their perspective as non-Arabic-speaking visitors and observers. They took turns in talking about their experiences and impressions, and their understanding of the country's history.
Most food in Libya is imported, but domestic food production is increasing thanks to the discovery and use of an underground aquifer in the southern portion of the country. Oil production is currently around 1.4 million barrels per day. Twenty-five percent of the population was killed during the period of Italian occupation, which began in 1912 and ended with World War II. The current ruler, Muammar al-Qaddafi, overthrew King Idris in 1969 and has long acted as a revolutionary leader. He has written and widely distributed "The Green Book," which readily invites comparison with Mao's "Little Red Book," which quotes Mao, but was not written by him.
Some of the members of the delegation had minor illnesses while in Libya and were satisfactorily treated at no charge by the Libyan health system. They reported that official statistics show life expectancy at birth at 74 for males and over 78 for females. The number one cause of death is from automobile accidents, in spite of the fact that alcohol possession and use is illegal in Libya. Crazy driving, however, is very common, as they discovered first hand.
One very interesting aspect of their presentation concerned the status of women, especially as it affects everyday activity. Although Libya's population is 97% Sunni Muslim, many the restrictions for women that exist in several other Islamic countries (especially Saudi Arabia) appear to be absent in Libya. Women drive, dress attractively, and are employed in a variety of occupations. By western standards, their clothing is somewhat conservative, although they have never been required to wear the veil. Many stores provide very fashionable women's clothing, much of it in bright and attractive colors.
Although Libya is a North African country, Libyans consider themselves, above all, to be Arabs. The primary languages are Arabic, Italian and English, all three of which are widely understood in the major cities.
A large number of facts about Libya can be found at the CIA World Factbook website.
Report prepared by Wayne Luney, Recorder, and Bill Potts