Culture and Customs of Libya (Cultures and Customs of the World)

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  1. Alternative Names
  2. Culture and Customs of Libya - Greenwood - ABC-CLIO
  3. The Culture Of Libya
  4. A guide to Libya – etiquette, customs, clothing and more…

Alternative Names

The climate was one of the main factors that affected the region's culture as it influenced migration into and out of the area. Another factor that influenced Libyan culture is the interaction with other cultures such as the Greeks, the Romans, and the Phoenicians. The Italians also influenced the Libyan way of life as they took control of the nation during the colonial period.

Despite Libya's vast size, it has a population density of about 9. Libyan societies are particularly conservative with a lot of emphasis placed on stereotypical gender roles. The Libyan people have a tradition of women being completely covered and excluded from the society which is referred to as purdah. The practice limits the freedom women have when outside their homes. Libyan societies hold marriage in high esteem because it ensures the family line does not die out.

Among more traditional Libyan families, the parents and the older members of the family bear the responsibility of arranging marriages for the younger generation. Libyan men are required to pay a bride price to the bride's family before the wedding can take place. Libyan cuisine is one of the most famous all over the world due to its unique flavor.

Its popularity might be because it draws from a large number of culinary traditions such as the Berber , Italian, and Arabian traditions. Due to the widespread influence of Sharia law, eating pork is illegal in the nation. In place of pork, other meals have gained widespread attention such as Bazin which is a type of bread whose main ingredient is barley.

The most common way of consuming Bazin is with a sauce made of lamb meat as well as peppers and tomato paste. The marabour is almost always rectangular with mattresses lining the walls to provide seating and bedding for guests. Guests who are strangers are confined to this chamber and will not meet the women of the household. In tented societies, spatial use and the distinction between public and private spaces are similar to that observed in the towns.

Pastoral society has less of a problem defining public space. Bedouin camps consist of closely-related kin, and the physical distance between family groups in the same tribal section reinforces privacy. For most of the year, Bedouin camps spread across the countryside with groups separated from each other by several miles. Camps consist of discreet domestic units residing in tents that are placed in a single line. Camps are organized to meet the complex demands of herd management and cottage industry. Individual male herd owners cooperate to accomplish the difficult task of managing several different herds with varied grazing and maintenance requirements.

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Culture and Customs of Libya - Greenwood - ABC-CLIO

Male cooperation also extends to producing charcoal and to planting and harvesting cereal crops in years of plentiful rainfall. Women aid each other in weaving and spinning the wool and hair from the flocks; making tent tops, blankets, and storage bags; and milking and processing the products from the herds. Although members of the camp cooperate in daily activities, each married male member of the camp is an independent herd owner, with sons receiving their share of the family herd upon marriage.

Food in Daily Life. Food in normal daily life reflects the simplicity of peasant and nomadic life styles. Libyan cooking styles are similar whether rural or urban, sedentary or nomadic. Main courses are almost always one—pot dishes. Couscous cracked wheat , the national dish, is prepared in a spicy sauce of hot peppers, tomatoes, chick peas, and vegetables in season. All meals are eaten out of a communal bowl. Meals are of great symbolic importance; in the houses or the tents of prominent men, the major meal of the day rarely is taken without invited guests.

Most meals are frugal and simple with the daily consumption of meat kept to a minimum. The Bedouin rarely consume meat more than once a month. Agriculturists always seem to have adequate supplies of fruit, vegetables, and grain. Nomads have an abundance of milk, dates, and grain in most seasons.

In both town and desert, meals are ended with three glasses of green tea, preparation and consumption of which is a distinct ritual. Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Meals are prepared by the women of the household and served to guests by the young men of the household. Food is served on long low tables, tall enough to allow guests to sit cross legged and to belly up to the edge. Meals served in the tented society vary slightly from presentation in towns. In tented society, important guests are honored with a sacrificial slaughter of a goat or sheep.

In towns, sacrifice is not as frequent because there usually is easy access to daily markets. The animal is butchered, and the flesh is boiled to form the essential ingredient of a stew to be served over couscous. Sometimes various types of pasta may be used as a substitute for couscous. The main course usually is preceded by dried dates, milk, and buttermilk. Each liquid is served in a large communal bowl. Libyans drink green tea after all meals and throughout the day. Lavish meals are prepared for almost all ritual occasions. Special and elaborate meals are prepared daily during the month of Ramadan when the daily fast is broken by a meal after sunset.

Basic Economy. The two major components of the traditional Libyan economy were agriculture and pastoralism, both largely subsistence activities. Most agricultural communities were kin-based, organized through patrilineal descent. Differences in wealth produced a class of local notables who relied upon the community for their influence and power. There was a tendency for communities to view themselves as corporate groups rather than agricultural communities or pastoral hinterlands. There were influential trading families in the larger commercial centers, but their power in the hinterland was limited.

Communities tended to be self-contained and were based on subsistence activities in which families provided for most of their needs from their own labor. Surpluses were traded in local markets and exchanged in networks of pastoral families.

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The economic specialization of pastoral and agricultural communities fostered cooperation as town and country sought each other's products. The Bedouin supplied the towns with meat, wool, hides, clarified butter, and security; markets in the towns provided necessary and luxury goods from artisans and traders guns and ammunition and agricultural products. Land Tenure and Property. Traditionally, property was occasionally held communally, but most agricultural land was held privately.

Land fragmentation led to a degree of local social stratification in which sharecropping developed. Generally, agriculture expanded onto marginal lands, mixing agriculture with herding. These communities were largely egalitarian, and less fortunate members of the community could count on support from their kinsmen. In the pastoral realm, families owned their herds individually and secured land for grazing and watering rights as members of patrilineally-based corporations. Powerful tribes claimed ownership of discrete blocks of territory.

A tribe is composed of a number of corporate land-owning groups who define relationships between themselves according to their relative position on the tribal genealogy. Tribal territory was subdivided between tribal sections following a genealogical charter. This charter of descent links the ancestors of the living corporate land-owning descent groups to each other in clearly defined measures of genealogical closeness or distance. Thus the members of one corporate landowning group see the members of an adjacent group as having rights to their territory by virtue of their descent from the brother of the founder of their own group.

Major Industries. Libya has been described as a "hydrocarbon state" since oil sales have an all pervasive role in the Libyan economy, politics, and social structure The discovery of oil in the late s radically altered development and ushered in a period of massive economic redirection. In the first phase of exploration, the oil companies spent large sums and expenditures increased rapidly. The first substantial oil revenues were paid to the government in and these revenues increased dramatically during the s, providing rapid expansion in both the private and public sectors.

Two other industries that grew rapidly during the late s and in the s were construction and transportation. Construction, particularly in the cities, increased dramatically. Whole sections of Tripoli were built during this time. Construction was undertaken to provide suitable quarters for the many new local and foreign companies that grew in Libya. There also was an increase in construction of private dwellings in this period. New construction provided accommodations for the increased population and thriving business community in Tripoli. Major imports Men gather with carts of melons near the Roman arch dedicated to Marcus Aurelius in Tripoli.

Division of Labor. The increase in prosperity brought about a large-scale change in occupation. There was a major decline in persons working in agriculture but there was a sharp increase in laborers and clerical, sports and recreation, and transportation workers. The oil boom had massively changed the occupational and residential structure of the population in just a few years.

In the countryside, the five-year plan of the s ushered into existence a period of rural prosperity when many nomadic families became sedentary in order to take advantage of steady wage employment. A wide-scale patronage system developed that was administered through local political structures. Thus, "lamb barrel" politics, in a situation of radical economic change, reinforced family, lineage, tribal, and village structures.

The traditional Libyan economy has continued to shrink as the oil economy has grown. By , agriculture accounted for only 7 percent of the economic sector, while industry and services accounted for 47 percent and 46 percent respectively. But not even a revolution could dismantle the national lamb barrel. On 1 September , a group of army officers staged a successful bloodless coup that forced the king into exile and abolished the existing form of government. Muammar Qaddafi quickly emerged as the undisputed leader. The group of young officers considered themselves revolutionaries, but none of them had a background in revolutionary activity or schooling in radical politics.

They aligned themselves with Gamal Abdul Nasser, leader of Egypt. Domestically, the conservative nature of the officers' policies became clear when they permanently closed nightclubs and prohibited the consumption of alcohol. They declared themselves to be socialist in politics and conservative in Islamic religious practices. Once consolidated in power, the Revolutionary Command Council RCC undertook a series of radical initiatives to transform the economic, social, and political organization of Libya.

Begun in , this transformation was guided by the Green Book written by Qaddafi. The thesis of this book is a critique of participatory democracy in which it is argued that no man should represent another, but that the people should represent themselves directly. A contradictory argument of Qaddafi's is that the building blocks of society are family, tribe, and nation.

The Culture Of Libya

In the early s, radical reform of the political process was undertaken to bring about direct participation of the people in the national democratic process. The municipalities in the country were reorganized territorially and their management was placed in the hands of locally elected peoples' committees. These committees were responsible for local government and the development of local budgets. Representatives of local committees presented budgets and other matters through a people's congress, which met once a year to discuss matters of concern and to deliver fiscal demands.

This became one mechanism through which Libya redistributed some of the national wealth, and involved its citizens in a democratic process. In , a crisis developed in the ruling RCC and in the army concerning the course that the revolution should take. There was an attempted coup that was not successful; the army was purged and the RCC disbanded.

10 Wedding Traditions From Other Countries

The five remaining loyal RCC members were assigned to ministerial posts. Qaddafi, A Muammar Qaddafi banner hangs over a street in Tripoli. Qaddafi assumed leadership of Libya in Internally, Qaddafi unleashed the young zealots of the revolution, urging them to form revolutionary committees to instruct the people on the goals of the revolution. A rein of terror followed that was to last for over a decade. Revolutionary courts were soon established and nearly all institutions of government and commerce were put under the scrutiny of these committees. Only the institutions of banking and the oil industry were kept from their reach.

Enemies of the revolution were ferreted out, tried secretly in revolutionary courts, jailed, tortured, and subjected to long prison sentences or death. Furor developed on the university campuses and on at least one occasion the student body witnessed the public hanging of fellow students who had been tried by students belonging to the revolutionary committee.

There were numerous public hangings of citizens for crimes committed against the revolution, many of which were broadcast on national television. These measures were followed by other "reforms" which tore at the fabric of Libyan society. Private enterprise was abolished and all privately-owned shops were closed and replaced by government run Peoples' Markets. The regime nationalized all non-owner occupied housing and confirmed ownership on the occupants.

Bureaucrats were sacked from government ministries and, in , Qaddafi demonetized the currency, severely restricting the amounts of old money that citizens could convert to the new currency. There were reports of outraged citizens burning large piles of currency outside of the National Bank. These measures were adopted at a time when the world price for oil dropped severely, thus ushering in a decade of austerity in Libya.

Qaddafi also canceled the stipends of thousands of Libyan students studying abroad and ordered them to return home. Many chose not to return and large numbers of citizens joined them in exile, most from the better-educated classes. By the mid s, as many as , Libyans were living abroad, many joining political groups opposed to the revolution.

During the s, the consequences of the revolution were being felt abroad. Qaddafi urged that revolutionary committees replace the diplomatic corps in Libyan embassies, renaming them "Peoples' Bureaus. Qaddafi stepped up pressure on dissidents and called for the obligatory repatriation of all Libyan exiles. Noncompliance was to result in death. There were gang style executions of Libyan nationals in several European cities. Internationally, Qaddafi played a controversial role.

He fought a war with Chad, skirmished with Egypt, and trained a commando group which attacked a city in southern Tunisia. There were well-publicized financial contributions to Pakistan to aid in building the "Islamic Bomb," and to the Irish Republican Army, the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and other revolutionary organizations. There was also growing suspicion in the international community that the Qaddafi regime was involved directly in terrorism itself.


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These suspicions resulted in the United States and Britain severing diplomatic relations with Libya, putting in place severe economic sanctions and bombing the cities of Tripoli and Benghazi. Subsequently the Pan American Airline explosion over Lockerbie, Scotland was blamed on Libyan agents and the United Nations banned all air travel to Libya until the government was prepared to turn its agents over the Scottish government for trial. By late s, Libya was thoroughly isolated by the international community.

This same period — marked a turning point in the revolution internally. The revolutionary committees were chastised for excesses. Qaddafi released prisoners from jail, personally supervising the destruction of one prison. The liberalization has resulted in free market conditions with satellite dishes springing up everywhere, cell phones in use, and a full array of goods in the shops.

But it does not appear that the liberalization has met with entrepreneurial fervor among the citizens. They seem to know that their mercurial government could change course at a moment's notice. Libya has many characteristics which distinguish it organizationally from other states. Most importantly, the state does not rely upon taxation of its citizens for revenues. State budgets remain out of the realm of public discussion because those in power do not combine finance with politics.

The central power seeks other means to gain compliance from its citizens. While direct democracy is a mechanism for distribution of some of the national wealth to the citizens, most of the national wealth remains to be used by those in power beyond public accountability. For instance, the budget for the military, one of the most important elements of Libya's new elite, is simply not published.

The Libyan military has had a critical role in maintaining the Qaddafi regime in power. This support seems to have functioned from three perspectives. First, the military is extremely well funded. These figures are about twice the average per capita spending on defense for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and are rivaled only by Israel, Saudi Arabia, and a few oil rich Gulf Emirates. Second, these figures reflect an enormous procurement process in which the senior military seem to have profited greatly. There are accounts of senior officers living opulent life styles, building stately villas, and acquiring properties outside of normal channels.

There is a suggestion here that Qaddafi has bought their loyalty. Third, there is hard evidence that tribalism has a role in the army. Qaddafi, during the revolutionary furor that he unleashed, appointed his family members as his bodyguards, trained his tribal kin as his elite army unit and, during the Revolutionary Committee period, appointed members of his tribe to the committee in the army.

Thus opulent economic favor, nepotism, and tribal loyalty combined to assure that the most powerful institution in Libyan society continued to support the revolution and its leader. The Relative Status of Women and Men. Purdah, the custom of secluding and veiling women, is a traditional feature of Libyan cultural life.

Women were traditionally placed in seclusion at puberty and appear in public veiled. They are only freed from this custom at menopause. The push toward female emancipation, as exhibited in the opening of public space to women, may be repealed at any time by either domestic male prerogative or national decree.

Qaddafi established a military academy for females and, occasionally, has arrived at international meetings accompanied by female bodyguards dressed in battle fatigues. Qaddifi claims that men and women are radically different in biology and nature. His view is that the nature of woman is to nurture and her role as mother and domestic is part of a natural order. Where social life outside of the compound may be limiting for women due to the institution of purdah , within the household, the movements of women are not constrained.

All are close kin and many are descendants of a common ancestor. As such they share a common daily social life. The movements of women are not restricted within the compound and both sexes may freely enter each other's abodes without invitation. Descent kinship and marriage are major organizing factors in social, economic, and political life. Patrilineal descent defines group membership, while kinship is largely the product of marriage arrangements.

A guide to Libya – etiquette, customs, clothing and more…

Where the collective interests of descent groups are clearly defined, the patterns of kinship and marriage will reflect these interests. Marriages are arranged by the parents in consultation with members of the extended family and lineage. Libyan society, like much of the Arab world, places a premium on father's brother's daughter's marriage. This is especially true of Tripoli.


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It is important for Libyans to maintain the dignity, honour and a good reputation of their families through their own conduct. This is a collective culture. In order to maintain a sense of harmony, people will act with decorum at all times and not do not do anything to cause someone else public embarrassment.

Personal feelings and needs are often subjugated for the good of the group. Read our guide to Libyan Management Culture for more information on this topic. Do you need to cite this page for school or university research? Please see below examples. Simply change the country name depending on which guide you are referencing. Commisceo Global Consulting Ltd.


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