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Culture in Libya


Libya is culturally similar to its neighbouring Maghrebian states. Libyans consider themselves very much a part of a wider Arab community. The Libyan state tends to strengthen this feeling by considering Arabic as the only official language, and forbidding the teaching and even the use of the Berber language. Libyan Arabs have a heritage in the traditions of the nomadic Bedouin and associate themselves with a particular Bedouin tribe.

As with some other countries in the Arab world, Libya boasts few theatres or art galleries. For many years there have been no public theatres, and only a few cinemas showing foreign films. The tradition of folk culture is still alive and well, with troupes performing music and dance at frequent festivals, both in Libya and abroad.

The main output of Libyan television is devoted to showing various styles of traditional Libyan music. Tuareg music and dance are popular in Ghadames and the south. Libyan television programmes are mostly in Arabic with a 30-minute news broadcast each evening in English and French. The government maintains strict control over all media outlets. A new analysis by the Committee to Protect Journalists has found Libya’s media the most tightly controlled in the Arab world. To combat this, the government plans to introduce private media, an initiative intended to bring the country's media in from the cold.


Libyan literature has its roots in Antiquity, but contemporary Libyan writing draws on a variety of influences. The Arab Renaissance (Al-Nahda) of the late 19th and early 20th centuries did not reach Libya as early as other Arab lands, and Libyans contributed little to its initial development. However, Libya at this time developed its own literary tradition, centred on oral poetry, much of which expressed the suffering brought about by the Italian colonial period. Sulaiman al-Barouni, an important figure of the Libyan resistance to the Italian occupation, wrote the first book of Libyan poetry as well as publishing a newspaper called The Muslim Lion.

Libyan literature began to bloom in the late 1960s, with the writings of Sadeq al-Neihum, Khalifa al-Fakhri, Khamel al-Maghur (prose), Muhammad al-Shaltami and Ali al-Regeie (poetry). Many Libyan writers of the 1960s adhered to nationalist, socialist and generally progressive views.

In 1969, a military coup brought Muammar Gaddafi to power. In the mid-1970s, the new government set up a single publishing house, and authors were required to write in support of the authorities. Those who refused were imprisoned, emigrated, or ceased writing. Censorship laws were loosened, but not abolished, in the early 1990s, resulting in a literary renewal. Some measure of dissent is expressed in contemporary literature published within Libya, but books remain censored and self-censored to a significant extent.

Contemporary Libyan literature is influenced by "local lore, North African and Eastern Mediterranean Arab literatures, and world literature at large" (K. Mattawa). Émigré writers have also contributed significantly to Libyan literature, and include Ibrahim Al-Kouni, Ahmad Al-Faqih and Sadeq al-Neihum.

As very little Libyan literature has been translated, few Libyan authors have received much attention outside of the Arab World. Possibly Libya's best-known writer, Ibrahim Al-Koni, is all but unknown outside the Arab-speaking world.


Libya is a North African country. Arabs are the most populous ethnic group and various kinds of Arab music are popular such as Andalusi music, locally known as Ma'luf, Chabi and Arab classical music.

The Tuareg live in the southern, Saharan part of the country, and have their own distinctive folk music. There is little or no pop music industry. Among the Tuareg, women are the musicians. They play a one-stringed violin called an anzad, as well as a variety of drums.

Two of the most famous musicians of Libya are Ahmed Fakroun and Mohammed Hassan.

Among Libyan Arabs, instruments include the zokra (a bagpipe), flute (made of bamboo), tambourine, oud (a fretless lute) and darbuka, a goblet drum held sideways and played with the fingers. Complication clapping is also common in folk music.

Travelling Bedouin poet-singers have spread many popular songs across Libya. Among their styles is huda, the camel driver's song, the rhythm of which is said to mimic the feet of a walking camel.





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