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Imbalances in Libya


Libya has developed extraordinarily quickly since the discovery of oil. This has brought rapid development, but there are still huge social and economic imbalances. In terms of gender, for instance, literacy of women in 2010 was 82.69 percent and 95.61 percent for men (World Bank), although the gap narrowed greatly under the Gaddafi regime (it was 42.3 percent for women, compared to 77 percent for men in 1984) and the ratio of young literate females to males aged 15-24 in 2010 was 99.9 percent). Far more men than women are part of the labour force: the participation rate for women in 2011 was 30 percent but 76.8 for men. Regional imbalances and the distribution of wealth are difficult to quantify: the Gaddafi government did not provide the necessary statistics.

The Libyan oil boom in the 1960s caused a large-scale migration into Tripoli and Benghazi. In 1964, 27 percent of the land was urban, twenty years later it had risen to 40 percent. This demographic change tested traditional social cohesion in some urban neighbourhoods that were flooded with migrants, and rural areas were depleted of population. Despite government attempts to reverse this process by granting land to tens of thousands of peasant families, people tended to want only to relocate close to their tribal territory. It seems certain that the lifting of the embargo in 2003 increased social inequality, with the benefits going only to the business elite with Gaddafi-family connections. The post-revolt government is confronted with these problems. In 2003 public-sector salaries averaged 250 Libyan dinars (USD 196), and many people took a second job.

The 2011 revolution increased the breakdown of social cohesion. Although Libya’s ‘oneness’ was stressed ideologically, the lack of security, the prevalence of militias, and the lack of functioning government agencies and social-security networks put pressure on social cohesion. In these circumstances, tribal affiliation and Islam provide a strengthened sense of security and identity. According to the Arab Human Development Report 2005, pension coverage in Libya, where the great majority work in the public sector, had reached 70 percent.

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