Libya: An End to Isolation?
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Map of Libya


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By Andrew Cockburn Photographs by Reza



After three decades of international isolation, the nation works to shed its outlaw image.



Read this compelling excerpt, or print the whole story.

Housam, a guide from the Libyan Ministry of Information, had run only 20 yards (18 meters) from his hotel room to mine, but he was perspiring. “Come quickly,” he said, “the Leader is waiting for you in Banghazi. There is a plane ready.” We raced downstairs. The government driver, allegedly on standby for just this occasion, had characteristically disappeared. Cursing, Housam led me in a sprint to his own car, and we roared off down the corniche that runs along the Mediterranean seafront of Tripoli, Libya’s capital city. We were heading away from the city’s main commercial airport.

After a few miles we suddenly peeled off the highway and sped through a gate onto an airfield where a dozen huge Russian-built Ilyushin-76 military transport planes were parked. We climbed a ladder into the vast cargo bay of one of the planes. Waiting inside were Fuad, Muammar Qaddafi’s English interpreter, and a youth named Ibrahim toting two large cardboard boxes tied with string. I asked what was in the boxes. “Correspondence for the Leader,” replied Fuad, lighting a cigarette. So this was how Muammar Qaddafi gets his mail.

This was a voyage of exploration. For years Libya has been a country largely unknown to the outside world. Even the few outsiders who managed to make their way here usually found it impossible to penetrate beneath the surface. Casual contact between ordinary Libyans and foreigners was heavily discouraged as Qaddafi, who came to power in 1969, gradually imposed his own brand of revolutionary theory on the country. As embassies closed and foreign companies pulled out throughout the 1970s and ’80s, there was an ever diminishing number of visitors from the Western world.

“Do you notice how they’re trying to get that light in the cockpit to go out?” remarked Fuad. “There is a problem with this plane.” A nervous-looking pilot appeared at the door moments later and concurred that the plane was not safe. We climbed down, got back in our car, and drove into town. “Kul taheera f’heera,” said Fuad cheerfully, “sometimes it is better to delay,” a common Libyan phrase that I was beginning to know well.

This monthly special showcases a unique blend of imagery and sound.

Photographer Reza describes the challenges of gaining access in an isolated outcast nation.
Video 1: The Hardest
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Video 2: The Worst
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Video 3: The Tourists I
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Video 4: The Tourists II
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Video 5: Waiting for Qaddafi
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Video 6: Meeting Qaddafi
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Video 7: Photographing Qaddafi
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We offer this forum board in Spanish and English. After owning up to terrorist acts, can Libya be trusted? Join the discussion.





In More to Explore the National Geographic Magazine team shares some of their best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.


The population of Libya is not entirely Arab. Before the Arab invasion in the seventh century, the land we know today as Libya was inhabited mostly by Berbers. Descendants of the original inhabitants of North Africa, the Berbers resisted the Arabs at first but eventually converted to Islam and adopted Arabic as their language. Berbers are found throughout North Africa, with the largest concentrations in Morocco and Algeria. “Berber” derives from the Roman word for barbarian.


Libya Mission to the United Nations
www.un.int/libya/
The Libyan Mission’s home page discusses Libya’s involvement in the UN and provides several links to other websites about Libya.

Libya Online
www.libyaonline.com
This site provides information about Libyan history, culture, geography, music, literature, and even sports.

The World Factbook
www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/ly.html
For a quick lesson on Libya, its government, economy, geography, and people, this site is informative and easy to use.

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Blundy, David and Andrew Lycett. Qaddafi and the Libyan Revolution: The First Full Length Biography. Corgi Books, 1988.

Lutz, Rüdiger and Gabriele Lutz. The Secret of the Desert: The Rock Art of Messak Sattafet and Messak Mellet, Libya. Universitätsbuchhandlung, Golf Verlag, 1995.

St. John, Ronald Bruce. Historical Dictionary of Libya, 3rd ed., African Historical Dictionaries. The Scarecrow Press, 1998.

Wright, John. Libya: A Modern History. Baltimore, Maryland, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982.

Wright, John. Libya, Chad and the Central Sahara. Barnes & Noble Books, 1989.

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Cotter, Margaret. “Red Cross Girl Overseas.” National Geographic, Dec. 1944, 745-768.

Moore, Robert W. “Old-New Battle Grounds of Egypt and Libia.” National Geographic, Dec. 1940, 809-820.

Casserly, Gordon. “Tripolitania, Where Rome Resumes Sway.” National Geographic, Aug. 1925, 131-161.

Johnson, Frank Edward. “Here and There in Northern Africa.” National Geographic, Jan. 1914, 1-132.

Vischer, Hanns. “The Mysteries of the Desert.” National Geographic, Nov. 1911, 1056-1059.

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