HARVEYE E. GOLDBERG
Libya is the most eastern of the Maghreb countries, bounded by Tunisia and Algeria on the west, Egypt on the east, and the Sudan, Chad, and Niger on the south. Its area is 685,000 square miles, and it is made up of three regions that were loosely connected in the past. Tripolitania, in the northwest, was part of the Arab “West,” while Cyrenaica in the northeast was linked to Egypt. These are separated by the northern extension of the Sahara Desert, which reaches the Mediterranean at the Gulf of Sidra. To the south of Tripolitania is the Fezzan, a region that was linked to sub-Saharan Africa and also had commercial ties to the north. There is no record of permanent Jewish settlement in the Fezzan, although Jewish merchants in Tripoli trafficked in goods arriving from the south.
The majority of Libyans are Sunni Muslims who follow the Maliki school of law. The Sanusi religious movement influenced Cyrenaica in modern times. A small concentration of Ibadi Muslims-lives in the mountainous Nefusa region, southwest of Tripoli, which is also the enclave of a Berber language. Other pockets of Berber speakers exist in the far south. Some southerners have migrated to northern towns over the centuries.
Early nineteenth-century Tripoli featured Turkish speakers within the ruling class, an Arab majority (of various social ranks), Africans, Jews, Maltese, and such Europeans as consuls or representatives of religious orders. Toward the end of that century, Italian settlement in Libya grew and was reinforced by agricultural colonization in the twentieth century, under Italian colonial rule. Most of Libya's Jews emigrated between 1949 and 1951, on the eve of Libyan independence. Those remaining left in 1970, when the new government of Libya confiscated Jewish property and expelled thirty thousand Italians.