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There is little current and definitive information available on property rights and resource governance in Libya, a country that was ruled by Col. Muammar Qadhafi for 42 years prior to the February 2011 revolution. Though many major donors currently have teams on the ground in the country, it is unclear whether property rights reform is a priority intervention area at the time of this writing, since most of these donors have yet to make information on their current projects publicly available. It must be noted that Libya is in a relatively unique position among developing nations, as the country has resources to finance its own development and is not expected to be reliant on donor funding over the long-term, instead requiring mostly technical assistance.

Property rights were highly insecure under the Qadhafi regime, and the regime’s approach to property governance was defined by its inconsistency. The Libyan government regularly confiscated private land, some of which was redistributed to the landless or to political favorites. A series of successive redistribution efforts culminated in the abolition of private property ownership in 1986, leaving Libyans with only transferable use-rights to land. This led to a rise in social tension and a lack of investor confidence.

Libya is currently in transition. The country’s first elected government was sworn in on November 14, 2012 and one of its primary tasks will be determining the procedures for the drafting of Libya’s new constitution, which will provide the foundation for Libya’s new property rights and resource governance regime. Preliminary steps have already been taken: the post-revolution government has indicated its support of private property rights; the 2011 Constitutional Declaration confirms the inviolability of private property rights in post-Qadhafi Libya; and in March 2013 the Ministry of Justice published a draft law intended to resolve disputes arising from earlier state seizures of property. As Libya seeks to dampen social conflicts and to attract foreign investment, reforms to clarify and strengthen private property rights will become increasingly necessary.


There is substantial donor interest in post-Qadhafi Libya, although at this time publicly available information on intended or ongoing interventions is limited. Libya’s history of insecure and uncertain property rights during Col. Muammar Qadhafi’s 42-year rule has created a need for interventions to clarify, adjust, and strengthen land tenure and property rights. The following interventions are recommended:

  • Help develop clear and consistent policy and laws that support private property rights. Libya’s new government will need to create an entirely new framework for property rights in the country, as the previous government’s approach to law, policy, and enforcement was extremely inconsistent. Donors could support the preparation of new policy in the areas of housing, commercial and industrial property, farm land, forest land, and real property generally that recognize, protect and enable the free exercise of private property rights. Donors could also support the drafting of laws, and assist in the establishment of land administration agencies, to implement these policies.
  • Address tensions over conflicting rights. In the wake of Qadhafi’s ouster, and as a result of government expropriations during the Qadhafi regime, property rights in Libya are extremely unclear. Donors could support conflict-mediation efforts during the transition and the development of legislation and programs to provide an appropriate property restitution scheme. There is some interest in learning how other post- conflict, post-socialist regimes have dealt with the restitution of property to former owners and compensation of current occupants.
  • Support women’s land rights. While Qadhafi-era laws protected women’s property rights on paper, reports indicate that in practice women’s rights were dependent upon their relationships with their male family members. In the case of inheritance, while many Libyans purport to follow shari’a-based inheritance rules, which guarantee women some inheritance rights, in some cases these rules are not implemented. It is also unclear whether women’s legal protections will be as strong in Libya’s upcoming constitution. Donors could work with the newly elected government and the Constitutional Committee to ensure that women’s rights are protected under the Libyan constitution and laws, as well as support projects to reinforce women’s rights.


Libya is located on the northern coast of Africa. Though the country is one of the largest on the continent, it has a relatively small population. The country is mainly desert, and the vast majority of the population lives in the coastal regions. Agriculture is limited as a result of climatic conditions, and nearly all agriculture in the country is irrigation-reliant. Most agricultural activity consists of fruits and vegetables grown for domestic consumption. Less than 1% of the country’s land is forested.

There is little definitive information available on land and natural resource management in Libya. During Colonel Muammar Qadhafi’s 42- year rule there was no consistent land and property policy. Forced expropriations by the government were common during the Qadhafi era, and several redistribution programs were attempted during the 1970’s and 1980’s. A series of successive property laws culminated in the legal abolishment of all private property rights in 1986. The post-Qadhafi government has yet to address land and property rights issues, although a draft law to address disputes arising from Qadhafi-era seizures was put forward by the Ministry of Justice in March 2013.

Though under Qadhafi-era laws women had equal legal rights to property, in practice, women’s economic activity was limited and most women were dependent on their husbands or male relatives for financial support.

The commercial land market in Libya has been severely distorted by the changing law and policies regarding property, as well as the imposition and subsequent lifting of international sanctions. United Nations sanctions imposed on the country in 1992 in response to Libya’s refusal to extradite two men indicted for the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, were lifted in 2003, while many US economic sanctions, in place since the 1980’s, were lifted in 2004. The subsequent opening of Libya’s markets to the world led to a rapid increase in rental prices.Analysts expect significant growth in the property sector in the coming years, provided the current uncertainties can be resolved satisfactorily.

The Qadhafi regime frequently engaged in the compulsory acquisition of private property rights, which it then transferred to landless Libyans, and in many cases to supporters of the regime. Tens of thousands of Libyans whose land was confiscated in the 1970’s and 1980’s are now demanding the return of their property, with some turning to threats and violence to forcibly evict the current occupants, many of whom have lived on the property for decades.

Libya is located mainly in the Sahara Desert and experiences very little rainfall. The country’s main water source is the fossil water extracted from the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System. Since 1984, the government has been working on construction of the Great Manmade River Project, a series of pipes that transfer fossil water located mainly in the southern regions of the country to the more populated areas to the north. The General Water Authority was established in 1972 and is responsible for management of Libya’s water resources. The Great Manmade River Water Utilization Agency manages water transported through the Great Manmade River Project.

Forestland comprises 0.12% of Libya’s total land area. The country has more planted forest than natural forest as a result of several afforestation programs dating back to 1957.

Libya has the seventh-largest proven oil reserves in the world, and the largest in Africa. Libya has the fourth- largest proven reserves of natural gas in Africa.

Published / Updated: June 2013