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The Maghreb
The Maghreb (المغرب العربي ), also rendered Maghrib (or rarely Moghreb), meaning "place of sunset" or "western" in Arabic, is a region in North Africa. The term is generally applied to all of Moroccomarker, Algeriamarker, and Tunisiamarker, but in older Arabic usage pertained only to the area of the three countries between the high ranges of the Atlas Mountains and the Mediterranean Seamarker. Historically, some writers also included Spainmarker, Portugalmarker, Sicily and Maltamarker in the definition, especially during the periods of Muslim rule.

Partially isolated from the rest of the continent by the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara, the Maghreb has long been closely tied in terms of climate, landforms, population, economy, and history to the Mediterranean basin. Because sea transportation dominated people's lives for so long, peoples joined by waters shared more than those joined by land.

The region was united as a single political entity only during the first years of Arab rule (early 8th century), and again for several decades under the Berber Almohads (1159–1229).

The Arab states of North Africa established the Maghreb Union in 1989 to promote cooperation and economic integration. Its members are Moroccomarker, Algeriamarker, Tunisiamarker, Libyamarker and Mauritaniamarker. Envisioned initially by Muammar al-Gaddafi as an Arab superstate, organization members expect eventually to function as a North African Common Market. Economic and political unrest, especially in Algeria, have hindered progress on the union’s joint goals.


Magreb head ornament (Morocco)
After the end of the Ice Age about ten thousand years ago, when the Sahara dried up, contact between the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa was extremely limited.

Many ports along the Maghreb coast were occupied by Phoeniciansmarker, particularly Carthaginians. With the defeat of Carthagemarker, Rome took over many of these ports, and ultimately it took control of the entire Maghreb north of the Atlas Mountains. Remaining outside its control were only some of the most mountainous regions like the Moroccan Rifmarker.

The Arabs reached the Maghreb in early Umayyad times. Arab expansion and the spread of Islam pushed the development of trans-Saharan trade. While restricted due to the cost and dangers, the trade was highly profitable. Peoples traded in such goods as salt, gold, ivory, and slaves taken from the Sahel regions as well as southern Europeans enslaved by Muslim pirates. Arab control over the Maghreb was quite weak. Various Islamic "heresies", such as the Ibadis and the Shia, adopted by some Berbers, quickly threw off Caliphal control in favour of their interpretation of Islam.

The Arabic language became widespread only later, as a result of the invasion of the Banu Hilal, unleashed by the Fatimids in punishment for their Zirid clients' defection in the 1100s. Throughout this period, the Maghreb most often was divided into three states roughly corresponding to modern Morocco, western Algeria, and eastern Algeria and Tunisiamarker. The region was occasionally briefly unified, as under the Almohads, and briefly under the Hafsids.

After the Middle Ages, the Ottoman Empire loosely controlled the area east of Morocco. After the 19th century, areas of the Maghreb were colonized by Francemarker, Spainmarker and later Italymarker.

Today more than two and a half million Maghrebi immigrants live in France, especially from Algeria and Morocco. In addition, there are 3 million French of Maghrebi origin (in 1999) (with at least one grand-parent from Algeria, Morocco or Tunisia).


Maghrebi people include Moroccans, Algerians, Libyans, Mauritanians, and Tunisians. Maghrebis are largely composed of Berber and Arab descent with Phoenicianmarker and European elements. A majority of the current population in the Maghreb consider themselves generally Arab in identity but of Berber descent and origin, regardless of mixed ethnic or linguistic heritage. However, there are significant non-Arab or non-Arab-identifying populations in the region.

Most important of the non-Arab populations found throughout the Maghreb, particularly in Morocco and Algeria, are the Berbers. They represented the majority of the pre-Islamic population. After the arrival of Muslim Arabs, Berbers assimilated in large numbers to Arab or mixed Arab-Berber ethnic identities.

Various other influences are also prominent throughout the Maghreb. In northern coastal towns, in particular, several waves of European immigrants have influenced the population in the Medieval era. Most notable were the moriscos and muladies, that are, indigenous Spaniards who had earlier converted to the Muslim faith and were fleeing, together with ethnic Arab and Berber Muslims, from the Spanish Catholic Reconquista. Other European contributions included French, Italians, and others captured by the corsairs.

Historically the Maghreb was home to significant Jewish communities, including the Berber Jews, who predated the 7th century introduction and conversion of the majority of Berbers to Islam. Later Spanish Sephardic Jews fleeing the Spanish Catholic Reconquista, established a presence in North Africa, chiefly in the urban trading centers. They have contributed to the wider population through conversion and assimilation. Many Sephardic Jews emigrated to North America in the early 20th century or to France and Israel later in the 20th century.

Among West Asians are Turks who came over with the expansion of the Ottoman Empire. A large Turkish descended population exists, particularly in Tunisia and Algeria.

Sub-Saharan Africans joined the population mix during centuries of trans-Saharan trade. Traders and slaves went to the Maghreb from the Sahel region. On the Saharan southern edge of the Maghreb are small communities of black populations, sometimes called Haratine, who are apparently descended from black populations who inhabited the Sahara during its last wet period and then migrated north.

In Algeria especially, a large European minority, the "pied noirs", immigrated and settled under French colonial rule. The overwhelming majority of these, however, left Algeria during and following the war for independence. France maintains a close relationship with the Maghreb countries.


The Maghreb shares a common culinary tradition. Habib Bourguiba defined it as the part of the Arab world where couscous is the staple food, as opposed to Eastern Arab countries where white rice is the staple food. In terms of food, similarities beyond the starches are found throughout the Arab world.


The original religions of the Northern African peoples of the area seem to have been based and related with fertility cults of a strong Matriarchy pantheon, given the social and linguistic structures of the Amazigh cultures antedating all Egyptian and eastern, Asian, northern Mediterranean, and European influences.

Historic records of religion in the Maghreb region show its gradual inclusion in the Classical World, with coastal colonies established first by Phoenicians, some Greeks, and later extensive conquest and colonization by the Romans. By the second century common era, the area had become a center of Latin-speaking Christianity. Both Roman settlers and Romanized populations converted to Christianity. The region produced figures such as Christian Church writer Tertullian (c. 155 – c. 202); and Christian Church martyrs or leading figures such as St Cyprian of Carthage (+ 258); St. Monica; her son the philosopher St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo I (+ 430) (1); and St Julia of Carthage (5th century).

The domination of Christianity ended when Arab invasions brought Islam in 647. Carthage fell in 698 and the remainder of the region followed in subsequent decades. Gradual Islamization proceeded, although surviving letters showed correspondence from regional Christians to Rome up until the ninth century. Christianity was still a living faith. Christian bishoprics and dioceses continued to be active, with relations continuing with Rome. As late as Pope Benedict VII (974-983) reign, a new Archbishop of Carthage was consecrated. Evidence of Christianity in the region then faded through the tenth century.

During the 7th century, the region's peoples began their nearly total conversion to Islam. There is a small but thriving Jewish community, as well as a small Christian community. Most Muslims follow the Sunni Maliki school. Small Ibadi communities remain in some areas. A strong tradition of venerating marabouts and saints' tombs is found throughout regions inhabited by Berbers. Any map of the region demonstrates the tradition by the proliferation of "Sidi"s, showing places named after the marabouts. Like some other religious traditions, this has substantially decreased over the twentieth century. A network of zaouias traditionally helped proliferate basic literacy and knowledge of Islam in rural regions.

Maghrebi traders in Jewish history

In the tenth century, as the social and political environment in Baghdadmarker became increasingly hostile to Jews, many Jewish traders emigrated to the Maghreb, especially Tunisiamarker. Over the following two or three centuries, such Jewish traders became known as the Maghribis, a distinctive social group who traveled throughout the Mediterranean World. They passed this identification on from father to son.



The Maghreb is divided into a Mediterranean climate region in the north, and the arid Sahara to the south. The Magreb's variations in elevation, rainfall, temperature, and soils give rise to distinct communities of plants and animals. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) identifies several distinct ecoregions in the Maghreb.

Mediterranean Maghreb

The portions of the Maghreb between the Atlas Mountains and the Mediterranean Seamarker, along with coastal Tripolitania and Cyrenaica in Libya, are home to Mediterranean forests, woodlands, and scrub. These ecoregions share many species of plants and animals with other portions of Mediterranean Basin. The southern extent of the Mediterranean Maghreb corresponds with the 100 mm isohyet, or the southern range of the European Olive (Olea europea) and Esparto Grass (Stipa tenacissima).

Saharan Maghreb

The Sahara extends across northern Africa from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea. Its central part is hyper-arid and supports little plant or animal life, but the northern portion of the desert receives occasional winter rains, while the strip along the Atlantic coast receives moisture from marine fog, which nourishes a greater variety of plants and animals. The northern edge of the Sahara corresponds to the 100 mm isohyet, which is also the northern range of the Date Palm (Phoenix dactylifera).

Modern territories

Medieval regions

Famous people of Maghrebin origin

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See also

References and notes

External links

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