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North Africa or Northern Africa is the northernmost region of the African continent, linked by the Sahara to Sub-Saharan Africa.Geopolitically, the UN definition of Northern Africa includes the following seven countries or territories; Algeriamarker, Egyptmarker, Libyamarker, Moroccomarker, Sudanmarker, Tunisiamarker, Mauritaniamarker, and Western Saharamarker

The Spanishmarker plazas de soberanía (exclaves) are on the southern coast of the Mediterranean Seamarker, surrounded by Morocco on land.

The Spanish Canary Islandsmarker and Portuguesemarker Madeira Islandsmarker in the North Atlantic Oceanmarker are northwest of the African mainland and sometimes included in this region.The Maghreb includes Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Mauritania, and Libya. The disputed territory Western Sahara (under Moroccan control) is generally included. North Africa generally is often included in common definitions of the Middle East, as both regions make up the Arab World. In addition, the Sinai Peninsulamarker of Egypt is part of Asia, making Egypt a transcontinental country.

The distinction between Northern Africa and the rest of Africa is historically significant because of the effective barrier created by the Sahara. Throughout history this barrier has culturally separated the North from the rest of Africa and, as the seafaring civilizations of the Phoeneciansmarker, Greeks, Romans and others facilitated communication and migration across the Mediterraneanmarker, the cultures of North Africa became much more closely tied to Southwestern Asia and Europe than Sub-Saharan Africa.


The Atlas Mountains, which extend across much of Moroccomarker, northern Algeriamarker and Tunisiamarker, are part of the fold mountain system which also runs through much of Southern Europe. They recede to the south and east, becoming a steppe landscape before meeting the Sahara desert which covers more than 90% of the region. The sediments of the Sahara overlie an ancient plateau of crystalline rock, some of which is more than four billion years old.

Sheltered valleys in the Atlas Mountains, the Nile valley and delta, and the Mediterraneanmarker coast are the main sources of good farming land. A wide variety of valuable crops including cereals, rice and cotton, and woods such as cedar and cork, are grown. Typical mediterranean crops such as olives, figs, dates and citrus fruits also thrive in these areas. The Nile valley is particularly fertile, and most of Egyptmarker's population lives close to the river. Elsewhere, irrigation is essential to improve crop yields on the desert margins.

Territories and regions

Country, with flag Area

Population Density

(per km²)
Capital GDP (Total) Per capita Currency Government Official languages
2,381,740 33,333,216 14 Algiersmarker $232.9 billion (2008) $6,500 (2007) Algerian dinar Presidential republic Arabic
1,001,449 77,498,000 74 Cairomarker $477.2 billion (2009) $6,234 (2009) Egyptian pound Semi-presidential republic (democracy) Arabic
1,759,540 6,036,914 3 Tripolimarker $88.3 billion (2008) $12,300 (2007) Libyan dinar Jamahiriya Arabic
446,550 33,757,175 70 Rabatmarker $136.6 billion (2008) $4,100 (2007) Moroccan dirham Constitutional monarchy Arabic
2,505,813 39,379,358 14 Khartoummarker $88.08 billion (2008) $2,552 (2007) Sudanese pound Authoritarianism (democracy) Arabic
163,610 10,102,000 62 Tunismarker $81.71 billion (2008) $7,500 (2007) Tunisian dinar Republic Arabic
266,000 382,617 1.3 El Aaiún marker $900 million (2007) Moroccan dirham Moroccan administration



The inhabitants of North Africa are generally divided in a manner roughly corresponding to the principal geographic regions of North Africa: the Maghreb, the Nile Valley, and the Sahara. Northwest Africa on the whole is believed to have been inhabited by Berbers since before the beginning of recorded history, while the eastern part of North Africa has been home to the Egyptians. Ancient Egyptians record extensive contact in their Western desert with peoples that appear to have been Berber or proto-Berber.

Following the Arabian Muslim conquest in the 7th century AD, North Africa underwent Arabization, that is, a dramatic cultural, linguistic and identity shift of Berbers and Egyptians, shifting to Arabic as their primary community language, and incorporating aspects of Arab culture, and ultimately Arab identity (although until recently, most Egyptians still did not have an Arab ethnic identity, despite the cultural and linguistic shift). Recent genetic studies have confirmed the indigenous origin of the populations remained largely unaffected.


The people of the Maghreb and the Sahara speak various dialects of Berber and Arabic, and almost exclusively follow Islam. The Arabic and Berber groups of languages are distantly related, both being members of the Afro-Asiatic family. The Sahara dialects are notably more conservative than those of coastal cities (see Tuareg languages). Over the years, Berber peoples have been influenced by other cultures with which they came in contact: Greeks, Phoeniciansmarker, Egyptians, Romans, Vandals, Arabs, and lately European. The cultures of the Maghreb and the Sahara therefore combine indigenous Berber, Arab and elements from neighboring parts of Europe, Asia and Africa. In the Sahara, the distinction between sedentary oasis inhabitants and nomadic Bedouin and Tuareg is particularly marked.The diverse peoples of the Sahara chi que en categorized along ethno-linguistic lines. In the Maghreb, where Arab and Berber identities are often integrated, these lines can be blurred. Some Berber-speaking North Africans may identify as "Arab" depending on the social and political circumstances, although substantial numbers of Berbers (or Imazighen) have retained a distinct cultural identity which in the 20th century has been expressed as a clear ethnic identification with Berber history and language. Arabic-speaking Northwest Africans, regardless of ethnic background, often identify with Arab history and culture and may share a common vision with other Arabs. This, however, may or may not exclude pride in and identification with Berber and/or other parts of their heritage. Berber political and cultural activists for their part, often referred to as Berberists, may view all Northwest Africans as principally Berber, whether they are primarily Berber- or Arabic-speaking (see also Arabized Berber).

The Nile Valley traces its origins to the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Kush. The Egyptians over the centuries have shifted their language from Egyptian to modern Egyptian Arabic (both Afro-Asiatic), while retaining a sense of national identity that has historically set them apart from other people in the region. Most Egyptians are Sunni Muslim and a significant minority adheres to Coptic Christianity which has strong historical ties to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Eritrean Orthodox Church.

North Africa formerly had a large Jewish population, many of whom emigrated to France or Israel when the North African nations gained independence. A smaller number went to Canada. Prior to the modern establishment of Israelmarker, there were about 600,000–700,000 Jews in North Africa, including both Sfardīm (refugees from France, Spain and Portugal from the Renaissance era) as well as indigenous . Today, less than fifteen thousand remain in the region, almost all in Morocco and Tunisia. (See Jewish exodus from Arab lands.)


Antiquity and Ancient Rome

The most notable nations of antiquity in western North Africa are Carthagemarker and Numidia. The Phoenicians colonized much of North Africa including Carthage and parts of present day Morocco (including Chellahmarker, Mogadormarker and Volubilismarker). The Carthaginians were of Phoenicianmarker origin, with the Roman myth of their origin being that Queen Dido, a Phoenician princess was granted land by a local ruler based on how much land she could cover with a piece of cowhide. She ingeniously devised a method to extend the cowhide to a high proportion, thus gaining a large territory. She was also rejected by the Trojanmarker prince Aeneas according to Virgil, thus creating a historical enmity between Carthage and Romemarker, as Aeneas would eventually lay the foundations for Rome. The Carthaginiansmarker were a commercial power and had a strong navy, but relied on mercenaries for land soldiers. The Carthaginians developed an empire in Spainmarker and Sicily, the latter being the cause of First Punic War with the Romans.

Over a hundred years and more, all Carthaginian territory was eventually conquered by the Romans, resulting in the Carthaginian North African territories becoming the Roman province of Africa in 146 B.C. This led to tension and eventually conflict between Numidia and Rome. The Numidian wars are notable for launching the careers of both Gaius Marius, and Sulla, and stretching the constitutional burden of the Roman republic, as Marius required a professional army, something previously contrary to Roman values to overcome the talented military leader Jugurtha.

North Africa remained a part of the Roman Empire, which produced many notable citizens such as Augustine of Hippo, until incompetent leadership from Roman commanders in the early fifth century allowed the Germanic barbarian tribe, the Vandals, to cross the Strait of Gibraltarmarker, whereupon they overcame the fickle Roman defense. The loss of North Africa is considered a pinnacle point in the fall of the Western Roman Empire as Africa had previously been an important grain province that maintained Roman prosperity despite the barbarian incursions, and the wealth required to create new armies. The issue of regaining North Africa became paramount to the Western Empire, but was frustrated by Vandal victories and that the focus of Roman energy had to be on the emerging threat of the Huns. In 468 A.D., the last attempt by the Romans, with Byzantine aid, made a serious attempt to invade North Africa but were repelled. This is placed as the point of no return for the western Roman empire in a historical sense and the last Roman Emperor was deposed in 475 by the Ostrogoth generalissimo Odoacer who saw no purpose in regaining North Africa. Trade routes between Europe and North Africa remained intact until the coming of the Moslems. Some Berbers were Christians (but evolved their own Donatist doctrine), some wereJewish, and some adhered to their traditional polytheist religion. African pope Victor I served during the reign of Roman emperor Septimus Severus, of Roman/Berber ancestry. The Byzantine reconquest of North Africa from the Vandals began in 533 AD, as Justinian I sent his general Belisarius to reclaim the former Roman province of Africa. Animal

Arab Conquest to modern times

The Arab Islamic conquest reached North Africa in 640 AD. By 670, most of North Africa had fallen to Muslim rule. Indigenous Berbers subsequently started to form their own polities in response in places such as Fezmarker, Moroccomarker, and Sijilimasa. In the eleventh century, a reformist movement made up of members that called themselves Almoravids, expanded south into Sub-Saharan Africa.

The North Africa's populous and flourishing civilization collapsed after exhausting its resources in internal fighting and suffering devastation from the invasion of the Bedouin tribes of Banu Sulaym and Banu Hilal. Ibn Khaldun noted that the lands ravaged by Banu Hilal invaders had become completely arid desert.

After the Middle Ages the area was loosely under the control of the Ottoman Empire, except Moroccomarker. After the 19th century, the imperial and colonial presence of France, the United Kingdom, Spain and Italymarker left the entirety of the region under one form of European occupation.

In World War II from 1940 to 1943 the area was the setting for the North African Campaign. During the 1950s and 1960s all of the North African states gained independence. There remains a dispute over Western Saharamarker between Moroccomarker and the Algerianmarker-backed Polisario Front.

Transport and industry

The economies of Algeriamarker and Libyamarker were transformed by the discovery of oil and natural gas reserves in the deserts. Moroccomarker's major exports are phosphates and agricultural produce, and as in Egyptmarker and Tunisiamarker, the tourist industry is essential to the economy. Egyptmarker has the most varied industrial base, importing technology to develop electronics and engineering industries, and maintaining the reputation of its high-quality cotton textiles.

Oil rigs are scattered throughout the deserts of Libyamarker and Algeriamarker. Libyan oil is especially prized because of its low sulphur content, which it means it produces much less pollution than other fuel oils.

See also


  1. The disputed territory of Western Sahara is mostly occupied and administered by Morocco; the Polisario Front claims the territory in militating for the establishment an independent republic, and exercises limited control over rump border territories.
  7. Under Moroccan administration
  9. C. Michael Hogan, Volubilis, The Megalithic Portal, ed. Andy Burnham (2007)
  10. The Punic Wars 264-146 BC, by Nigel Bagnall
  11. Sallust, De Bello Iugurthino
  12. The Berbers, BBC World Service | The Story of Africa
  13. "Berbers : ... The best known of them were the Roman author Apuleius, the Roman emperor Septimius Severus, and St. Augustine", Encyclopedia Americana, Scholastic Library Publishing, 2005, v.3, p.569
  14. The Great Mosque of Tlemcen,
  15. Populations Crises and Population Cycles, Claire Russell and W.M.S. Russell

External links

* Energy and Mining
* Industries and Markets
* Politics and Diplomacy
* Finance and Banking
* Agriculture and Tourism
* Corporate Affairs
* Social and Labor Affairs
* Human Rights for Indigenous Peoples
* North Africa's Weather Forecasts and Weather Conditions
* Africa Interactive Map from the United States Army Africa

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