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The Maghreb Union Countries

The Maghreb (Arabic: بلدان المغرب , Berber: Tamazgha), also rendered Maghrib refers to the 5 countries constituting North Africa, (not to be confused with Northern Africa). It is an Arabic word, literally meaning "place of sunset" or "the west" (from an Arabian perspective). The term is generally now used, mainly by Arabs, to refer collectively to the African countries of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Mauritania. However, before the establishment of modern nation states in the region in the 20th century, "Maghreb" signified the smaller area that lies between the high ranges of the Atlas Mountains in the south, and the Mediterranean Sea in the north, thus excluding most of Libya and Mauritania. Sometimes, after Islam entered the region, the term has included the previously Muslim Andalusia, Sicily, and Malta.

Partially isolated from the rest of the continent by the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara desert, inhabitants of the northern parts of the Maghreb have long been tied in to the inhabitants of the Mediterranean countries, Southern Europe and Western Asia.

The region was somewhat unified as an independent political entity during the rule of the Berber kingdom of Numidia, and later for a short time during the first years of Arab-Muslim conquest (early 8th century). But the firmest and longest unification of the region was under the Berber empires of Almoravids and Almohads between 1040 and 1269.

The 5 modern states of North Africa established the Maghreb Union in 1989 to promote cooperation and economic integration in a common market. It was envisioned initially by Muammar al-Gaddafi as an Arab superstate, ignoring the Berber identity of the North Africans. The union included Western Sahara implicitly under Morocco's membership, putting Morocco's long cold war with Algeria to a rest. However, this progress didn't live for long, and the union is now frozen. Tensions over Western Sahara between Algeria and Morocco reimmerged strongly, reinforced by the unsolved borderline issue between the two countries. These two main conflicts have hindered progress on the union’s joint goals and practically made it inactive as a whole.[1]

The Berberist movement in North Africa is generally uncomfortable with the term "Maghreb", because it is an imported word that implies the submissiveness to the Arab Nationalism's expantionist ambitions coming from the Middle East. The Berber movement also resents and refuses the "Arab Maghreb Union" because it implies that North Africa is Arab territory, and because it denies the very existence of the Berber people as an independent nation separate from the Arabs in Asia. The popular Berber alternative term for "Maghreb" is Tamazgha[2], which was widely popularized by Berber activists in the last quarter of the 20th century.



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 Phoenicians, particularly Carthaginians. With the defeat of Carthage, 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 Rif.

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 Tunisia. 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 France, Spain and later Italy.

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)[3].


Maghrebi people include Moroccans, Algerians, Libyans, Mauritanians, and Tunisians. Maghrebis are largely composed of Berber and Arab descent with Phoenician 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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

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 Inquisition, 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.[4]


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.


Night view from Tunis

The original religions of the Northern African peoples of the area seem [5] 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.[5]

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 Phoenician-speaking Christianity,where bishops spoke and wrote in Punic,and even Emperor Septimius Severus was noted by his local accent. 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.[citation needed]

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 Baghdad became increasingly hostile to Jews, many Jewish traders emigrated to the Maghreb, especially Tunisia. 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.[6]



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 Sea, 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)[7] and Esparto Grass (Stipa tenacissima).[8]

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).[8]

  • North Saharan steppe and woodlands: This ecoregion lies along the northern edge of the Sahara, next to the Mediterranean forests, woodlands, and scrub ecoregions of the Mediterranean Maghreb and Cyrenaica. Winter rains sustain shrublands and dry woodlands that form a transition between the Mediterranean climate regions to the north and the hyper-arid Sahara proper to the south. It covers 1,675,300 square km (646,800 square miles) in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia, and Western Sahara. [9]
  • Atlantic coastal desert: The Atlantic coastal desert occupies a narrow strip along the Atlantic coast, where fog generated offshore by the cool Canary Current provides sufficient moisture to sustain a variety of lichens, succulents, and shrubs. It covers 39,900 square kilometres (15,400 square miles) in Western Sahara and Mauritania.[10]
  • Sahara desert: This ecoregion covers the hyper-arid central portion of the Sahara where rainfall is minimal and sporadic. Vegetation is rare, and this ecoregion consists mostly of sand dunes (erg), stone plateaus (hamada), gravel plains (reg), dry valleys (wadi), and salt flats. It covers 4,639,900 square km (1,791,500 square miles) of Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Sudan.[11]
  • Saharan halophytics: Seasonally-flooded saline depressions in the Maghreb are home to halophytic, or salt-adapted, plant communities. The Saharan halophytics cover 54,000 square km (20,800 square miles), including Tunisian salt lakes of central Tunisia, Chott Melghir in Algeria, and other areas of Egypt, Algeria, Mauritania, and Western Sahara.[12]

Modern territories

Medieval regions

Famous people of Maghrebin origin

See also

References and notes

  1. ^ "Maghreb". The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001-05.. Retrieved 2007-07-11. 
  2. ^ "Tamazgha, North African Berbers".,225.html. Retrieved 2010-02-09. 
  3. ^ An Estimation of the Foreign-Origin Populations of France, Michèle Tribalat
  4. ^ "France and Maghreb - An enhanced partnership with the Maghreb (March 20, 2007)". French ministry of Foreign and European Affairs. Retrieved 2007-07-11. 
  5. ^ Early History of Tunisia#Ancient Berber religion
  6. ^ Avner Greif (June 1993). Contract Enforceability and Economic Institutions in Early Trade: The Maghribi Traders' Coalition. American Economic Association in its journal American Economic Review. Retrieved 2007-07-11. . See also Greif's "Reputation and Coalitions in Medieval Trade: Evidence on the Maghribi Traders" in the Journal of Economic History Vol. XLIX, No. 4 (Dec. 1989) pp.857-882
  7. ^ Dallman, Peter R. (1998) Plant Life in the World's Mediterranean Climates. California Native Plant Society/University of California Press, Berkeley. ISBN 0-520-20809-9
  8. ^ a b Wickens, Gerald E. (1998) Ecophysiology of Economic Plants in Arid and Semi-Arid Lands. Springer, Berlin. ISBN 978-3-540-52171-6
  9. ^ "North Saharan steppe and woodlands" WWF Scientific Report [1]. Accessed December 31, 2007.
  10. ^ "Atlantic coastal desert" WWF Scientific Report [2]. Accessed December 31, 2007.
  11. ^ "Sahara desert" WWF Scientific Report [3]. Accessed December 31, 2007.
  12. ^ "Saharan halophytics" WWF Scientific Report [4]. Accessed December 31, 2007.

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




From Arabic مغرب (máğrib, 'where the sun sets', 'the West') < غرب (ğáraba, 'to set', 'to go down').

Alternative spellings

Proper noun

Wikipedia has an article on:



  1. Northwest Africa, the region of Africa north of the Sahara and west of the Nile. The lands of the Maghreb are generally considered to be the coastal plains of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and western Libya. Construed with “the”: the Maghreb.


Related terms

Simple English

The Maghreb (المغرب العربي al-Maġrib al-ʿArabī)[1] is a region in North Africa. The term is generally applied to all of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, but in older Arabic usage meant only the area of the three countries between the high ranges of the Atlas Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea. Historically, some writers also included muslim ruled regions in Spain, Portugal, Sicily and Malta in the definition. Malta, in particular, still speaks a language based on its own Maghrebi Arabic variety: Maltese.


  1. also rendered Maghrib (or rarely Moghreb), meaning "place of sunset" or "western" in Arabic

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