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Maghreb

The Maghreb 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 Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, 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 Sea. Historically, some writers also included Spain, Portugal, Sicily and Malta in the definition, especially during the periods of Arab and Muslim domination. Malta, in particular, speaks a language descended from the extinct Siculo-Arabic variety, modern Maltese. 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 Almohads (1159–1229). The Arab states of North Africa established the Arab Maghreb Union in 1989 to promote cooperation and economic integration. Its members are Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania. 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.

Population

A majority of the current population in the Maghreb consider themselves generally Arab in identity, regardless of mixed ethnic or linguistic heritage. 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 Islamic Arabs, Berbers assimilated in large numbers to Arab or mixed Arab-Berber ethnic identities.

Various other influences are also prominent throughout the Maghreb. In particular in northern coastal towns, several waves of European immigrants have influenced the population. Most notable were the moriscos and muladies, that is, indigenous Spaniards who had earlier converted to the Muslim faith and were fleeing, together with ethnic Arab and Berber Muslims, from the 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.

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.

 

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