North Africa




Algeria Libya Morocco Sudan / South Sudan
Egypt Mauritania Tunisia Western Sahara

In Roman times this was the southern part of the Mediterranean world with Greek, Latin and Phoenician colonists. But these were colonizing a land already occupied by the ancestors of the Berbers and people speaking related Afro-Asiatic languages, including ancient Egyptian and Libyan. Since the rise of Islam all these countries have been mainly Arabic in language and Muslim in religion. There are still Berber speakers in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. There is a Christian minority in Egypt who use a modification of Ancient Egyptian (Coptic) as their ritual language.

All, except Morocco, were ruled by the Ottoman empire when it reached its greatest extension. However west of Egypt Ottoman control was weak. All were ruled by Europeans from late 19th century until mid 20th century. Now although there is a certain cultural unity there is little political unity. Libya and Algeria have stood out as "revolutionary" states whereas Morocco and Tunisia have remained more traditional. Until 2011 the governments of Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia were pro-western (though not necessarily the people) though dictatorships and were reliant on aid funds or tourists. Libya and Algeria have huge reserves of oil and gas.

Mauritania is usually counted as part of North Africa as it is a member of the Arab league and is ruled by an Arabic speaking group. There is however a large minority of non-Arabs, making it like Sudan and Chad - a transition state.

Sudan stood out as being divided between Arab and non-Arab, with fighting but has now (2011) divided into two states. South Sudan will tend to become part of East Africa.

Before 2011 Algeria and Egypt seemed to be facing militant Muslim fundamentalists who may have wished to set up states on the lines of Afghanistan's Taliban regime. Both states were facing violence, though in Algeria the worst may be over. Tunisia (January 2011) underwent a revolution. Following the 2011 revolutions the influence of the Islamists seems to be much less than feared. Ordinary people seem to want a modern democratic system. It may prove that the "Islamists" were mainly a protest against the mostly brutal dictatorships, and in the case of Algeria a vehicle for the Arab and Berber speakers against the French-speaking minority who ran the government.

After writing that, in January 2011, revolutionary change occurred in the three eastern states: Tunisia ejected its long term dictator, without much bloodshed; Egypt got rid of its even longer lasting dictator with more deaths, while Libya began a civil war against its even worse dictator, Muammar Gadafi deposed by September 2011, killed in the occupation of Sirte. Many died in Libya.

By April 2012 Egypt has held elections for a constituent assembly and is due to hold presidential elections in May 2012. The Assembly is dominated by a party formed by the Muslim Brotherhood. Will it be as "moderate" as they claim? However, the real power is still held by the Army council. Will they actually give up power after presidential elections?

In Tunisia moderate Islamists who claim to believe in democracy won a majority of the seats in the Assembly and the presidency.

Last revision 4/04/12



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