North Africa or Northern Africa is a region encompassing the northern portion of the African continent. There is no singularly accepted scope for the region, and it is sometimes defined as stretching from the Atlantic shores of Mauritania in the west, to Egypt's Suez Canal.
Other territories (3)
Partially recognized states (1)
Varying sources limit it to the countries of Algeria, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia, a region that was known by the French during colonial times as "Afrique du Nord" and is known by Arabs as the Maghreb ("West", The western part of Arab World).
North Africa includes the Spanish cities of Ceuta and Melilla, and plazas de soberanía and can also be considered to include other Spanish, Portuguese and Italian regions such as Canary Islands, Madeira, Lampedusa and Lampione.
The countries of North Africa share a large amount of ethnic, cultural and linguistic identity with the Middle East.
Northwest Africa has been inhabited by Berbers since the beginning of recorded history, while the eastern part of North Africa has been home to the Egyptians. Between the A.D. 600s and 1000s, Arabs from the Middle East swept across the region in a wave of Muslim conquest. These peoples formed a single population in many areas, as Berbers and Egyptians merged into Arabic and Muslim culture. This process of Arabization and Islamization has defined the cultural landscape of North Africa ever since.
Nineteenth century European explorers, attracted by the accounts of Ancient geographers or Arab geographers of the classical period, followed the routes by the nomadic people of the vast "empty" space. They documented the names of the stopping places they discovered or rediscovered, described landscapes, took a few climate measurements and gathered rock samples. Gradually, a map began to fill in the white blotch.
The Sahara and the Sahel entered the geographic corpus by way of naturalist explorers because aridity is the feature that circumscribes the boundaries of the ecumene. The map details included topographical relief and location of watering holes crucial to long crossings. The Arabic word "Sahel" (shore) and "Sahara" (desert) made its entry into the vocabulary of geography.
Latitudinally, the "slopes" of the arid desert, devoid of continuous human habitation, descend in step-like fashion toward the northern and southern edges of the Mediterranean that opens to Europe and the Sahel that opens to "Trab al Sudan." Longitudinally, a uniform grid divides the central desert then shrinks back toward the Atlantic Ocean and the Red Sea. Gradually, the Sahara-Sahel is further divided into a total of twenty sub-areas: central, northern, southern, western, eastern, etc.
In this way, "standard" geography has determined aridity to be the boundary of the ecumene. It identifies settlements based on visible activity without regard for social or political organizations of space in vast, purportedly "empty" areas. It gives only cursory acknowledgement to what makes Saharan geography, and for that matter, world geography unique: mobility and the routes by which it flows.
The Sahel or "African Transition Zone" has been affected by many formative epochs in North African history ranging from the Ancient Roman colonization, the subsequent Arab expansion, to the Ottoman occupation. As a result, many modern African nation-states that are included in the Sahel evidence cultural similarities and historical overlap with their North African neighbours. In the present day, North Africa is associated with West Asia in the realm of geopolitics to form a Middle East-North Africa region. The Islamic influence in the area is also significant, and North Africa is a major part of the Muslim world.