The Maghreb, literally meaning 'the west', is a term used to define the area that constitutes present day Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya.
When, some 10,000 years ago the Sahara region dried up, the Maghreb area was
effectively cut off from the sub-Sahara and looked to the Mediterranean for
its outside contacts with most inhabited locations running along the Mediterranean
and Atlantic coastlines.
By 1150 BCE the Phoenicians, a powerful seafaring and trading
people initially from the Syrian coast, inhabited the coast of
Morocco and over the next few centuries completed their rule
over modern day Libya.
By then 9th century BCE the
Phoenician city-state of Carthage was in ascendancy establishing
control over other Phoenician areas across the African coastline
as well as southern Spain and Mediterranean islands (map, left). This
hegemony was to last until the Punic Wars which saw Rome triumph
at the Battle of Carthage in 146BCE following which they wrested
control of all Carthaginian colonies, set fire to its warships
and sold tens of thousands into slavery.
By 67CE Rome ruled the entire Maghreb from Egypt to the
Atlantic, however its fall in 455CE, saw the Vandals, who had
sacked Rome, move into north Africa and seized control of the Maghreb from Libya to Morocco, establishing a Kingdom of the
Vandals across Algeria and Libya by 500CE. Justinian the Great,
Byzantine Emperor (527 to 565CE), reconquered the territory
during the Vandalic War of 533–534CE and the Byzantines ruled
the Maghreb until the Arab invasions of the 7th century when it
cam under Islamic influence and stewardship.
history continued under
Islamic Umayyad, Almoravid and Almohad caliphate control for over 500 years
until the 13th century when the Ottoman Empire rose in the east and dominated
many provinces including the Magreb area. When the Ottoman empire started to
fade, Spain, France and then Italy started to colonise the Maghreb as part of the
scramble for Africa. In 1848 France annexed Algeria bringing it under their
military control within 40yrs as well as establishing a protectorate in Tunisia
whilst following the Berlin Conference, Spain claimed the Western Sahara. The
French and Spanish continued to dispute sovereignty across Morocco during this
period of history.
Italy then ended Ottoman rule in Triopoli in 1911 and by 1914 occupied most
of Libya, finally uniting the regions of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica and naming
it as the modern day country of Libya in 1934, making it an Italian province in
1939. The end of the second world war saw growing nationalism across the Maghreb
and its often brutal suppression by the European colonists, however by the 1950s
the realisation of independence for these nations became just a matter of time and they were duly
granted that independence during the 1960s.
Today, there has been a push for
a Maghreb Union, an Arab superstate akin to a north African counter to the
European Union, but divisions, particularly between Morocco and Algeria over the
status of the Western Sahara have effectively killed off the idea, and its main
advocate, Colonel Gaddafi of Libya, now dead and his power base destroyed.
Today there are concerns,
especially in Algeria, that al-Qaeda is attempting to infiltrate the Maghreb
with the intention of installing strict Islamic law across the region with
terrorists attacks in Tunisia, Algeria and other countries in addition to the
kidnapping of numerous officials. The current unrest across the Maghreb is making
various power blocks observe unfolding events in North Africa with concern
should such militancy prevail so close to Europe and is discussed in the top
Above, right, images from the history of the Maghreb across the ages.