North Africa or Northern Africa is the northernmost region of the African continent, linked by the Sahara to Sub-Saharan Africa. Geopolitically, the United Nations definition of Northern Africa includes seven countries or territories; Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia, and Western Sahara. Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Mauritania, and Libya together are also referred to as the Maghreb or Maghrib, while Egypt is a transcontinental country by virtue of the Sinai Peninsula, which is in Asia.
Three small Spanish plazas de soberanía – tiny islets with military bases off the coast of Morocco with no civilian population – are in the area, and the Spanish Canary Islands and Portuguese Madeira Islands, in the North Atlantic Ocean northwest of the African mainland, are sometimes included in considerations of the region.
The distinction between Northern Africa and the rest of Africa is historically and ecologically significant because of the effective barrier created by the Sahara. Throughout history this barrier has culturally separated the North from the rest of Africa and, as the seafaring civilizations of the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans and others facilitated communication and migration across the Mediterranean, the cultures of North Africa became much more closely tied to Southwestern Asia and Europe than Sub-Saharan Africa. The Islamic influence in the area is significant, and North Africa, along with the Middle East, is a major part of the Arab World.
The Atlas Mountains, which extend across much of Morocco, northern Algeria and Tunisia, are part of the fold mountain system which also runs through much of Southern Europe. They recede to the south and east, becoming a steppe landscape before meeting the Sahara desert which covers more than 90% of the region. The sediments of the Sahara overlie an ancient plateau of crystalline rock, some of which is more than four billion years old.
Sheltered valleys in the Atlas Mountains, the Nile valley and delta, and the Mediterranean coast are the main sources of good farming land. A wide variety of valuable crops including cereals, rice and cotton, and woods such as cedar and cork, are grown. Typical mediterranean crops such as olives, figs, dates and citrus fruits also thrive in these areas. The Nile valley is particularly fertile, and most of Egypt's population lives close to the river. Elsewhere, irrigation is essential to improve crop yields on the desert margins.
|Countries and territories||Area
|Capital||GDP (Total)||Per capita||Currency||Government||Official languages|
|Algeria||2,381,740||33,333,216||14||Algiers||$239.6 billion (2009 est.)||$7,000 (2009 est.)||Algerian dinar||Presidential republic||Arabic|
|Egypt||1,001,449||77,498,000||74||Cairo||$477.2 billion (2009)||$6,234 (2009)||Egyptian pound||Semi-presidential republic||Arabic|
|Libya||1,759,540||6,036,914||3||Tripoli||$88.3 billion (2008)||$12,300 (2007)||Libyan dinar||Jamahiriya (Authoritarian)||Arabic|
|Morocco||710,850||32,993,000||71.6||Rabat||$136.6 billion (2008)||$4,100 (2007)||Moroccan dirham||Constitutional monarchy||Arabic|
|Sudan||2,505,813||39,379,358||14||Khartoum||$88.8 billion (2008)||$2,552 (2007)||Sudanese pound||Federal republic (Authoritarian)||Arabic and English|
|Tunisia||163,610||10,102,000||62||Tunis||$81.71 billion (2008)||$7,500 (2007)||Tunisian dinar||Republic (Authoritarian)||Arabic|
|Western Sahara||266,000||382,617||1.3||El Aaiún (Laâyoune)||$900 million (2007)||Moroccan dirham||Moroccan administration||Arabic, French, and Spanish|
The inhabitants of North Africa are generally divided in a manner roughly corresponding to the principal geographic regions of North Africa: the Maghreb, the Nile Valley, and the Sahara. Northwest Africa on the whole is believed to have been inhabited by Berbers since before the beginning of recorded history, while the eastern part of North Africa has been home to the Egyptians. Ancient Egyptians record extensive contact in their Western desert with peoples that appear to have been Berber or proto-Berber.
The official language or one of the official languages in all of the countries in North Africa is Arabic. Most popular ethnic groups in North Africa are Arabs and Berbers. All countries in Africa have at least one of these religions: Muslim, Christian, and Jewish.