The Maghreb (المغرب العربي al-Maġrib al-ʿArabī; also rendered Maghrib) is a collection of countries within Northern Africa that border the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The modern demarcation of the Maghreb includes Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya, however in the past the region was not limited to these five countries. Historically, the geographic borders of the Maghreb were quite broad as the word Maghreb simply means “place where the sun sets” (or western), in the Arabic language.
Brief Historical Context
The earliest recorded history of the Maghreb deals with its position as an advantageous hub for trade in the Mediterranean region. In their quest for commercial dominance, Phoenicians became the first to occupy many ports along the Maghreb coast. Particularly notable among the Phoenicians were a group called the Carthaginians, who founded the great city of Carthage. With their defeat during the Punic Wars, however, many of the valuable ports of the Maghreb fell under Roman control by 146 B.C.
In all actuality, it was not until the 7th and 8th centuries that the Maghreb had any semblance of political entity. Arab invaders from the East conquered much of North Africa, and imposed their religion (Islam) on the native peoples, as well as the Arabic language. By the 16th century, Arab traders from the Maghreb had solidified their place in the economic system of North Africa by trading such valuable commodities as salt, gold, ivory, and slaves. They would be joined by several European economies, which were eager to take their piece of the prosperity.
The last quarter of the 19th saw what can only be described as a scramble to exploit Africa, in which European powers – namely France, Spain, and Italy – attempted to secure a place on the global political stage by using satellite colonies for raw materials and economic gain. In the middle of the 20th century, however, a wave of nationalism swept across the African continent that urged European colonial powers to abandon their African possessions. Some in the Maghreb were not eager to abandon their colonial governance, as their parent nations often granted preference to them with regards to trade. Yet despite the potential economic consequences of decolonization, the movement gained strength, culminating in the independence of many North African nations during the late 1950s and 1960s.
The Maghreb is still plagued with many problems that can be seen as the result of colonization, particularly regional conflict, which has led to increasing militarization…
Politics – Arab Maghreb Union
The idea to create an economic union between Meghrebi nations was first proposed when Tunisia and Morocco gained their independence from France in 1956, though it would be another 30 years before that plan would come to fruition. The Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) was established in February 1989 with the goal of creating economic and political unity between member states. Through this body, members can negotiate trade relationships with other entities, as well as improve diplomatic relations with their neighbors. With this in mind, the AMU promotes free-trade zones among member states and a common market where people, products and capital can circulate freely.
The AMU is governed by a council comprised of the heads of state of the five member nations, which meet twice a year. Various committees exist within the organization to manage such matters as those of the interior, finance, energy, tourism and postal ministries. A judicial body made up of two magistrates from each country also serves to mediate conflicts between them, and to advise the council on legal matters.
Since the Arab conquest of the region, the Maghreb has retained its ties to the Middle East both linguistically and culturally. A majority of the population identifies as Arab, despite the fact that the Berber – native North Africans – were first to inhabit the region. Berbers, while being a minority, still represent a sizable portion of the population in Morocco and Algeria, while Tunisia and Algeria have substantial Turkish populations. European settlers make up the smallest portion of the population throughout the Maghreb.
The Maghreb region’s first instance of religious unity began under the rule of the Roman Empire, in which political stability allowed individuals to practice religion without being threatened. By the 2nd century, Roman settlers and Romanized populations boasted a rich Christian culture within the region. This would not change until 647, when the Arab invasions forcibly introduced Islam to the Maghreb. Although its practice continued, Christian culture gradually declined until the 10th century, when it was taken over almost completely by Islamism. Islam has remained the predominant religion since the invasion, but small communities of minority faiths have managed to foster a peaceful coexistence.