* The disputed territory of Western Sahara is mostly occupied and administered by Morocco; the Polisario Front claims the territory in militating for the establishment an independent republic, and exercises limited control over rump border territories.
The Maghreb includes Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Libya. The disputed territory Western Sahara (under Moroccan control) is generally included on the same basis as Mauritania. North Africa generally is often included in common definitions of the Middle East, as both regions make up the Arab world. In addition, the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt is part of Asia, making Egypt a transcontinental country.
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.
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. Following the Muslim-Arab conquest in the 7th century AD, the region underwent a process of Arabization and Islamization that has defined its cultural landscape ever since. Questions of ethnic identity usually rely on an affiliation with Arabism and/or Islam, or with indigenous cultures and religions.
Many North African nomads, such as the Bedouin, maintain a traditional pastoral lifestyle on the desert fringes, moving their herds of sheep, goats and camels from place to place – crossing country borders in order to find sufficient grazing land.
The Nile Valley traces its origins to the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Kush. The Egyptians over the centuries have shifted their language from Egyptian to modern Egyptian Arabic (both Afro-Asiatic), while retaining a sense of national identity that has historically set them apart from other people in the region. Most Egyptians are Sunni Muslim and a significant minority adheres to Coptic Christianity which has strong historical ties to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Eritrean Orthodox Church.
North Africa formerly had a large Jewish population, many of whom emigrated to France or Israel when the North African nations gained independence. A smaller number went to Canada. Prior to the modern establishment of Israel, there were about 600,000–700,000 Jews in North Africa, including both Sfardīm (refugees from France, Spain and Portugal from the Renaissance era) as well as indigenous Mizrāḥîm. Today, less than fifteen thousand remain in the region, almost all in Morocco and Tunisia. (See Jewish exodus from Arab lands.)
Over a hundred years and more, all Carthaginian territory was eventually conquered by the Romans, resulting in the Carthaginian North African territories becoming the Roman province of Africa in 146 B.C. This led to tension and eventually conflict between Numidia and Rome. The Numidian wars are notable for launching the careers of both Gaius Marius, and Sulla, and stretching the constitutional burden of the Roman republic, as Marius required a professional army, something previously contrary to Roman values to overcome the talented military leader Jugurtha. North Africa remained a part of the Roman Empire, which produced many notable citizens such as Augustine of Hippo, until incompetent leadership from Roman commanders in the early fifth century allowed the Germanic barbarian tribe, the Vandals, to cross the Strait of Gibraltar, where upon they overcame the fickle Roman defense. The loss of North Africa is considered a pinnacle point in the fall of the Western Roman Empire as Africa had previously been an important grain province that maintained Roman prosperity despite the barbarian incursions, and the wealth required to create new armies. The issue of regaining North Africa became paramount to the Western Empire, but was frustrated by Vandal victories and that the focus of Roman energy had to be on the emerging threat of the Huns. In 468 A.D., the last attempt by the Romans, with Byzantine aid, made a serious attempt to invade North Africa but were repelled. This is placed as the point of no return for the western Roman empire in a historical sense and the last Roman Emperor was deposed in 475 by the Ostrogoth generalissimo Odoacer who saw no purpose in regaining North Africa. Trade routes between Europe and North Africa remained intact until the coming of the Moslems.
The Arab Islamic conquest reached North Africa in 640 AD. By 670, most of North Africa had fallen to Muslim rule. Indigenous Berbers subsequently started to form their own polities in response in places such as Fez, Morocco, and Sijilimasa. In the eleventh century a reformist movement made up of members that called themselves Almoravids, expanded south into Sub-Saharan Africa.
After the Middle Ages the area was loosely under the control of the Ottoman Empire, except Morocco. After the 19th century, the imperial and colonial presence of France, the United Kingdom, Spain and Italy left the entirety of the region under one form of European occupation.
In World War II from 1940 to 1943 the area was the setting for the North African Campaign. During the 1950s and 1960s all of the North African states gained independence. There remains a dispute over Western Sahara between Morocco and the Algerian-backed Polisario Front.
Oil rigs are scattered throughout the deserts of Libya and Algeria. Libyan oil is especially prized because of its low sulphur content, which it means it produces much less pollution than other fuel oils.