Population density of Africa (2000)
North Africa is a collective term for a group of
Mediterranean countries situated in the northern-most region of the
African continent. The term "North Africa" has no single accepted definition. It is sometimes defined as stretching from the Atlantic shores of
Morocco in the west, to the
Suez Canal and the
Red Sea in the east. Others have limited it to the countries of
Tunisia, a region known by the French during colonial times as “Afrique du Nord” and by the Arabs as the
Maghreb (“West”). The most commonly accepted definition includes
Tunisia, as well as
Egypt. “North Africa”, particularly when used in North Africa and the Middle East, often refers only to the countries of the
Maghreb and Libya. Egypt, due to its greater
Middle Eastern associations, is often considered separately. The U.S Census define North Africa as
The countries of North Africa share a common ethnic, cultural and linguistic identity that is unique to this region. The original inhabitants of North Africa are the
Berbers and 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, physically quite similar, formed a single population in many areas, as Berbers and Egyptians merged into Arab society. This process of Arabization and Islamization has defined the cultural landscape of North Africa ever since.
The distinction between North Africa and
Sub-Saharan Africa is historically and ecologically significant because of the effective barrier created by the
Sahara Desert for much of modern history. The Sahara is the dominant feature of the North African landscape, and stretches across the southern part of the region. The Sahara serves as a geographical boundary between North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa and marks a transition zone from the largely Arab population of North Africa to black Africa of the south. From 3500 BC, following the abrupt desertification of the Sahara due to gradual changes in the Earth's orbit, this barrier has culturally separated the North from the rest of the continent.
 The overwhelming majority of the North African population is concentrated along the
Atlantic coastlines and the Nile river, while the Sahara desert is one of the most sparsely populated places on Earth.
The Sahara desert has therefore played an important role in the history of North Africa. As the seafaring civilizations of the
Arabs and others facilitated communication and migration across the
Mediterranean Sea, 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 also significant, and North Africa is a major part of the
Some researchers have postulated that North Africa rather than
East Africa served as the exit point for the modern humans who first trekked out of the continent in the
Out of Africa migration.