Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 05/2009

North Africa: New Challenges, Old Regimes, and Regional Security

Claire Spencer

November 2008

International Peace Institute


North Africa is often loosely defined, but for the purposes of this paper, it encompasses the states of the Arab Maghreb Union (Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia) together with Egypt.1 With the exception of Mauritania, this group of states lies on the northern littoral of the African continent, between the Mediterranean Sea to the north and the Sahara to the south. This contiguity, however, has not automatically made for a cohesive region; differences between political and economic trajectories have overridden the social solidarities that still unite the peoples of North Africa. The core regional states of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya share an Arabo-Berber heritage and the legacy of the predominately French linguistic and administrative practices of the protectorate and colonial eras. By contrast, the ethnic make-up of Egypt (Arabic, Hamitic, and Nubian) places the largest state of the region, of some 76 million people, apart from the “Maghrebi” heartland. Egypt has also variously been a leader of Arab nationalism and a key player in attempts to resolve the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, and thus looks toward the Middle East more than it does west or south to its neighbors in Africa.