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Article

Pastoralism in Africa  

Andrew B. Smith

To find the origins of African pastoralism it is important archaeologists look for the wild progenitors of animals. The wild sheep of Africa (Ammotragus lervia) were never domesticated, so all domestic sheep and goats came from the Near East. There has been some debate over whether there was an independent domestication of African cattle, because wild cattle (Bos primigenius) remains have been found in the Nile Valley. Genetic evidence shows that the source of African domesticated cattle was the Levant, some 8,000 years ago. Cattle spread across the Sahara as the environment was conducive to pastoralism, being well watered at this time. This lasted until after 5000 bp when the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) retreated and the Sahara dried up to its present condition. The tsetse barrier also retreated at this time, allowing pastoralists to move south into West Africa and, via the Ethiopian highlands, to East Africa, arriving c.4500 bp, although it took another 1,000 years for them to fully adapt to the grasslands of southern Kenya and Tanzania. Domestic stock then went on to southern Africa via a tsetse-free corridor, arriving around 2000 bp. The effect of herding societies on local hunters throughout Africa appears to have been an initial rapprochement, with a later hardening of relations. In East Africa, this was probably due to the need to learn about the new environment with the help of local hunters and to adjust to new epizootic diseases. In southern Africa, the first pastoralists were primarily sheep herders during the 1st millennium bce, with few cattle bones being found from this time. Pastoralists only became fully fledged cattle herdsmen around 1000 bp when they developed the attributes of the historic Khoekhoen. A further debate existed in southern Africa over whether pastoralism there was the result of immigrant herders who arrived in the northern Kalahari and then spread to the Cape, or if local hunters took up sheep herding.

Article

Berbers and the Nation-State in North Africa  

Bruce Maddy-Weitzman

Throughout history, North Africa’s native Berber-speaking populations have been central to the mix of political, social, cultural, and linguistic attributes that rendered the region distinct. At the dawn of the 20th century, Berbers still constituted a substantial majority of sharifian Morocco’s population, and a significant minority of French Algeria’s Muslim populace; their numbers were smaller in Ottoman Libya and smaller still in France’s Tunisian protectorate. Nationalism began to spread in North Africa during the first decades of the 20th century. Each nationalist movement was shaped by a particular combination of factors; all of them, however, foregrounded the Arab and Islamic components of their collective identities, downplaying or ignoring the Berber ones. Berbers actively participated in the struggles for independence in both Algeria and Morocco, often in leadership roles. This pattern would continue during the decades after independence, even as both the Algerian and Moroccan states placed supreme value on the Arabization of the educational system, and of public life in general. The state’s overall view of Berber identity was that it should be consigned to the realm of folklore. However, even as the number of Berber speakers continued to decline, there arose a modern Berber (Amazigh) identity movement that demanded a reexamination of the underlying premises of their countries’ collective identities, one that would bring the Berber language and culture to center stage. It also demanded genuine amelioration of the dire conditions of poverty that characterized much of the rural Berber world. As ruling regimes struggled to maintain their legitimacy after a half century of independence, the Berber “question” now took on a new salience in North Africa’s increasingly contested political space.

Article

Ismaili and Fatimid North Africa  

Christine D. Baker

The Fatimid dynasty ruled North Africa from 909 to 1171 CE. The Fatimids identified as Isma’ili Shi’is and they declared a Shi’i countercaliphate in Qayrawan to rival the Sunni ‘Abbasids in Baghdad. Their dynasty rose to power from an underground missionary movement, but eventually conquered most of North Africa, the Levant, the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina, and Yemen. Their first capital was in Qayrawan, but they are best known for founding the city of Cairo as their imperial capital in 969. The Fatimids linked North African and Mediterranean trade with the Indian Ocean via the Red Sea, creating an era of unprecedented economic growth. Further, Fatimid sponsorship of Isma’ili Shi’i ritual and scholarship allowed for the development of several Isma’ili movements that have persisted into the modern era. The Fatimid era ended in the 12th century during the rise of Turkic dynasties and the influx of Crusader forces into the eastern Mediterranean region.

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Marxists of the Maghreb: Leftist Parties and Movements of North Africa  

Matt Buehler and Matthew R. Jones

In the 21st century, scholars of North Africa—known as the “Maghreb”—have focused on predicting variation in the political fortunes of Islamist political parties and social movements, some of the most potent opposition forces to the region’s authoritarian regimes. Less researched, however, are the region’s leftist political parties and social movements. Historically, such socialist or socialist-inspired groups have also played a key role in the Maghreb’s domestic politics since decolonization. They often have similar origins in the anticolonial struggle, social constituencies of support, and understandings of conflict in society. They diverge, however, in their relationship to political power: Whereas in Tunisia and Algeria the leaders of socialist-inspired political parties became autocrats, the leaders of such parties in Morocco and Mauritania remained oppositionists. Over time, nearly all traditional socialist parties of the Maghreb have declined in political influence and popularity, becoming either sclerotic ruling parties or co-opted and weak opposition parties. The traditional leftist parties’ waning influence has opened space for the emergence of new, more confrontational leftist groups from civil society. While some of these splinter leftist groups emphasize traditional socialist material concerns (e.g., economic inequality, class relations, and unemployment), others stress nonmaterial issues, like the human rights of political, ethnic, and sexual minorities. Splintering the Maghreb’s leftists in this way has created a colorful mosaic of groups that have taken up a diverse variety of progressive causes in contemporary politics.

Article

European Slaves in North Africa and North African Slaves in Europe during the Early Modern Period, up to the 1820s  

M'hamed Oualdi

Men and women were victims of slavery and captivity in the Mediterranean beginning in the 8th century, from the earliest clashes between Islam and Christianity. The enslavement of populations captured from ships or living in coastal regions expanded during the 16th century during battles between the Spanish Habsburg empire and the Ottoman Empire. It grew further over the course of the 17th century as a result of raids led by Muslim and Christian corsairs (privateers). During the early modern period, both Maghrebi and European captives sent letters to their families and to their rulers, as well as petitions to local authorities who kept them enslaved. Europeans published accounts of captivity and redemption. Using these sources and diplomatic ones, historians have estimated that there were as many as 1.25 million Christian captives in the Maghreb between 1530 and 1780 and as many as 2.5 million total captives of various origins in Europe between 1500 and 1800. On both coasts of the Mediterranean, Maghrebi and European captives organized themselves according to kinship, their specific origin, their belonging to a state, and their religion: Catholic missionary priests supervised their flocks, while enslaved Muslims relied on the literacy of judges (men with legal knowledge, known as cadis in Arabic) to help guide their community. Protestants and Jews also had their organizations for ransoming. These communities of slaves and captives disappeared slowly from both sides of the Mediterranean. This process began in the late 17th century and went further in middle of the 18th century, when Christian and Muslim powers signed new peace treaties and liberated their respective captives. By the end of the 18th century, French revolutionary troops liberated the Maghrebi captives in the Italian lands that they were occupying. After Lord Edward Pellew, 1st Viscount Exmouth’s expedition in 1816, European powers liberated a large number of Europeans in the Maghreb.

Article

The Normans and the Italian City-States in North Africa  

Matt King

At their closest points, Sicily and Tunisia are separated by less than 100 miles across the Strait of Sicily. Using intermediate islands as guides, it is possible to cross this distance without losing sight of land. The proximity of Sicily and the Italian Peninsula to North Africa facilitated substantial interactions between peoples in these regions across the central Middle Ages—from roughly 1000 until 1300. During this period, Norman Sicily and Italian city-states like Venice, Genoa, and Pisa had substantial interactions with Muslim lords across North Africa. Walled funduqs provided isolated and secure facilities for merchants to conduct business in Muslim ports. Mendicant missionaries tended to these traders and, at times, voluntarily martyred themselves by denouncing Islam and proselytizing in the streets of Muslim cities. These traders and monks operated against a backdrop of intermittent conflict. State-sponsored raiding from both Muslim North Africa and Christian Italy proved a persistent threat to merchants and their wares. On occasion, these raids devolved into more substantial campaigns aimed at conquest, including a handful of papally-sponsored crusades. The longest-lived Christian foray into North Africa during these years resulted in Norman Sicily seizing control over a strip of land in modern-day Tunisia from roughly 1148 to 1160 and forming the Norman “Kingdom of Africa.”

Article

Interactions between North Africa and Spain: Medieval and Early Modern  

Camilo Gómez-Rivas

Arabic-speaking Muslim polities existed in medieval Spain and Portugal where they were superseded by Christian empires that gradually disavowed cultural connections to this past. Hebrew and Arabic were largely expurgated from homes and libraries. Jews and Muslims who refused to convert were expelled. And while an incipient study of that past existed, echoed even in popular literary forms, the need to disavow kinship prevailed, at least publicly and officially. The Maghrib, for its part, separated by a mere fourteen kilometers of sea from the southern tip of Spain, experienced Portuguese and Spanish imperial expansion firsthand, receiving the bulk of the displaced and interacting with fortified settlements and encroachments along the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts. Later European colonization of North Africa completed the galvanization of a Maghribi culture of resistance to and disavowal of European, Latin, and Christian cultural forms and connections. Spain and North Africa came to be conceived as separate worlds; domains of inimical faiths; divided by culture, language, religion, and a history of mutual hostility. This sense of separateness is deceptive, however, as the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa are bound by deep and extensive commercial, material, and cultural contacts. They share inextricable histories in which alternating movements of commerce, conflict, and migration have played fundamental roles in shaping recognizably Western Mediterranean societies. They should be thought of as areas of a unified region with a common culture, or at the very least, as areas sharing a common region, in which they interact regularly, creating extensive ties and parallel forms of cultural and social organization.

Article

The Making of the Maghrib: 600–1060 CE  

Allen Fromherz

The history of North Africa from the coming of Islam to the rise of the Almoravid Empire in the 11th century is a crucial period in the making of the Islamic Maghrib. From 600 ce to 1060 ce Berbers and Arabs interacted in a variety of ways and through a process of acculturation. This interaction created a distinctive cultural and historical zone called the “Maghrib” or the “land of the setting sun,” a zone that would be recognized throughout the Islamic world. While many questions remain unanswered or yet to be explored from this period due to issues with sources, the first centuries after the coming of Islam to the Maghrib (7th—11th centuries) set the stage for the rise of the great Berber and Muslim empires: the Almoravid and Almohads. This period is crucial for understanding the development and history of Maghribi Islam.

Article

African Religions in the Maghreb and the Middle East  

Ismael Musa Montana

In the last few decades, discussions concerning the presence of spirit possession and healing practices associated with Sudanic Africans in North Africa and parts of the Middle East, coined as “slave religion,” have highlighted the relationship of these practices to indigenous religions and belief systems of Sudanic Africa. Unlike in the Americas, where the Atlantic slave trade was primarily responsible for the diffusion of similar indigenous African religious practices such as candomblé, Vodou, Santeria, Obeah, and their variants, the history behind Sudanic African spirit possession and healing practices in North Africa and the Middle East is much more complex. While increased enslaving activities during the late 18th century through the 19th century may have exacerbated the diffusion of the various Sudanic religious practices such as the Hausa Bori, the Zarma Holey, and the Zar cults to North Africa and the Middle East, their presence and practice outside their original milieu cannot be attributed solely to the slave trade. Interregional commerce, pilgrimage, voluntary migration, and elements of cultural unity underlying the Sudanic African religious and cosmological systems have all contributed at different historical time periods at varying scale to their spread and diffusion in North Africa and the Middle East.

Article

The Crusades in North Africa  

Matt King

Although Jerusalem was the ultimate target of many of the largest crusading expeditions during the medieval period, North Africa nonetheless played a crucial role in this movement. Following the establishment of the Crusader states at the end of the 11th century, Latin Christians clashed with the Fatimids of Egypt for regional control of the Levant and Nile River delta. This conflict gave way in the 13th century to the “Egyptian strategy,” through which crusaders thought the most likely way to retake Jerusalem was by attacking the rich and fertile lands of the Nile. The crusades of King Louis IX, which were directed at Egypt and Tunis, were motivated in part by the idea that seizing these lands in North Africa would ultimately lead to the reconquest of the Holy Land. Elsewhere in the Mediterranean, crusading fervor reached the shores of North Africa via the Reconquista. Beginning in the 13th century and extending through the early modern period, Christian leaders in Iberia viewed campaigns in northwest Africa as an extension of their earlier repulsion of Muslims from the peninsula. These crusades, which were theorized as dynastic enterprises that served to both spread Christianity and expand the borders of empires, persisted into the 16th century as the papacy marshaled the assistance of European Christian powers against the Ottomans. The response of Muslim dynasties in North Africa to these expeditions was never uniform, as some preferred diplomacy with the aggressing Franks and others conflict. However, there gradually developed in the Islamic world the idea that a persistent jihad against Mediterranean-wide Frankish aggression was an appropriate response. The memory of medieval crusades was a particularly potent one in France, where Louis IX’s expeditions were evoked during France’s conquest of Algeria in the 19th century.

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Women and Gender in French North Africa, 1830–1962  

Julia Clancy-Smith

The workings of modern empire can better be viewed through the lens of gender because gendered hierarchies illuminate broad, intersecting aspects of the colonial project. Community, kinship, household economies, religion, education, sexuality, social engineering, nationalism, and transnational reform movements were all inflected by imperial patriarchy in various guises. This perspective is especially rich for “French” North Africa (Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco) from 1830 until 1962 since the region and its peoples were subjected to intense forms of “European” settler colonialism. From the start, the “woman question” assumed particularly fraught and contentious dimensions whose repercussions can be detected even today. Nevertheless, colonial North Africa did not represent a self-enclosed container. Transimperial and global processes shaped the sociopolitical terrain, and in turn. Policies, practices, and resistance in the Maghrib exerted a powerful torque far beyond its limits. Key to understanding women, gender, and settler colonialism is the state of the “archive,” the sprawling corpus of records, writings, words, things, and images left in an empire’s wake. The voices of women, children, and “ordinary” people, those labeled “the colonized,” have until recently been missing in conventional narratives. As Antoinette Burton observed, the archives themselves structure “the conceptual frameworks of women’s and gender history.” In the imperial historical context, the task of recuperating and restoring lost voices is all the more problematic, yet urgent. One might also add that the fundamental question is “whether ‘women’ is a category at all.”

Article

Youth Activism in 21st-Century North Africa  

Christoph Schwarz

In the 21st century, North African societies have been counting with the largest cohorts of young people worldwide. These demographics, in combination with the highest youth unemployment rates worldwide, have been a cause for concern since the turn of the millenium. But in the respective debates in social research and among policy makers, the political subjectivities of young people themselves were rather overlooked. Instead, the situation of young people was often discussed either as a question of deficit—they were regarded as lethargic and apolitical and in need of help—or security—they were discussed as potential adherents of radical interpretations of Islam, as prone to political violence and as a threat to “stability.” However, in 2010 and 2011, mass protests initiated mostly by young people, starting in Tunisia and soon spreading to Egypt, Morocco, Libya, and, to a lesser extent, Algeria and Sudan, very quickly and effectively mobilized large swaths of the population and thus illustrated young people’s social agency, political relevance, and capacity for inclusive solidarity. To many observers, the events that were soon dubbed the “Arab Spring” came out of the blue and appeared as a sudden “generational awakening.” But the region-wide protests, and in particular the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011, not only mobilized people from all walks of life, they were also the result of at least a decade of persistent experimentation by young and not-so-young activists with different forms of collective action under extremely unfavorable conditions. Youth activism in 21st-century North Africa has been operating and strategizing under the constraints of authoritarianism, surveillance, and violent repression. Young people, particularly young women, have long been excluded from most institutional forms of politics. Against this backdrop, many political activists eschew the terms politics or the political, which they associate with corruption, manipulation, and illegitimate rule. Many other young people who appear at first sight “apolitical” have nevertheless engaged in different meaningful endeavors to improve everyday lives in their communities. Following a critical youth studies and youth cultures perspective, as well as a feminist perspective, young people’s activism can thus be analyzed along a spectrum that ranges from rather innocuous forms of everyday quiet encroachment, to public, but “apolitical” forms of mobilization, to highly committed and exposed social movement activism, as well as digitally networked forms of engagement and explicitly political demands for new forms of citizenship. A decade after the Arab Spring, and despite a “Second Wave of the Arab Spring” in Sudan and Algeria from 2018 to 2020, authoritarian rule has gained the upper hand in the region, even in Tunisia, the country that, for a long time, was considered “transitioning” to a representative democracy. Despite these setbacks, the experience that young people, as part of an organized citizenry, were able to oust long-ruling authoritarian presidents within a matter of a few weeks has arguably had an impact on political culture in the region. In the mid-2020s, their example continues to inspire youth activists in North Africa and elsewhere and will likely continue to pose a challenge to authoritarianism.

Article

Mass Media in North Africa: From Print to Digital  

Emilio Spadola

The emergence, spread, and transformation of media technologies in North Africa has attracted much attention over the past decade. Yet the disruptive effects of technological mass media have been a defining feature of North African modernity from the mid-19th century to the present. Classically distinguished from pre-modern oral and scribal transmissions by “technological reproducibility,” mass media offer capacities both for simultaneous collective address (i.e., broadcast), and for nearly limitless copying (i.e., reproduction) and re-transmission (i.e., sharing). As such, dramatic expansions in mass media, from print journals, or “the press,” to electronic broadcast media of radio and television, small media of audio and video cassettes, and Internet-based and mobile digital media, have sustained modern North African political movements and mass publics, from anticolonial nationalism to postcolonial nation-state building and the 21st-century Arab Spring. Any understanding of contemporary mass media, including digital media, in North Africa must consider how these current media movements reprise and transform earlier forms of political consciousness, community, and protest grounded in a century of new media.