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Between 1510–1822, Morocco went through significant changes that laid the foundation for its modern nation state. Most noteworthy among these changes was a shift from the Berber dynasties that had dominated the country for almost five hundred years to governments headed by shurafā’, Arab leaders who claimed lineal descent from the Prophet Muhammad. A combination of external threats (e.g., colonization from Portugal and Spain, and the threat of Ottoman expansion) and internal developments (e.g., the rising influence of murābitūn and shurafā’ within the country), along with the perceived inability of the Berber Wattasids to meet the Portuguese challenge, contributed to this dynastic change. In the five hundred years leading up to the early 21st century, two separate sharifian dynasties have governed Morocco, and the country has vacillated between periods of strong central rule and times of unrest (fitna) and weak central government. However, since the rise of the ʿAlawi dynasty in the late 17th century, ʿAlawi supremacy has not been seriously challenged, even during extensive periods of fitna or foreign colonization. Although Morocco developed a flexible system of government that helped unify the country during this period, it still fell behind European states in terms of technology, science, economy, and military strength. A degree of intellectual and social stagnation set in, such that European visitors in the 19th century perceived Morocco to be a country stuck in its medieval past. This weakness vis-à-vis its near neighbors to the north (particularly England and France) eventually set the stage for the direct colonization of Morocco by Europeans in the early 20th century.

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Between 1505 and 1830, the foundations were laid for the modern nation-states of Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. Of these three countries, only Tunisia had established a clear independent identity prior to the 16th century. Early in that century, all three regions came under the control of the Ottoman Empire, mostly in response to attempts by European powers to create strongholds along the southern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. By the end of the 16th century, the Ottomans had implanted their traditional provincial governments in the regions of Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli, complete with governors (pashas), who ruled with the assistance of administrative officials known as beys, and a cohort of Janissary troops. Thus, governance was carried out by a foreign military caste with limited connections to the local population. These governments derived much of their income from corsair enterprises launched against European ships under the leadership of captains known as raises, many of whom were European converts to Islam. During these three centuries, Tunis and Tripoli would develop nominally independent hereditary dynasties that were initially founded by Ottoman officials who ruled in cooperation with local religious, political, and tribal elites. In Algiers, power remained in the hands of military officers known as deys. This situation became increasingly unstable throughout the 18th century, eventually resulting in the French conquest of Algeria in 1830. Over the course of the 19th century, rising European influence would enable the French to take power in Tunisia in 1881 and the Italians to occupy Libya in 1911. Thus Ottoman rule ended in the Maghrib, but the local identities developed in these states under Ottoman sovereignty eventually led to the rise of nationalist movements in all three countries and the achievement of independence by the mid-20th century.