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North Africa

North Africa
A History from Antiquity to the Present

The most comprehensive history of North Africa to date, with accessible, in-depth chapters covering the pre-Islamic period through colonization and independence.

Series: A new edition is now available here.

January 2009
This book is out of print and no longer available.
33% discount price
373 pages | 15 maps |

North Africa has been a vital crossroads throughout history, serving as a connection between Africa, Asia, and Europe. Paradoxically, however, the region's historical significance has been chronically underestimated. In a book that may lead scholars to reimagine the concept of Western civilization, incorporating the role North African peoples played in shaping "the West," Phillip Naylor describes a locale whose transcultural heritage serves as a crucial hinge, politically, economically, and socially.

Ideal for novices and specialists alike, North Africa begins with an acknowledgment that defining this area has presented challenges throughout history. Naylor's survey encompasses the Paleolithic period and early Egyptian cultures, leading readers through the pharonic dynasties, the conflicts with Rome and Carthage, the rise of Islam, the growth of the Ottoman Empire, European incursions, and the postcolonial prospects for Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and Western Sahara.

Emphasizing the importance of encounters and interactions among civilizations, North Africa maps a prominent future for scholarship about this pivotal region.


  • List of Maps
  • A Note to the Reader
  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. Ancient North Africa and Its Expansive Civilizations
  • Chapter 2. Rome and North Africa
  • Chapter 3. Medieval North Africa: From the Arrival of Islam to the Berber Empires
  • Chapter 4. The Almoravid and the Almohad Empires and Their Successor States
  • Chapter 5. Turkish Ascendance and Moroccan Independence
  • Chapter 6. European Colonialism in North Africa
  • Chapter 7. The Decolonization of North Africa
  • Chapter 8. Post-Colonial and Contemporary North Africa: Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia
  • Chapter 9. Post-Colonial and Contemporary North Africa: Algeria, Morocco, and Western Sahara
  • Conclusion: The Peril and Promise of North Africa
  • Notes
  • Glossary
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Phillip C. Naylor is Associate Professor of History at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he directed the Western Civilization program. His previous books include The Historical Dictionary of Algeria and France and Algeria: A History of Decolonization and Transformation.


I slip a compact disc into my laptop; it is Cheb Mami's Meli Meli (1999). Cheb Mami is an Algerian singer, who is world renowned as the "Prince of Rai." Rai is a distinctly North African musical genre, which arose in western Algeria. It blends regional rhythms with those of European pop and American blues and rap. Rai instrumentation is varied. It can include the traditional derbouka (drum), bendir (frame drum), karbaka (large finger cymbals), and qanun (three-octave string instrument) as well as the modern electric guitar and bass, synthesizer, violin, and accordion. Meli Meli features Mami's Arabic compositions and singing, but it also includes K-mel, an Algerian-French techno-rap star. He adds French lyrics. In addition, Idir, a Berber-speaking Algerian, shares a track with Mami. Rai exemplifies North Africa's "transcultural" character and history.

Studying North Africa offers students and scholars an exceptional opportunity to appreciate the formative and transformative role of historical transcultural relations. Transcultural history studies and emphasizes the significance of encounters and interactions within and among societies and civilizations. The consequential conjunctures of cultures, meaning here peoples' values, institutions, religions, materials, technologies, histories, and identities, and the ways cultures are transmitted and transacted (accepted/rejected), are crucially significant when considering transcultural history. There is also an epistemological and existential dimension to this history since transcultural experiences and environments evoke the imagination, identification, and interpretation of others—the construction and representation of others as historical subjects. Transcultural history widens and deepens historical study and immediately makes us conscious of the role of the wider world upon a specific civilization or geographical area.

North Africa is one of those rare regions of the world that serves as an axis of cultures and civilizations. To understand its significance, consider the Arabic term jazirat al-maghrib. It means the island of the west, implying the lands west of Egypt. North Africa is like an island located between two seas, the Mediterranean and the Sahara. Waves of human encounters and interactions have swept ashore and shaped the "island's" rich cultural and historical morphology. Accordingly, extraordinary peoples and histories have fashioned an impressive transcultural legacy.

Where Is Historical North Africa?

Periodization usually daunts historians when organizing their narratives. It is a bit easier in this introductory survey where eras can be distinguished and delineated, e.g., ancient, Roman, Islamic, Ottoman, colonial, post-colonial, and contemporary. Locating North Africa is the perplexing problem since there is no scholarly consensus. Most agree that North Africa generally includes the Sahara and the land north of it bordering the Mediterranean. But should Egypt be included? Its history is vast, illustrious, and, to many scholars, autonomous or more closely linked to West Asia (of the "Middle East"). Egypt's position in northeast Africa, however, has historically hinged Africa to Asia serving as a transcultural conduit, although it has received from the Maghrib as well as relayed to it. Thus, its importance necessitates its inclusion, especially given this book's purpose and thematic perspective.

Nonetheless, there are other demarcating quandaries when circumscribing North Africa. How far south into the Sahara does North Africa extend? This book principally presents North Africa as stretching from Western Sahara along the Atlantic Ocean, north to Morocco and then east to Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt; it also tangentially includes the Sahara and the Sahel. Since scholars often identify North Africa with the Maghrib, given my historical consideration and wider geographic context, "Northern Africa" would seem to be a more accurate and appropriate term. I concluded, however, that substituting "Northern" for "North" would confuse my audience (correspondingly Western Africa for West Africa and Eastern Africa for East Africa). To reiterate, readers should simply understand that in this book North Africa also embraces Egypt and the Sahara. This is a history of North (Northern) Africa, not only of the Maghrib, in transcultural context.

North Africa's Land and Natural Life

North Africa's physical topography, the shape and contour of its land, has profoundly affected its history. Environmental and geological diversity have resulted in disparate development and interaction. Fertile coastal plains stretch along the Mediterranean littoral, especially in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and to a lesser degree in Libya. For centuries, North Africa's fecund fields served as a Mediterranean granary sustaining states and empires. Moving into the interior, parallel mountain chains descend from west to east where Berbers traditionally found refuge and redoubts in their history of resistance to invaders. The most notable range is the Atlas of Morocco and Algeria. The Sahara features the Ahaggar (Hoggar) Mountains in Algeria and the Ennedi and Tibesti mountains in Chad. Plateaus are also common from Morocco to Libya (notably, the Jabal Akhdar in the latter). North Africa is predominantly desert. Overexploitation and overgrazing compounded by irregular rainfall have expedited erosion and desertification, especially along "coastal" (and Sahelian) lands bordering the Saharan sea of sand and stone. Supplying populations with their alimentary needs is a major consideration faced by contemporary governments. The Nile is the only navigable river. In addition, there are few natural harbors. Across the region, the semi-tropical Mediterranean climate becomes increasingly arid from north to south. Hydrocarbons (oil and natural gas and their byproducts), phosphates, and iron ore elevate the strategic significance of the region. Nevertheless, these are non-renewable resources, posing important challenges to contemporary governments regarding sustainable economic growth.

The Mediterranean and the Sahara have insulated and isolated peoples but have also channeled transcultural currents. In particular, North Africa's trans-Mediterranean and trans-Saharan commerce has expedited the transmission and transaction of ideas as well as cargoes. The Mediterranean's sea lanes have linked North Africa to West Asian and European civilizations (and colonizations). The Sahara's trade routes and the Nile River have connected North Africa to other continental civilizations and cultures in the south. In addition, Egypt's Red Sea historically tied North Africa to the great Indian Ocean trade network and South Asian markets.

Wildlife in North Africa includes the jackal, Barbary ape, gazelle, jerboa, boar, fennec fox, serval, caracal, monk seals, wild dog, ibex, and a variety of lizards and snakes. The Nile River features its fearsome crocodiles and hippopotami as well as a variety of fish. Although severely affected by deforestation and population growth, mountainous regions in the north contain pine, juniper, cedar, olive, and cork oak. In southern regions acacia, dwarf palm, jujube trees, and xerophytic vegetation grow in arid zones. Date palm groves (phreatophytes) are renowned in Saharan oases, especially those of Algeria's Mizab.

North Africa's Peoples

The anthropology of North Africa features the Berbers, regarded as the indigenous population. They settled primarily west of the Nile Delta and continue to have significant populations in Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and the Sahara. Calling themselves Imazighen, meaning "freeborn," the Berbers get their name from the term barbaroi, appropriated from the Greeks by the Romans, to differentiate peoples who spoke neither Greek nor Latin. The Arabs adopted this name and derived from it an adjective barbariyya, which means primitive and foreign. The population of ancient Egypt blended peoples from Palestine and Syria from the east and north, Nubians (Kushites) from the South, and Libyans from the west. Ancient Greek writers used "Libyan" to refer to the indigenous population of North Africa west of Egypt. By the third century BCE, the Greeks differentiated "Libyans," now identified with Berbers living within the Carthaginian state or its sphere of influence, from "Numidians" or "nomads," a name associated with pastoralism or herding. The Berbers prided themselves on their independence and when confronted by crisis or conflict, often organized confederations led by kings or aguellids. Furthermore, Berbers evinced an ability to adapt to and to absorb other cultures. Their transcultural receptivity has distinguished their history.

Although Berber beginnings remain a mystery, scholars contend that they originated from migrating populations from northeast and sub-Saharan Africa and Western Europe—an ethnic and transcultural fusion. Berbers divided over kinship, not language. Linguistically, dialects (possibly derived from a Hamitic past) are difficult to delineate because of a lack of a universal alphabet and a common literature, although there is a strong oral tradition. Berbers jealously guard and protect their culture and especially their language, Tamazight.

Besides the Berbers, the other principal ethnic group is the Arabs. They began arriving in the seventh century CE. Over centuries, waves of tribes, notably the Banu Hilal and Banu Sulaym of the eleventh century, and later the Banu Ma`qil, led to the Arabization of North African culture. Arabs brought along with them their religion, Islam, which appealed to Berbers and led to their conversion. Islam and the Arabic language subsequently created a North African cultural unity.

Throughout North Africa over the centuries, transcultural interaction and integration occurred with conquests—namely by the Hyksos (Asiatics/Canaanites), Phoenicians, Kushites, Carthaginians, Greeks, Macedonians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs, Ottomans (Turks), Spanish, French, British, and Italians. In addition, important and sizeable Jewish communities influenced North Africa's development in manifold ways. Furthermore, contact and conquest melded North Africans with sub-Saharan Africans. Consequently, this remarkable social diversity enriches North Africa's history.

Prehistoric North Africa

Archaeological excavations suggest that North Africa served as a staging point for the hominid colonization of West Asia and Europe. For example, hominid (human-like) remains (Homo erectus) dating back to 200,000 BCE have been found near Saïda, Algeria. Paleolithic North Africa featured the Aterian culture that flourished about 30,000 BCE. The name Aterian is derived from an archaeological site, Bi'r al-`Atir, south of Annaba, Algeria. The Aterians, a Neanderthaloid group, attained remarkable flake-tool abilities. The Ibero-Maurusians, Mesolithic (15,000 to 10,000 BCE) Homo sapiens sapiens, succeeded the Aterians and also produced sophisticated tools. Ibero-Maurusian culture, ranging from Iberia to Libya, is also known as Oranian, since an impressive archaeological site is near Oran, Algeria.

The Capsians achieved the revolutionary transition from Mesolithic to Neolithic culture in about 6000 BCE. Illustrating the importance of transcultural interaction in North Africa's history, the Neolithic revolution featured the introduction of agricultural domestication and animal husbandry, techniques transacted from West Asia (see Diamond 1999, 101-102). Capsian sites are widespread across North Africa, especially in Tunisia. In general, the pre-desiccated Sahara experienced Neolithic changes before the northern littoral, an illustration of the importance of climate and human development (see below). Egypt's "Early Neolithic" period, featuring cattle herding, appeared at Nabta Playa and Bir Kiseiba in its Western Desert in c. 8800-6800 BCE, attesting to the availability of water. Extant archaeological evidence indicates that the Neolithic period began in Lower Egypt, i.e., the northern Nile Valley, in c. 5300 BCE, which featured agriculture.

There are remarkable stone sculptures in the Tibesti (Chad) and Ahaggar (Algeria) Saharan mountain ranges. In addition, the extraordinary rock illustrations at Tassili N'Ajjer in the Algerian Sahara, which date from approximately 6000 BCE to 100 CE, graphically describe a different Sahara. Before its desiccation, the Sahara was "wet" and featured elephants, giraffes, rhinoceros, horses, and other animals. The Tassili paintings also depict hunters and herders and collectively are one of the greatest displays of prehistoric art in the world. Archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians esteem these paintings and those in Libya's Fezzan as extraordinary aesthetic historical documents, especially illustrating the revolutionary change from Paleolithic to Neolithic culture and society. In addition, Jan Vansina observed that "ancient Egyptian graphic art owes something to the great Saharan tradition that both preceded it and ran parallel to it for most of its history" (Vansina 1984, 6). The Egyptian attraction and assimilation of Saharan artistic expressions affirm the primordial significance of transcultural contact and communication with the development of civilization.

Civilization in North Africa: A Historical Overview

Egypt is immediately recognized as one of the greatest civilizations in Western and world history. It hinged North Africa to West Asia, profoundly influencing Sudan (ancient Kush or Nubia) and, to a lesser degree, Somalia (Punt). During the Hellenistic era, Egypt regularly traded with South Asia and the western Mediterranean. Phoenicia's enterprising maritime city-states, located in today's Lebanon, collectively constituted a major West Asian influence upon North Africa. The Phoenicians established trading posts along the littoral of North Africa and Iberia. Libya featured some of the greatest Greek (and later Roman) colonies. Furthermore, the Saharan Garamantes of ancient Fezzan applied remarkable hydrology and agronomy. Carthage, a former Phoenician colony in Tunisia, emerged as a great power in the western Mediterranean. It rivaled the poleis or city-states of Greater Greece (Sicily and southern Italy) and then fought the epic Punic Wars with Rome. After Carthage's defeat, Rome dominated, eventually taking over independent Berber kingdoms (Numidia and Mauretania) and Hellenistic Egypt. Establishing hundreds of cities, Roman ruins in North Africa are among the most astonishing antiquities extant. North Africa also played a significant role regarding the expansion and evolution of Christianity. For example, Augustine, one of the great "Church Fathers (Doctors)," was born in eastern Algeria.

German invasions are inevitably cited in textbooks as an important cause in the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Germans also arrived in North Africa, namely the notorious Vandals, who established a kingdom stretching from Tripolitania (western Libya) to Morocco that lasted for about a century. Launching a task force from North Africa, the Vandals plundered Rome—hence the association of their name with pillage and destruction. The Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire mounted campaigns in 533 and 534, ending the Vandal kingdom. The restoration of an imperial "Roman" presence in North Africa east of Egypt (under continual Byzantine administration) varied along the coastline and hinterland. The Byzantines typically exercised power from strongholds along the littoral and from cities, principally Carthage.

The invasion of the Arabs, beginning in the seventh century, confronted and eventually overwhelmed the redoubtable resistance of the Berbers. The Arabs, infused with their new faith, Islam, indelibly influenced the region. North Africa featured remarkable Muslim states headed by dynasties that promoted commerce and culture, including the Rustamids, the Idrisids, the Aghlabids, the Tulunids, the Fatimids, the Zirids, the Hammadids, the Ayyubids, and the Mamluks. The Berber Almoravids of the eleventh and the Almohads of the twelfth centuries were two of the most powerful states in the history of Western civilization's Middle Ages. The great philosopher Ibn Rushd (Averroës), usually mentioned in Western civilization textbooks, served the Almohad court. The Hafsids, Zayyanids, and Marinids succeeded the Almohads in the Maghrib.

Egypt and the Maghrib, except for Morocco, fell under the Ottoman Empire during the course of the sixteenth century. Morocco's Sa`di and Alawi dynasties protected Moroccan independence from the predations of the Ottomans, Portuguese, and Spanish. Although nominally under the suzerainty of the sultan in Constantinople, the Ottoman Regency of Algiers exercised virtual independence as one of the most powerful states in the western Mediterranean. The Ottoman regencies in Tunis and Tripoli also asserted their autonomy.

After the Reconquista, Spain systematically seized outposts on the North African littoral and still controls the presidios of Ceuta and Melilla along the Moroccan coast and offshore islets. In addition, the Habsburgs waged war against the Ottomans, which involved significant North African campaigning. Beginning in 1798 with Napoleon's expedition to Egypt, Europe took a greater invasive and imperial interest in North Africa. France captured Algiers in 1830 and in 1848 organized northern Algeria into three departments. Tunisia and central and southern Morocco became French protectorates in 1881 and 1912, respectively. Spain acquired Ifni (along the Moroccan Atlantic coast) in 1860, Western (Spanish) Sahara in 1884, and northern Morocco and the Tarfaya zone in the south in 1912. Italy seized Libya (at that time called "Tripolitania") in 1911-1912. Great Britain purchased control of the Suez Canal in 1875 and occupied Egypt in 1882. European colonialism had a manifold effect upon North African peoples. Nevertheless, by the time Algeria acquired its independence in 1962, North Africa had decolonized, except for Spain's territories—the Spanish Sahara, Ifni, the presidios, and islets. North Africa's post-colonial history is also significant as its countries have confronted the controversial consequences of colonialism, especially regarding political, economic, and social development. In contemporary North Africa, cultural questions concerning the roles of Westernization, modernization, globalization, and Islamism are particularly provocative.

Approaching North African History: Ibn Khaldun, Malik Bennabi, and Jacques Berque

Having located North Africa geographically, surveyed its prehistory, and recognized its historical significance, how has its complex recorded history been recounted, explained, and appreciated? There are important historical surveys of North Africa that cover the period from the seventh-century Arab conquest to the modern period. Charles-André Julien, Histoire de l'Afrique du Nord, was originally published in 1931. Julien's book is not only an important academic contribution, but also a heroic work. It dispelled the French colonial myth regarding the vacuity of pre-colonial North African (Maghribi) history. Roger Le Tourneau revised Julien's work in 1952 and it was translated into English in 1970. Jamil M. Abun-Nasr, A History of the Maghrib (1971) and A History of the Maghrib in the Islamic Period (1987), are more detailed than Julien's book. (Three chapters are devoted to the pre-Islamic period in A History of the Maghrib [1971]). Julien and Abun-Nasr provide excellent coverage from the Arab conquest of the seventh century. Abdallah Laroui, The History of the Maghrib: An Interpretive Essay (1970; translated into English 1977) critically assesses the historiography of North Africa from prehistory to his contemporary era.

For the ancient period, Stéphane Gsell's Histoire ancienne de l'Afrique du Nord remains a monumental survey. Herodotus, Polybius, Julius Caesar, and Livy include valuable but passing information on North Africa. Sallust is an exception given his The Jugurthine War. Nevertheless, his work is short and limited. The encyclopedist Pliny the Elder and the geographer Strabo also provide fragmented information within their "global" perspectives. Augustine's Confessions illustrates the diverse intellectual and spiritual currents circulating between North Africa and Europe. Procopius, while serving as secretary to the military commander Belisarius, recounts a history of the Byzantine campaign against the Vandals.

Writing during the ninth century, Ibn abd al-Hakam examines the history of Egypt and the Muslim conquest of the Maghrib and al-Andalus (Muslim Iberia). In the eleventh century, Abu Ubayd al-Bakri furnishes a fascinating geographical and sociological itinerary. Ibn Idhari al-Marrakushi (fl. late thirteenth-early fourteenth centuries) chronicles the history of North Africa from the Arab conquest to the Almohads (Muwahhidun). Leo Africanus's (Hasan bn Muhammad al-Wazzani) sixteenth-century reflections recall those of al-Bakri. Abd al-Rahman al-Jabarti renders an invaluable account of Napoleon's invasion of Egypt and its political and cultural confrontations and consequences. Algeria's Mahfoud Kaddache, Ahmad Tawfiq al-Madani, and Mubarak bn Muhammad al-Mili exemplify impressive "national" historiography. Collectively, these contributions and others listed in the bibliography are all valuable. Nevertheless, there are three intellectuals who especially exemplify North African scholarly breadth and depth.

Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406)

Ibn Khaldun was born in Tunis, the capital of today's Tunisia. During his colorful and capricious career as a statesman and scholar he lived throughout the Maghrib and in al-Andalus. He eventually attained the position of mufti or principal judge of the Maliki School of jurisprudence in Egypt. In his Muqaddima (Introduction), he distinguishes between "surface" and "inner meaning" histories: "Surface history is no more than information about political events, dynasties, and occurrences of the remote past. . . . It . . . brings to us an understanding of human affairs. (It shows) how changing conditions affected (human affairs), how certain dynasties came to occupy an ever wider space in the world, and how they settled the earth until they heard the call and their time was up." This is the history of names and dates. He continues: "The inner meaning of history, on the other hand, involves speculation and an attempt to get at the truth, subtle explanation of the causes and origins of existing things, and deep knowledge of the how and why of events" (Ibn Khaldun 1967, 1:6). This latter history especially interested this erudite scholar.

In addition, Ibn Khaldun presented a pluralist interpretation of history: "It should be known that history is a discipline that has a great number of (different) approaches. . . . The (writing of history) requires numerous sources and greatly varied knowledge" (Ibn Khaldun 1967, 1:15). He underscored his methodological approach with a warning:

If [the historian] trusts historical information in its plain transmitted form and has no clear knowledge of the principles resulting from custom, the fundamental facts of politics, the nature of civilization, or the conditions governing human social organization, and if, furthermore, he does not evaluate remote or ancient material through comparison with near or contemporary material, he often cannot avoid stumbling and slipping and deviating from the highroad of truth. (Ibn Khaldun 1967, 1:15-16)

Ibn Khaldun recognized the significance of economics, sociology, psychology, religion, geography, climate, and what we call today political science, toward the development and explanation of history. According to Philip Hitti: "No Arab writer, indeed no European, had ever taken a view of history at once so comprehensive and philosophic" (Hitti 1970, 568).

He attributed the repeated rise and fall of North African states and their exercise of power and influence to a historical agent, known as asabiyya, which can be translated as a "group feeling." When a dynasty's social and political cohesion weakened, it inevitably declined. Ibn Khaldun's historiography and methodology remain very valuable toward understanding North Africa's past (and present). His interdisciplinary approach evinces an exceptional intellectual sophistication.

Malik Bennabi (1905-1973)

Malik Bennabi, our second influential figure, imparts keen insight into the history of North African and Muslim civilizations. Born in Constantine, Algeria, Bennabi also lived in France and Egypt. He insisted on the need for Muslims, especially Maghribis (peoples of the Islamic West) and Mashriqis (peoples of the East) to become historically conscious, which he viewed as an active and affirming praxis. A prolific writer in French and Arabic, he argued that the failure of Muslims to appreciate and engage the history of their Islamic culture made them "colonizable." He wrote that "one does not cease to be colonized until one ceases to be colonizable: it is an immutable law" (Bennabi 1949, 22). To Bennabi, the "colonizability" of North Africa and the wider Muslim world or "Islamdom" (Marshall G. S. Hodgson's term) occurred after the disintegration of the Almohad empire in the thirteenth century and not solely as a consequence of European imperialism. General intellectual and moral lassitude within an exhausted Muslim civilization characterized this "Post-Almohadean" period. Jamil M. Abun-Nasr interpreted "'colonizability' as a sort of moral paralysis which leads a community to accept that its life becomes determined by the thought and values of others. Consequently it ceases to be able to contribute to world civilization" (Abun-Nasr 1987, 325). Bennabi's critique is incisive and meant to be instructive.

Influenced by Arnold Toynbee and Oswald Spengler as well as by Ibn Khaldun, Bennabi was fascinated by the development and decline of civilization. He perceived the history of Muslim civilization as proceeding through spiritual, rational, and instinctual "psycho-temporal" stages while catalyzed by the synergy of three agents: man, land (soil), and time. In that he regarded religion as foundational in a civilization (Bennabi 1949, 33), the spiritual stage acquired special influence and importance for him. Bennabi contended that the Muslim civilization's spiritual stage ended with the divisive Battle of Siffin in 657, leading to the establishment of the Umayyad Caliphate. The rational stage followed as the civilization's "soul" or "spirit" leveled, albeit at a sophisticated plane. After centuries, ending with the life and times of Ibn Khaldun, Muslim civilization stagnated and declined toward an "instinctual primitive stage," an ancestral, regressive condition marked by torpor and superstition. Bennabi believed that the Nahda (Renaissance) or Islamic modernist movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries signaled a reviving and recovering Muslim civilization. Nevertheless, he also criticized the modernists for failing to "transform the Muslim soul" and realize Islam's "social function" (Bennabi 1954, 56). Bennabi viewed Islamism as a means to regain not only a spiritual reawakening but also an appreciation for the secular contributions of Muslim civilization. He was not existentially torn between Muslim and Western European/American civilizations. Furthermore, he considered spirituality and faith compatible with rationality and secularism (see Naylor 2006a; Christelow 1992). Subscribing to Friedrich Nietzsche's idea of an "eternal return," Bennabi anticipated an eventual restoration of a dynamic Muslim civilization.

Jacques Berque (1910-1995)

Jacques Berque (1910-1995) is our third North African scholar-exemplar. Like Ibn Khaldun's, Berque's life and research, especially in anthropology, sociology, and history, spanned North Africa from Morocco to Egypt. Born in Frenda in the Oranie (western Algeria), Berque was significantly influenced by his father, Augustin, a colonial official and perceptive observer of Arab and Berber social relations. The son acquired the father's appreciable acumen. Berque served in the French army in North Africa and befriended Moroccan soldiers, with whom he savored "the other side of things" (Berque 1989, 43). The Moroccans allowed him, for example, to accompany them into native neighborhoods. Like his father, Berque eventually joined the colonial administration. His candid, critical, and courageous appraisal of French colonial policy ended, however, the possibility of a government career. Nevertheless, Berque's expertise and erudition distinguished his scholarship whether describing the ethnic customs of the peoples of the High Atlas or the consequences of colonialism and decolonization in Algeria and Egypt. His wider interests included the history of Arabs and Islam. Berque's impressive scholarship led to his appointment as a professor at the prestigious Collège de France. Sharply critical of Orientalists' presumptions, Edward Said found Berque's work exceptional. He admired Berque and his colleague Maxime Rodinson for "their methodological self-consciousness. . . . What one finds in their work is always, first of all, a direct sensitivity to the material before them, and then a continual self-examination of their methodology and practice, a constant attempt to keep their work responsive to the material and not to a doctrinal preconception" (Said 1979, 326-327). Berque challenged atavisms, including his own.

Like Ibn Khaldun and Bennabi, Berque was an independent intellectual.26 Nevertheless, he also benefited from interdisciplinary interaction with colleagues like Rodinson, Louis Massignon, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Fernand Braudel,27 Michel Foucault, Georges Marçais, Vincent Monteil, Robert Montagne, Jacques Lacan, and Claude Lévi-Strauss. Although the philosophical issue of binary "othering" was an intense interest, the description, location, and context of othering, or the condition of alterity, distinguished Berque's writing, such as the consequences of industrialism as well as colonialism in North Africa. To quote Albert Hourani: "Berque has taught us to distinguish the different rhythms of history: that which foreign rulers have tried to impose upon the Arab Muslim countries they have ruled, and that which those peoples have produced within themselves" (Hourani 1991b, 5). His sympathy and identification with North Africans (especially Algerians, Moroccans, and Egyptians) characterized his work. Berque cultivated an intimate as well as intellectual relationship with North Africa. Albert Hourani admiringly wrote: "Berque's writings indeed are full of sights and sounds, smells and tastes. He has absorbed the Arab world through all his senses" (Hourani 1991b, 132). An adept (colloquial and classical) Arabist, he published an acclaimed commentary of the Qur'an in 1991. Berque mirrored Ibn Khaldun's philosophy of history: "One cannot write history without exploring the deeper levels below history" (Berque 1972, 297). He shared with Ibn Khaldun and Bennabi a fascination with the evolution of civilization.


Ibn Khaldun, Malik Bennabi, and Jacques Berque appreciated the historical and didactic significance of North Africa. Ibn Khaldun's multidisciplinary approach mirrors postmodern methodologies. Bennabi's studies of the "Post-Almohadean" period and the role of a genuinely redemptive Islamism are especially important in the contemporary context. Berque's remarkable ability to pass between and among North African cultures, despite his French colonialist background, conveys an inspiring personal and professional engagement.

The space devoted here to Ibn Khaldun, Malik Bennabi, and Jacques Berque is not meant to suggest that they provide the conceptual framework for this book, although they will be referred to occasionally. The objective of this book, an introductory work, is much more modest: to present a primarily political historical survey of North Africa illustrating the importance of transcultural influences. These scholars' inquisitive and acquisitive intellects epitomize the transcultural character of North Africa. Nevertheless, they represent but three notable and inspiring examples of North Africa's intellectual contributions to global civilization.


North Africa offers historic personalities, complex cultures, and sophisticated civilizations. Furthermore, the region's transcultural character and history connect it intimately with three continents, endowing North Africa with a global significance. Recently, I watched a television performance by Robert Plant, the renowned vocalist of the classic rock band Led Zeppelin. Plant performed a song derived from North African rhythms. His inspiring rendition disclosed how the pervasive, even if subtle, influence of North Africa affects our lives. Plant's interest also serves as an invitation to explore the history of a relatively neglected part of the world that deserves careful attention and considerable appreciation.



"Naylor's approach is innovative, his research thorough and balanced, and, most importantly, he exhibits an exceptional empathy for the peoples and cultures of the region whose history remains little understood in the United States. This is a work of exceptional insight that deserves the widest circulation possible."

—John Entelis, Professor of Political Science and Director, Middle East Studies Program, Fordham University