The Sahara (UK: /səˈhɑːrə/, /səˈhærə/; Arabic: الصحراء الكبرى, aṣ-ṣaḥrāʼ al-kubrá, 'the Great Desert') is a desert located on the African continent. It is the largest hot desert in the world, and the third largest desert overall after Antarctica and the Arctic. Its area of 9,200,000 square kilometres (3,600,000 sq mi) is comparable to the area of China or the United States. The name 'Sahara' is derived from a dialectal Arabic word for "desert", ṣaḥra (صحرا /ˈsˤaħra/).
The desert comprises much of North Africa, excluding the fertile region on the Mediterranean Sea coast, the Atlas Mountains of the Maghreb, and the Nile Valley in Egypt and Sudan. It stretches from the Red Sea in the east and the Mediterranean in the north to the Atlantic Ocean in the west, where the landscape gradually changes from desert to coastal plains. To the south, it is bounded by the Sahel, a belt of semi-arid tropical savanna around the Niger River valley and the Sudan Region of Sub-Saharan Africa. The Sahara can be divided into several regions including: the western Sahara, the central Ahaggar Mountains, the Tibesti Mountains, the Aïr Mountains, the Ténéré desert, and the Libyan Desert.
For several hundred thousand years, the Sahara has alternated between desert and savanna grassland in a 41,000 year cycle caused by the precession of the Earth's axis as it rotates around the Sun, which changes the location of the North African Monsoon. The area is next expected to become green in about 15,000 years (17,000 AD). There is a suggestion that the last time that the Sahara was converted from savanna to desert it was partially due to overgrazing by the cattle of the local population.
|The Great Desert|
A satellite image of the Sahara by NASA World Wind
|Length||4,800 km (3,000 mi)|
|Width||1,800 km (1,100 mi)|
|Area||9,200,000 km2 (3,600,000 sq mi)|
The Sahara covers large parts of Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Western Sahara, Sudan and Tunisia. It covers 9 million square kilometres (3,500,000 sq mi), amounting to 31% of Africa. If all areas with a mean annual precipitation of less than 250 mm were included, the Sahara would be 11 million square kilometres (4,200,000 sq mi). It is one of three distinct physiographic provinces of the African massive physiographic division.
The Sahara is mainly rocky hamada (stone plateaus); ergs (sand seas – large areas covered with sand dunes) form only a minor part, but many of the sand dunes are over 180 metres (590 ft) high. Wind or rare rainfall shape the desert features: sand dunes, dune fields, sand seas, stone plateaus, gravel plains (reg), dry valleys (wadi), dry lakes (oued), and salt flats (shatt or chott). Unusual landforms include the Richat Structure in Mauritania.
Several deeply dissected mountains, many volcanic, rise from the desert, including the Aïr Mountains, Ahaggar Mountains, Saharan Atlas, Tibesti Mountains, Adrar des Iforas, and the Red Sea Hills. The highest peak in the Sahara is Emi Koussi, a shield volcano in the Tibesti range of northern Chad.
The central Sahara is hyperarid, with sparse vegetation. The northern and southern reaches of the desert, along with the highlands, have areas of sparse grassland and desert shrub, with trees and taller shrubs in wadis, where moisture collects. In the central, hyperarid region, there are many subdivisions of the great desert: Tanezrouft, the Ténéré, the Libyan Desert, the Eastern Desert, the Nubian Desert and others. These extremely arid areas often receive no rain for years.
To the north, the Sahara skirts the Mediterranean Sea in Egypt and portions of Libya, but in Cyrenaica and the Maghreb, the Sahara borders the Mediterranean forest, woodland, and scrub eco-regions of northern Africa, all of which have a Mediterranean climate characterized by hot summers and cool and rainy winters. According to the botanical criteria of Frank White and geographer Robert Capot-Rey, the northern limit of the Sahara corresponds to the northern limit of date palm cultivation and the southern limit of the range of esparto, a grass typical of the Mediterranean climate portion of the Maghreb and Iberia. The northern limit also corresponds to the 100 mm (3.9 in) isohyet of annual precipitation.
To the south, the Sahara is bounded by the Sahel, a belt of dry tropical savanna with a summer rainy season that extends across Africa from east to west. The southern limit of the Sahara is indicated botanically by the southern limit of Cornulaca monacantha (a drought-tolerant member of the Chenopodiaceae), or northern limit of Cenchrus biflorus, a grass typical of the Sahel. According to climatic criteria, the southern limit of the Sahara corresponds to the 150 mm (5.9 in) isohyet of annual precipitation (this is a long-term average, since precipitation varies annually).
Important cities located in the Sahara include Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania; Tamanrasset, Ouargla, Béchar, Hassi Messaoud, Ghardaïa, and El Oued in Algeria; Timbuktu in Mali; Agadez in Niger; Ghat in Libya; and Faya-Largeau in Chad.
The Sahara is the world's largest low-latitude hot desert. It is located in the horse latitudes under the subtropical ridge, a significant belt of semi-permanent subtropical warm-core high pressure where the air from upper levels of the troposphere tends to sink towards the ground. This steady descending airflow causes a warming and a drying effect in the upper troposphere. The sinking air prevents evaporating water from rising, and therefore prevents adiabatic cooling, which makes cloud formation extremely difficult to nearly impossible.
The permanent dissolution of clouds allows unhindered light and thermal radiation. The stability of the atmosphere above the desert prevents any convective overturning, thus making rainfall virtually non-existent. As a consequence, the weather tends to be sunny, dry and stable with a minimal chance of rainfall. Subsiding, diverging, dry air masses associated with subtropical high-pressure systems are extremely unfavorable for the development of convectional showers. The subtropical ridge is the predominant factor that explains the hot desert climate (Köppen climate classification BWh) of this vast region. The descending airflow is the strongest and the most effective over the eastern part of the Great Desert, in the Libyan Desert: this is the sunniest, driest and the most nearly "rainless" place on the planet, rivaling the Atacama Desert, lying in Chile and Peru.
The rainfall inhibition and the dissipation of cloud cover are most accentuated over the eastern section of the Sahara rather than the western. The prevailing air mass lying above the Sahara is the continental tropical (cT) air mass, which is hot and dry. Hot, dry air masses primarily form over the North-African desert from the heating of the vast continental land area, and it affects the whole desert during most of the year. Because of this extreme heating process, a thermal low is usually noticed near the surface, and is the strongest and the most developed during the summertime. The Sahara High represents the eastern continental extension of the Azores High, centered over the North Atlantic Ocean. The subsidence of the Sahara High nearly reaches the ground during the coolest part of the year, while it is confined to the upper troposphere during the hottest periods.
The effects of local surface low pressure are extremely limited because upper-level subsidence still continues to block any form of air ascent. Also, to be protected against rain-bearing weather systems by the atmospheric circulation itself, the desert is made even drier by its geographical configuration and location. Indeed, the extreme aridity of the Sahara is not only explained by the subtropical high pressure: the Atlas Mountains of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia also help to enhance the aridity of the northern part of the desert. These major mountain ranges act as a barrier, causing a strong rain shadow effect on the leeward side by dropping much of the humidity brought by atmospheric disturbances along the polar front which affects the surrounding Mediterranean climates.
The primary source of rain in the Sahara is the Intertropical Convergence Zone, a continuous belt of low-pressure systems near the equator which bring the brief, short and irregular rainy season to the Sahel and southern Sahara. Rainfall in this giant desert has to overcome the physical and atmospheric barriers that normally prevent the production of precipitation. The harsh climate of the Sahara is characterized by: extremely low, unreliable, highly erratic rainfall; extremely high sunshine duration values; high temperatures year-round; negligible rates of relative humidity; a significant diurnal temperature variation; and extremely high levels of potential evaporation which are the highest recorded worldwide.
The sky is usually clear above the desert, and the sunshine duration is extremely high everywhere in the Sahara. Most of the desert has more than 3,600 hours of bright sunshine per year (over 82% of daylight hours), and a wide area in the eastern part has over 4,000 hours of bright sunshine per year (over 91% of daylight hours). The highest values are very close to the theoretical maximum value. A value of 4300 hours (98%) of the time would be recorded in Upper Egypt (Aswan, Luxor) and in the Nubian Desert (Wadi Halfa). The annual average direct solar irradiation is around 2,800 kWh/(m2 year) in the Great Desert. The Sahara has a huge potential for solar energy production.
The high position of the Sun, the extremely low relative humidity, and the lack of vegetation and rainfall make the Great Desert the hottest large region in the world, and the hottest place on Earth during summer in some spots. The average high temperature exceeds 38 to 40 °C or 100.4 to 104.0 °F during the hottest month nearly everywhere in the desert except at very high altitudes. The world's highest officially recorded average daily high temperature was 47 °C or 116.6 °F in a remote desert town in the Algerian Desert called Bou Bernous, at an elevation of 378 metres (1,240 ft) above sea level, and only Death Valley, California rivals it. Other hot spots in Algeria such as Adrar, Timimoun, In Salah, Ouallene, Aoulef, Reggane with an elevation between 200 and 400 metres (660 and 1,310 ft) above sea level get slightly lower summer average highs, around 46 °C or 114.8 °F during the hottest months of the year. Salah, well known in Algeria for its extreme heat, has average high temperatures of 43.8 °C or 110.8 °F, 46.4 °C or 115.5 °F, 45.5 °C or 113.9 °F and 41.9 °C or 107.4 °F in June, July, August and September respectively. There are even hotter spots in the Sahara, but they are located in extremely remote areas, especially in the Azalai, lying in northern Mali. The major part of the desert experiences around three to five months when the average high strictly exceeds 40 °C or 104 °F; while in the southern central part of the desert, there are up to six or seven months when the average high temperature strictly exceeds 40 °C or 104 °F. Some examples of this are Bilma, Niger and Faya-Largeau, Chad. The annual average daily temperature exceeds 20 °C or 68 °F everywhere and can approach 30 °C or 86 °F in the hottest regions year-round. However, most of the desert has a value in excess of 25 °C or 77 °F.
Sand and ground temperatures are even more extreme. During daytime, the sand temperature is extremely high: it can easily reach 80 °C or 176 °F or more. A sand temperature of 83.5 °C (182.3 °F) has been recorded in Port Sudan. Ground temperatures of 72 °C or 161.6 °F have been recorded in the Adrar of Mauritania and a value of 75 °C (167 °F) has been measured in Borkou, northern Chad.
Due to lack of cloud cover and very low humidity, the desert usually has high diurnal temperature variations between days and nights. However, it is a myth that the nights are cold after extremely hot days in the Sahara. The average diurnal temperature range is typically between 13 and 20 °C or 23.4 and 36.0 °F. The lowest values are found along the coastal regions due to high humidity and are often even lower than 10 °C or 18 °F, while the highest values are found in inland desert areas where the humidity is the lowest, mainly in the southern Sahara. Still, it is true that winter nights can be cold as it can drop to the freezing point and even below, especially in high-elevation areas. The frequency of subfreezing winter nights in the Sahara is strongly influenced by the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), with warmer winter temperatures during negative NAO events and cooler winters with more frosts when the NAO is positive. This is because the weaker clockwise flow around the eastern side of the subtropical anticyclone during negative NAO winters, although too dry to produce more than negligible precipitation, does reduce the flow of dry, cold air from higher latitudes of Eurasia into the Sahara significantly.
The average annual rainfall ranges from very low in the northern and southern fringes of the desert to nearly non-existent over the central and the eastern part. The thin northern fringe of the desert receives more winter cloudiness and rainfall due to the arrival of low pressure systems over the Mediterranean Sea along the polar front, although very attenuated by the rain shadow effects of the mountains and the annual average rainfall ranges from 100 millimetres (4 in) to 250 millimetres (10 in). For example, Biskra, Algeria and Ouarzazate, Morocco are found in this zone. The southern fringe of the desert along the border with the Sahel receives summer cloudiness and rainfall due to the arrival of the Intertropical Convergence Zone from the south and the annual average rainfall ranges from 100 millimetres (4 in) to 250 millimetres (10 in). For example, Timbuktu, Mali and Agadez, Niger are found in this zone. The vast central hyper-arid core of the desert is virtually never affected by northerly or southerly atmospheric disturbances and permanently remains under the influence of the strongest anticyclonic weather regime, and the annual average rainfall can drop to less than 1 millimetre (0.04 in). In fact, most of the Sahara receives less than 20 millimetres (0.8 in). Of the 9,000,000 square kilometres (3,500,000 sq mi) of desert land in the Sahara, an area of about 2,800,000 square kilometres (1,100,000 sq mi) (about 31% of the total area) receives an annual average rainfall amount of 10 millimetres (0.4 in) or less, while some 1,500,000 square kilometres (580,000 sq mi) (about 17% of the total area) receives an average of 5 millimetres (0.2 in) or less. The annual average rainfall is virtually zero over a wide area of some 1,000,000 square kilometres (390,000 sq mi) in the eastern Sahara comprising deserts of: Libya, Egypt and Sudan (Tazirbu, Kufra, Dakhla, Kharga, Farafra, Siwa, Asyut, Sohag, Luxor, Aswan, Abu Simbel, Wadi Halfa) where the long-term mean approximates 0.5 millimetres (0.02 in) per year. Rainfall is very unreliable and erratic in the Sahara as it may vary considerably year by year. In full contrast to the negligible annual rainfall amounts, the annual rates of potential evaporation are extraordinarily high, roughly ranging from 2,500 millimetres (100 in) per year to more than 6,000 millimetres (240 in) per year in the whole desert. Nowhere else on Earth has air been found as dry and evaporative as in the Sahara region. However, at least two instances of snowfall have been recorded in Sahara, in February 1979 and December 2016, both in the town of Ain Sefra.
The climate of the Sahara has undergone enormous variations between wet and dry over the last few hundred thousand years, believed to be caused by long-term changes in the North African climate cycle that alters the path of the North African Monsoon – usually southward. The cycle is caused by a 41000-year cycle in which the tilt of the earth changes between 22° and 24.5°. At present (2000 AD), we are in a dry period, but it is expected that the Sahara will become green again in 15000 years (17000 AD). When the North African monsoon is at its strongest annual precipitation and subsequent vegetation in the Sahara region increase, resulting in conditions commonly referred to as the "green Sahara". For a relatively weak North African monsoon, the opposite is true, with decreased annual precipitation and less vegetation resulting in a phase of the Sahara climate cycle known as the "desert Sahara".
The idea that changes in insolation (solar heating) caused by long-term changes in the Earth's orbit are a controlling factor for the long-term variations in the strength of monsoon patterns across the globe was first suggested by Rudolf Spitaler in the late nineteenth century, The hypothesis was later formally proposed and tested by the meteorologist John Kutzbach in 1981. Kutzbach's ideas about the impacts of insolation on global monsoonal patterns have become widely accepted today as the underlying driver of long term monsoonal cycles. Kutzbach never formally named his hypothesis and as such it is referred to here as the "Orbital Monsoon Hypothesis" as suggested by Ruddiman in 2001.
During the last glacial period, the Sahara was much larger than it is today, extending south beyond its current boundaries. The end of the glacial period brought more rain to the Sahara, from about 8000 BCE to 6000 BCE, perhaps because of low pressure areas over the collapsing ice sheets to the north. Once the ice sheets were gone, the northern Sahara dried out. In the southern Sahara, the drying trend was initially counteracted by the monsoon, which brought rain further north than it does today. By around 4200 BCE, however, the monsoon retreated south to approximately where it is today, leading to the gradual desertification of the Sahara. The Sahara is now as dry as it was about 13,000 years ago.
The Sahara pump theory describes this cycle. During periods of a wet or "Green Sahara", the Sahara becomes a savanna grassland and various flora and fauna become more common. Following inter-pluvial arid periods, the Sahara area then reverts to desert conditions and the flora and fauna are forced to retreat northwards to the Atlas Mountains, southwards into West Africa, or eastwards into the Nile Valley. This separates populations of some of the species in areas with different climates, forcing them to adapt, possibly giving rise to allopatric speciation.
It is also proposed that humans accelerated the drying out period from 6,000–2,500 BCE by pastoralists overgrazing available grassland.
The growth of speleothems (which requires rainwater) was detected in Hol-Zakh, Ashalim, Even-Sid, Ma'ale-ha-Meyshar, Ktora Cracks, Nagev Tzavoa Cave, and elsewhere, and has allowed tracking of prehistoric rainfall. The Red Sea coastal route was extremely arid before 140 and after 115 kya. Slightly wetter conditions appear at 90–87 kya, but it still was just one tenth the rainfall around 125 kya. In the southern Negev Desert speleothems did not grow between 185–140 kya (MIS 6), 110–90 (MIS 5.4–5.2), nor after 85 kya nor during most of the interglacial period (MIS 5.1), the glacial period and Holocene. This suggests that the southern Negev was arid to hyper-arid in these periods.
During the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) the Sahara desert was more extensive than it is now with the extent of the tropical forests being greatly reduced, and the lower temperatures reduced the strength of the Hadley Cell. This is a climate cell which causes rising tropical air of the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) to bring rain to the tropics, while dry descending air, at about 20 degrees north, flows back to the equator and brings desert conditions to this region. It is associated with high rates of wind-blown mineral dust, and these dust levels are found as expected in marine cores from the north tropical Atlantic. But around 12,500 BCE the amount of dust in the cores in the Bølling/Allerød phase suddenly plummets and shows a period of much wetter conditions in the Sahara, indicating a Dansgaard-Oeschger (DO) event (a sudden warming followed by a slower cooling of the climate). The moister Saharan conditions had begun about 12,500 BCE, with the extension of the ITCZ northward in the northern hemisphere summer, bringing moist wet conditions and a savanna climate to the Sahara, which (apart from a short dry spell associated with the Younger Dryas) peaked during the Holocene thermal maximum climatic phase at 4000 BCE when mid-latitude temperatures seem to have been between 2 and 3 degrees warmer than in the recent past. Analysis of Nile River deposited sediments in the delta also shows this period had a higher proportion of sediments coming from the Blue Nile, suggesting higher rainfall also in the Ethiopian Highlands. This was caused principally by a stronger monsoonal circulation throughout the sub-tropical regions, affecting India, Arabia and the Sahara. Lake Victoria only recently became the source of the White Nile and dried out almost completely around 15 kya.
The sudden subsequent movement of the ITCZ southwards with a Heinrich event (a sudden cooling followed by a slower warming), linked to changes with the El Niño-Southern Oscillation cycle, led to a rapid drying out of the Saharan and Arabian regions, which quickly became desert. This is linked to a marked decline in the scale of the Nile floods between 2700 and 2100 BCE.
The Sahara comprises several distinct ecoregions. With their variations in temperature, rainfall, elevation, and soil, these regions harbor distinct communities of plants and animals.
The Atlantic coastal desert is a narrow strip along the Atlantic coast where fog generated offshore by the cool Canary Current provides sufficient moisture to sustain a variety of lichens, succulents, and shrubs. It covers an area of 39,900 square kilometers (15,400 sq mi) in the south of Morocco and Mauritania.
The North Saharan steppe and woodlands is along the northern desert, next to the Mediterranean forests, woodlands, and scrub ecoregions of the northern Maghreb and Cyrenaica. Winter rains sustain shrublands and dry woodlands that form a transition between the Mediterranean climate regions to the north and the hyper-arid Sahara proper to the south. It covers 1,675,300 square kilometers (646,840 sq mi) in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia.
The Sahara Desert ecoregion covers the hyper-arid central portion of the Sahara where rainfall is minimal and sporadic. Vegetation is rare, and this ecoregion consists mostly of sand dunes (erg, chech, raoui), stone plateaus (hamadas), gravel plains (reg), dry valleys (wadis), and salt flats. It covers 4,639,900 square kilometres (1,791,500 sq mi) of: Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Sudan.
The South Saharan steppe and woodlands ecoregion is a narrow band running east and west between the hyper-arid Sahara and the Sahel savannas to the south. Movements of the equatorial Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) bring summer rains during July and August which average 100 to 200 mm (4 to 8 in) but vary greatly from year to year. These rains sustain summer pastures of grasses and herbs, with dry woodlands and shrublands along seasonal watercourses. This ecoregion covers 1,101,700 square kilometres (425,400 sq mi) in Algeria, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Sudan.
In the West Saharan montane xeric woodlands, several volcanic highlands provide a cooler, moister environment that supports Saharo-Mediterranean woodlands and shrublands. The ecoregion covers 258,100 square kilometres (99,650 sq mi), mostly in the Tassili n'Ajjer of Algeria, with smaller enclaves in the Aïr of Niger, the Dhar Adrar of Mauritania, and the Adrar des Iforas of Mali and Algeria.
The Tibesti-Jebel Uweinat montane xeric woodlands ecoregion consists of the Tibesti and Jebel Uweinat highlands. Higher and more regular rainfall and cooler temperatures support woodlands and shrublands of Date palm, acacias, myrtle, oleander, tamarix, and several rare and endemic plants. The ecoregion covers 82,200 square kilometres (31,700 sq mi) in the Tibesti of Chad and Libya, and Jebel Uweinat on the border of Egypt, Libya, and Sudan.
The Saharan halophytics is an area of seasonally flooded saline depressions which is home to halophytic (salt-adapted) plant communities. The Saharan halophytics cover 54,000 square kilometres (21,000 sq mi) including: the Qattara and Siwa depressions in northern Egypt, the Tunisian salt lakes of central Tunisia, Chott Melghir in Algeria, and smaller areas of Algeria, Mauritania, and the southern part of Morocco.
The Tanezrouft is one of the harshest regions on Earth as well as one of the hottest and driest parts of the Sahara, with no vegetation and very little life. It is along the borders of Algeria, Niger, and Mali, west of the Hoggar mountains.
The flora of the Sahara is highly diversified based on the bio-geographical characteristics of this vast desert. Floristically, the Sahara has three zones based on the amount of rainfall received – the Northern (Mediterranean), Central and Southern Zones. There are two transitional zones – the Mediterranean-Sahara transition and the Sahel transition zone.
The central Sahara is estimated to include five hundred species of plants, which is extremely low considering the huge extent of the area. Plants such as acacia trees, palms, succulents, spiny shrubs, and grasses have adapted to the arid conditions, by growing lower to avoid water loss by strong winds, by storing water in their thick stems to use it in dry periods, by having long roots that travel horizontally to reach the maximum area of water and to find any surface moisture, and by having small thick leaves or needles to prevent water loss by evapotranspiration. Plant leaves may dry out totally and then recover.
Several species of fox live in the Sahara including: the fennec fox, pale fox and Rüppell's fox. The addax, a large white antelope, can go nearly a year in the desert without drinking. The dorcas gazelle is a north African gazelle that can also go for a long time without water. Other notable gazelles include the rhim gazelle and dama gazelle.
The Saharan cheetah (northwest African cheetah) lives in Algeria, Togo, Niger, Mali, Benin, and Burkina Faso. There remain fewer than 250 mature cheetahs, which are very cautious, fleeing any human presence. The cheetah avoids the sun from April to October, seeking the shelter of shrubs such as balanites and acacias. They are unusually pale. The other cheetah subspecies (northeast African cheetah) lives in Chad, Sudan and the eastern region of Niger. However, it is currently extinct in the wild in Egypt and Libya. There are approximately 2000 mature individuals left in the wild.
Other animals include the monitor lizards, hyrax, sand vipers, and small populations of African wild dog, in perhaps only 14 countries and red-necked ostrich. Other animals exist in the Sahara (birds in particular) such as African silverbill and black-faced firefinch, among others. There are also small desert crocodiles in Mauritania and the Ennedi Plateau of Chad.
The deathstalker scorpion can be 10 cm (3.9 in) long. Its venom contains large amounts of agitoxin and scyllatoxin and is very dangerous; however, a sting from this scorpion rarely kills a healthy adult. The Saharan silver ant is unique in that due to the extreme high temperatures of their habitat, and the threat of predators, the ants are active outside their nest for only about ten minutes per day.
Human activities are more likely to affect the habitat in areas of permanent water (oases) or where water comes close to the surface. Here, the local pressure on natural resources can be intense. The remaining populations of large mammals have been greatly reduced by hunting for food and recreation. In recent years development projects have started in the deserts of Algeria and Tunisia using irrigated water pumped from underground aquifers. These schemes often lead to soil degradation and salinization.
Researchers from Hacettepe University (Yücekutlu, N. et al., 2011) have reported that Saharan soil may have bio-available iron and also some essential macro and micro nutrient elements suitable for use as fertilizer for growing wheat.
People lived on the edge of the desert thousands of years ago, since the end of the last glacial period. The Sahara was then a much wetter place than it is today. Over 30,000 petroglyphs of river animals such as crocodiles survive, with half found in the Tassili n'Ajjer in southeast Algeria. Fossils of dinosaurs, including Afrovenator, Jobaria and Ouranosaurus, have also been found here. The modern Sahara, though, is not lush in vegetation, except in the Nile Valley, at a few oases, and in the northern highlands, where Mediterranean plants such as the olive tree are found to grow. It was long believed that the region had been this way since about 1600 BCE, after shifts in the Earth's axis increased temperatures and decreased precipitation, which led to the abrupt desertification of North Africa about 5,400 years ago. However, this theory has recently been called into dispute, when samples taken from several seven-million-year-old sand deposits led scientists to reconsider the timeline for desertification.
The Kiffian culture is a prehistoric industry, or domain, that existed between 10,000 and 8,000 years ago in the Sahara, during the Neolithic Subpluvial. Human remains from this culture were found in 2000 at a site known as Gobero, located in Niger in the Ténéré Desert. The site is known as the largest and earliest grave of Stone Age people in the Sahara desert. The Kiffians were skilled hunters. Bones of many large savannah animals that were discovered in the same area suggest that they lived on the shores of a lake that was present during the Holocene Wet Phase, a period when the Sahara was verdant and wet. The Kiffian people were tall, standing over six feet in height. Craniometric analysis indicates that this early Holocene population was closely related to the Late Pleistocene Iberomaurusians and early Holocene Capsians of the Maghreb, as well as mid-Holocene Mechta groups. Traces of the Kiffian culture do not exist after 8,000 years ago, as the Sahara went through a dry period for the next thousand years. After this time, the Tenerian culture colonized the area.
Gobero was discovered in 2000 during an archaeological expedition led by Paul Sereno, which sought dinosaur remains. Two distinct prehistoric cultures were discovered at the site: the early Holocene Kiffian culture, and the middle Holocene Tenerian culture. The Kiffians were a prehistoric people who preceded the Tenerians and vanished approximately 8000 years ago, when the desert became very dry. The desiccation lasted until around 4600 BCE, when the earliest artefacts associated with the Tenerians have been dated to. Some 200 skeletons have been discovered at Gobero. The Tenerians were considerably shorter in height and less robust than the earlier Kiffians. Craniometric analysis also indicates that they were osteologically distinct. The Kiffian skulls are akin to those of the Late Pleistocene Iberomaurusians, early Holocene Capsians, and mid-Holocene Mechta groups, whereas the Tenerian crania are more like those of Mediterranean groups. Graves show that the Tenerians observed spiritual traditions, as they were buried with artifacts such as jewelry made of hippo tusks and clay pots. The most interesting find is a triple burial, dated to 5300 years ago, of an adult female and two children, estimated through their teeth as being five and eight years old, hugging each other. Pollen residue indicates they were buried on a bed of flowers. The three are assumed to have died within 24 hours of each other, but as their skeletons hold no apparent trauma (they did not die violently) and they have been buried so elaborately – unlikely if they had died of a plague – the cause of their deaths is a mystery.
Uan Muhuggiag appears to have been inhabited from at least the 6th millennium BCE to about 2700 BCE, although not necessarily continuously. The most noteworthy find at Uan Muhuggiag is the well-preserved mummy of a young boy of approximately 2 1/2 years old. The child was in a fetal position, then embalmed, then placed in a sack made of antelope skin, which was insulated by a layer of leaves. The boy's organs were removed, as evidenced by incisions in his stomach and thorax, and an organic preservative was inserted to stop his body from decomposing. An ostrich eggshell necklace was also found around his neck. Radiocarbon dating determined the age of the mummy to be approximately 5600 years old, which makes it about 1000 years older than the earliest previously recorded mummy in ancient Egypt. In 1958–1959, an archaeological expedition led by Antonio Ascenzi conducted anthropological, radiological, histological and chemical analyses on the Uan Muhuggiag mummy. The specimen was determined to be that of a 30-month old child of uncertain sex, who possessed Negroid features. A long incision on the specimen's abdominal wall also indicated that the body had been initially mummified by evisceration and later underwent natural desiccation. One other individual, an adult, was found at Uan Muhuggiag, buried in a crouched position. However, the body showed no evidence of evisceration or any other method of preservation. The body was estimated to date from about 7500 BP.
During the Neolithic Era, before the onset of desertification around 9500 BCE, the central Sudan had been a rich environment supporting a large population ranging across what is now barren desert, like the Wadi el-Qa'ab. By the 5th millennium BCE, the people who inhabited what is now called Nubia, were full participants in the "agricultural revolution", living a settled lifestyle with domesticated plants and animals. Saharan rock art of cattle and herdsmen suggests the presence of a cattle cult like those found in Sudan and other pastoral societies in Africa today. Megaliths found at Nabta Playa are overt examples of probably the world's first known archaeoastronomy devices, predating Stonehenge by some 2,000 years. This complexity, as observed at Nabta Playa, and as expressed by different levels of authority within the society there, likely formed the basis for the structure of both the Neolithic society at Nabta and the Old Kingdom of Egypt.
By 6000 BCE predynastic Egyptians in the southwestern corner of Egypt were herding cattle and constructing large buildings. Subsistence in organized and permanent settlements in predynastic Egypt by the middle of the 6th millennium BCE centered predominantly on cereal and animal agriculture: cattle, goats, pigs and sheep. Metal objects replaced prior ones of stone. Tanning of animal skins, pottery and weaving were commonplace in this era also. There are indications of seasonal or only temporary occupation of the Al Fayyum in the 6th millennium BCE, with food activities centering on fishing, hunting and food-gathering. Stone arrowheads, knives and scrapers from the era are commonly found. Burial items included pottery, jewelry, farming and hunting equipment, and assorted foods including dried meat and fruit. Burial in desert environments appears to enhance Egyptian preservation rites, and the dead were buried facing due west.
By 3400 BCE, the Sahara was as dry as it is today, due to reduced precipitation and higher temperatures resulting from a shift in the Earth's orbit. As a result of this aridification, it became a largely impenetrable barrier to humans, with the remaining settlements mainly being concentrated around the numerous oases that dot the landscape. Little trade or commerce is known to have passed through the interior in subsequent periods, the only major exception being the Nile Valley. The Nile, however, was impassable at several cataracts, making trade and contact by boat difficult.
The people of Phoenicia, who flourished from 1200–800 BCE, created a confederation of kingdoms across the entire Sahara to Egypt. They generally settled along the Mediterranean coast, as well as the Sahara, among the people of ancient Libya, who were the ancestors of people who speak Berber languages in North Africa and the Sahara today, including the Tuareg of the central Sahara.
The Phoenician alphabet seems to have been adopted by the ancient Libyans of north Africa, and Tifinagh is still used today by Berber-speaking Tuareg camel herders of the central Sahara.
Sometime between 633 BCE and 530 BCE, Hanno the Navigator either established or reinforced Phoenician colonies in Western Sahara, but all ancient remains have vanished with virtually no trace.
By 500 BCE, Greeks arrived in the desert. Greek traders spread along the eastern coast of the desert, establishing trading colonies along the Red Sea. The Carthaginians explored the Atlantic coast of the desert, but the turbulence of the waters and the lack of markets caused a lack of presence further south than modern Morocco. Centralized states thus surrounded the desert on the north and east; it remained outside the control of these states. Raids from the nomadic Berber people of the desert were of constant concern to those living on the edge of the desert.
An urban civilization, the Garamantes, arose around 500 BCE in the heart of the Sahara, in a valley that is now called the Wadi al-Ajal in Fezzan, Libya. The Garamantes achieved this development by digging tunnels far into the mountains flanking the valley to tap fossil water and bring it to their fields. The Garamantes grew populous and strong, conquering their neighbors and capturing many slaves (who were put to work extending the tunnels). The ancient Greeks and the Romans knew of the Garamantes and regarded them as uncivilized nomads. However, they traded with them, and a Roman bath has been found in the Garamantes' capital of Garama. Archaeologists have found eight major towns and many other important settlements in the Garamantes' territory. The Garamantes' civilization eventually collapsed after they had depleted available water in the aquifers and could no longer sustain the effort to extend the tunnels further into the mountains.
The Berber people occupied (and still occupy with Arabs) much of the Sahara. The Garamantes Berbers built a prosperous empire in the heart of the desert. The Tuareg nomads continue to inhabit and move across wide Sahara surfaces to the present day.
The Byzantine Empire ruled the northern shores of the Sahara from the 5th to the 7th centuries. After the Muslim conquest of Arabia, specifically the Arabian peninsula, the Muslim conquest of North Africa began in the mid-7th to early 8th centuries and Islamic influence expanded rapidly on the Sahara. By the end of 641 all of Egypt was in Muslim hands. Trade across the desert intensified, and a significant slave trade crossed the desert. It has been estimated that from the 10th to 19th centuries some 6,000 to 7,000 slaves were transported north each year.
In the 16th century the northern fringe of the Sahara, such as coastal regencies in present-day Algeria and Tunisia, as well as some parts of present-day Libya, together with the semi-autonomous kingdom of Egypt, were occupied by the Ottoman Empire. From 1517 Egypt was a valued part of the Ottoman Empire, ownership of which provided the Ottomans with control over the Nile Valley, the east Mediterranean and North Africa. The benefit of the Ottoman Empire was the freedom of movement for citizens and goods. Traders exploited the Ottoman land routes to handle the spices, gold and silk from the East, manufactured goods from Europe, and the slave and gold traffic from Africa. Arabic continued as the local language and Islamic culture was much reinforced. The Sahel and southern Sahara regions were home to several independent states or to roaming Tuareg clans.
European colonialism in the Sahara began in the 19th century. France conquered the regency of Algiers from the Ottomans in 1830, and French rule spread south from Algeria and eastwards from Senegal into the upper Niger to include present-day Algeria, Chad, Mali then French Sudan including Timbuktu, Mauritania, Morocco (1912), Niger, and Tunisia (1881). By the beginning of the 20th century, the trans-Saharan trade had clearly declined because goods were moved through more modern and efficient means, such as airplanes, rather than across the desert.
The French Colonial Empire was the dominant presence in the Sahara. It established regular air links from Toulouse (HQ of famed Aéropostale), to Oran and over the Hoggar to Timbuktu and West to Bamako and Dakar, as well as trans-Sahara bus services run by La Companie Transsaharienne (est. 1927). A remarkable film shot by famous aviator Captain René Wauthier documents the first crossing by a large truck convoy from Algiers to Tchad, across the Sahara.
Egypt, under Muhammad Ali and his successors, conquered Nubia in 1820–22, founded Khartoum in 1823, and conquered Darfur in 1874. Egypt, including the Sudan, became a British protectorate in 1882. Egypt and Britain lost control of the Sudan from 1882 to 1898 as a result of the Mahdist War. After its capture by British troops in 1898, the Sudan became an Anglo-Egyptian condominium.
Spain captured present-day Western Sahara after 1874, although Rio del Oro remained largely under Sahrawi influence. In 1912, Italy captured parts of what was to be named Libya from the Ottomans. To promote the Roman Catholic religion in the desert, Pope Pius IX appointed a delegate Apostolic of the Sahara and the Sudan in 1868; later in the 19th century his jurisdiction was reorganized into the Vicariate Apostolic of Sahara.
Egypt became independent of Britain in 1936, although the Anglo-Egyptian treaty of 1936 allowed Britain to keep troops in Egypt and to maintain the British-Egyptian condominium in the Sudan. British military forces were withdrawn in 1954.
Most of the Saharan states achieved independence after World War II: Libya in 1951; Morocco, Sudan, and Tunisia in 1956; Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger in 1960; and Algeria in 1962. Spain withdrew from Western Sahara in 1975, and it was partitioned between Mauritania and Morocco. Mauritania withdrew in 1979; Morocco continues to hold the territory.
In the post–World War II era, several mines and communities have developed to utilize the desert's natural resources. These include large deposits of oil and natural gas in Algeria and Libya, and large deposits of phosphates in Morocco and Western Sahara.
A number of Trans-African highways have been proposed across the Sahara, including the Cairo–Dakar Highway along the Atlantic coast, the Trans-Sahara Highway from Algiers on the Mediterranean to Kano in Nigeria, the Tripoli – Cape Town Highway from Tripoli in Libya to N'Djamena in Chad, and the Cairo – Cape Town Highway which follows the Nile. Each of these highways is partially complete, with significant gaps and unpaved sections.
The people of the Sahara are of various origins. Among them the Amaziɣ including the Turūq, various Arabized Amaziɣ groups such as the Hassaniya-speaking Sahrawis, whose populations include the Znaga, a tribe whose name is a remnant of the pre-historic Zenaga language. Other major groups of people include the: Toubou, Nubians, Zaghawa, Kanuri, Hausa, Songhai, Beja, and Fula/Fulani (French: Peul; Fula: Fulɓe).
Arabic dialects are the most widely spoken languages in the Sahara. Arabic, Berber and its variants now regrouped under the term Amazigh (which includes the Guanche language spoken by the original Berber inhabitants of the Canary Islands) and Beja languages are part of the Afro-Asiatic or Hamito-Semitic family. Unlike neighboring West Africa and the central governments of the states that comprise the Sahara, the French language bears little relevance to inter-personal discourse and commerce within the region, its people retaining staunch ethnic and political affiliations with Tuareg and Berber leaders and culture. The legacy of the French colonial era administration is primarily manifested in the territorial reorganization enacted by the Third and Fourth republics, which engendered artificial political divisions within a hitherto isolated and porous region. Diplomacy with local clients was conducted primarily in Arabic, which was the traditional language of bureaucratic affairs. Mediation of disputes and inter-agency communication was served by interpreters contracted by the French government, who, according to Keenan, "documented a space of intercultural mediation," contributing much to preserving the indigenous cultural identities in the region.
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The Atlas Mountains (Arabic: جِـبَـال الْأَطْـلَـس, translit. jibāl al-ʾaṭlas; durar n waṭlas) are a mountain range in the Maghreb. It stretches around 2,500 km (1,600 mi) through Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. The range's highest peak is Toubkal, with an elevation of 4,167 metres (13,671 ft) in southwestern Morocco. It separates the Mediterranean and Atlantic coastlines from the Sahara Desert. The Atlas mountains are primarily inhabited by Berber populations. The terms for 'mountain' in some Berber languages are adrar and adras, which are believed to be cognates of the toponym Atlas. The mountains are home to a number of animal and plants unique in Africa, often more like those of Europe; many of them are endangered and some have already gone extinct.Force India
Force India Formula One Team Limited, commonly known as Force India and later Sahara Force India, was a Formula One racing team and constructor based in Silverstone, United Kingdom, with an Indian licence. The team was formed in October 2007 when a consortium led by Indian businessman Vijay Mallya and Dutch businessman Michiel Mol bought the Spyker F1 team for €90 million.After going through 29 races without scoring points, Force India won their first Formula One world championship points and podium place when Giancarlo Fisichella finished second in the 2009 Belgian Grand Prix. Force India scored points again in the following race when Adrian Sutil finished fourth, and set the team's first fastest lap, at the Italian Grand Prix. The team's other podium finishes are five third-places, in the 2014 Bahrain Grand Prix, 2015 Russian Grand Prix, 2016 Monaco Grand Prix, 2016 European Grand Prix and the 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, all achieved by Sergio Pérez.
In October 2011, Indian company Sahara India Pariwar, purchased 42.5% of Force India F1's shares at US$100 million. In July 2018, ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix, the team announced that they had been put into administration by the High Court in London.The team's assets were bought by a consortium of investors, named Racing Point UK and led by Lawrence Stroll, the father of driver Lance Stroll. The consortium used the assets to create a new entry into the sport and the constructor that had been founded in 2008 ceased to exist prior to the 2018 Belgian Grand Prix.Free Zone (region)
The Free Zone or Liberated Territories is a term used by the Polisario Front to describe the part of Western Sahara that lies to the east of the Moroccan Berm (the Moroccan border wall) and west and north of the borders with Algeria and Mauritania, respectively. For Morocco, it is a buffer territory.
The area is separated from the rest of the Western Sahara territory by "a 2,200 kilometer [1,367 mi]-long wall...flanked by one of the world's largest minefields." The border is often referred to as the "Berm".
The zone was established as a Polisario-held zone in a 1991 cease-fire between the Polisario Front and Morocco, which had been agreed upon together as part of the Settlement Plan. Morocco controls the areas west of the Berm, including most of the territory's population. The cease-fire is overseen by the United Nations' MINURSO forces, charged with peacekeeping in the area and the organization of a referendum on independence.Ifni War
The Ifni War, sometimes called the Forgotten War in Spain (la Guerra Olvidada), was a series of armed incursions into Spanish West Africa by Moroccan insurgents that began in October 1957 and culminated with the abortive siege of Sidi Ifni.
The war, which may be seen as part of the general movement of decolonization that swept Africa throughout the later half of the 20th century, was conducted primarily by elements of the Moroccan Army of Liberation which, no longer tied down in conflicts with the French, committed a significant portion of its resources and manpower to the capture of Spanish possessions.Laayoune
Laayoune (Maghrebi Arabic: لعيون Al-ʿAyyūn/El-Aiun, Laʕyūn; Spanish: El Aaiún; French: Laâyoune; Berber: ⵍⵄⵢⵓⵏ, Leɛyun; Literary Arabic: العيون al-ʿuyūn, literally "The Springs") is the largest city of the occupied territory of Western Sahara. It is currently administered by Morocco. The modern city is thought to have been founded by the Spanish colonizer Antonio de Oro in 1938. In 1940, Spain designated it as the capital of the Spanish Sahara. Laâyoune (El-Aaiún) is the capital of the Laâyoune-Sakia El Hamra region administered by Morocco under the supervision of the UN peace-keeping mission in Western Sahara (MINURSO).
The town is divided in two by the dry river of Saguia el Hamra. On the south side is the old lower town, constructed by Spanish colonists. A cathedral from that era is still active; its priests serve this city and Dakhla further south.Maghreb
The Maghreb (; Arabic: المغرب, translit. al-Maɣréb, lit. 'The West'), also known as Northwest Africa or Northern Africa, Greater Arab Maghreb (Arabic: المغرب العربي الكبير, translit. al-Maghrib al-ʿArabi al-Kabir), Arab Maghreb (Arabic: المغرب العربي, translit. al-Maghrib al-ʿArabi) or Greater Maghreb (Arabic: المغرب الكبير, translit. al-Maghrib al-Kabīr), or by some sources the Berber world, Barbary and Berbery, is a major region of North Africa that consists primarily of the countries Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania. It additionally includes the disputed territories of Western Sahara (mostly controlled by Morocco) and the cities of Melilla and Ceuta (both controlled by Spain and claimed by Morocco). As of 2018, the region has a population of over 100 million people.
In historical English and European literature, the region was known as the Barbary Coast or the Barbary States, derived from the native Berbers. Sometimes it was referred to as the Land of the Atlas, derived from the Atlas Mountains. In current Berber language media and literature, the region is part of what is known as Tamazgha.
The region is usually defined as much or most of northern Africa, including a large portion of Africa's Sahara Desert, and excluding Egypt, which is part of Mashriq. The traditional definition of the region that restricted it to the Atlas Mountains and the coastal plains of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya was expanded by the inclusion of Mauritania and of the disputed territory of Western Sahara.
During the era of Al-Andalus in the Iberian Peninsula (711–1492), the Maghreb's inhabitants, the Muslim Berbers or Maghrebis, were known by Europeans as "Moors", or as "Afariqah" (Roman Africans). Morocco transliterates into Arabic as "al-Maghreb" (The Maghreb).
Before the establishment of modern nation states in the region during the 20th century, Maghreb most commonly referred to a smaller area, between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlas Mountains in the south. It often also included the territory of eastern Libya, but not modern Mauritania. As recently as the late 19th century, Maghreb was used to refer to the Western Mediterranean region of coastal North Africa in general, and to Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, in particular.The region was somewhat unified as an independent political entity during the rule of the Berber kingdom of Numidia, which was followed by the Roman Empire's rule or influence. That was followed by the brief invasion of the Germanic Vandals, the equally brief re-establishment of a weak Roman rule by the Byzantine Empire, the rule of the Islamic Caliphates under the Umayyad Caliphate, the Abbasid Caliphate and the Fatimid Caliphate. The most enduring rule was that of the local Berber empires of the Almoravid dynasty, Almohad Caliphate, Hammadid dynasty, Zirid dynasty, Marinid dynasty, Zayyanid dynasty, and Wattasid dynasty - from the 8th to 13th centuries. The Ottoman Empire for a period also controlled parts of the region.
Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya established the Arab Maghreb Union in 1989 to promote cooperation and economic integration in a common market. It was envisioned initially by Muammar Gaddafi as a superstate. The union included Western Sahara implicitly under Morocco's membership, putting Morocco's long cold war with Algeria to a rest. However, this progress was short-lived, and the union is now dormant. Tensions between Algeria and Morocco over Western Sahara re-emerged, reinforced by the unsolved border dispute between the two countries. These two main conflicts have hindered progress on the union's joint goals and practically made it inactive as a whole. However, the instability in the region and growing cross-border security threats revived the calls for regional cooperation, with foreign ministers of the Arab Maghreb Union declaring a need for coordinated security policy in May 2015 at the 33rd session of the follow-up committee meeting, which revived hope of some form of cooperation.Morocco
Morocco ( (listen); Arabic: المغرب, translit. al-maġhrib, lit. 'place the sun sets; the west'; Standard Moroccan Tamazight: ⵍⵎⵖⵔⵉⴱ, translit. Lmeɣrib; French: Maroc), officially the Kingdom of Morocco (Arabic: المملكة المغربية, translit. al-Mamlakah al-Maghribiyah, lit. 'The Western Kingdom'; Standard Moroccan Tamazight: ⵜⴰⴳⵍⴷⵉⵜ ⵏ ⵍⵎⵖⵔⵉⴱ, translit. Tageldit n Lmaɣrib; French: Royaume du Maroc), is a country located in the Maghreb region of North West Africa with an area of 710,850 km2 (274,460 sq mi). Its capital is Rabat, the largest city Casablanca. It overlooks the Mediterranean Sea to the north and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. Morocco claims the areas of Ceuta, Melilla and Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera, all of them under Spanish jurisdiction.Since the foundation of the first Moroccan state by Idris I in 788 AD, the country has been ruled by a series of independent dynasties, reaching its zenith under the Almoravid and Almohad dynasties, spanning parts of Iberia and northwestern Africa. The Marinid and Saadi dynasties continued the struggle against foreign domination, allowing Morocco to remain the only northwest African country to avoid Ottoman occupation. The Alaouite dynasty, which rules to this day, seized power in 1631. In 1912, Morocco was divided into French and Spanish protectorates, with an international zone in Tangier. It regained its independence in 1956, and has since remained comparatively stable and prosperous by regional standards.
Morocco claims the non-self-governing territory of Western Sahara, formerly Spanish Sahara, as its Southern Provinces. After Spain agreed to decolonise the territory to Morocco and Mauritania in 1975, a guerrilla war arose with local forces. Mauritania relinquished its claim in 1979, and the war lasted until a cease-fire in 1991. Morocco currently occupies two thirds of the territory, and peace processes have thus far failed to break the political deadlock.
The unitary sovereign state of Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament. The King of Morocco holds vast executive and legislative powers, especially over the military, foreign policy and religious affairs. Executive power is exercised by the government, while legislative power is vested in both the government and the two chambers of parliament, the Assembly of Representatives and the Assembly of Councillors. The king can issue decrees called dahirs, which have the force of law. He can also dissolve the parliament after consulting the Prime Minister and the president of the constitutional court.
Morocco's predominant religion is Islam, and its official languages are Arabic and Berber; the latter became an official language in 2011, and was the native language of Morocco before the Muslim conquest in the seventh century C.E. The Moroccan dialect of Arabic, referred to as Darija, and French are also widely spoken. Moroccan culture is a blend of Berber, Arab, Sephardi Jews, West African and European influences.
Morocco is a member of the Arab League, the Union for the Mediterranean and the African Union. It has the fifth largest economy of Africa.North Africa
North Africa is a region encompassing the northern portion of the African continent. There is no singularly accepted scope for the region, and it is sometimes defined as stretching from the Atlantic shores of Morocco in the west, to Egypt's Suez Canal and the Red Sea in the east. Others have limited it to top North-Western countries like Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia, a region that was known by the French during colonial times as “Afrique du Nord” and is known by all Arabs as the Maghreb (“West", The Western part of Arab World). The most commonly accepted definition includes Algeria, Sudan, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, the 6 countries that shape the top North of the African continent. Meanwhile, “North Africa”, particularly when used in the term North Africa and the Middle East, often refers only to the countries of the Maghreb and Libya. Egypt, being also part of the Middle East, is often considered separately, due to being both North African and Middle Eastern at the same time.
North Africa includes a number of Spanish and Portuguese possessions, Plazas de soberanía, Ceuta and Melilla and the Canary Islands and Madeira. The countries of North Africa share a common ethnic, cultural and linguistic identity that is unique to this region. Northwest Africa has been inhabited by Berbers since the beginning of recorded history, while the eastern part of North Africa has been home to 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 Arabic and Muslim culture. This process of Arabization and Islamization has defined the cultural landscape of North Africa ever since.
The distinction between North Africa, the Sahel and the rest of the continent is as follows:
Nineteenth century European explorers, attracted by the accounts of Ancient geographers or Arab geographers of the classical period, followed the routes by the nomadic people of the vast “empty” space. They documented the names of the stopping places they discovered or rediscovered, described landscapes, took a few climate measurements and gathered rock samples. Gradually, a map began to fill in the white blotch.
The Sahara and the Sahel entered the geographic corpus by way of naturalist explorers because aridity is the feature that circumscribes the boundaries of the ecumene. The map details included topographical relief and location of watering holes crucial to long crossings. The Arabic word “Sahel” (shore) and “Sahara” (desert) made its entry into the vocabulary of geography.
Latitudinally, the “slopes” of the arid desert, devoid of continuous human habitation, descend in step-like fashion toward the northern and southern edges of the Mediterranean that opens to Europe and the Sahel that opens to “Trab al Sudan.” Longitudinally, a uniform grid divides the central desert then shrinks back toward the Atlantic Ocean and the Red Sea. Gradually, the Sahara-Sahel is further divided into a total of twenty sub-areas: central, northern, southern, western, eastern, etc.
In this way, “standard” geography has determined aridity to be the boundary of the ecumene. It identifies settlements based on visible activity without regard for social or political organizations of space in vast, purportedly “empty” areas. It gives only cursory acknowledgement to what makes Saharan geography, and for that matter, world geography unique: mobility and the routes by which it flows.
The Sahel or “African Transition Zone” has been affected by many formative epochs in North African history ranging from Ottoman occupation to the Arab-Berber control of the Andalus. As a result, many modern African nation-states that are included in the Sahel evidence cultural similarities and historical overlap with their North African neighbours. In the present day, North Africa is associated with West Asia in the realm of geopolitics to form a Middle East-North Africa region. The Islamic influence in the area is also significant and North Africa is a major part of the Muslim world.
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.Polisario Front
The Polisario Front, Frente Polisario, FRELISARIO or simply POLISARIO, from the Spanish abbreviation of Frente Popular de Liberación de Saguía el Hamra y Río de Oro ("Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Río de Oro" Arabic: الجبهة الشعبية لتحرير ساقية الحمراء و وادي الذهب Al-Jabhat Al-Sha'abiyah Li-Tahrir Saqiya Al-Hamra'a wa Wadi Al-Dhahab, French: Front populaire de Libération de la Seguia el Hamra et du Rivière d'or), is a Sahrawi rebel national liberation movement aiming to end Moroccan presence in the Western Sahara. It is an observer member of the Socialist International. The United Nations considers the Polisario Front to be the legitimate representative of the Sahrawi people and maintains that the Sahrawis have a right to self-determination. The Polisario Front is outlawed in the parts of Western Sahara under Moroccan control, and it is illegal to raise its party flag (often called the Sahrawi flag) there.Regions of Morocco
Regions are currently the highest administrative divisions in Morocco. Since 2015, Morocco officially administers 12 regions, including one (Dakhla-Oued Ed-Dahab) that lies completely within the disputed territory of Western Sahara and two (Laâyoune-Sakia El Hamra and Guelmim-Oued Noun) that lie partially within it. The regions are subdivided into a total of 75 second-order administrative divisions, which are prefectures and provinces.A region is governed by a directly elected regional council. The president of the council is responsible for carrying out the council's decisions. Prior to the 2011 constitutional reforms, this was the responsibility of the Wali, the representative of the central government appointed by the King, who now plays a supporting role in the administration of the region.Sahara Davenport
Antoine Ashley (December 17, 1984 – October 1, 2012), better known by the name Sahara Davenport, was an American drag queen, singer, reality television personality, and classically trained dancer. Davenport was best known as a contestant on the second season of RuPaul's Drag Race.Sahara India Pariwar
Sahara India Pariwar is an Indian conglomerate headquartered in Lucknow, India. The group operates business sectors like finance, infrastructure & housing, media & entertainment, health care, education, hospitality and information technology. The group has been a major promoter of sports in India and was the title sponsor of the Indian national cricket team, Indian national hockey team and many other sports.Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic
The Sahrawi Republic (), officially the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR; also romanized with Saharawi; Spanish: República Árabe Saharaui Democrática; Arabic: الجمهورية العربية الصحراوية الديمقراطية al-Jumhūrīyah al-'Arabīyah aṣ-Ṣaḥrāwīyah ad-Dīmuqrāṭīyah), is a partially recognized state that claims the non-self-governing territory of Western Sahara, but controls only the easternmost one-fifth of that territory. Until 1976, Western Sahara was known as Spanish Sahara, a Spanish colony (later an overseas province).
SADR was proclaimed by the Polisario Front on February 27, 1976, in Bir Lehlou, Western Sahara, a former socialist liberation force which has since reformed its ideological and political views. The SADR government controls about 20–25% of the territory it claims. It calls the territories under its control the Liberated Territories or the Free Zone. Morocco controls and administers the rest of the disputed territory and calls these lands its Southern Provinces. The SADR government considers the Moroccan-held territory to be occupied territory, while Morocco considers the much smaller SADR-held territory to be a buffer zone. The claimed capital of the SADR is former Western Sahara capital El-Aaiún, while the temporary capital moved from Bir Lehlou to Tifariti in 2008.
The Sahrawi Republic maintains diplomatic relations with 40 UN states, and is a full member of the African Union.Spanish Sahara
Spanish Sahara (Spanish: Sahara Español; Arabic: الصحراء الإسبانية As-Sahrā'a Al-Isbānīyah), officially the Overseas Province of the Spanish Sahara, was the name used for the modern territory of Western Sahara when it was occupied and ruled by Spain between 1884 and 1975. It had been one of the most recent acquisitions of the Spanish Empire as well as one of its last remaining holdings, which had once extended from the Americas to the Philippines and East Asia.
Spain gave up its Saharan possession following Moroccan demands and international pressure, mainly from United Nations resolutions regarding decolonisation. There was internal pressure from the native Sahrawi population, through the Polisario Front, and the claims of Morocco and Mauritania. After gaining independence in 1956, Morocco laid claim to the territory as part of its historic pre-colonial territory. Mauritania claimed the territory for a number of years based on its history, but dropped all claims in 1979.
In 1975, Morocco occupied much of the territory, now known as Western Sahara, but the Polisario Front, promoting the sovereignty of an independent Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), fought a guerrilla war for 16 years against Morocco. In 1991, the UN negotiated a ceasefire and has tried to arrange negotiations and a referendum to let the population vote on its future. Morocco controls the entire Atlantic coast and most of the landmass, population and natural resources of Western Sahara.Sub-Saharan Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa is, geographically, the area of the continent of Africa that lies south of the Sahara. According to the United Nations, it consists of all African countries that are fully or partially located south of the Sahara. It contrasts with North Africa, whose territories are part of the League of Arab states within the Arab world. The states of Somalia, Djibouti, Comoros and the Arabic speaking Mauritania are however geographically in sub-Saharan Africa, although they are members of the Arab League as well. The UN Development Program lists 46 of Africa’s 54 countries as “sub-Saharan,” excluding Algeria, Djibouti, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Somalia, Sudan and Tunisia.The Sahel is the transitional zone in between the Sahara and the tropical savanna of the Sudan region and farther south the forest-savanna mosaic of tropical Africa.
Since probably 3500 BCE, the Saharan and sub-Saharan regions of Africa have been separated by the extremely harsh climate of the sparsely populated Sahara, forming an effective barrier interrupted by only the Nile in Sudan, though the Nile was blocked by the river's cataracts. The Sahara pump theory explains how flora and fauna (including Homo sapiens) left Africa to penetrate the Middle East and beyond. African pluvial periods are associated with a Wet Sahara phase, during which larger lakes and more rivers existed.The use of the term has been criticized because it refers to the South only by cartography conventions and projects a connotation of inferiority; a vestige of colonialism, which some say, divided Africa into European terms of homogeneity.United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara
The United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (Arabic: بعثة الأمم المتحدة لتنظيم استفتاء في الصحراء الغربية; French: Mission des Nations Unies pour l'Organisation d'un Référendum au Sahara Occidental; Spanish: Misión de las Naciones Unidas para la Organización de un Referéndum en el Sáhara Occidental; MINURSO) is the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara, established in 1991 under United Nations Security Council Resolution 690 as part of the Settlement Plan, which had paved way for a cease-fire in the conflict between Morocco and the Polisario Front (representing the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic) over the contested territory of Western Sahara (formerly Spanish Sahara).
MINURSO's mission was to monitor the cease-fire and to organize and conduct a referendum in accordance with the Settlement Plan, which would enable the Sahrawi people of Western Sahara to choose between integration with Morocco and independence. This was intended to constitute a Sahrawi exercise of self-determination, and thus complete Western Sahara's still-unfinished process of decolonization (Western Sahara is the last major territory remaining on the UN's list of non-decolonized territories.)
To this end, MINURSO has been given the following mandates:
Monitor the ceasefire
Verify the reduction of Moroccan troops in the territory
Monitor the confinement of Moroccan and Polisario troops to designated locations
Take steps with the parties to ensure the release of all Western Saharan political prisoners or detainees
Oversee the exchange of prisoners of war (through the International Committee of the Red Cross)
Implement the repatriation programme (through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees)
Identify and register qualified voters
Organize and ensure a free and fair referendum and proclaim the resultsWestern Sahara
Western Sahara ( (listen); Arabic: الصحراء الغربية aṣ-Ṣaḥrā' al-Gharbīyah; Berber languages: Taneẓroft Tutrimt; Spanish and French: Sahara Occidental) is a disputed territory on the northwest coast and in the Maghreb region of North and West Africa, partially controlled by the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic and partially occupied by neighboring Morocco. Its surface area amounts to 266,000 square kilometres (103,000 sq mi). It is one of the most sparsely populated territories in the world, mainly consisting of desert flatlands. The population is estimated at just over 500,000, of which nearly 40% live in Laayoune, the largest city in Western Sahara.
Occupied by Spain until the late 20th century, Western Sahara has been on the United Nations list of non-self-governing territories since 1963 after a Moroccan demand. It is the most populous territory on that list, and by far the largest in area. In 1965, the UN General Assembly adopted its first resolution on Western Sahara, asking Spain to decolonize the territory. One year later, a new resolution was passed by the General Assembly requesting that a referendum be held by Spain on self-determination. In 1975, Spain relinquished the administrative control of the territory to a joint administration by Morocco (which had formally claimed the territory since 1957) and Mauritania. A war erupted between those countries and a Sahrawi nationalist movement, the Polisario Front, which proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) with a government in exile in Tindouf, Algeria. Mauritania withdrew its claims in 1979, and Morocco eventually secured de facto control of most of the territory, including all the major cities and natural resources. The United Nations considers the Polisario Front to be the legitimate representative of the Sahrawi people, and maintains that the Sahrawis have a right to self-determination.Since a United Nations-sponsored ceasefire agreement in 1991, two thirds of the territory (including most of the Atlantic coastline – the only part of the coast outside the Moroccan Western Sahara Wall is the extreme south, including the Ras Nouadhibou peninsula) has been administered by the Moroccan government, with tacit support from France and the United States, and the remainder by the SADR, backed by Algeria. Internationally, countries such as Russia have taken a generally ambiguous and neutral position on each side's claims, and have pressed both parties to agree on a peaceful resolution. Both Morocco and Polisario have sought to boost their claims by accumulating formal recognition, essentially from African, Asian, and Latin American states in the developing world. The Polisario Front has won formal recognition for SADR from 46 states, and was extended membership in the African Union. Morocco has won support for its position from several African governments and from most of the Muslim world and Arab League. In both instances, recognitions have, over the past two decades, been extended and withdrawn according to changing international trends.As of 2017, no other member state of the United Nations has ever officially recognized Moroccan sovereignty over parts of Western Sahara. However, a number of countries have expressed their support for a future recognition of the Moroccan annexation of the territory as an autonomous part of the Kingdom. Overall, the annexation has not garnered as much attention in the international community as many other disputed annexations (e.g. the Russian annexation of Crimea).Western Sahara War
The Western Sahara War (Arabic: حرب الصحراء الغربية, French: Guerre du Sahara occidental, Spanish: Guerra del Sahara Occidental) was an armed struggle between the Sahrawi indigenous Polisario Front and Morocco between 1975 and 1991, being the most significant phase of the Western Sahara conflict. The conflict erupted after the withdrawal of Spain from the Spanish Sahara in accordance with the Madrid Accords (signed under the pressure of the Green March), by which it transferred administrative control of the territory to Morocco and Mauritania, but not the sovereignty. In late 1975, the Moroccan government organized the Green March of some 350,000 Moroccan citizens, escorted by around 20,000 troops, who entered Western Sahara, trying to establish a Moroccan presence. While at first met with just minor resistance by the POLISARIO, Morocco later engaged a long period of guerrilla warfare with the Sahrawi nationalists. During the late 1970s, the Polisario Front, desiring to establish an independent state in the territory, attempted to fight both Mauritania and Morocco. In 1979, Mauritania withdrew from the conflict after signing a peace treaty with the POLISARIO. The war continued in low intensity throughout the 1980s, though Morocco made several attempts to take the upper hand in 1989–1991. A cease-fire agreement was finally reached between the Polisario Front and Morocco in September 1991. Some sources put the final death toll between 10,000 and 20,000 people.The conflict has since shifted from military to civilian resistance. A peace process, attempting to resolve the conflict has yet produced any permanent solution to Sahrawi refugees and territorial agreement between Morocco and the Sahrawi Republic. Today most of the territory of Western Sahara is under Moroccan control, while the inland parts are governed by the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, managed by the Polisario Front.Western Sahara conflict
The Western Sahara conflict is an ongoing conflict between the Polisario Front and the Kingdom of Morocco. The conflict originated from an insurgency by the Polisario Front against Spanish colonial forces from 1973 to 1975 and the subsequent Western Sahara War against Morocco between 1975 and 1991. Today the conflict is dominated by unarmed civil campaigns of the Polisario Front and their self-proclaimed SADR state to gain fully recognized independence for Western Sahara.
The conflict escalated after the withdrawal of Spain from the Spanish Sahara in accordance with the Madrid Accords. Beginning in 1975, the Polisario Front, backed and supported by Algeria, waged a 16-year-long war for independence against Mauritania and Morocco. In February 1976, the Polisario Front declared the establishment of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, which was not admitted into the United Nations, but won limited recognition by a number of other states. Following the annexation of Western Sahara by Morocco and Mauritania in 1976, and the Polisario Front's declaration of independence, the UN addressed the conflict via a resolution reaffirming the right to self-determination of the Sahrawi people. In 1977, France intervened as the conflict reached its peak intensity. In 1979, Mauritania withdrew from the conflict and territories, leading to a stalemate through most of the 1980s. After several more engagements between 1989 and 1991, a cease-fire agreement was reached between the Polisario Front and the Moroccan government. At the time, most of the Western Sahara territory remained under Moroccan control, while the Polisario controlled some 20% of the territory in its capacity as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, with additional pockets of control in the Sahrawi refugee camps along the Algerian border. At present, these borders are largely unchanged.
Despite multiple peace initiatives through the 1990s and early 2000s, the conflict reemerged as the "Independence Intifada" in 2005; a series of disturbances, demonstrations and riots, which broke out in May 2005 in the Moroccan-held portions of Western Sahara, and lasted until November of that same year. In late 2010, the protests re-erupted in the Gdeim Izik refugee camp in Western Sahara. While the protests were initially peaceful, they were later marked by clashes between civilians and security forces, resulting in dozens of casualties on both sides. Another series of protests began on 26 February 2011, as a reaction to the failure of police to prevent anti-Sahrawi looting in the city of Dakhla, Western Sahara; protests soon spread throughout the territory. Though sporadic demonstrations continue, the movement had largely subsided by May 2011.
To date, large parts of Western Sahara are controlled by the Moroccan Government and known as the Southern Provinces, whereas some 20% of the Western Sahara territory remains controlled by the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), the Polisario state with limited international recognition. The questions of mutual recognition, establishment of a possible Sahrawi state and the large numbers of Sahrawi refugees displaced by the conflict are among the key issues of the ongoing Western Sahara peace process.
Regions of Africa