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The Maghreb (Arabic: المغرب الكبير, Berber: Tamazgha) is the region of Northwest Africa, west of Egypt. It includes six countries – Canary Islands, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Mauritania – and the disputed territory of Western Sahara (mostly controlled by Morocco). During Al-Andalus era in Spain, the Maghreb’s inhabitants, Maghrebis, were known as “Moors”1 or simply as “Berbers”.
Historical terms for the region are Numidia (in the early modern era) and Libya or Africa in classical antiquity. The Berber term is Tamazgha. The term maghrib is in origin an Arabic word for “west, occident”, denoting the westernmost territories that fell to the Islamic conquests of the 7th century.2 Today, it is used as a proper noun denoting the Maghreb, also known as المغرب الكبير al-maghrib al-`kabir “the Arab west” in Arabic. The definite form al-maghrib is used for the country of Morocco in particular.
Before the establishment of modern nation states in the region in the 20th century, Maghreb referred to a smaller area between the Atlas Mountains range in the south and the Mediterranean Sea, eastern Libya, but not modern Mauritania. As recently as late 19th century it was used to refer to Western Mediterranean region of coastal North Africa in general, and Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia in particular.2
Partially isolated from the rest of the continent by the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara desert, inhabitants of the northern parts of the Maghreb have long been tied in to the inhabitants of the Mediterranean countries, Southern Europe and Western Asia.
The region was somewhat unified as an independent political entity during the rule of the Berber kingdom of Numidia, and later in the Islamic caliphates under Umayyad, Almoravid and Almohad rule, during the 8th to 13th centuries.