Northern Africa


  1. Regional Characteristics
  2. Demographic Analysis based on Population Data Sheet
  3. Countries
  4. References
  5. Review questions

Regional Characteristics

Extent and Defining Characteristics: North Africa is very diverse from the Western Sahara to Egypt. This area is made up of costal agriculture grasslands, desert, mountains, highlands, valleys, basins, rivers, lakes and seas. One major defining characteristic is the lack of precipitation, which is why it is called, "The Dry World".

Physical Environment: The physical environment of North Africa as once stated before is very diverse. Western Sahara is on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. This area is made up of humid desert flatlands. Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, which are the Maghreb countries, have the Atlas Mountains running through them. Because of the Atlas Mountain in these areas, this brings precipitation that is why there are coastal grasslands. In the coastal grassland area, these lands are some of the only places in North Africa where agriculture succeeds. Like in the Cap Bon Peninsula, in Tunisia, the most important agriculture products are oranges. Libya is made up of the Mediterranean Bay or Gulf Sidra along with the Fezzan Desert in the western region and the Libyan Desert in the eastern region. Egypt is surrounded by water sources, such as, the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. The Nile River, which is the longest river in the world, runs through Egypt. Since ancient times, the inhabitants could predict the annual flood, which was called life cycle; this is how they created basin irrigation. Today the basin irrigation, oasis, and the dam in Egypt contribute to the environment. Most of the region is desert and in the water areas agriculture and a way of live exists.

Population: The population in North Africa is 195 million people (2007). In Western Sahara, the population is sparsely populated. The major population concentrations for the Maghreb Counties are on the Mediterranean coast and the moist slopes of the Atlas Mountains. In Libya, the majority of the population is in the Mediterranean area and about 20 percent lives in the capital of Tripoli. Egypt is the most populace with 73.4 million people, and 95 percent of the population lives within 12 miles of the Nile River. Egypt's population makes it the second most populace country in Africa and ranking it as one of the most populace in the world. These countries are continually growing mostly because they are less developed and moderately developed countries.

History: When the kingdom of Carthage was started, Eastern Mediterranean traders settled the coast. Then Rome conquered the coast about 4 centuries later. Nest, the Christian Byzantines had retaken the area. The Arabs invaded and conquered the Berber tribes and converted them to Islam. In the 1500s, the Ottoman Empire conquered the Arabs and had control until the 1900s. With the weakening of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, European powers took over its former provinces and made them colonies. France controlled Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia (Maghreb). Britain controlled Egypt, and Italy controlled Libya. Most of these countries regained their independence after World War II, with the exception of Libya in 1943. Egypt's independence was gained in 1953, Tunisia and Morocco in 1956, and Algeria in 1963.

Language and Religion: Unlike the landscape, the culture in North Africa is not as diverse as you would think. The natives or traditional groups and dialects make up a small percent of the population. The Arab and Berber people with the Islamic faith make up over 95 percent of the population. The Islam faith, as well as the two major sect Sunni and Shiites, strongly contributes to the culture.

The main language is Arabic. Secondary languages in North Africa include French, English and Italian.

Conflict: With the history of dictators and the Sunni and Shiites disagreements, which lead to hatred towards one another, brings about an unstable region in constant conflict. In Libya, Colonel Muammar al-Qadhafi has caused problems since his rise to power in 1969. He argued for the elimination of Israel, and in the early 80s sought to overthrow the government in Chad. In 1989, al-Qudhafi helped sponsor terrorist attacks on the United States. The increasing growth of Islamic fundamentalism has given rise to incidences of violence in North Africa. Morocco invaded Western Sahara in the 1970s, which has caused on-going conflict. Since 1992, there has been an increased cycle of terrorism and internal violence in Algeria.

Demographic Analysis based on Population Date Sheet


Population 2007 ( Millions )

Population Growth ( Percent )

Population under 15 ( Percent)

Population over 65 (Percent)

Infant Mortality Rate (Percent)

Percent Urban

GNI PPP ( 2006)









































Western Sahara

















Egypt: In 1957 Egypt took its independence from the United Kingdom. Today, Egypt is the most populous country in North Africa with 73.4 million people (2007). 95% of the population lives and works within 12 miles of the banks of the Nile River. The economy benefits from exporting petroleum that is found in the Sinai and the Western Desert. Egypt also depends on income from exporting cotton and textile. Tourism is a major source of income, but Islamic radical activists have hurt the tourist industry. GNI PPP of Egypt is $4,680 (2006). Basin irrigation, which is a system in which people captured and stored, water in the basins for three to four weeks and drained the water back into the Nile River and plant the winter crops. This irrigation system made Egypt and agricultural country that ranks the highest of agricultural producers in the world. Natural increase of Egypt is 2.1%, infant mortality 33%, population under 15 of age is 33% and over 65 are 5%.

Algeria: Algeria has a population of 34.1 million people (2007), most people live in the coastal belt of Mediterranean climate called "The Tell". Algeria's greatest assets are petroleum and natural gas, located in the Sahara Desert. Other major products such as cotton, olive and tobacco are cultivated with great success. GNI PPP of Algeria is $6,900. Algeria was once a French colony and in 1954, there was a major civil war called the Algerian War of independence. Once this war was resolved in 1962, Algeria gained its independence. Natural increase of Algeria is 1.7%, infant mortality is 30%, population under 15 is 30% and over 65 are 5%.

Morocco: In 1956, Morocco became independent from France. Most people live in the northern part of the country and half of the population is still dependent on agriculture. Morocco is the poorest of the Maghreb countries. Morocco has a weak economy and a lot of people have immigrated to Europe and has population of 31.7 million (2007). Phosphate is the primary product and fishing is a growing industry for this country. GNI PPP of Morocco is $5,000, the natural increase is 1.5%, infant mortality rate is 38%, population under age of 15 is 30% and over 65 are 5%.

Tunisia: Tunisia is the smallest of the Maghreb countries but has the strongest economy and highest GNP PPP of $8,490 (2006) in Northern Africa. Tunisia's economy is dominated by agriculture, mining, energy, tourism, and manufacturing sectors especially oranges, grown on the Cap Bon Peninsula. The orange is an important crop for export to Europe. Tunisia has a natural increase of 1.1% and low death rate. Population of Tunisia is 10.2 million (2007), infant mortality rate is 20%, population under age of 15 is 26% and over 65 are 6%.

Libya: Libya was an Italian colony. In 1951, Libya became an independent kingdom, and in 1969, became a republic. Libya sought to overthrow the government of Chad in the early 1980's. Libya is made up of Tripolitania in the northwest, Pyrenaica in the east, and the Fezzan in the southwest. The most populous area is in coastal lowlands and low highlands along the Mediterranean. Libya's largest exports are crude oil, petroleum products, and natural gas.  Libya's population is 6.2 million (2007), infant mortality rate is 21%, population under age of 15 is 30% and over 65 are 4%.

Western Sahara: Western Sahara has population of 0.5 million people (2007) and has been controlled by Morocco after Spanish dependency. The industrialization level in Western Sahara is low, due to few natural resources and lack of rain for agriculture. Because of this lack of rain, most of their food is imported. Natural increase rate of Western Sahara is 2.0%, infant mortality rate is 49%, population under age of 15 is 31% and over 65 are 2%.

Sudan: With its large land mass, Sudan is the largest country by area in North Africa and the tenth largest in the world. A population of 38.6 million people makes Sudan the second largest populated country in North Africa. It has a population growth of 2.2% and an infant mortality rate of 69%. The population consists of 41% under the age of 15 and 4% over the age of 65. The GNI for this region is $2,160 (2006).           


Blij, H.J. Muller, P. (2007).Geography: realms, regions, and concepts (3rd Edition). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Bradshaw, M. White, G. Dymond, J. DeLyser, D. (2004) Contemporary World Regional Geography Global Connections. New York: McGraw-Hill Co, Inc.

Hobbs, J. Salter, C. (2006) Essentials of World Regional Geography (5th Edition). Thomson Learning, Inc.

World population data sheet (2006). Washington, DC: Population Reference Bureau.

Review Questions

1.      Which country in the North Africa region has a population in excess of 60 million?  A. Morocco;  B. Egypt;  C. Tunisia;  D. Libya;  E. Algeria                                                                                                        

2.      Which country in the North Africa region is still a kingdom?  A. Libya;  B. Morocco;  C. Egypt;  D. Tunisia;  E. Western Sahara                                                                                                                                           

3.      The North African country that sought to overthrow the government of Chad in the early 1980's was:  A. Egypt;  B. Morocco;  C. Sudan;  D. Tunisia;  E. Libya.                                              

4.      _____________ irrigation is the name given to the Nile Valley's water-control system of the past century, where floodwaters trapped behind dams and allowed to settle for three to four weeks:  A. Basin;  B. Canal;  C. Qanat;  D. Range;  E. None of the above                                                                                                                                                                             

5.      All of the following are true about North Africa, except:  A. The people of this region have uniformly benefited from the export of petroleum;  B. The realm is almost exclusively Islamic. This faith pervades cultures from Morocco in the west to Egypt in the east;  C. The population is widely dispersed in discontinuous clusters. Population concentrations occur where the water supply is adequate to marginal;  D. This realm is a source region of several world religions, including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam;  E. Enormous reserves of petroleum, about 50% of the world's proven reserves, lie beneath certain portions of this area.                                                                                                                                                                               

6.      During the colonial period, the French dominated trade and commerce in all of the following countries in North Africa, except:  A. Morocco;  B. Algeria;  C. Tunisia;  D. Lebanon;  E. Egypt                       

7.      The type of irrigation used in ancient Egypt was known as:  A. Basin;  B. Fertigation;  C. Qanat;  D. Sharia;  E. Aswan                                                                                                                     

8.      The major mountain range in North Africa is the:  A. Hejaz Highlands;  B. Atlas Mountains;  C. Alps;  D. Algerian;  E. Zagros.                                                                                                   

9.      Libya's longtime ruler who in the past has argued for the elimination of Israel: A. Mubarek;  B. Qadhafi;  C. Peres;  D. Sadat;  E. Chad.                                                                                          

10.  The Maghreb includes the countries of:  A. Morocco, Libya, and Tunisia;  B. Algeria, Tunisia, and Egypt;  C. Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria;  D. Algeria, Morocco, and Egypt                             

11.  Which statement is not true about the countries of North Africa? A. Most of the population is located around areas of water;  B. All of these countries were colonies of the European powers;  C. These countries are very prosperous as industrial nations;  D. North African countries have irrigated agriculture and some of them export food products.                                      

12.  Which country has the highest GNI PPP?  A. Morocco;  B. Tunisia;  C. Egypt;  D. Algeria;  E. Libya                                                                                                                                              

13.  Which country has the highest natural increase rate?  A. Egypt;  B. Morocco;  C. Algeria;  D. Tunisia;  E. Libya                                                                                                                           

14.  Which agricultural product is particularly important to the country of Tunisia and is grown along the Cap Bon Peninsula?  A. Tomatoes  B. Grapes;  C. Oranges;  D. Wheat;  E. Corn                                

15.  Which country ranks among the highest of agricultural producers in the world?  A. Turkey;  B. Sudan;  C. Morocco;  D. Egypt;  E. Tunisia                                                                                              

16.  Which country has the largest land mass of North Africa?  A. Egypt;  B. Algeria;  C. Sudan;  D. Tunisia;  E. Western Sahara                                                                                                

17.  What country runs along the North Atlantic Ocean and is bordered by Western Sahara and Algeria?  A. Turkey;  B. Tunisia;  C. Algeria;  D. Libya;  E. Morocco                                                        

18.  Which major body of water borders five out of the seven countries that make up North Africa?  A. North Atlantic Ocean;  B. Arabian Sea;  C. Mediterranean Sea;  D. Indian Ocean;    E .Red Sea                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

19.  Which country in North Africa has the highest infant mortality rate?  A. Sudan;  B. Morocco;  C. Egypt;  D. Western Sahara;  E. Libya                                                                                           

20.  What is the total population of the Northern Africa region? A. 100 million;  B. 345 million;  C. 525 million;  D. 195 million;  E. 296 million

First submitted by Jason Jurey on Mar 8, 1996.Then by Rachel Schuette on Nov 8, 1996.Updated by Alena Kaplun on Apr 8, 1997.Updated by Robert Distefano on 11-20-98. Updated by Stephen Kingston on April Fools Day, 2001. Edited by Karen Oyler on 10. Oct.03. Updated by Hisa Shimizu and Britney Wesson on Apr 8, 2007. Updated by Jessica Wilkins & Jessica Schuette on April 2, 2008.