Who Are the North African Arabs?

Jamaa el Fna market square in Marrakesh, Morocco.
Jamaa el Fna market square in Marrakesh, Morocco.

The phrase “North African Arabs” describes people who live in the Maghreb region in North Africa and speak a dialect of Arabic as their native language. These people identify as Arabs. This identity can be attributed to the Arabs conquering and occupying North Africa and the subsequent spread of Islam in Africa. Arab tribes migrated to Africa in the 11th century in the Maghreb region such as Banu Hilal, Beni Hassan, and Banu Sulaym.


The Maghreb region of Africa refers to Northwest Africa, and is composed of Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. The region is often referred to as the "Greater Maghreb" in Arabic and as the "Barbary Coast" in English. The Maghreb Union in 1989 was established in 1989 with the aim of economic cooperation, although territorial disputes between Morocco and Algeria over the Western Sahara has remained key issue. It has a population of over 100 million people as of 2017.

Traditions and Culture

The Arab culture is different among different places occupied by Arabs. However, there are some things that are universal among all of them. One example of such a similar practice is in clothing. For the men, it is common for them to dress in traditional robes with a head dress. In modern times, the Aras alternate their dressing with modern clothes such as jeans and T-shirts. For the women, there are some varying levels of adherence to the traditional wear of a full body covering robe complete with a veil. Some regions are stricter with women while others, such as Egypt, are more tolerant of their women and allow them to wear the veil by choice.

Traditionally, women in Morocco put on plenty of jewelry in places that can be ornamented such as the neck, the arms, the ears, and other places. The preferred jewelry is made out of gold which is a symbol of a higher status in the society in terms of wealth. The gold jewelry is further adorned with other symbolic jewels such as pearls and olivine.

Food and Cuisine

Food in different states differs as well. Morocco’s food includes tajine, bastilla, tharid, and others. In Tunisia, delicacies include harissa and shakshouka. Couscous, shorba, and the likes are foods common to Algeria. Libya’s foods include basin, asida, couscous, and others.


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