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North Africa or Northern Africa is the northernmost region of Africa. The United Nations definition of "North Africa" includes seven countries and territories; Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia, and Western Sahara. The countries of Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, and Libya are often collectively referred to as the Maghreb, which is the Arabic word for "sunset". Egypt lies to the northeast and encompasses part of West Asia, while Sudan is situated on the edge of the Sahel, to the south of Egypt.
North Africa also includes a number of Spanish possessions (Ceuta and Melilla and tiny Spanish islets off the coast of Morocco). The Canary Islands and Madeira in the North Atlantic Ocean northwest of the African mainland are included in considerations of the region.
The distinction between North Africa and much of Sub-Saharan Africa is historically and ecologically significant because of the effective barrier created by the Sahara Desert for much of modern history. From 3500 BC, following the abrupt desertification of the Sahara due to gradual changes in the Earth's orbit, this barrier has culturally separated the North from the rest of the continent. As the seafaring civilizations of the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Muslims and others facilitated communication and migration across the Mediterranean Sea, the cultures of North Africa became much more closely tied to Southwestern Asia and Europe than Sub-Saharan Africa. The Islamic influence in the area is also significant, and North Africa is a major part of the Muslim world.
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