The Maghreb - the region that today encompasses Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya - is a region apart within the larger Muslim and Arab world.
Today the focus of popular uprisings for democracy and participation, it underwent long periods of colonisation and anti-colonial nationalist resistance, both peaceful and militant.
To understand the nature of today's developments in North Africa we need fully to appreciate the tumultuous history of the region and how its four discrete countries followed different trajectories, some marked by a continuity of social and political structures in both the colonial era and as independent states, while others were marked by sharp ruptures and violent struggles.
These historical differences are still visible in the current era and tell us much about the societies in question.
This short history of the Maghreb surveys its development from the coming of Islam to the present day, but with greatest emphasis on the modern period from the early nineteenth century onwards.
It follows the French protectorates, Morocco and Tunisia, and how their nationalist movements forged the independent states that followed; and it chronicles the wars of resistance and liberation in Algeria and Libya, and how these conflicts also marked their independence, with a long-running civil war in the former and the recent uprising against the Gaddafi regime in the latter.