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North Africa, spread across the top of the Sahara and just a boat ride away from European shores, has more in common with Arabia to its east than it does with the sub-Saharan nations. The five countries that border on the Mediterranean are bracketed by the two that are most familiar to Western moviegoers: Morocco and Egypt. These five are all solidly Muslim countries and have been so since the Islamic conquest of the seventh century CE.

 The lightning rod event for North Africa in the new millennium was the onset of the Arab Spring in 2010. The first strike came in the tiny country of Tunisia, unfamiliar to most who have not traveled in the region. There are catalogs of films from Tunisian filmmakers and there are many Hollywood films that were made in Tunisia, but I could find no film about Tunisia.  The city of Tunis, while we were there, seemed to be thriving and enjoying exemplary stability.  Within two years, however, Tunis erupted with riots that would spread into Algeria, Libya, Egypt and on into the Middle East.

The roots of this unrest reach back for centuries, beginning with the incursions of the pre-Islamic Arabs from the east.  They were opposed by the nomads of the Sahara, most notably the Tuaregs (say Twa-reg) and the Berbers. Next came the Muslim Conquests following the death of Muhammad in the 7th century, and then came the Crusades, beginning at about the year 1000. The result of this turmoil was that North African countries have had little opportunity to rule themselves until the independence movements of the mid-20th century.

Movies about the opposition of the the Tuaregs and the Berbers to foreign domination, either Arab or European, are most commonly found under the heading of Foreign Legion adventure. They are never about the tribes and almost always about heroic standoffs at desert forts. Libya’s struggle against Italian domination under Mussolini is depicted in Omar Mukhtar: Lion of the Desert. The best dramatization of the Algerian fight for independence from the French is Battle of Algiers.  Morocco under the French is memorably seen in Casablanca. Movies about Egypt will be featured as a separate Destination, but movies about Sudan will be included here.


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