As a region bordering on the Mediterranean, North Africa has been shaped in some measure by the geography, climate, and cultural values of that great inland sea. Yet despite some common denominators that North Africa shares with its neighbors on the shoreline—those elements that contribute to the category of historical factors Fernand Braudel labeled “la longue durée”—its history is a unique mix of political and cultural forces (see Hess 1978). Some are indigenous. Others originate from the three surrounding directions: from the east, Islam; from the north, first Christian then colonial Europe; and to a lesser extent from the south, mercantile West Africa.