berber-speaking area in the arid pre-saharan hamada 360 miles (600 km) south of algiers.
The five original towns—al-Ateuf, Bou Noura, Ghardaïa, Melika, and Beni Isguen—were founded in the eleventh century along the bed of the Wadi Mzab. Berriane and Guerrara were added outside the wadi in the seventeenth century. The people are mainly Kharidjite Ibadites, a sect of Islam dating from the schism at the time of the fourth caliph, Ali, that adheres to a doctrine of puritanical and egalitarian religious and social obligations. The Mzab is noted for its highly developed, essentially theocratic organization and the economic maintenance of strong communities through the extraordinary commitment and success of its people as tradesmen throughout Algeria.
thomas g. penchoen