Area: 919,595 square
31,133,486 (1999 est.)
Religion: 99% Islam
(official), French, Berber dialects
Life Expectancy: 69 years
natural gas, light industries, mining, food processing
Petroleum and natural gas
Food Crops: Wheat,
barley, oats, wine grapes, citrus, fruits, olives
is the second largest country in Africa and the tenth
largest country in the world in terms of land area, nearly four times the size
of Texas. The country is characterized by four distinct
parallel geographical regions running east to west: The Tell region is the
northern band of terrain extending along 1,200 km of Mediterranean coastline
between 50-120 miles wide. The Tell is
formed of hills and fertile valleys, which contain the majority of Algeria’s
arable land. The second geographical region is known as the High Plateau which
is mostly a barren, arid wasteland, although its western area is known for its
abundance of esparto grass (needlegrass), an age-old material used for making
ropes, sandals, baskets, and other traditional items. The third geographical
region is known as the Saharan Atlas which is formed of three mountain chains.
It receives more rain than the High Plateau with the result that the region
contains large areas of pasture land. The fourth and largest region is the Sahara
Desert, which covers 90% of the
country’s total land area. This is mostly a desolate flatland covered with
gravel or wide expanses of sand dunes, a volcanic highland, and Mt.
Tahat, the highest peak in Algeria
at 9,852 ft.
The Berbers, tribal peoples of unknown origin, are thought
to be the earliest inhabitants of Algeria. Cave paintings have been found which date
between 6500 and 1200 BC depicting a people who raised cattle and hunted game.
Phoenician traders settled on the coastline around 1100 BC. The first Algerian kingdom was established by
the Berber chieftain Massinissa, who reigned over the kingdom
of Numidia from 202-148 BC. His dynasty lasted until 106 BC when his
grandson. King Jugurtha was defeated by Rome.
As part of the Roman Empire Numidia flourished, becoming known as the ‘granary
of Rome’. With the decline of the Roman
Empire, Roman armies were withdrawn from Algeria
and in the 3rd century AD, the Donatists, a North African Christian
sect that had been suppressed by the Romans, declared a short-lived independent
was invaded by the Vandals, a Germanic tribe, in the 5th century and
stayed on to establish their own kingdom before being driven out by the Emperor
Justinian’s Byzantine army whose aim was to restore the Roman Empire. In the 7th century the Arabs
invaded North Africa, bringing with them Islam. They
were resisted by a woman leader – Kahina, the high priestess of a tribe
supposedly converted to Judaism – but eventually the Berbers submitted to Islam
and Arab authority and gradually absorbed the Arabic language and culture.
In the late 15th century, Spain
captured the coastal cities of Algeria.
Algerians appealed to Turkish pirates for help and, with the aid of the Ottoman
Empire, ended Spanish control by the mid-16th century. Algeria
then came under control of the Ottoman Empire. For three
centuries Algiers served as the
headquarters of the Barbary pirates who preyed on
Mediterranean shipping. Ostensibly to
rid the Mediterranean coastline of pirates the French occupied Algeria
in 1830 and made it a part of France
in 1848. By 1880 persons of European descent numbered about 375,000, and they
controlled most of the better farmland.
Although the official French policy in Algeria
was to encourage the Muslims to adapt to European ways as preparation for full
citizenship, very little was done to implement this policy.
After World War I two types of protest groups were started
by the Muslims. One movement called for a fully independent, Muslim-controlled Algeria.
The other faction sought assimilation with France
and the equality of Muslims and Europeans in Algeria.
By the mid-40s this second faction was calling for Algerian autonomy and by the
early 50s they advocated complete independence. In March 1954 a revolutionary
committee was formed in Egypt
by Ahmed Ben Bella and eight other Algerians in exile which became the nucleus
of the National Liberation Front (FLN). On November 1, 1954 the FLN declared war on the French.
After more than seven years’ fighting it was conservatively estimated that at
least 100,000 Muslims and 10,000 French soldiers had been killed. In 1962,
French president Charles de Gaulle began the peace negotiations, and on July 5, 1962, Algeria
was proclaimed independent. In October 1963, Ahmed Ben Bella was elected
president and the country became socialist. Col. Houari Boumediene overthrew
him in a military coup on June 19,
1965. Under Boumedienne Algeria
finally began to capitalize on its vast resources. In addition to rapid
economic development, he brought a viable political system. The constitution of 1976 defined Algeria
as a socialist state under FLN leadership and Boumedienne was legally elected
president. When he died in 1978, Colonel Chadi Benjedid was elected to succeed
him. Benjedid continued his
predecessor’s policies but relaxed some of Boumedienne’s strict controls. He was reelected in 1984 and 1988. In
December 1991 in the first parliamentary elections ever held in Algeria,
the fundamentalist Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) won the largest number of
votes. Fearing the emerging strength of
the FIS, the army canceled the general election and forced Benjedid’s
resignation, which plunged the country into a bloody civil war. An estimated
100,000 people have been killed by Islamic terrorists since war began in
January 1992. In January 1994 the council named Defense Minister Liamine
Zeroual as Algeria’s
president for a three-year interim term. He was elected in November 1995 in Algeria’s
first successful multiparty presidential elections since independence. The
elections, which Zeroual won with 61% of the vote, were judged to be a fair
popular endorsement of his administration according to monitors from the United
Nations, the Arab League, and the Organization of African Unity who were
invited to oversee the elections.
The undeclared civil war escalated in 1997-98. Islamic extremists, who had originally focused
their attacks on government officials and then shifted to intellectuals and
journalists, began to target villagers.
The mass slaughters appeared random and savage, and the government was
markedly ineffectual in stemming the violence.
There is some evidence that the army looked the other way while its
civilians were killed. Algeria
refused international mediation, and kept the outside world largely in the dark
about the war within its borders.
After President Zeroual announced his desire to retire early,
elections were held in April 1999. Six
of the seven candidates withdrew at the last minute in protest of election
fraud. The lone remaining candidate,
Abdel-Aziz Bouteflika, won 73.8% of the vote.
Bouteflika is attempting to implement a plan of national reconciliation
that includes an amnesty for Islamic militants not convicted of murder or
rape. The September 1999 referendum on
his peace plan passed with 98% of the vote.
Longstanding problems continue to face Bouteflika
in his second term, including the ethnic minority Berbers' ongoing autonomy
campaign, large-scale unemployment, a shortage of housing, unreliable
electrical and water supplies, government inefficiencies and corruption, and
the continuing - although significantly degraded - activities of extremist
must also diversify its petroleum-based economy, which has yielded a large cash
reserve but which has not been used to redress Algeria's
many social and infrastructure problems.
The population of Algeria
consists mainly of Berbers, Arabs and people of mixed Arab-Berber
ancestry. Prior to independence in 1962
one million Europeans lived in Algeria,
primarily French, as well as 150,000 Jews.
After independence 90% of the Jewish and European communities
emigrated. Before independence French
tradition dominated the cultural life of Algeria.
Albert Camus, the French novelist, was born and educated there. However, the war for independence stimulated
a growing movement among Algerian artists and intellectuals to revive national
interest in Arab-Berber origins, a movement that has gained official support.
CIA-The World Factbook. https://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/ag.html
Library of Congress. Federal Research Division. “Algeria
– A Country Study.” www.lcweb2.loc.gov.
Lycos Network. “Algeria
– Country Facts.” www.infoplease.lycos.com.
Mbendi: Information for Africa.
“Country Profile: Algeria.” www.mbendi.com.
Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 99: Algeria
by Bobbie Carrie in February 2000, 2007..
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