Formal Name: Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria.
Short Name: Algeria.
Term for Nationals: Algerian(s).
Date ofIndependence: July 5, 1962, from France.
Size: 2,381,741 square kilometers, more than four fifths desert.
Topography: Sharp contrast between relatively fertile, mountainous, topographically fragmented north and vast expanse of Sahara in south; northern Algeria dominated by parallel ranges of Saharan Atlas mountain system; no navigable rivers.
Climate: Mediterranean climate in coastal lowlands and mountain valleys; mild winters and moderate rainfall. Average temperatures and precipitation lower in intermountain Hauts Plateaux. Hot and arid in desert ; little seasonal change in most of country but considerable diurnal variation in temperature.
Population: estimated at 32 million, increasing at an annual rate of 28 percent. Majority of population lives in predominantly urban coastal lowlands and adjacent mountain valleys, with population density dropping sharply toward interior; desert regions uninhabited except for isolated nomadic and sedentary communities. High urbanization rate of 5.6 percent annually, resulting from natural population growth and internal migration.
Ethnic Groups: Population a mixture of Arab and indigenous Berber , largely integrated with little or no social stratification along racial or ethnic lines; several other ethnic groups present in small numbers. Arabs constitute about 80 percent of total.
Languages: Arabic is the primary language of around 82% of the populace. Most of the rest of population speak various Berber dialects with Arabic as a second language.
French colonialism left French as the second language of many educated Algerians; English is rarely spoken. The Tuareg tribes in the south of the country speak two Berber dialects.
Religion: Islam is Algeria's official religion and the vast majority of Algerians are Muslim. Non-Muslim minorities include about 45,000 Roman Catholics, small number of Protestants, and very small Jewish community.
Education: According to government statistics, 85% of all children between the ages of 6 and 13 years are enrolled in schools, amounting to some 5.8 million students in elementary and middle schools and 839,000 high school students during the early 1990s. Since 1976 all education has been controlled by the state, private schools having been abolished.
Although education has been compulsory for all children aged between 6 and 15 since 1976, by 1989 nearly 40% of the entire population over 15 still had no formal education; and nearly 57% of over-15s have been registered as literate. With 42% of the population under the age of 15, education will remain a major challenge for the government for the foreseeable future.
There are 10 universities in Algeria accommodating over 160,000 students. Aside from the University of Algiers, there are universities and technical colleges inOran,Constantine, Annaba, Batna, Tizi Ouzou and Tlemcen.
Health and social Welfare: Socialism has given Algeria a comprehensive series of social welfare programs for the impoverished, elderly and disabled members of society as well as benefits for labourers. Public housing and agricultural reform programs have also been implemented for the benefit of the people.
In 1974 the government implemented national health programs providing medical care to all Algerian citizens free of charge. During the first part of the 1990s the country had over 284 hospitals and 23,550 doctors. Major health problems for the country are epidemics such as malaria and tuberculosis as well as malnutrition and trachoma.
The national airline is Air Algerie, which provides both domestic and international services. A number of other international carriers connect Algeria to international destinations.
The northern third of the country is interlinked with road and railway systems. Railroads reach to the Sahara desert while roads run to the Saharan oil fields. The trans-Saharan highway, completed in 1985, extends south from the Mediterranean coast to the country's border with Niger.
The hydrocarbons sector is the backbone of the economy, accounting for roughly 60% of government revenues,30% of GDP, and almost all export earnings; Algeria has the fifth-largest reserves of natural gas in the world and is the second largest gas exporter; and it ranks fourteenth for oil reserves. Algiers' efforts to reform one of the most centrally planned economies in the Arab world began after the 1986 collapse of world oil prices plunged the country into a severe recession. In 1989, the government launched a comprehensive, IMF-supported program to achieve economic stabilization and to introduce market mechanisms into the economy. Despite substantial progress toward economic adjustment, in 1992 the reform drive stalled as Algiers became embroiled in political turmoil. In September 1993, a new government was formed, and one priority was the resumption and acceleration of the structural adjustment process. Buffeted by the slump in world oil prices and burdened with a heavy foreign debt,Algiers concluded a one-year standby arrangement with the IMF in April 1994. Following a Paris Club debt rescheduling in 1995, a robust harvest, and elevated oil prices, the economy experienced a strong recovery and key economic improvements. Recent and planned investments in developing hydrocarbon resources are likely to increase growth and export earnings.
2.3 million (1998)
domestic: good service in north but sparse in south; domestic satellite system with 12 earth stations (20 additional domestic earth stations are planned)
international: 5 submarine cables; microwave radio relay to Italy, France, Spain, Morocco, and Tunisia; coaxial cable to Morocco and Tunisia; participant in Medarabtel; satellite earth stations - 2 Intelsat (1 Atlantic Ocean and 1 Indian Ocean), 1 Intersputnik, and 1 Arabsat
Radio broadcast stations:
AM 25, FM 1, shortwave 8 (1999)
67.1 million (1997)
Television broadcast stations:
46 (plus 216 repeaters) (1995)
3.1 million (1997) Transportation: Railways: Total:4,820 km; standard gauge: 3,664 km 1.435-m gauge (301 km electrified; 215 km double-track) ; narrow gauge: 1,156 km 1.055-m gauge
total: 104,000 km ;paved : 71,656 km (including 640 km of expressways) ;unpaved: 32,344 km (1996 est.)
crude oil 6,612 km; petroleum products 298 km; natural gas 2,948 km
Ports and harbors:
Algiers, Annaba, Arzew, Bejaia, Beni Saf, Dellys, Djendjene, Ghazaouet, Jijel, Mostaganem, Oran, Skikda, Tenes
135 (2000 est.)
The earliest known inhabitants of certain areas ofAlgeria were cattleherds and hunters living in the Al Hajjar region between 8,000 and 2,000BC. These may have been tribal Berbers. Phoenicians settled some of the coastal areas of Algeria from their north-African state of Carthage which was in modern day Tunisia.
The first Algerian kingdom was established by the Berber chieftain Massinissa during the Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage which took place between the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC. Massinissa reigned over his kingdom of Numidia from 202-148BC and his dynasty lasted until 106BC when his grandson Jugurtha became a Roman client. As part of the Roman Empire Numidia flourished, becoming known as the 'granary of Rome'. A road system and a series of Roman garrisons which became small Roman cities were built during the Roman period.
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 which had been suppressed by the Romans, declared a short-lived independent state. Algeria was invaded by the Vandals in the 5th century who occupied the country for a hundred years before being driven out by the Emperor Justinian's Byzantine army.
It was Justinian's aim to restore the Holy Roman Empire but the spread of Islam and the Arab conquest of North Africa during the 7th century thwarted the expansion ofByzantium and permanently changed the character of North Africa.
The Arab invasion was not without resistance. The Berbers, led by a tribal high priestess named Kahina who claimed conversion to Judaism, fought the invaders but eventually surrendered to the Umayyad Khalif. The Berbers quickly embraced Islam and, in the 8th century, formed their own Islamic government. Several tribes embraced Shi'ism and founded Shi'a tribal kingdoms, the most powerful of which was the Rustamid Kingdom at Tahert in central Algeria which flourished during the 8th and 9th centuries.
Algeria became part of the powerful Berber empires of the Almoravids and Almohads which dominated the Magreb and Andalusia. Tlemcen became the eastern capital of the Almohads and flourished as a centre of Islam. During this period Algerian seaports likeAlgiers, Annaba and Bijaya thrived on trade with European markets.
The rise and fall of piracy (1400-1830)
The demise of the Almohad empire created a power vacuum which led to the rise of piracy along what became known as the Barbary Coast. Coastal cities hired corsairs to seize merchant vessels and gain an advantage in the fierce competition for trade on the high seas.
North African piracy compelled the Spanish to occupy and blockade several ports known to be pirate enclaves, includingAlgiers which was forced to pay tribute. This Christian occupation of North African ports forced Muslims to seek help from the Ottoman Khalif. The Barbarossas, two sibling pirates, petitioned the Ottoman Sultan for aid against the infidels. In response the Khalif sent a naval fleet which drove the Spanish out of most of the North African ports they were occupying.
In 1518 Khayrad'din Barbarossa became the sultan's official representative in Algeria and Algerian corsairs dominated the Mediterranean with Ottoman protection for centuries. It was not until late in the 18th century that Europeans were able to challenge theBarbary pirates of Algeria with superior naval power and artillery. In 1815 a US naval squadron under Captain Stephen Decatur attacked Algiers and forced its governor to sign a treaty banning piracy against US ships.
Persistent attacks on European shipping caused the British and Dutch to combine their forces against the Algerians and almost totally destroy their fleet in 1816. This was the beginning of the end. In 1830 the French army invaded Algiers and the French occupation of Algeria continued for 132 years.
French colonization (1830-1962)
Algeria was annexed to France despite intense popular resistance. Resettlement programs were implemented by the French government using land-owning incentives to draw French citizens to the new colony. The French introduced a wide variety of measures to 'modernize' Algeria, imposing European-style culture, infrastructure, economics, education, industries and government institutions on the country. The colonials exploited the country's agricultural resources for the benefit ofFrance. The concept of French Algeria became ingrained in the French collective mind.
This period of early French influence over the country saw a huge drop in Algeria's native population, as it fell from around 4 million in 1830 to only 2.5 million in 1890.
The French colonials looked upon the Muslim populace as an inferior underclass that had to be tightly controlled. Muslims were not allowed to hold public meetings, bear arms or leave their districts or villages without government permission. Although they were officially French subjects they could not become French citizens unless they renounced Islam and converted to Christianity. It was a brutal, racist regime which alienated the vast majority of Algerians. The French attempt at acculturating an Algerian elite backfired badly. Those few schooled in French academies and infused with French values suffered the inherent racism of their French overlords and became the nucleus of the Algerian nationalist movement.
The Algerian nationalist movement emerged between the two World Wars, first simply demanding civil rights for the indigenous peoples of Algeria. The French government proposed concessions to the nationalists but these were blocked by French colonial reactionaries in the National Assembly. The colonials resisted any reform giving Muslims equal rights until, after 20 years of fruitless non-violent activism, the frustrated nationalists formed a militant anti-French party in 1939 called the Friends of the Manifesto and Liberty, combining Islamic and communist factions.
In the aftermath of World War II the French government revived attempts to bring Muslim Algerians into the decision-making process but these were too little and too late to offset deep-rooted colonial attitudes and a growing mutual hatred between the French and their Muslim subjects. Algerian Muslim attitudes had also hardened and an increasing number of nationalists were calling for armed revolution.
By the 1950s revolutionaries were being hounded into exile or hiding and the stage was being set for the Algerian War of 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 1st of the same year the FLN declared war on the French through a spectacular simultaneous attack on government buildings, military installations, police stations and communications facilities in the country.
The populist guerrilla war paralyzed the country and forced the French government to send 400,000 troops to try and put down the uprising. However, the courage and ruthlessness of FLN fighters and their tactical use of terrorism dragged the French into the reactive trap of bloody reprisals against the general population, which served to galvanize the Algerians and strengthen the revolution.
The cruelty and brutality of French colonial forces and the government's inability to find a political solution turned world opinion against France. The French use of concentration camps, torture, and mass executions of civilians suspected of aiding the rebels, isolated France and elicited invidious comparisons with totalitarian regimes and Nazism.
The French government was caught between a colonial policy based upon racism and exploitation, and its place as a standard-bearer of democracy. On the one hand, the French colonials were intransigent. On the other, the world community was calling for a cessation of hostilities and a political solution.
In 1958 colonials and French army officers joined forces to bring down the French government and demanded the return of General Charles De Gaulle to lead France to victory over the Algerian Nationalists and the preservation of French Algeria. De Gaulle returned to power with the support of the political extreme right but, realizing that the war could never be won, announced a referendum allowing Algerians to choose their own destiny, be it independence or remaining part of France.
De Gaulle's move was seen as betrayal by the colonials, the extreme right wing and certain parts of the military. The OAS, a militant terrorist organization, was formed by an alliance of these groups with the aim of overthrowing the general. The OAS carried out a ruthless terrorist campaign against the FLN and the French government, but they were doomed to failure.
In March 1962 a cease fire was negotiated between the French government and the FLN and De Gaulle's referendum was held in July. The Algerian people spoke with a single voice. They voted for independence. Following the referendum the French departed from Algeria en masse. By the end of the year most colonials had evacuated the country that had once been French Algeria.