After more than a century of rule by
France, Algerians fought through much of the 1950s to achieve independence in
1962. Algeria's primary political party, the National Liberation Front (FLN),
has dominated politics ever since. Many Algerians in the subsequent generation
were not satisfied, however, and moved to counter the FLN's centrality in
Algerian politics. The surprising first round success of the Islamic Salvation
Front (FIS) in the December 1991 balloting spurred the Algerian army to
intervene and postpone the second round of elections to prevent what the secular
elite feared would be an extremist-led government from assuming power. The army
began a crackdown on the FIS that spurred FIS supporters to begin attacking
government targets. The government later allowed elections featuring
pro-government and moderate religious-based parties, but did not appease the
activists who progressively widened their attacks. The fighting escalated into
an insurgency, which saw intense fighting between 1992-98 and which resulted in
over 100,000 deaths - many attributed to indiscriminate massacres of villagers
by extremists. The government gained the upper hand by the late-1990s and FIS's
armed wing, the Islamic Salvation Army, disbanded in January 2000. However,
small numbers of armed militants persist in confronting government forces and
conducting ambushes and occasional attacks on villages. The army placed
Abdelaziz BOUTEFLIKA in the presidency in 1999 in a fraudulent election but
claimed neutrality in his 2004 landslide reelection victory. 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 militants. Algeria 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 tables below display average monthly climate indicators in major cities based on 8 years of historical weather readings.
Temperature by: Centigrade
ALGER PORT 36 76 N, 3 10 E, 26 feet (8 meters) above sea level.
CONSTANTINE 36 28 N, 6 61 E, 2276 feet (694 meters) above sea level.
ORAN PORT 35 70 N, 0 65 W, 72 feet (22 meters) above sea level.
SETIF 36 18 N, 5 41 E, 3405 feet (1038 meters) above sea level.
TAMANRASSET 22 78 N, 5 51 E, 4520 feet (1378 meters) above sea level.
TINDOUF 27 66 N, 8 13 W, 1414 feet (431 meters) above sea level.
Ninety-one percent of the Algerian population lives along the Mediterranean coast on 12% of the country's total land mass. Forty-five percent of the population is urban, and urbanization continues, despite government efforts to discourage migration to the cities. About 1.5 million nomads and semi-settled Bedouin still live in the Saharan area.
Nearly all Algerians are Muslim, of Arab, Berber, or mixed Arab-Berber stock. Official data on the number of non-Muslim residents is not available, however practitioners report it to be less than 5,000. Most of the non-Muslim community is comprised of Methodist, Roman Catholic and Evangelical faiths; the Jewish community is virtually non-existent. As of November 2005, there were about 1,100 American citizens in the country, the majority of whom live and work in the oil/gas fields in the south.
Algeria's educational system has grown dramatically since the country gained its independence. In the last 12 years, attendance has doubled to more than 5 million students. Education is free and compulsory to age 16. Despite government allocation of substantial educational resources, population pressures and a serious shortage of teachers have severely strained the system. Modest numbers of Algerian students study abroad, primarily in Europe and Canada. In 2000, the government launched a major review of the country's educational system and in 2004 efforts to reform the educational system began.
Housing and medicine continue to be pressing problems in Algeria. Failing infrastructure and the continued influx of people from rural to urban areas have overtaxed both systems. According to the United Nations Development Program, Algeria has one of the world's highest per housing unit occupancy rates, and government officials have publicly stated that the country has an immediate shortfall of 1.5 million housing units.
Since the 5th century B.C., the native peoples of northern Africa (first identified by the Greeks as 'Berbers') were pushed back from the coast by successive waves of Phoenician, Roman, Vandal, Byzantine, Arab, Turkish, and, finally, French invaders. The greatest cultural impact came from the Arab invasions of the 8th and 11th centuries A.D., which brought Islam and the Arabic language. The effects of the most recent (French) occupation--French language and European-inspired socialism--are still pervasive.
North African boundaries have shifted during various stages of the conquests. Algeria's modern borders were created by the French, whose colonization began in 1830. To benefit French colonists, most of whom were farmers and businessmen, northern Algeria was eventually organized into overseas departments of France, with representatives in the French National Assembly. France controlled the entire country, but the traditional Muslim population in the rural areas remained separated from the modern economic infrastructure of the European community.
Algerians began their uprising on November 1, 1954, to gain rights denied them under French rule. The revolution, launched by a small group of nationalists who called themselves the National Liberation Front (FLN), was a guerrilla war in which both sides targeted civilians and otherwise used brutal tactics. Eventually, protracted negotiations led to a cease-fire signed by France and the FLN on March 18, 1962, at Evian, France. The Evian Accords also provided for continuing economic, financial, technical, and cultural relations, along with interim administrative arrangements until a referendum on self-determination could be held. Over 1 million French citizens living in Algeria at the time, called the pieds-noirs (black feet), left Algeria for France.
The referendum was held in Algeria on July 1, 1962, and France declared Algeria independent on July 3. In September 1962 Ahmed Ben Bella was formally elected president. On September 8, 1963, a Constitution was adopted by referendum. On June 19, 1965, President Ben Bella was replaced in a non-violent coup by the Council of the Revolution headed by Minister of Defense Col. Houari Boumediene. Ben Bella was first imprisoned and then exiled. Boumediene, as President of the Council of the Revolution, led the country as Head of State until he was formally elected on December 10, 1976. Boumediene is credited with building 'modern Algeria.' He died on December 27, 1978.
Following nomination by an FLN Party Congress, Col. Chadli Bendjedid was elected president in 1979 and re-elected in 1984 and 1988. A new constitution was adopted in 1989 that allowed the formation of political parties other than the FLN. It also removed the armed forces, which had run the government since the days of Boumediene, from a designated role in the operation of the government. Among the scores of parties that sprang up under the new constitution, the militant Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was the most successful, winning more than 50% of all votes cast in municipal elections in June 1990 as well as in the first stage of national legislative elections held in December 1991.
Faced with the real possibility of a sweeping FIS victory, the National People's Assembly was dissolved by presidential decree on January 4, 1992. On January 11, under pressure from the military leadership, President Chadli Bendjedid resigned. On January 14, a five-member High Council of State was appointed by the High Council of Security to act as a collegiate presidency and immediately canceled the second round of elections. This action, coupled with political uncertainty and economic turmoil, led to a violent reaction by Islamists. On January 16, Mohamed Boudiaf, a hero of the Liberation War, returned after 28 years of exile to serve as Algeria's fourth president. Facing sporadic outbreaks of violence and terrorism, the security forces took control of the FIS offices in early February, and the High Council of State declared a state of emergency. In March, following a court decision, the FIS Party was formally dissolved, and a series of arrests and trials of FIS members occurred resulting in more than 50,000 members being jailed. Algeria became caught in a cycle of violence, which became increasingly random and indiscriminate. On June 29, 1992, President Boudiaf was assassinated in Annaba in front of TV cameras by Army Lt. Lembarek Boumarafi, who allegedly confessed to carrying out the killing on behalf of the Islamists.
Despite efforts to restore the political process, violence and terrorism dominated the Algerian landscape during the 1990s. In 1994, Liamine Zeroual, former Minister of Defense, was appointed Head of State by the High Council of State for a three-year term. During this period, the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) launched terrorist campaigns against government figures and institutions to protest the banning of the Islamist parties. A breakaway GIA group--the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC)--also undertook terrorist activity in the country. Government officials estimate that more than 100,000 Algerians died during this period.
Zeroual called for presidential elections in 1995, though some parties objected to holding elections that excluded the FIS. Zeroual was elected president with 75% of the vote. By 1997, in an attempt to bring political stability to the nation, the National Democratic Rally (RND) party was formed by a progressive group of FLN members. In September 1998, President Liamine Zeroual announced that he would step down in February 1999, 21 months before the end of his term, and that presidential elections would be held.
Algerians went to the polls in April 1999, following a campaign in which seven candidates qualified for election. On the eve of the election, all candidates except Abdelaziz Bouteflika pulled out amid charges of widespread electoral fraud. Bouteflika, the candidate who appeared to enjoy the backing of the military, as well as the FLN and the RND party regulars, won with an official vote count of 70% of all votes cast. He was inaugurated on April 27, 1999 for a 5-year term.
President Bouteflika's agenda focused initially on restoring security and stability to the country. Following his inauguration, he proposed an official amnesty for those who fought against the government during the 1990s with the exception of those who had engaged in 'blood crimes,' such as rape or murder. This 'Civil Concord' policy was widely approved in a nationwide referendum in September 2000. Government officials estimate that 80% of those fighting the regime during the 1990s have accepted the civil concord offer and have attempted to reintegrate into Algerian society. Bouteflika also launched national commissions to study education and judicial reform, as well as restructuring of the state bureaucracy.
In 2001, Berber activists in the Kabylie region of the country, reacting to the death of a youth in gendarme custody, unleashed a resistance campaign against what they saw as government repression. Strikes and demonstrations in the Kabylie region were commonplace as a result, and some spread to the capital. Chief among Berber demands was recognition of Tamazight (a general term for Berber languages) as an official language, official recognition and financial compensation for the deaths of Kabyles killed in demonstrations, an economic development plan for the area and greater control over their own regional affairs. In October 2001, the Tamazight language was recognized as a national language, but the issue remains contentious as Tamazight has not been elevated to an official language.
Algeria?s most recent presidential election took place on April 8, 2004. For the first time since independence, the presidential race was democratically contested through to the end. Besides incumbent President Bouteflika, five other candidates, including one woman, competed in the election. Opposition candidates complained of some discrepancies in the voting list; irregularities on polling day, particularly in the Kabylie; and of unfair media coverage during the campaign as Bouteflika, by virtue of his office, appeared on state-owned television daily. Bouteflika was re-elected in the first round of the election with 84.99% of the vote. Just over 58% of those Algerians eligible to vote participated in the election.
In the years since Bouteflika was first elected, the security situation in Algeria has improved markedly. Terrorism, however, has not been totally eliminated, and terrorist incidents still occur, particularly in the provinces of Boumerdes, Tizi-Ouzou, and in the remote southern areas of the country.
In September 2005, Algeria passed a referendum in favor of President Bouteflika?s Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation, paving the way for implementing legislation that will pardon certain individuals convicted of armed terrorist violence. The new Charter builds upon the Civil Concord, and the Rahma (clemency) Law shields from prosecution anyone who laid down arms in response to those previous amnesty offers. The Charter specifically excludes from amnesty those involved in mass murders, rapes, or the use of explosives in public places. The Charter was implemented in March 2006, and the window for combatants to receive amnesty was predicted to expire in September 2006.
Under the 1976 Constitution (as modified 1979, and amended in 1988, 1989, and 1996) Algeria is a multi-party state. The Ministry of the Interior must approve all political parties. According to the Constitution, no political association may be formed 'based on differences in religion, language, race gender or region.' Algeria has universal suffrage at the age of 18.
The head of state is the president of the republic. The president, elected to a five-year term, and constitutionally limited to two terms, is the head of the Council of Ministers and of the High Security Council. He appoints the prime minister as well as one-third of the upper house (the Council of the Nation). The prime minister presides over the Council of Ministers and serves as head of the government.
The Algerian Parliament is bicameral, consisting of a lower chamber, the National People's Assembly (APN), with 380 members and an upper chamber, the Council of the Nation, with 144 members. The APN is elected every five years. The next round of legislative elections is scheduled to take place in 2007. Two-thirds of the Council of the Nation is elected by regional and municipal authorities; the rest are appointed by the president. The Council of the Nation serves a six-year term with one-half of the seats up for election or reappointment every three years. The next round of elections and appointments to the Council of the Nation will occur in May 2007. Either the president or one of the parliamentary chambers may initiate legislation. Legislation must be brought before both chambers before it becomes law. Sessions of the APN are televised.
Algeria is divided into 48 wilayates (states or provinces) headed by walis (governors) who report to the Minister of Interior. Each wilaya is further divided into communes. The wilayates and communes are each governed by an elected assembly.
Principal Government Officials
President and Minister of National Defense--Abdelaziz Bouteflika
Head of Government (Prime Minister)--Abdelaziz Belkhadem
Minister of State for the Interior and Local Communities--Nourredine Yazid Zerhouni
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs--Mohamed Bedjaoui
Minister of State--Soltani Boudjerra
Minister Delegate in Charge of National Defense--Abdelmalek Guenaizia
Agriculture and Rural Development--Said Barkat
Commerce--El Hachemi Djaaboub
Energy and Mines--Chakib Khelil
Fisheries and Sea Resources--Smail Mimoune
Health, Population and Hospital Reform--Amar Tou
Higher Education and Scientific Research--Rachid Harraoubia
Housing & Urban Planning--Mohamed Nadir Hamimid
Jobs and National Solidarity--Djamal Ould-Abbes
Labor and Social Security--Tayeb Louh
Moudjahidine (Veterans)--Mohamed Cherif Abbas
National Education--Boubekeur Benbouzid
Participation and Investment Promotion--Abdelhamid Temmar
Posts, Information and Communications Technologies--Boudjemaa Haichour
Public Works--Amar Ghoul
Minister in Charge of Relations With the Parliament--Abdelaziz Ziari
Religious Affairs--Bouabdellah Ghlamallah
Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises and Craft Industries--Mustapha Benbada
Vocational Training--El Hadi Khaldi
Water Resources--Abdelmalek Sellal
Youth and Sports--Yahia Guiddoum
Minister Delegate in Charge of Maghrebian and African Affairs--Abdelkader Messahel
Minister Delegate in Charge of the Family and Women's Affairs--Nouara Saadia Djaafar
Minister Delegate in Charge of Financial Reform--Karim Djoudi
Minister Delegate in Charge of Local Collectives--Daho Ould Kablia
Minister Delegate in Charge of Rural Development--Rachid Benaissa
Minister Delegate in Charge of Scientific Research--Souad Bendjaballah
Minister Delegate in Charge of Town Planning & Environment--Abderrachid Boukerzaza
Other Government Officials
Secretary General of the Government--Ahmed Noui
Speaker of the National People's Assembly (Lower House)--Amar Saadani
Speaker of the Council of the Nation (Upper House)--Abdelkader Bensalah
Governor, Central Bank--Mohamed Laksaci
Permanent Representative to the United Nations, New York--Youcef Yousfi
The hydrocarbons sector is the backbone of the Algerian economy, accounting for roughly 60% of budget revenues, nearly 30% of GDP, and over 97% of export earnings. Algeria has the seventh-largest reserves of natural gas in the world (2.7% of proven world total) and is the second-largest gas exporter; it ranks 14th for oil reserves. Its key oil and gas customers are Italy, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. U.S. companies have played a major role in developing Algeria's oil and gas sector; of the $4.1 billion (on a historical-cost basis, according to statistics gathered by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis) in U.S. investment in Algeria, the vast bulk is in the petroleum sector.
Faced with declining oil revenues and high-debt interest payments at the beginning of the 1990s, Algeria implemented a stringent macroeconomic stabilization program and rescheduled its $7.9 billion Paris Club debt in the mid-1990s. The macroeconomic program has been particularly successful at narrowing the budget deficit and at reducing inflation from of near-30% averages in the mid 1990s to almost single digits in 2000. Inflation was at 3.6% in 2004. Algeria's economy has grown by more than 5% in each of the past five years, posting 5.6% growth in 2006. The country's foreign debt fell from a high of $28 billion in 1999 to $5 billion in 2006; in that year Algeria paid off the last of its Paris Club debt. The spike in oil prices in 1999-2000 and 2004, the government's tight fiscal policy and conservative budgeting of oil prices from 2000 to present, a large increase in the trade surplus, and the near tripling of foreign exchange reserves have helped the country's finances.
The government pledges to continue its efforts to diversify the economy by attracting foreign and domestic investment outside the energy sector. The Algerian Government has had little success at reducing high unemployment, officially estimated at 17.7%, though international estimates put the figure higher, and at improving living standards.
Priority areas are banking and judicial reform, improving the investment environment, partial or complete privatization of state enterprises, and reducing government bureaucracy. The government has closed or sold off numerous state enterprises and a total of 1,200 were offered for sale in 2004. The government also has begun to privatize certain sectors of the economy and embrace joint venture investment opportunities with traditionally state owned and operated entities. In 2001, Algeria concluded an Association Agreement with the European Union, which was ratified in 2005 by both Algeria and the EU and took effect in September of that same year. The government is working toward accession to the World Trade Organization.
|Navigate through the articles|