Since the 5th century B.C., the indigenous tribes of northern Africa
(identified by the Romans as "Berbers") have been 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
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.
Indigenous Algerians began their revolt 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," left
Algeria for France.
The referendum was held in Algeria on July 1, 1962, and France declared
Algeria independent on July 3. On September 8, 1963, a constitution was
adopted by referendum, and later that month, Ahmed Ben Bella was formally
elected President. On June 19, 1965, President Ben Bella was replaced in
a bloodless coup by a 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 associations
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,
and on January 11, under pressure of 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 on the part of the Islamists. A campaign of terror in
the country, including assassinations, bombings, and massacres, commenced.
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 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
characterized the Algeria 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 3-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 Rassemblement National Democratique (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 FLN and 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 unless they 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 85% of those fighting
the regime during the 1990s have accepted the amnesty offer and have been
reintegrated into Algerian society. Bouteflika also has launched national
commissions to study education and judicial reform, as well as restructuring
of the state bureaucracy. His government has set ambitious targets for
economic reform and attracting foreign investment.
Three years into Bouteflika's mandate, the security situation in Algeria
had improved markedly. However, terrorism has not been totally eliminated,
and terrorist incidents still occur, particularly in remote or isolated
areas of the country. An estimated 30 Algerians are killed monthly, down
from a high of 1,200 or more in the mid-1990s. 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 have become commonplace as a result, and some have spread to the
capital. Chief among Berber demands is recognition of Tamazight (Berber)
as a national language, restitution for death of Kabylies killed or wounded
in demonstrations, and greater control over their own regional affairs.
Representatives of major Kabylie factions are currently in discussions
with the government on this matter. In October 2001, the Tamazight language
was recognized as a national language.
In November 2001, devastating floods hit Algiers, killing more than
800 people, mostly in the capital's Bab El-Oued area. The floods caused
an estimated $350 million in damages. On May 21, 2003, a strong earthquake
with a magnitude of 6.8 struck the country and caused catastrophic damage
in five provinces in the north-central section of Algeria. The province
of Boumerdes, including the coastal city of Boumerdes and the eastern district
of the capital city of Algiers were most affected by the earthquake. Official
figures put the number of casualties at 2,320 persons killed and 10,147
injured. Hundreds of thousands were left homeless. Prime Minister Ouyahia
declared that the economic cost of the earthquake would reach U.S.$1.5
Algerias 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 competed in the election. Opposition candidates complained
of some 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.
A decade of terrorist violence in Algeria has resulted in more than
100,000 deaths since 1991. Although the security situation in the country
has improved, addressing the underlying issues, which brought about the
political turmoil of the 1990s, remains the government's major task. In
keeping with its amended constitution, the Algerian Government espouses
participatory democracy and free-market competition. The government has
stated that it will continue to open the political process and encourage
the creation of political institutions. Presidential elections took place
in April 2004 and returned President Bouteflika to office with 84.99% of
Algeria has more than 30 daily newspapers published in French and Arabic,
with a total publication run of more than 1.5 million copies. Although
relatively free to write as they choose, in 2001, the government amended
the penal code provisions relating to defamation and slander, a step widely
viewed as an effort to rein in the press. Government monopoly of newsprint
and advertising is seen as another means to influence the press, although
it has permitted newspapers to create their own printing distribution networks.
Population growth and associated problems--unemployment and underemployment,
inability of social services to keep pace with rapid urban migration, inadequate
industrial management and productivity, a decaying infrastructure--continue
to plague Algerian society. Increases in the production and prices of oil
and gas over the past decade have led to a budgetary surplus of close to
$20 billion. The government began an economic reform program in 1994, which
focuses on macroeconomic stability and structural reform. These reforms
are aimed at liberalizing the economy, making Algeria competitive in the
global market, and meeting the needs of the Algerian people.
President Bouteflika announced in September 2003 major changes in his
government, replacing six cabinet-level ministers or ministers-delegate.
In October 2003, seven other cabinet members resigned citing political
differences between Bouteflika and their party leader, former Prime Minister
and FLN Secretary General Ali Benflis. Bouteflika dismissed Benflis as
Prime Minister in May 2003. In April 2004, after his re-election, Bouteflika
again reorganized his cabinet.