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"Algeria". Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2001. © 2000 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.



Algeria (French Algérie), officially Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria, republic of western North Africa; bounded on the north by the Mediterranean Sea; on the east by Tunisia and Libya; on the south by Niger, Mali, and Mauritania; and on the west by Morocco. Its total area is 2,381,741 sq km (919,595 sq mi).


Algeria has four main physical regions, which extend east to west across the country in parallel zones. In the north, along the Mediterranean coast and extending inland for 80 to 190 km (50 to 120 mi), is the Tell. The region consists of a narrow and discontinuous coastal plain backed by the mountainous area of the Tell Atlas, a range of the Atlas Mountains system. The numerous valleys of this region contain most of Algeria's arable land. The country's principal river, the Chelif (725 km/ 450 mi long), rises in the Tell Atlas and flows to the Mediterranean Sea; no permanent streams are found south of the Tell. The next region, lying to the south and southwest, is the High Plateau, a highland region of level terrain. Several basins here collect water during rainy periods, forming large, shallow lakes; as these dry they become salt flats, called chotts, or shotts. South of this lie the mountains and massifs of the Saharan Atlas. The fourth region, comprising more than 90 percent of the country's total area, is the great expanse of the Algerian Sahara. Much of the terrain is covered by gravel, although the Grand Erg Oriental and the Grand Erg Occidental are vast regions of sand dunes. In the south, rising above the desert, are the Ahaggar Mountains, which culminate in Mount Tahat (3,003 m/9,852 ft), the highest peak in Algeria.

A. Climate

The Tell region in the north has a typical Mediterranean climate, with warm, dry summers and mild, rainy winters. This is the most humid area of Algeria, with an annual precipitation ranging from 400 to 1,000 mm (16 to 39 in). The mean summer and winter temperatures are 25°C (77°F) and 11°C (52°F), respectively. During the summer an exceedingly hot, dry wind, the sirocco (known locally as the Chehili), blows north from the Sahara. To the south the climate becomes increasingly dry. Annual precipitation in the High Plateau and Saharan Atlas ranges from about 200 to 400 mm (about 8 to 16 in). The Sahara is a region of daily temperature extremes, wind, and great aridity; annual rainfall is less than 130 mm (5 in) in all places.

B. Natural Resources

Most of the natural wealth of Algeria lies in its sizable mineral deposits, notably crude petroleum, natural gas, phosphates, and iron ore. Other minerals include coal, lead, and zinc. The arable land comprises only about 3 percent of the total area and is located mainly in the valleys and plains of the coastal region.

C. Plants and Animals

The northern sections of Algeria have suffered from centuries of deforestation and overgrazing. Remnants of forests exist in a few areas of the higher Tell and Saharan Atlas. Trees include pines, Atlas cedar, and various oaks, including cork oak. Lower slopes are bare or covered with a scrub vegetation of juniper and other shrubs. Much of the High Plateau is barren, but tracts of steppe vegetation containing esparto grass and brushwood are present. Plant life in the Sahara is widely scattered and consists of drought-resistant grasses, acacia, and jujube trees.

The relatively sparse vegetation of the country can support only a limited wildlife population. Scavengers, such as jackals, hyenas, and vultures, are found in most regions. Fewer antelope, hares, gazelles, and reptiles are also present.

D. Soils

Rich soils are rare in Algeria. The most fertile lands, located in the Tell region, nearest the coast, are relatively poor in humus and have suffered from overcultivation. The plains have considerable alluvial deposits, but the uplands have poorer soils and can support only grasses suitable for grazing.

E. Environmental Issues

Among the countries of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, Algeria is the most advanced in nature conservation, with a comprehensive environmental law that includes nature conservation, a system of protected areas, and universities and institutions with specialized training in conservation. The government manages nine national parks, five nature preserves, and five special hunting areas. Other protected areas include special forest areas and private holdings. No marine parks exist, but the government has the authority to close maritime areas to fishing. Overall, about 24 percent of the country is within the protected area system, although only about 2.5 percent (1997) is truly protected. National parks, including the giant Tassili N'Ajjer National Park in the eastern corner of the country, comprise a large proportion of this total.

The effects of Algeria's human population on the fragile landscape have been severe. The greatest ecological threats are deforestation and burning of scrub vegetation, conversion of steppe habitat to arable land, and soil erosion due to overgrazing and poor farming practices. Pollution of Mediterranean coastal waters is pervasive. Wetlands are in particular danger of destruction.

Fresh water is scarce in Algeria. However, per capita consumption of water is low, and the majority of urban and rural populations have access to safe water supplies.

Algeria has obliged itself to cooperate with other nations in protecting the Mediterranean Sea from pollution and degradation of sensitive habitats and to work toward a goal of the protection of more than 5 percent of its land. Algeria has ratified an international convention on wetlands.


The population consists almost entirely of Berbers, Arabs, and people of mixed Arab and Berber ancestry. Until 1962 about 1 million European settlers, mainly French, and an indigenous population of 150,000 Jews lived in Algeria; 90 percent of this group, however, emigrated after Algeria became independent in 1962. Some 41 percent of the population is classified as rural, living in villages and on small farms.

A. Population Characteristics

The population of Algeria (2001 estimate) is about 31,736,053. The overall population density is 13 persons per sq km (35 per sq mi). Approximately 90 percent of the population is concentrated in the coastal Tell region.

B. Political Divisions

Algeria is divided into 48 provinces (wilayat). These are subdivided into nearly 700 local communes.

Algiers is the capital, chief seaport, and largest city. Other important cities are Oran, a trading center, and Constantine, the center for a livestock- and wheat-producing region.

C. Language and Religion

Arabic is the official language and is spoken by about 83 percent of the population; most of the remainder speak Berber dialect. French, however, is still widely read and spoken by many educated Algerians. Islam is the official religion and is professed by the vast majority of the population.

D. Education

Primary education is free and compulsory for all children between the ages of 6 and 15. The Algerian educational system, long patterned after the French, was changed by a program of Arabization shortly after independence. The government introduced new teaching methods and began training Algerian teachers and bringing in foreign, Arabic-speaking teachers. In 1976 all private schools were abolished and a compulsory period of nine years of education was introduced.

In the 1996 school year some 4.7 million pupils attended primary schools and 2.6 million were enrolled in secondary schools. The government also maintains vocational and teacher-training schools.

Algeria has ten universities, including two universities of science and technology, and a number of technical colleges; the total enrollment at all institutions of higher education is about 300,000. The University of Algiers (1879) has faculties of law, medicine, science, and liberal arts. Seven of the universities and nearly all of the 20 or so specialized colleges have been founded since independence.

E. Culture

French tradition formerly dominated the cultural life of Algeria. Even before independence, however, there was a growing movement among Algerian artists and intellectuals to revive national interest in Arab-Berber origins, a movement that, since 1962, has gained official support.

E.1. Libraries and Museums

Foremost among Algerian libraries is the National Library (1835) in Algiers, which has about 1 million volumes, including important works on African subjects. Collections are maintained by the University of Algiers, which has more than 700,000 volumes, and by the Municipal Library in Constantine, which contains about 25,000 volumes.

The Prehistory and Ethnographic Museum (1928), the National Museum of Antiquities (1897), and the National Museum of Fine Arts of Algiers (1930) are located in Algiers. The Museum of Cirta (1853) in Constantine contains art and archaeological collections.

E.2. Literature

Although much Algerian writing was suppressed by the French during the 1950s, the war for independence stimulated a considerable resurgence of interest in the Arabic-language national literature.

Noted 20th-century Algerian writers (who wrote in French) are Kateb Yacine, Mohammad Dib, and Malek Haddad. The French novelist Albert Camus was born and educated in Algeria.


While Algeria is one of the wealthiest nations of Africa, declining oil prices reduced the annual income per capita to $1,550 in 1999, down from $2,360 in 1988. Agriculture plays a declining but still important role in the Algerian economy, while mineral production accounts for the largest part of the gross domestic product. Since the late 1960s the government has instituted major industrialization programs. The estimated annual national budget in the early 1990s included $14.4 billion in revenues and $14.6 billion in expenditures. Gross domestic product, which measures the total value of goods and services produced, was $47.9 billion in 1999.

A. Agriculture

Farming accounts for only 11 percent of the gross domestic product of Algeria. Productivity is low and foodstuffs must be imported. The principal food crops in 2000 included cereals such as wheat and barley (1.2 million metric tons), vegetables such as tomatoes and melons (2.6 million), fruits such as grapes, dates, and olives (1.5 million), and roots and tubers such as potatoes (950,000). Tobacco is also an important crop. Of the livestock raised, sheep numbered 18.2 million in 2000, goats 3.4 million, and cattle 1.6 million.

B. Forestry and Fishing

Forests, which contain much brushwood, cover only 1 percent of Algeria's land area. Substantial reforestation projects were undertaken in the 1970s. Lumber is used principally for heating and industrial needs. Bark is cut for tanning and cork for commercial purposes. Charcoal, made from charred wood, is also used for fuel.

Fishing is an important industry; in 1997 the total catch was 99,332 metric tons. The bulk of the yield included sardines, anchovies, sprats, tuna, and shellfish.

C. Mining and Manufacturing

The chief mineral products are crude petroleum and natural gas from the Sahara. Oil production in 1999 was 509 million barrels a year; natural gas production totaled 82 billion cu m (2.9 trillion cu ft).

Other major mineral products are iron ore and pyrites, zinc, lead, mercury, and coal. More than 500 million tons of phosphates are thought to exist in hilly regions of Djebel Onk in the north. Virtually all mining and industrial activity is state controlled. Much of the industry is centered around the cities of Algiers and Oran. Major products are carpets and textiles, chemicals, refined petroleum, plastics, construction materials, olive oil, wine, and processed tobacco. Rapidly growing industries include those producing iron and steel, paper, and electrical items.

D. Currency and Banking

The chief monetary unit of Algeria is the dinar (66.57 dinars equal U.S.$1; 1999 average). All government banking and monetary functions are carried out by the Central Bank of Algeria. Since 1966 all foreign and private banks have been nationalized.

E. Commerce and Trade

The principal Algerian exports are natural gas, petroleum, iron ore, vegetables, tobacco, phosphates, fruit, cork, and hides. Major imports are machinery, textiles, sugar, cereals, iron and steel, coal, and gasoline. Chief purchasers of Algeria's exports are Italy, the United States, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Spain; leading sources for imports are France, Italy, the United States, Germany, Spain, and Japan. In 1999 annual exports totaled $13.1 billion and imports $10 billion. Algeria's trade volume and balance depend heavily on petroleum prices.

F. Transportation

The rail and road systems mainly serve the northern third of the country. Five railroad lines run to the northern edge of the Sahara, and roads link the Sahara oil fields to the coast. In 1997 Algeria had 4,290 km (2,666 mi) of railroad track and 104,000 km (64,623 mi) of roads, of which two-thirds was paved. Algeria's segment of a trans-Saharan highway, extending from the Mediterranean coast past Tamanrasset to the Niger border, was completed in 1985. Air Algérie, the national airline, provides domestic and international air service.

G. Communications

All news media, including the country's six daily newspapers, are government controlled. Book publishing and the radio and television networks are under the auspices of government agencies.

H. Labor

The General Union of Algerian Workers, founded in 1956 during the struggle for independence, consists of 1 million members divided by trade into ten sectors. In 1973 a National Union of Algerian Peasants was formed, consisting of about 700,000 farmer members. The labor force in 1999 consisted of 10 million people. Some 43 percent of the economically active population was employed in government or other service industries, 31 percent worked in industry, and 26 percent engaged in agriculture. In 1997, 29 percent of the workers were unemployed.


Under the constitution adopted in 1976, Algeria became a socialist republic. The constitution declared the National Liberation Front (FLN) as the sole legitimate political party. A revised constitution in 1989 abandoned the commitment to socialism and allowed the formation of other political parties. After it became clear that the Islamic Salvation Front, a Muslim fundamentalist party, would gain a legislative majority in the country's first multiparty elections in 1992, the elections were annulled and the country's unicameral legislature, the National People's Assembly, was suspended. Between 1992 and 1997 Algeria was ruled by a High Council of State, headed by a president. After a constitutional referendum, the constitution was again revised in 1996, most significantly to ban political parties based solely on ethnicity, religion, or another separatist feature, and to create a new, bicameral legislature. Elections for the directly elected lower house were held in 1997.

A. Executive and Legislature

A president is head of state of Algeria. The president is popularly elected to a five-year term and may serve no more than two terms. The president appoints a prime minister as head of government. The prime minister in turn appoints a council of ministers to help carry out the functions of government.

Algeria has a bicameral legislature consisting of a 144-member National Council as the upper house and a 380-member National Assembly as the lower house. One-third of the National Council members are appointed by the president; the other two-thirds are chosen by municipal councils. All members serve six-year terms. Members of the National Assembly are popularly elected to four-year terms.

B. Judiciary

The highest court of Algeria is the Supreme Court, which functions as the high court of appeal. Three Algerian courts of appeal and special criminal courts (for economic crimes against the state) are located in Algiers, Oran, and Constantine. Numerous justices of the peace and commercial courts complete the judicial system.

C. Local Government

Each province (wilaya) is headed by a governor appointed by the federal government. Municipal councils enact local laws and elect all administrative officers.

D. Political Parties

From independence until 1991, the National Liberation Front (FLN) dominated Algerian politics. After the 1992 elections were cancelled, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), which sought to install an Islamic government, was banned; a 1996 constitutional amendment banned political parties based solely on religion or ethnicity. In 1997 the National Democratic Rally (RND), a pro-government party closely allied with the Algerian president, was created.

The RND won the national and local elections of 1997, in which about 40 parties participated. It won over half the seats in the National Assembly elections, far more than any other party. The RND and its coalition parties, the FLN and the Islamist Movement for Peaceful Society, one of two moderate Islamic-oriented parties allowed to participate, won over 80 percent of the seats in local elections. Presidential appointments and municipal selections to the National Council left the RND in firm control of the upper house of parliament as well.

E. Health and Welfare

The government sponsors social welfare programs providing allowances for the aged, needy, and disabled; benefits for nonagrarian workers; agrarian reform; public works; and accelerated public-housing programs.

Since 1974 medical care has been provided free to all Algerian citizens. In 1998 Algeria had 476 people per hospital bed and 1,271 people for every physician. Public health officials are engaged in an effort to eliminate epidemic diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis. Other health problems are widespread malnutrition and eye ailments such as trachoma. Cholera has been brought under control.

F. Defense

The president is commander in chief of the military forces, which numbered 124,000 in 1999. The nucleus of the 107,000-troop army was provided by the liberation forces after Algerian independence was secured. A 10,000-member air force is equipped with Soviet- and French-built jet planes and helicopters. About 7,000 people make up the naval forces.


The earliest inhabitants of what is now Algeria were Berbers, tribal peoples of unknown origin. Cave paintings in the Ahaggar region dating between 6500 and 1200 BC depict a people who raised cattle and hunted game in the area.

A. Ancient Times

About 1100 BC, the Phoenicians, a seafaring people from the eastern Mediterranean, founded a North African state at Carthage in what is now Tunisia. During the Punic Wars (3rd-2nd century BC) between Carthage and Rome, Massinissa (reigned 202-148 BC), a Berber chief allied with Ancient Rome, established the first Algerian kingdom, Numidia. His grandson, Jugurtha, was subjugated by Rome in 106 BC.

Numidia prospered under Roman rule. Large estates produced so much grain and olive oil that the region became known as the granary of Rome. A system of military roads and garrisoned towns protected the inhabitants from nomadic tribes. In time, these towns grew into miniature Roman cities.

The decline of Rome brought many changes. Roman legions were withdrawn to defend other frontiers, and in the 3rd century AD regional independence was briefly expressed in the Donatist movement, a North African Christian sect persecuted by the Roman authorities. The Vandals, a Germanic tribe, invaded the region in the 5th century and stayed on to establish their own kingdom. Barely a century later these warriors were themselves overthrown by an army of the Byzantine emperor Justinian, whose dream was to restore the glory of the Roman Empire.

B. Medieval Islamic Dynasties

Justinian's dream was short-lived. In the 7th century the Arabs invaded North Africa, bringing with them a new religion, Islam. In Algeria 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; Algeria became a province of the Umayyad caliphate. The Arabs, however, remained largely an urban elite.

An internal conflict over the succession to the caliphal throne enabled the Berbers to form their own Islamic government in the 8th century. Many of them joined the branch of Islam known as Shia, and they founded several tribal kingdoms. One of the most prominent was that of the Rustamids at Tahert in central Algeria. Tahert prospered in the 8th and 9th centuries. Between the 11th and 13th centuries two successive Berber dynasties, the Almoravids and the Almohads, brought northwest Africa and southern Spain under a single central authority. Tlemcen, the capital under the Almohads, became a city of fine mosques and schools of Islamic learning, as well as a handicrafts center. Algerian seaports like Bejaïa, Annaba, and the growing town of Algiers carried on a brisk trade with European cities, supplying the famed Barbary horses, wax, fine leather, and fabrics to European markets.

C. Ottoman Rule

The collapse of the Almohads in 1269 set off fierce trade competition among Mediterranean seaports, both Christian and Muslim. To gain advantage, city governments began to hire corsairs--pirates who seized merchant ships and held crews and cargo for ransom. Algiers became a primary center of corsair activities.

In the 16th century the Christian Spaniards occupied various North African ports. Algiers was blockaded and forced to pay tribute. Other ports were captured outright. The desperate Muslims called for help from the Ottoman sultan, then the caliph of all Islam. Two corsair brothers, the Barbarossas ("Redbeards"), persuaded the sultan to send them with a fleet to North Africa. They drove the Spaniards out of most of their new possessions, and in 1518 the younger Barbarossa, Khayr ad-Din, was appointed beylerbey, the sultan's representative in Algeria.

Because of its distance from the Ottoman capital at Constantinople (present-day Istanbul), Algiers was governed as an autonomous province. Externally, the effectiveness of its corsair fleet made Algiers a power in its own right; Algerian pirates dominated the Mediterranean. European states paid tribute regularly to ensure protection for their ships, and prisoner ransom brought a rich income to the province. Internal security was maintained by Ottoman janissary (from Turkish, yeniçeri,"new special troops") garrisons.

In the late 18th century improved firepower and ship construction enabled the Europeans to challenge corsair domination. By then, the days of Ottoman Algiers were numbered. International agreements to outlaw piracy made collective action against the corsair capital possible. In 1815 the United States sent a naval squadron against Algiers. The following year an Anglo-Dutch fleet nearly destroyed its defenses, and in 1830 the city was captured by a French army.

D. French Colonization

France annexed Algeria in 1834, and the new regime aroused fierce resistance from tribes accustomed to indirect Ottoman rule. Their leader, Abd al-Qadir, an Islamic holy man claiming descent from Muhammad, used hit-and-run tactics that were highly effective; he was not completely subdued until 1847, and he remains a hero to modern Algerian nationalists.

With Abd al-Qadir out of the way, France began to colonize Algeria in earnest, and European settlers poured into the country. To encourage settlement, the French confiscated or purchased lands at low prices from Muslim owners. Algeria became an overseas department of France, controlled for all practical purposes by the European minority, the colons (colonists). The colons formed a privileged elite. With the help of large infusions of capital, they developed a modern economy, with industries, banks, schools, shops, and services similar to those at home. Algerian agriculture was geared to the French economy; large estates produced wines and citrus fruit for export to France, just as North Africa had once served Rome. Some Europeans made vast fortunes, but the majority were small farmers, tradespeople, shopkeepers, and factory workers. All, however, shared a passionate belief in Algérie Française--a French Algeria.

The Muslim population, although benefiting from social services and economic development, remained a disadvantaged majority, subject to many restrictions. By French law they could not hold public meetings, carry firearms, or leave their homes or villages without permission. Legally, they were French subjects, but to become French citizens, with full rights, they had to renounce their faith. Few did so.

The Muslim population grew steadily; by 1930, it numbered 5 million. A small minority, educated in French schools, adopted French culture, although they were not accepted as equals by the colons. From this group came the initial impetus for Algerian nationalism.

E. Rise of Algerian Nationalism

Algerian nationalism developed after World War I (1914-1918) among groups of Muslims who at first wanted only equality with the Europeans. Ferhat Abbas and Ahmed Messali Hadj, a Communist, were among the most prominent Algerian leaders in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1936 the French government devised a plan providing full equality for Muslim war veterans and professionals, but it was scuttled by colon deputies in the French National Assembly. Frustrated by the colons' stubborn resistance to reform, Abbas joined forces with Messali during World War II (1939-1945) to organize a militant anti-French party, the Friends of the Manifesto and Liberty. After the war the Algerian Organic Statute (1947) set up Algeria's first parliamentary assembly, with an equal number of European and Muslim delegates, but this satisfied neither natives nor colons and proved ineffective. The more militant nationalists were by then beginning to favor armed revolt. In the early 1950s many went into hiding or exile.

F. War of Independence

In March 1954 Ahmed Ben Bella, an ex-sergeant in the French army, joined eight other Algerian exiles in Egypt to form a revolutionary committee that later became known as the National Liberation Front (Front de Libération Nationale, FLN). A few months later (November 1), the FLN launched its bid for Algerian independence by coordinated attacks on public buildings, military and police posts, and communications installations.

A steady rise in guerrilla action over the next two years forced the French to bring in reinforcements; eventually, 400,000 French troops were stationed in Algeria. FLN strategy combined Abd al-Qadir's guerrilla tactics with deliberate use of terrorism. The guerrilla tactics effectively immobilized superior French forces, while indiscriminate murders and kidnappings of Europeans and Muslims who did not actively support the FLN created a climate of fear throughout the country. This in turn brought counterterrorism, as colons and French army units raided Muslim villages and slaughtered the civilian population.

In 1956 the war spread to the cities. In Algiers, cafés, schools, and shops became targets, as the nationalists sought to weaken colon morale and draw international attention to their cause. The Algiers uprising was ruthlessly put down. Elsewhere, the French gradually gained the upper hand by using new tactics. Collective punishment was meted out to whole villages suspected of aiding guerrillas. Other groups were deported to guarded refugee camps. Electrified fences along the Tunisian and Moroccan borders cut off the main FLN army from units inside Algeria.

Despite their military superiority, the French were unable to find a political solution satisfactory to both the colons and the FLN. International criticism of France increased, and its allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization worried about the commitment of French forces to an unpopular war.

In May 1958 the colons and French army officers joined hands in Algiers to overthrow the French government, charging it with vacillation. A Committee of Public Safety demanded the return to office of General Charles de Gaulle, the wartime leader of the Free French, as the only one who could settle the war and preserve French Algeria. De Gaulle, however, was a realist. Once in power, he recognized that the war was unwinnable. In 1959 he announced his intention of allowing Algerians to choose between independence and continued association with France.

The plan struck the colons like a thunderbolt. Outraged, they staged an unsuccessful revolt against de Gaulle early in 1960, and in 1961 a group of army generals again tried to overthrow him. Both times, however, the bulk of the army remained loyal to the government. Associated with the generals' plot was a group of military and colon extremists, called the Secret Army Organization, which at the same time carried on a brutal campaign of counterterrorism against both the FLN and French authorities.

In March 1962 a cease-fire was finally arranged between government and FLN representatives at Evian, France. In the long-awaited referendum, held the following July, Algeria voted overwhelmingly for independence. The colons began a mass evacuation; before the end of the year most of them had left the country. See Algerian War of Independence.

G. Independence

The Evian agreements provided for immediate independence for Algeria, with special aid from France to help the country recover from eight years of devastation. The French also returned the Sahara, with its vast French-developed oil and gas deposits. On its side, the FLN guaranteed protection and full civil rights for the remains of the European population; after a three-year period they would choose between Algerian and French citizenship.

The material and human costs of the war were staggering. French casualties were about 100,000, Algerian more than 1 million, and another 1.8 million were refugees. An additional 150,000 pro-French Muslims became victims of the FLN as it settled old accounts after the cease-fire.

The departure of the Europeans deprived Algeria of nearly all its skilled labor force. To make matters worse, factional rivalries within the FLN, kept in the background during the war, now became visible. At a meeting in Tripoli, Libya, FLN leaders approved a charter that specified Algeria as a socialist state, with the Front as the only legal political organization. Authority would be exercised by a central FLN political bureau. The economy would be state controlled, with former colon lands managed by committees of their workers.

The leaders were able to agree on little else, and open warfare soon broke out between factions. Colonel Houari Boumedienne, chief of staff of the Army of National Liberation, threw his support to Ahmed Ben Bella, who in September 1962 was elected the first president of independent Algeria.

Ben Bella served as president for three years and made a start toward putting the country back on its feet. The first constitution was approved by voters in 1963, providing a presidential form of government. The only check on the president's power would be censure by two-thirds of the National Assembly. With such unrestricted authority, Ben Bella became totally absorbed in his personal power and prestige, more and more preoccupied with international leadership, and at the same time more autocratic at home. By mid-1965 Boumedienne, then minister of defense, felt Ben Bella had gone too far; he had him arrested in a bloodless coup and assumed supreme power.

H. Recent Developments

Under Boumedienne Algeria finally began to capitalize on its vast resources. The army rather than the FLN became a dominant force. Boumedienne formed a 26-member Council of the Revolution as supreme authority; its members were army commanders and his close associates. Factionalism and personal rule were strictly prohibited. Although Boumedienne remained first among equals--he was simultaneously president, prime minister, and minister of defense--the principle of collegial leadership was maintained.

In addition to rapid economic development, Boumedienne brought to the country a viable political system. The constitution of 1976 defined Algeria as a socialist state under FLN leadership. Boumedienne was legally elected president. When he died in 1978, Colonel Chadli Benjedid was elected to succeed him. Benjedid continued his predecessor's policies but relaxed some of Boumedienne's strict controls; he released and pardoned former president Ben Bella in 1980. Benjedid was reelected in 1984, running unopposed.

In 1988, prompted by clashes between mostly youthful protesters and government troops, Benjedid loosened the FLN's monopoly on political power. Reelected in December to a third five-year term, he secured passage of a revised constitution in February 1989. In the 1990 provincial and municipal elections, the fundamentalist Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) defeated the FLN by an overwhelming margin. In January 1992, after a first round of balloting made it likely that the Islamic fundamentalists would win control of parliament, a group of military and civilian officials forced Benjedid to resign. They canceled the election, suspended parliament, and established a new High Committee of State with Mohammed Boudiaff as president. When Boudiaff was assassinated in June 1992, Ali Kafi was named to replace him as head of state. He was replaced by a five-member collective presidency, known as the High Council of State, with Kafi at its head. In January 1994 the council named Defense Minister Liamine Zeroual as Algeria's president for a three-year interim term. A former diplomat and career soldier who fought for Algeria's independence from France, Zeroual was given wide latitude to negotiate with the FIS and other fundamentalist groups.

Zeroual decided to hold presidential elections at the end of 1995 rather than waiting until the end of the three-year interim term. Despite protests from fundamentalist Islamic groups, Zeroual was elected in November 1995 in Algeria's first successful multiparty presidential elections since independence. To counteract widespread suspicion that Zeroual would rig his own victory, the president invited monitors from the United Nations (UN), the Arab League, and the Organization of African Unity (OAU) to oversee the elections. About 75 percent of eligible voters participated, despite threats from the outlawed FIS to kill anyone who voted. The elections, which Zeroual won with 61 percent of the vote, were judged to be a fair popular endorsement of his administration. In a significant show of international confidence in the Zeroual government, three multinational oil and gas corporations signed lucrative development agreements with the Algerian state-owned oil and gas company in the following months.

Another revised constitution came into effect in 1996. Most notably, this constitution banned political parties based exclusively on religion, language, race, gender, or region. In addition, the constitution created a new, bicameral legislature with a popularly elected lower house. The widespread victory of the National Democratic Rally, a pro-government party, in the first legislative elections in 1997 prompted allegations of election fraud among opposition parties and sparked protests in Algiers. In late 1998 Zeroual announced that he would step down and call for early presidential elections. Just before the elections were held in April 1999, six of the seven candidates withdrew. They cited election fraud that made the victory of the remaining candidate, who they claimed had the backing of the military establishment, a foregone conclusion. The remaining candidate, former foreign minister Abdelaziz Bouteflika, won the uncontested election and assumed the presidency.

Meanwhile, widespread violence has plagued Algeria since the 1992 elections were suspended. Angered by the suppression of the FIS, militant Muslims have used extreme measures in an effort to undermine the government. They have attacked members of the military and government, and individuals expressing secular or non-Muslim views, such as journalists, teachers, and members of the clergy. Foreigners have also been targets of terrorist attacks, including an airplane hijacking in late 1994. Attempts at peace negotiations between the government and opposition groups in 1994 and 1995 failed to yield a settlement. Antigovernment Islamic groups continued to stage indiscriminate car bombings and waves of killings. Violence was particularly prevalent in and around Algiers during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in early 1997, and again in early 1998. Retaliation by government security forces and civilian militias trained and armed by the government was brutal in kind.

In September 1997 the FIS declared a cease-fire and confirmed that it had been involved for several months in negotiations with the government. The FIS hoped to isolate more radical Islamic groups, most notably the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), which was generally blamed for massacres. Although the Algerian government routinely blamed violence on Islamic guerrillas, human rights organizations began to question whether the government was doing enough to protect civilians. Envoys from the European Union conducted a brief visit to Algeria in early 1998, and a UN panel was allowed to conduct a limited investigation into the violence later that year. The UN panel blamed the Islamic groups for most of the violence but also urged the Algerian government to make improvements in the areas of human rights and democracy. By mid-1999 at least 75,000 people were estimated to have been killed in the violence.

"Algeria". Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2001 (18 Mar. 2002)

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