Algeria, officially the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria, is a country in the Maghreb region of North–west Africa. The capital and most populous city is Algiers, located in the far north of the country on the Mediterranean coast. With an area of 2,381,741 square kilometres (919,595 sq mi), Algeria is the tenth-largest country in the world and the largest in Africa. Algeria is bordered to the northeast by Tunisia, to the east by Libya, to the west by Morocco, to the southwest by the Western Saharan territory, Mauritania, and Mali, to the southeast by Niger, and to the north by the Mediterranean Sea. The country is a semi-presidential republic consisting of 48 provinces and 1,541 communes (counties).
Ancient Algeria has known many empires and dynasties, including ancient Numidians, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Umayyads, Abbasids, Idrisid, Aghlabid, Rustamid, Fatimids, Zirid, Hammadids, Almoravids, Almohads, Spaniards, Ottomans and the French colonial empire. Berbers are the indigenous inhabitants of Algeria.
Algeria is a regional and middle power. The North African country supplies large amounts of natural gas to Europe, and energy exports are the backbone of the economy. According to OPEC Algeria has the 16th largest oil reserves in the world and the second largest in Africa, while it has the 9th largest reserves of natural gas. Sonatrach, the national oil company, is the largest company in Africa. Algeria has one of the largest militaries in Africa and the largest defence budget on the continent; most of Algeria’s weapons are imported from Russia, with whom they are a close ally. Algeria is a member of the African Union, the Arab League, OPEC, the United Nations and is a founding member of the Arab Maghreb Union.
The country’s name derives from the city of Algiers. The city’s name, in turn, derives from the Arabic al-Jazā’ir (الجزائر, “The Islands”), a truncated form of the older Jazā’ir Banī Mazghanna (جزائر بني مزغنة, “Islands of the Mazghanna Tribe”), employed by medieval geographers such as al-Idrisi.
In the region of Ain Hanech (Saïda Province), early remnants (200,000 BC) of hominid occupation in North Africa were found. Neanderthal tool makers produced hand axes in the Levalloisian and Mousterian styles (43,000 BC) similar to those in the Levant. Algeria was the site of the highest state of development of Middle Paleolithic Flake tool techniques. Tools of this era, starting about 30,000 BC, are called Aterian (after the archaeological site of Bir el Ater, south of Tebessa).
The earliest blade industries in North Africa are called Iberomaurusian (located mainly in the Oran region). This industry appears to have spread throughout the coastal regions of the Maghreb between 15,000 and 10,000 BC. Neolithic civilization (animal domestication and agriculture) developed in the Saharan and Mediterranean Maghreb perhaps as early as 11,000 BC or as late as between 6000 and 2000 BC. This life, richly depicted in the Tassili n’Ajjer paintings, predominated in Algeria until the classical period. The mixture of peoples of North Africa coalesced eventually into a distinct native population that came to be called Berbers, who are the indigenous peoples of northern Africa.
From their principal centre of power at Carthage, the Carthaginians expanded and established small settlements along the North African coast; by 600 BC, a Phoenician presence existed at Tipasa, east of Cherchell, Hippo Regius (modern Annaba) and Rusicade (modern Skikda). These settlements served as market towns as well as anchorages.
As Carthaginian power grew, its impact on the indigenous population increased dramatically. Berber civilization was already at a stage in which agriculture, manufacturing, trade, and political organization supported several states. Trade links between Carthage and the Berbers in the interior grew, but territorial expansion also resulted in the enslavement or military recruitment of some Berbers and in the extraction of tribute from others.
By the early 4th century BC, Berbers formed the single largest element of the Carthaginian army. In the Revolt of the Mercenaries, Berber soldiers rebelled from 241 to 238 BC after being unpaid following the defeat of Carthage in the First Punic War. They succeeded in obtaining control of much of Carthage’s North African territory, and they minted coins bearing the name Libyan, used in Greek to describe natives of North Africa. The Carthaginian state declined because of successive defeats by the Romans in the Punic Wars.
In 146 BC the city of Carthage was destroyed. As Carthaginian power waned, the influence of Berber leaders in the hinterland grew. By the 2nd century BC, several large but loosely administered Berber kingdoms had emerged. Two of them were established in Numidia, behind the coastal areas controlled by Carthage. West of Numidia lay Mauretania, which extended across the Moulouya River in modern-day Morocco to the Atlantic Ocean. The high point of Berber civilization, unequalled until the coming of the Almohads and Almoravids more than a millennium later, was reached during the reign of Masinissa in the 2nd century BC.
After Masinissa’s death in 148 BC, the Berber kingdoms were divided and reunited several times. Masinissa’s line survived until 24 AD when the remaining Berber territory was annexed to the Roman Empire.
For several centuries Algeria was ruled by the Romans, who founded many colonies in the region. Like the rest of North Africa, Algeria was one of the breadbaskets of the empire, exporting cereals and other agricultural products. Saint Augustine was the bishop of Hippo Regius (modern-day Algeria), located in the Roman province of Africa. The Germanic Vandals of Geiseric moved into North Africa in 429, and by 435 controlled coastal Numidia. They did not make any significant settlement on the land, as they were harassed by local tribes. In fact, by the time the Byzantines arrived Lepcis Magna was abandoned and the Msellata region was occupied by the indigenous Laguatan who had been busy facilitating an Amazigh political, military and cultural revival.
After negligible resistance from the locals, Muslim Arabs of the Umayyad Caliphate conquered Algeria in the mid-7th century and a large number of the indigenous people converted to the newly founded faith of Islam. After the fall of the Umayyad Caliphate, numerous local dynasties emerged, including the Aghlabids, Almohads, Abdalwadid, Zirids, Rustamids, Hammadids, Almoravids and the Fatimids.
During the Middle Ages, North Africa was home to many great scholars, saints and sovereigns including Judah Ibn Quraysh, the first grammarian to suggest the Afroasiatic language family, the great Sufi masters Sidi Boumediene (Abu Madyan) and Sidi El Houari, and the Emirs Abd Al-Mu’min and Yāghmūrasen. It was during this time that the Fatimids or children of Fatima, daughter of Muhammad, came to the Maghreb. These “Fatimids” went on to found a long-lasting dynasty stretching across the Maghreb, Hejaz and the Levant, boasting a secular inner government, as well as a powerful army and navy, made up primarily of Arabs and Levantines extending from Algeria to their capital state of Cairo. The Fatimid caliphate began to collapse when its governors the Zirids seceded. In order to punish them, the Fatimids sent the Arab Banu Hilal and Banu Sulaym against them. The resultant war is recounted in the epic Tāghribāt. In Al-Tāghrībāt the Amazigh Zirid Hero Khālīfā Al-Zānatī asks daily, for duels, to defeat the Hilalan hero Ābu Zayd al-Hilalī and many other Arab knights in a string of victories. The Zirids, however, were ultimately defeated ushering in the adoption of Arab customs and culture. The indigenous Amazigh tribes, however, remained largely independent, and depending on tribe, location and time controlled varying parts of the Maghreb, at times unifying it (as under the Fatimids). The Fatimid Islamic state, also known as Fatimid Caliphate made an Islamic empire that included North Africa, Sicily, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, the Red Sea coast of Africa, Tihamah, Hejaz and Yemen. Caliphates from Northern Africa traded with the other empires of their time, as well as forming part of a confederated support and trade network with other Islamic states during the Islamic Era.
he Amazighs historically consisted of several tribes. The two main branches were the Botr and Barnès tribes, who were divided into tribes, and again into sub-tribes. Each region of the Maghreb contained several tribes (for example, Sanhadja, Houara, Zenata, Masmouda, Kutama, Awarba, and Berghwata). All these tribes made independent territorial decisions.
Several Amazigh dynasties emerged during the Middle Ages in the Maghreb and other nearby lands. Ibn Khaldun provides a table summarising the Amazigh dynasties of the Maghreb region, the Zirid, Banu Ifran, Maghrawa, Almoravid, Hammadid, Almohad, Merinid, Abdalwadid, Wattasid, Meknassa and Hafsid dynasties.
In the early 16th century, Spain constructed fortified outposts (presidios) on or near the Algerian coast. Spain took control of few coastal towns like Mers el Kebir in 1505; Oran in 1509; and Tlemcen, Mostaganem and Ténès in 1510. In the same year, a few merchants of Algiers ceded one of the rocky islets in their harbour to Spain, which built a fort on it. The presidios in North Africa turned out to be a costly and largely ineffective military endeavour that did not guarantee access for Spain’s merchant fleet.
There reigned in Ifriqiya, current Tunisia, a Berber family, Zirid, somehow recognising the suzerainty of the Fatimid caliph of Cairo. Probably in 1048, the Zirid ruler or viceroy, el-Mu’izz, decided to end this suzerainty. The Fatimid state was too weak to attempt a punitive expedition; The Viceroy, el-Mu’izz, also found another means of revenge.
Between the Nile and the Red Sea were living Bedouin tribes expelled from Arabia for their disruption and turbulent influence, both Banu Hilal and Banu Sulaym among others, whose presence disrupted farmers in the Nile Valley since the nomads would often loot. The then Fatimid vizier devised to relinquish control of the Maghreb and obtained the agreement of his sovereign. This not only prompted the Bedouins to leave, but the Fatimid treasury even gave them a light expatriation cash allowance.
Whole tribes set off with women, children, ancestors, animals and camping equipment. Some stopped on the way, especially in Cyrenaica, where they are still one of the essential elements of the settlement but most arrived in Ifriqiya by the Gabes region. The Zirid ruler tried to stop this rising tide, but each meeting, the last under the walls of Kairouan, his troops were defeated and Arabs remained masters of the field.
The flood was still rising, and in 1057 the Arabs spread on the high plains of Constantine where they gradually choked Qalaa of Banu Hammad, as they had done Kairouan a few decades ago. From there they gradually gained the upper Algiers and Oran plains. Some were forcibly taken by the Almohads in the second half of the 12th century. We can say that in the 13th century there were in all of North Africa, with the exception of the main mountain ranges and certain coastal regions remained entirely Berber.
The region of Algeria was partially ruled by Ottomans for three centuries from 1516 to 1830. In 1516 the Turkish privateer brothers Aruj and Hayreddin Barbarossa, who operated successfully under the Hafsids, moved their base of operations to Algiers. They succeeded in conquering Jijel and Algiers from the Spaniards but eventually assumed control over the city and the surrounding region, forcing the previous ruler, Abu Hamo Musa III of the Bani Ziyad dynasty, to flee. When Aruj was killed in 1518 during his invasion of Tlemcen, Hayreddin succeeded him as military commander of Algiers. The Ottoman sultan gave him the title of beylerbey and a contingent of some 2,000 janissaries. With the aid of this force, Hayreddin conquered the whole area between Constantine and Oran (although the city of Oran remained in Spanish hands until 1791).
The next beylerbey was Hayreddin’s son Hasan, who assumed the position in 1544. Until 1587 the area was governed by officers who served terms with no fixed limits. Subsequently, with the institution of a regular Ottoman administration, governors with the title of pasha ruled for three-year terms. The pasha was assisted by janissaries, known in Algeria as the ojaq and led by an agha. Discontent among the ojaq rose in the mid-1600s because they were not paid regularly, and they repeatedly revolted against the pasha. As a result, the agha charged the pasha with corruption and incompetence and seized power in 1659.
In 1671, the taifa rebelled, killed the agha, and placed one of its own in power. The new leader received the title of dey. After 1689, the right to select the dey passed to the divan, a council of some sixty nobles. It was at first dominated by the ojaq; but by the 18th century, it had become the dey’s instrument. In 1710, the dey persuaded the sultan to recognise him and his successors as regent, replacing the pasha in that role, although Algiers remained a part of the Ottoman Empire.
The dey was in effect a constitutional autocrat. The dey was elected for a life term, but in the 159 years (1671–1830) that the system survived, fourteen of the twenty-nine deys were assassinated. Despite usurpation, military coups and occasional mob rule, the day-to-day operation of Ottoman government was remarkably orderly. Although the regency patronised the tribal chieftains, it never had the unanimous allegiance of the countryside, where heavy taxation frequently provoked unrest. Autonomous tribal states were tolerated, and the regency’s authority was seldom applied in the Kabylie.
The Barbary pirates preyed on Christian and other non-Islamic shipping in the western Mediterranean Sea. The pirates often took the passengers and crew on the ships and sold them or used them as slaves. They also did a brisk business in ransoming some of the captives. According to Robert Davis, from the 16th to 19th century, pirates captured 1 million to 1.25 million Europeans as slaves. They often made raids, called Razzias, on European coastal towns to capture Christian slaves to sell at slave markets in North Africa and the Ottoman Empire.
In 1544, Hayreddin captured the island of Ischia, taking 4,000 prisoners, and enslaved some 9,000 inhabitants of Lipari, almost the entire population. In 1551, Turgut Reis enslaved the entire population of the Maltese island of Gozo, between 5,000 and 6,000, sending the captives to Libya. In 1554, pirates sacked Vieste in southern Italy and took an estimated 7,000 captives as slaves.
In 1558, Barbary corsairs captured the town of Ciutadella (Minorca), destroyed it, slaughtered the inhabitants and took 3,000 survivors as slaves to Istanbul. Barbary pirates often attacked the Balearic Islands, and in response, the residents built many coastal watchtowers and fortified churches. The threat was so severe that residents abandoned the island of Formentera. Between 1609 and 1616, England lost 466 merchant ships to Barbary pirates.
In July 1627 two pirate ships from Algiers sailed as far as Iceland, raiding and capturing slaves. Two weeks earlier another pirate ship from Salé in Morocco had also raided in Iceland. Some of the slaves brought to Algiers were later ransomed back to Iceland, but some chose to stay in Algeria. In 1629 pirate ships from Algeria raided the Faroe Islands.
Barbary raids in the Mediterranean continued to attack Spanish merchant shipping, and as a result, the Spanish navy bombarded Algiers in 1783 and 1784. In 1792, Spain abandoned Oran, selling it to the Ottoman Empire, and it became the site for a new bey in Algiers, though French influence in the region increased over the 19th century.
In the 19th century, the pirates forged affiliations with Caribbean powers, paying a “licence tax” in exchange for safe harbour of their vessels. One American slave reported that the Algerians had enslaved 130 American seamen in the Mediterranean and Atlantic from 1785 to 1793.
Piracy on American vessels in the Mediterranean resulted in the United States initiating the First (1801–1805) and Second Barbary Wars (1815). Following those wars, Algeria was weaker and Europeans, with an Anglo-Dutch fleet commanded by the British Lord Exmouth, attacked Algiers. After a nine-hour bombardment, they obtained a treaty from the Dey that reaffirmed the conditions imposed by Captain (later Commodore) Stephen Decatur (U.S. Navy) concerning the demands of tributes. In addition, the Dey agreed to end the practice of enslaving Christians.
French colonization (1830–1962)
Under the pretext of a slight to their consul, the French invaded and captured Algiers in 1830. Algerian slave trade and piracy ceased when the French conquered Algiers. The conquest of Algeria by the French took some time and resulted in considerable bloodshed. A combination of violence and disease epidemics caused the indigenous Algerian population to decline by nearly one-third from 1830 to 1872. Historian Ben Kiernan wrote on the French conquest of Algeria: “By 1875, the French conquest was complete. The war had killed approximately 825,000 indigenous Algerians since 1830.” French losses from 1831–51 were 3,336 killed in action and 92,329 dead in the hospital. The population of Algeria, which stood at about 2.9 million in 1872, reached nearly 11 million in 1960. French policy was predicated on “civilising” the country. During this period, a small but influential French-speaking indigenous elite was formed, made up of Berbers, mostly Kabyles. As a consequence, the French government favoured the Kabyles. About 80% of Indigenous Schools were constructed for Kabyles.
From 1848 until independence, France administered the whole Mediterranean region of Algeria as an integral part and département of the nation. One of France’s longest-held overseas territories, Algeria became a destination for hundreds of thousands of European immigrants, who became known as colons and later, as Pied-Noirs. Between 1825 and 1847, 50,000 French people emigrated to Algeria. These settlers benefited from the French government’s confiscation of communal land from tribal peoples and the application of modern agricultural techniques that increased the amount of arable land. Many Europeans settled in Oran and Algiers, and by the early 20th century they formed a majority of the population in both cities.
During the late 19th and early 20th century; the European share was almost a fifth of the population. The French government aimed at making Algeria an assimilated part of France, and this included substantial educational investments especially after 1900. The indigenous cultural and religious resistance heavily opposed this tendency, but in contrast to the other colonised countries’ path in central Asia and Caucasus, Algeria kept its individual skills and a relatively human-capital intensive agriculture.
Gradually, dissatisfaction among the Muslim population, which lacked political and economic status in the colonial system, gave rise to demands for greater political autonomy and eventually independence from France. In May 1945, the uprising against the occupying French forces was suppressed through what is now known as the Sétif and Guelma massacre. Tensions between the two population groups came to a head in 1954, when the first violent events of what was later called the Algerian War began. Historians have estimated that between 30,000 and 150,000 Harkis and their dependents were killed by the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) or by lynch mobs in Algeria. The FLN used ‘hit and run’ attacks in Algeria and France as part of its war, and the French conducted severe reprisals.
The war led to the death of hundreds of thousands of Algerians and hundreds of thousands of injuries. Historians, like Alistair Horne and Raymond Aron, state that the actual number of Algerian Muslim war dead was far greater than the original FLN and official French estimates but was less than the 1 million deaths claimed by the Algerian government after independence. Horne estimated Algerian casualties during the span of eight years to be around 700,000. The war uprooted more than 2 million Algerians.
The first three decades of independence (1962–1991)
The number of European Pied-Noirs who fled Algeria totalled more than 900,000 between 1962 and 1964. The exodus to mainland France accelerated after the Oran massacre of 1962, in which hundreds of militants entered European sections of the city, and began attacking civilians.
Algeria’s first president was the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) leader Ahmed Ben Bella. Morocco’s claim to portions of western Algeria led to the Sand War in 1963. Ben Bella was overthrown in 1965 by Houari Boumédiène, his former ally and defence minister. Under Ben Bella, the government had become increasingly socialist and authoritarian; Boumédienne continued this trend. But, he relied much more on the army for his support and reduced the sole legal party to a symbolic role. He collectivised agriculture and launched a massive industrialization drive. Oil extraction facilities were nationalised. This was especially beneficial to the leadership after the international 1973 oil crisis.
In the 1960s and 1970s under President Houari Boumediene, Algeria pursued a program of industrialization within a state-controlled socialist economy. Boumediene’s successor, Chadli Bendjedid, introduced some liberal economic reforms. He promoted a policy of Arabisation in Algerian society and public life. Teachers of Arabic, brought in from other Muslim countries, spread conventional Islamic thought in schools and sowed the seeds of a return to Orthodox Islam.
The Algerian economy became increasingly dependent on oil, leading to hardship when the price collapsed during the 1980s oil glut. Economic recession caused by the crash in world oil prices resulted in Algerian social unrest during the 1980s; by the end of the decade, Bendjedid introduced a multi-party system. Political parties developed, such as the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), a broad coalition of Muslim groups.
Civil War (1991–2002) and aftermath
In December 1991 the Islamic Salvation Front dominated the first of two rounds of legislative elections. Fearing the election of an Islamist government, the authorities intervened on 11 January 1992, cancelling the elections. Bendjedid resigned and a High Council of State was installed to act as Presidency. It banned the FIS, triggering a civil insurgency between the Front’s armed wing, the Armed Islamic Group, and the national armed forces, in which more than 100,000 people are thought to have died. The Islamist militants conducted a violent campaign of civilian massacres. At several points in the conflict, the situation in Algeria became a point of international concern, most notably during the crisis surrounding Air France Flight 8969, a hijacking perpetrated by the Armed Islamic Group. The Armed Islamic Group declared a ceasefire in October 1997.
Algeria held elections in 1999, considered biased by international observers and most opposition groups which were won by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. He worked to restore political stability to the country and announced a “Civil Concord” initiative, approved in a referendum, under which many political prisoners were pardoned, and several thousand members of armed groups were granted exemption from prosecution under a limited amnesty, in force until 13 January 2000. The AIS disbanded and levels of insurgent violence fell rapidly. The Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat (GSPC), a splinter group of the Group Islamic Army, continued a terrorist campaign against the Government.
Bouteflika was re-elected in the April 2004 presidential election after campaigning on a programme of national reconciliation. The programme comprised economic, institutional, political and social reform to modernise the country, raise living standards, and tackle the causes of alienation. It also included a second amnesty initiative, the Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation, which was approved in a referendum in September 2005. It offered amnesty to most guerrillas and Government security forces.
In November 2008, the Algerian Constitution was amended following a vote in Parliament, removing the two-term limit on Presidential incumbents. This change enabled Bouteflika to stand for re-election in the 2009 presidential elections, and he was re-elected in April 2009. During his election campaign and following his re-election, Bouteflika promised to extend the programme of national reconciliation and a $150-billion spending programme to create three million new jobs, the construction of one million new housing units, and to continue public sector and infrastructure modernisation programmes.
A continuing series of protests throughout the country started on 28 December 2010, inspired by similar protests across the Middle East and North Africa. On 24 February 2011, the government lifted Algeria’s 19-year-old state of emergency. The government enacted legislation dealing with political parties, the electoral code, and the representation of women in elected bodies. In April 2011, Bouteflika promised further constitutional and political reform. However, elections are routinely criticized by opposition groups as unfair and international human rights groups say that media censorship and harassment of political opponents continue.