The People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria (population 33,769,669 in 2008, GDP $225 billion in 2007) is an industrialized and predominantly Muslim country in North Africa. The largest country on the Mediterranean coast, it is also the second-largest in Africa, and a member of the United Nations, the African Union, OPEC, and the Arab League.
Settled by Berbers thousands of years ago and invaded by both Carthage and Rome in antiquity, Algeria was conquered by Muslims in the Middle Ages, and in 1517 became part of the Ottoman Empire. The Algerian city of Algiers was one of the main ports of operation for the famed Barbary pirates of the 16th through 19th centuries, whose attacks on American ships precipitated the First and Second Barbary Wars. Thousands of European ships were lost to the pirates over the centuries, making them the terror of the north African coast, a reputation that may have contributed to the violence of the French invasion in 1830, when over one million Algerians were killed (a third of the population, under a policy of extermination to prevent revolt). Despite this, it took the rest of the 19th century for the French rulers to stamp out the last of Algerian resistance. In the aftermath of World War II and the collapse of European imperialism around the world, resistance to French rule reignited, and Algerian guerrillas fought a campaign for independence, which was eventually established in 1962.
Since the adoption of its constitution in 1976, Algeria has been a multi-party state, and more than 40 political parties (not all of them active at the same time) have registered with the Ministry of the Interior. The head of state is the president, who is elected to a five-year term (with no term limits) and appoints a prime minister who acts as head of government, and in turn appoints the members of the council of ministers of which the president is head. The legislative branch consists of a bicameral parliament: The 144 members of the upper house, the council of nation, whose members serve six-year terms and are elected by regional authorities or appointed by the president; and the 389 members of the People’s National Assembly, who serve five-year terms and are directly elected by their constituencies.
Though Algeria is almost entirely Sunni Muslim, there are small communities of Christians in the larger cities, including a quasi-underground evangelical Christian community operating out of home churches and actively proselytizing new members since the 20th-century rise in worldwide Christian evangelism. The Jewish population since the end of French rule is negligible.
Most Algerians speak Arabic, which is the country’s official language. The implementation of this official language was tied in with issues of Algerian independence, but has resulted in the derogation of the Berber population, which speaks Tamazight (recently recognized as a national language, which still excludes it from use in official contexts). French remains such a well-known language that some university courses are still taught in it, as they have been since before independence.
Algeria is 14th in the world in petroleum reserves and eighth in natural gas reserves, and fossil fuels account for nearly all exports (95 percent) and 30 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). The high fossil fuel prices of recent years have resulted in a high and sustained trade surplus for Algeria, and a steady rise in the GDP; since 2006, Algeria’s foreign debt has been less than a tenth of its GDP. But unemployment is high—around 12 percent—because this wealth, and especially the foreign investment behind it, does not extend to all sectors of the economy. Agriculture accounts for about a quarter of the economy, and the fertile soil of Algeria is ideal for cereal grains, which have been the principal agricultural good since the cotton industry declined in the 19th century. Tobacco, figs, dates, citrus, and olives are all significant exports as well.
- Charles-Robert Ageron, Modern Algeria: A History from 1830 to the Present (Hurst, 1991);
- Ahmed Aghrout and Redha M. Bougherira, Algeria in Transition: Reforms and Development Prospects (Routledge, 2004);
- Mahfoud Bennoune, The Making of Contemporary Algeria: Colonial Upheavals and Post-Independence Development, 1830–1987 (Cambridge University Press, 1988);
- John Ruedy, Modern Algeria: The Origins and Development of a Nation (Indiana University Press, 1992);
- Benjamin Stora, Algeria: 1830–2000 (Cornell University Press, 2001).
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