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History of Algeria

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The History of Algeria:

Since the 5th century BC, 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 pervasive.

North African boundaries have shifted during various stages of the conquests. The borders of modern Algeria were created by the French, whose colonization began 1830 (French invasion began on July 5). 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 used terrorist 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.

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 who was elected president of the republic on December 10, 1976. He died 5 years later.

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 first stage of national legislative elections held in December 1991.

The surprising first round success of the fundamentalist FIS (Islamic Salvation Front[?]) party in December 1991 balloting caused the army to intervene, crack down on the FIS, and postpone the subsequent elections. Faced with the real possibility of a sweeping FIS victory, the government canceled the second stage of elections in January 1992. This action, coupled with political uncertainty and economic turmoil, led to a continuous low-grade civil conflict between FIS and the secular state apparatus, which nonetheless has allowed elections featuring pro-government and moderate religious-based parties. A campaign of terror in the country, including assassinations, bombings, and massacres, commenced. Charging the FIS with supporting or encouraging such actions, Bendjedid declared a national state of emergency, resigned, and appointed a five-member High Council of State (HCS) to run the government. The HCS officially dissolved and outlawed the FIS in 1992 and began a series of arrests and trials of FIS members that reportedly resulted in over 50,000 members being jailed.

Despite efforts to restore the political process, violence and terrorism characterized the Algeria landscape during the 1990s. In 1994, Lamine Zeroual was appointed Head 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 Call (GSPC)--also undertook terrorist activity in the country. Govenrment 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 more progressive group of FLN members. Zeroual announced that presidential elections would be held in early 1999, nearly 2 years ahead of the scheduled time.

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. FIS's armed wing, the Islamic Salvation Army[?], dissolved itself in January 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 has improved markedly. However, some residual fighting continues; terrorism has not been totally eliminated, and terrorist incidents still occur, particularly in remote or isolated areas of the country. An estimated 100-120 Algerians are killed monthly, down from a high of 1,200 or more in the mid-1990s. In 2001, Berber activists in the Kabyle 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 Kabyle region have become commonplace as a result and some have spread to the capital. Chief among Berber demands is recognition of Amagizh (Berber) as a national language, restitution for death of Kabylies killed or wounded in demonstrations, and some type of autonomy for the region. Representatives of major Kabylie[?] factions are currently in discussions with the government on this matter. In November 2001, devastating floods hit Algeria, killing more than 800 people, mostly in Algiers. The floods caused an estimated $350 million in damages. Algeria is planning for a new round of legislative elections in Spring 2002.

Other concerns include large-scale unemployment and the need to diversify the petroleum-based economy.

Reference Much of the material in this article comes from the CIA World Factbook 2000 and the 2003 U.S. Department of State website.

See also: Algerian War of Independence



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