Algeria is a country located in Northern Africa. With the capital city of Algiers, Algeria has a population of 43,851,055 based on a recent census from COUNTRYAAH. Algeria has since the independence of France in 1962 been dominated by the military and the former guerrilla movement, now the Party, the National Liberation Front (FLN). After widespread protests, the country officially became a democracy in 1989, but the old apparatus of power has retained power and chastened above all Islamist opposition. The price for this has been high with a bloody civil war in the 1990s and a series of terrorist acts in the 2000s.
On July 3, 1962, Algeria became independent after just over seven years of war, costing hundreds of thousands, perhaps more than a million, of Algerian lives. Over a million Frenchmen moved “home” to a France that most people were not born in. They left behind a disintegrated country and a poorly educated population.
- ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Algeria. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.
France gave power to the FLN, which established itself as Algeria’s state carrier and sole authorized party. FLN’s founder Ahmed Ben Bella, who was in captivity during the war, became the first prime minister of the republic and 1963 president. Foreign Minister became the young Abdelaziz Bouteflika. A parliament with only FLN members was elected, but in the background the militaries were the real holders of power. Check best-medical-schools for more information about Algeria.
Ben Bella was accused of having authoritarian leadership style and was deposed in a 1965 military coup by his rival, Secretary of Defense and Colonel Houari Boumédiène. Supported by Bouteflika, this desire was said to create a socialist country. Several of FLN’s founders left the country in protest.
In 1971, the oil and gas industry was nationalized. As a result, foreign, mainly French, capital and skills disappeared from the country. Landless farmers were allocated land in state-controlled cooperatives, and revenues from oil and gas extraction and high foreign loans were used to develop industry, education and health care. But collectivization in combination with severe drought had devastating consequences for agriculture while the population was growing rapidly.
After Boumédiène’s death in 1978, Colonel Chadli Bendjedid took over as FLN leader and Algerian president. Bendjedid, who was re-elected in 1984 and 1988, sought to downplay the socialist aspirations and encouraged private initiatives. But the FLN elite’s undemocratic rule and corruption in the country undermined the reforms.
An uprising broke out in 1980 among the Berbers in Kabylia, who protested against discrimination. The uprising was defeated but became a catalyst for widespread protests against political repression that would have far-reaching consequences and lead to both economic liberalization and democratization.
Criticism against the regime grew, not least among radical Muslims who demanded the formation of an Islamic government. After the unrest at the university, hundreds of Islamists were arrested. When oil prices fell in 1986, the state was heavily indebted and an economic crisis was triggered by unemployment, food shortages and social unrest. The dissatisfaction was captured by the Muslim opposition. Extensive demonstrations in 1988, culminating in October with crows in Algiers, Oran and Annaba, were met by a temporary state of emergency and military violence. Over 3,500 opposites were imprisoned and at least 500 people are believed to have been killed. It was the first time government troops opened fire on their own people.
Political reforms became necessary after this. In 1989, amendments were made to the constitution which meant that the army was deprived of all tasks except the defense of the country. Algeria was no longer referred to as “socialist”. The one-party system was abolished and new Prime Minister Mouloud Hamrouche promised to fight corruption.
One of the new parties that was formed was the Islamic Rescue Front (FIS), an Islamist party that was critical of corruption and social injustice. Its message was disseminated through mosques and won the audience mainly in the poor neighborhoods of big cities. It was soon the largest party in the country. When free elections were held for the first time, in regions and municipalities in 1990, FIS won by more than half of the total votes. Many saw the result as a distancing from the FLN establishment more than a voice for radical Islamism.
As a result, the electoral law was changed so that an absolute majority was required to win a constituency, and if necessary, two rounds. Critics pointed out that the reform favored FLN. FIS launched a strike and protest wave. Around 80 people were killed in clashes between FIS supporters and security forces. A state of emergency was introduced and thousands of opposites were arrested.
The popularity of the Islamist Party was confirmed when the first round was held in the country’s first democratic parliamentary elections, in December 1991. The FIS was by far the largest while the FLN suffered a humiliating defeat. This led to an abrupt end to the democratization process.
Just before the crucial round of elections in January 1992, the military took power in a coup. The elections were canceled and Parliament dissolved. President Chadli Bendjedid was deposed and the military set up a council to lead the country. The Council was condemned by all parties, including the FLN. Violence between military and Islamists was followed by a new state of emergency in February 1992. The following month, the regime declared the FIS dissolved. About 17,000 FIS supporters were arrested. Hard prison sentences were sentenced and over the next three years more than 600 death sentences were served and executed.
In the summer of 1992, Muhammad Boudiaf, one of the founders of the FLN, who was appointed head of state in an attempt to give the council some legitimacy, was assassinated by the governing council chairman. The murder shook the country. The killer was arrested at the scene, but it was unclear who was actually behind the attack. New President of the Council became Ali Kafi.
Bloody civil war
The violence escalated and became increasingly bloody. Many Islamists joined groups such as the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) and Armed Islamic Movement (MIA). The MIA later formed the Islamic Salvation Army (AIS) together with other groups. In addition to the security forces, the Islamists also attacked foreigners and civilian Algerians. Intellectuals, regime supporters, Western sympathizers and women who refused to wear a veil were particularly vulnerable. Kidnappings caused thousands of foreigners to leave the country. In the mid-1990s massacres were carried out against entire villages, not least in the “triangle of death” south of Algiers. Often it was unclear who the perpetrators were. There were suspicions that the army or regime-backed death patrols were behind much of the violence. The aim would be to discredit, not least, the GIA, which was the largest and most violent group. Internal fighting between Islamists and sheer robbery also occurred. Later, it emerged that it was usually the FIS-faithful villages that were severely affected by the violence.
The 1994 military-led council appointed General Liamine Zéroual as president and he won the presidential election held the following year. Several parties boycotted the election and armed Islamists threatened to kill all those who voted. In the 1997 parliamentary elections, more parties participated, and victors became Zéroual’s newly formed Democratic National Assembly (RND). Party leader Ahmed Ouyahia formed a coalition government with FLN and the moderate Islamist party Social Movement for Peace (MSP). However, the real rulers were still the military.
Peace initiatives and reconciliation
The fight against armed Islamists divided the military and led President Zéroual to announce presidential elections in early 1999. Supported by the military, FLN veteran politician Abdelaziz Bouteflika was now elected new president. The election was boycotted by several parties and the regime was accused of widespread electoral fraud.
President Bouteflika was determined to end the violence and invested in reconciliation in a peace initiative supported by 98 percent of participating voters in a referendum. Around 5,000 imprisoned Islamists were released in the summer of 1999 and the following year amnesty was issued for several thousand warring Islamists who laid down their weapons. AIS was subsequently dissolved as an organization. From the GIA, however, as early as 1998, the outbreak group Salafist Group for Preaching and Fighting (GSPC) had been formed. While the GIA was accused of massacres on civilians, the GSPC was assumed to be mainly behind attacks against military and government militia.
In the shadow of the continuing violence, dissatisfaction also spread among the public. In June 2001, about half a million people demonstrated in Algiers. They demanded that the generals behind the government be replaced so that the country’s economic and social problems could be brought into focus. The protest degenerated into violence with several deaths.
Uneasy in Kabylia
The Kabylia region in northeastern Algeria has long been plagued by mass unemployment and housing shortages, and security forces have been perceived as an occupation army. In the spring of 2001, the raging dissatisfaction among the region’s large Berber population boiled over when a student was shot dead in the paramilitary police detention center. The incident led to month-long protests. More than 90 civilians were killed in the riots, most of them shot by security forces. More than a thousand people were injured and hundreds were arrested.
In order to curb the unrest in Kabylia, the government initiated a dialogue with the Barbican leaders. The Berbers were promised, among other things, economic and political improvements, and that the Berber language tamazight would be officially recognized (see Population and Languages). But the Berbers considered themselves betrayed and largely boycotted the parliamentary elections in 2002, an election that gave FLN its own majority.
When Prime Minister Benflis as a newly appointed FLN leader in early 2003 did not want to nominate Bouteflika as presidential candidate in the April 2004 elections, he was dismissed by Bouteflika. He was replaced by RND party leader Ahmed Ouyahia. When several other FLN ministers were also dismissed, the party left the government in protest and elected Benflis as presidential candidate at an extra-partisan Congress. But Bouteflika replaced the ministers with loyal people and they supported his candidacy. FLN had thus been split into two phalanges that supported each candidate.
Big win for Bouteflika
The election became a big victory for Bouteflika, who according to the Election Commission received 85 percent of the vote compared to 6 percent for Benflis. The latter claimed that extensive election fraud had occurred, but the foreign observers reported no irregularities.
In order to bring a definitive end to the Islamist uprising, in 2005, Bouteflika presented a peace and reconciliation treaty that 97 percent of voters reportedly supported in a referendum. By then, the GIA had basically been crushed by the security forces. The treaty offered amnesty to imprisoned Islamists as well as rebels who were prepared to give up the fight. At the same time, it was promised that employees of the security service would avoid punishment, and it was forbidden to openly criticize the state’s actions during the conflict.
The government estimated that 180,000 people had lost their lives since the civil conflict broke out in 1992, including 17,000 “terrorists”. Other sources estimate up to 200,000 dead, but the figures are uncertain.
al-Qaeda group behind attacks
The only remaining armed Islamist group GSPC changed its name to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim) in 2006 and declared that it had joined the al-Qaeda terrorist network. At the same time, the group changed tactics and used, among other things, car bombs. In April 2007, the first major suicide attack in Alger took place when 37 people were killed by two coordinated car bombs. Several bloody terrorist acts were carried out in 2007 and 2008, for which Aqim took on the blame.
In the May 2007 parliamentary elections, FLN became the largest party and, with the support parties, RND and MSP secured a satisfactory majority.
The conflict with the Berber people re-emerged in May 2008. Behind major demonstrations in Oran and Beriane was a dissatisfaction with the government’s lack of political solutions to social problems and high unemployment. When Arab residents were attacked by Berber protesters, the riot police were deployed and quelled the protests.
Half a year before the 2009 presidential election, Parliament changed its constitution so that the rule of only one re-election of the president was deleted (see Political system). When the election was held in April, according to official data, Bouteflika received 90 percent of the vote. The opposition claimed that only 16 percent of voters participated and that there were electoral fraud.
The fall after the election once again exploded the long-growing dissatisfaction with high unemployment and inadequate community service. Nationwide demonstrations and strikes were organized. Algae suffered the worst protests in years when criticism of housing shortages degenerated into riots that were turned down by police.
At the beginning of 2010, a major corruption crisis was revealed around the state oil and gas company Sonatrach. The entire company management was replaced as well as four ministers, and several of the Sonatrach executives were later sentenced to prison and fined for bribery.
The wave of strikes and protests continued. In early 2011, they were fed by the events in Tunisia, where a popular uprising drove Ben-Ali’s authoritarian president. In Algeria, too, there were demands for political reform and the protests degenerated into violence with several dead, hundreds injured and over 1,000 arrested. Plundering of both public buildings and shops occurred.
When Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was also forced out in February, President Bouteflika announced that the state of emergency that had been in force since 1992 would be lifted in an attempt to meet the protesters. At the same time, new anti-terrorism laws and massive police raids as well as regime-led activists were enacted that further protests were essentially suffocated.
In April, President Bouteflika gave a speech to the nation in which he promised to set up a committee tasked with making proposals for constitutional changes in the democratic direction. During the autumn, a new media law was adopted which strengthened freedom of the press and opinion. Otherwise, it was drawn out at the time with proposals for constitutional amendments.