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State

Capital

Algeria

Al Djezir

Al Jezir

Algiers/Alger

Currency unit

Dinar

Connections

Arab World

France

Francophonie

 Islam

North Africa

Ottomans

War

 Politics

 Economics

 Green

 Rights

 Climate

History

In Roman times Algeria was part of the province of Mauretania and then of the Diocese of Africa. The local people then were the Berbers, speakers of an Afro-Asiatic language related to ancient Egyptian. The coming of the Arabs and Islam cut the trade and cultural links with the Christian shore of the Mediterranean. However, Algeria became part of the Muslim world that included Spain and Morocco. Several small states were founded along its coast.

Algeria then became an intermediate zone between the major Islamic centers of Morocco (and Spain) and Tunisia (Kairouan). By the 16th century it became the furthest west outpost of the Ottoman Empire, expanding from its base in Egypt.

Until the 19th century, although nominally under Ottoman control, it was an anarchic center of pirates - the Barbary Coast - and was one of the first places where the United States navy and marines exercised American power away from America (The shores of Tripoli). Conquered by the French in the 19th century it received many European settlers and was the French counterpart of South Africa. A long colonial war was fought 1954 -1962 as the native Muslims - Arabs and Berbers - tried to gain independence. This war had a similar effect on France to the Vietnam war on the United States. It ended when local settlers rose in 1958 against the French government which they suspected of wishing to negotiate with the independence movement. The French republic fell and De Gaulle was invited to form a new government. To the dismay of the settlers who had called for him - believing him an intransigent imperialist - he then negotiated independence in 1962. The leader of the Arab Front for National Liberation (FLN), Ahmed Ben Bella, became president.

Since Independence under Ben Bella the country had a reputation for left wing policies, though its social policy, especially under Houari Boumedienne who overthrew Ben Bella in 1965, was conservative. State controlled industry and commerce, modeled on the Soviet Union, has had the usual effect, a weak economy. But oil and gas have prevented total destitution.

The cultural identity of the state is similar to India's. There is a French educated elite who use French as the language of administration whereas the mass of the people speak Arabic or Berber. The Islamic Front is to some extent the vehicle of the non-French speakers.

Languages

Arabic

Berber (Tamasik)

French

 History

 Economics

 Green

 Rights

 Climate

Politics

During the war against the colonial power the National Liberation Front was the dominant force and negotiated the withdrawal of the French. It then formed a government under the FLN leader Ahmed Ben Bella, who had been in exile. He was overthrown by Houari Boumedienne, another former exile who then presided over what was basically a military one-party state. When he died he was replaced by Chedli Benjedid who set in motion a process of democratization. However the actual composition of the military regime had been a western educated, Soviet-influenced, French-speaking elite who were not in contact with the people as a whole. In the period 1989-90 elections were called for and more than one party was allowed. Political prisoners were released and private business allowed a larger scope. Ahmed Ben Bella, the first president, returned from exile (September 1990) perhaps intending to run for president.

Muslim Brotherhood-supported parties gained in local government elections (1990).

Despite the revolutionary origin of the Algerian state the treatment of women is similar to that in fundamentalist Muslim countries. A 1991 law gave husbands the right to cast a proxy vote for their wives.

In the 1991 elections (first round) for the assembly Islamic parties gained a strong position. The French educated minority tend to oppose the Islamic parties but the masses of the population appear to support them. The question was: would the "revolutionary" government give up power?

In January 1992 the President Benjedid resigned and the army moved against the Islamic parties, formed a military government and canceled the second round of the elections to prevent an Islamic government taking power. This is a similar situation to Turkey where the voters tend to support Islamic parties but the modernizing elite resist them. The Islamic Front Party (FIS) openly declared that it was against democracy and all western culture. It has been compared to the Khmer Rouge. The elite feared that they would have no place in an Islamic state, and that it might turn out similar to Iran. A civil war then began, in much the same way as the war against the French had started - with random murders of government officials, police and military, followed by retaliations. It rapidly got worse. A figure of 50,000 deaths has been suggested.

2011 revolutions
In February 2011 following the revolution in Tunisia, and even more the events in Egypt, there were demonstrations in Algiers. The government responded with a heavy police presence and dispersed the crowds. Will the demonstrators succeed in ousting the military-based government? As in Egypt, where the government was supported by the United States and other western powers, the government in Algeria has been supported by the French government.

Interesting reading
Alistair Horne - A Savage War of Peace


A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962 (New York Review Books Classics)
Histoire de la guerre d'Algérie

Robert Irwin - Memoirs of a Dervish



Memoirs of a Dervish: Sufis, Mystics and the Sixties


Review of Irwin

 History

 Politics

 Green

 Rights

 Climate

Economics

Main source of export income is oil and gas. Oil prices have been very low, although from 2006 have risen considerably. Otherwise the economy is weak and mismanaged. The FLN government took the Soviet system as its economic model. Large numbers of unemployed are the supporters of the militant Islamic parties. The political disturbances may be the result of economic failure - and, as in Russia, the attempt to introduce suddenly a market system.

Should solar energy ever become an important source of the world's energy, the Sahara would be a good site for it.

 History

 Politics

 Economics

 Rights

 Climate

Green/Ecology

When this territory was a French colony parts of the southern Sahara were used as nuclear test sites.

An interesting question is: Can the desert be greened to provide vegetation to absorb excess carbon dioxide?

 History

 Politics

 Economics

 Green

 Climate

Human Rights

At the time of the democratization there was some improvement after liberalization of politics. However, with the cancellation of the elections and the rise of terrorist groups in the form of militant Islam the situation is much worse. There has been what amounted to a civil war. Torture, death squads, imprisonment without trial, trials without defense lawyers, and all the usual modern means of injustice are present.

Random massacres have taken place. Were they, as the government claims, by Islamic terrorists, or by government forces? As few foreign journalists dare to stay it is hard to know.

The demonstrations in Algiers in February 2011 suggest change might occur. Would it result in a democratic regime?

Climate effects

The land is likely to become (even) hotter and drier.

Last revised 27/09/11


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