Algeria has been inhabited by Berbers (or Imazighen) since at least 10,000 BC. After 1000 BC, the Carthaginians began establishing settlements along the coast. The Berbers seized the opportunity offered by the Punic Wars to become independent of Carthage, and Berber kingdoms began to emerge, most notably Numidia. In 200 BC, however, they were once again taken over, this time by the Roman Republic. When the Western Roman Empire collapsed, Berbers became independent again in many areas, while the Vandals took control over other parts, where they remained until expelled by the generals of the Byzantine Emperor, Justinian I. The Byzantine Empire then retained a precarious grip on the east of the country until the coming of the Arabs in the eighth century.
Having converted the Kutama of Kabylie to its cause, the Shia Fatimids overthrew the Rustamids, and conquered Egypt. They left Algeria and Tunisia to their Zirid vassals; when the latter rebelled and adopted Sunnism, the Shia Fatimids sent in the Banu Hilal, a populous Arab tribe, to weaken them. This initiated the Arabization of the region. The Almoravids and Almohads, Berber dynasties from the west founded by religious reformers, brought a period of relative peace and development; however, with the Almohads' collapse, Algeria became a battleground for their three successor states, the Algerian Zayyanids, Tunisian Hafsids, and Moroccan Marinids. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the Spanish Empire started attacking and subsuming a few Algerian coastal settlements.
Algeria was brought into the Ottoman Empire by Khair ad-Din and his brother Aruj in 1517, and they established Algeria's modern boundaries in the north and made its coast a base for the Ottoman corsairs; their privateering peaked in Algiers in the 1600s. Piracy on American vessels in the Mediterranean resulted in the First (1801–1805) and Second Barbary War (1815) with the United States. Those piracy acts forced people captured on the boats into slavery; alternatively when the pirates attacked coastal villages in southern and western Europe the inhabitants were forced into slavery. Raids by Barbary pirates on Western Europe did not cease until 1816, when a Royal Navy raid, assisted by six Dutch vessels, destroyed the port of Algiers and its fleet of Barbary ships. Spanish occupation of Algerian ports at this time was a source of concern for the local inhabitants.
On the pretext of a slight to their consul, the French invaded Algiers in 1830. In contrast to Morocco and Tunisia, the conquest of Algeria by the French was long and particularly violent and resulted in the disappearance of about a third of the Algerian population. France was responsible for the extermination of 1.5 million Algerians. According to Olivier Le Cour Grandmaison, the French pursued a policy of extermination against the Algerians.
The French conquest of Algeria was slow due to intense resistance from such as Emir Abdelkader, Ahmed Bey and Fatma N'Soumer. Indeed the conquest was not technically complete until the early 1900s when the last Tuareg were conquered.
Meanwhile, however, the French made Algeria an integral part of France, a status that would end only with the collapse of the Fourth Republic in 1958. Tens of thousands of settlers from France, Spain, Italy, and Malta moved in to farm the Algerian coastal plain and occupy significant parts of Algeria's cities. These settlers benefited from the French government's confiscation of communally held land, and the application of modern agriculture techniques that increased the amount of arable land. Algeria's social fabric suffered during the occupation: literacy plummeted, while land confiscation uprooted much of the population.
Starting from the end of the nineteenth century, people of European descent in Algeria (or natives like Spanish people in Oran), as well as the native Algerian Jews (typically Sephardic in origin), became full French citizens. After Algeria's 1962 independence, they were called Pieds-Noirs. In contrast, the vast majority of Muslim Algerians (even veterans of the French army) received neither French citizenship nor the right to vote.
In 1954, the National Liberation Front (FLN) launched the Algerian War of Independence which was a guerrilla campaign. By the end of the war, newly elected President Charles de Gaulle, understanding that the age of empire was ending, held a plebiscite, offering Algerians three options. This resulted in an overwhelming vote for complete independence from the French Colonial Empire. Over one million people, 10% of the population, then fled the country for France in just a few months in mid-1962. These included most of the 1,025,000 Pieds-Noirs, as well as 81,000 Harkis (pro-French Algerians serving in the French Army).
As feared, there were widespread reprisals against those who remained in Algeria. It is estimated that somewhere between 50,000 and 150,000 Harkis and their dependents were killed by the FLN or by lynch mobs in Algeria, sometimes in circumstances of extreme cruelty.
Algeria's first president was the FLN leader Ahmed Ben Bella. He was overthrown by his former ally and defence minister, Houari Boumédienne in 1965. Under Ben Bella the government had already become increasingly socialist and authoritarian, and this trend continued throughout Boumédienne's government. However, Boumédienne relied much more heavily on the army, and reduced the sole legal party to a merely symbolic role. Agriculture was collectivised, and a massive industrialization drive launched. Oil extraction facilities were nationalized. This was especially beneficial to the leadership after the 1973 oil crisis. However, the Algerian economy became increasingly dependent on oil which led to hardship when the price collapsed during the 1980s oil glut.
In foreign policy, Algeria was a member and leader of the Non-Aligned Movement. A dispute with Morocco over the Western Sahara nearly led to war. While Algeria shares much of its history and cultural heritage with neighbouring Morocco, the two countries have had somewhat hostile relations with each other ever since Algeria's independence. This is for two reasons: Morocco's disputed claim to portions of western Algeria (which led to the Sand War in 1963), and Algeria's support for the Polisario Front, an armed group of Sahrawi refugees seeking independence for the Moroccan-ruled Western Sahara, which it hosts within its borders in the city of Tindouf.
Within Algeria, dissent was rarely tolerated, and the state's control over the media and the outlawing of political parties other than the FLN was cemented in the repressive constitution of 1976.
Boumédienne died in 1978, but the rule of his successor, Chadli Bendjedid, was little more open. The state took on a strongly bureaucratic character and corruption was widespread.
The modernization drive brought considerable demographic changes to Algeria. Village traditions underwent significant change as urbanization increased. New industries emerged, agricultural employment was substantially reduced. Education was extended nationwide, raising the literacy rate from less than 10% to over 60%. There was a dramatic increase in the fertility rate to 7-8 children per mother.
Therefore by 1980, there was a very youthful population and a housing crisis. The new generation struggled to relate to the cultural obsession with the war years and two conflicting protest movements developed: left-wingers, including Berber identity movements; and Islamic 'intégristes'. Both groups protested against one-party rule but also clashed with each other in universities and on the streets during the 1980s. Mass protests from both camps in Autumn 1988 forced Bendjedid to concede the end of one-party rule. Elections were planned to happen in 1991. In December 1991, the Islamic Salvation Front won the first round of the country's first multi-party elections. The military then intervened and cancelled the second round, forced then-president Bendjedid to resign, and banned all political parties based on religion (including the Islamic Salvation Front). The ensuing conflict engulfed Algeria in the violent Algerian Civil War.
More than 160,000 people were killed between 17 January 1992 and June 2002. Most of the deaths were between militants and government troops, but a great number of civilians were also killed. The question of who was responsible for these deaths was controversial at the time amongst academic observers; many were claimed by the Armed Islamic Group. Though many of these massacres were carried out by Islamic extremists, the Algerian regime itself has used the army and foreign mercenaries to conduct horrific massacres of men, women and children and then blame it upon all Islamic groups within the country in a campaign to discredit them and Islam amongst the wider population.
Elections resumed in 1995, and after 1998, the war waned. On 27 April 1999, after a series of short-term leaders representing the military, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the current president, was elected.
By 2002, the main guerrilla groups had either been destroyed or surrendered, taking advantage of an amnesty program, though sporadic fighting continued in some areas (See Islamic insurgency in Algeria (2002–present)).
The issue of Berber language and identity increased in significance, particularly after the extensive Kabyle protests of 2001 and the near-total boycott of local elections in Kabylie. The government responded with concessions including naming of Tamazight (Berber) as a national language and teaching it in schools.
Much of Algeria is now recovering and developing into an emerging economy. The high prices of oil and gas are being used by the new government to improve the country's infrastructure and especially improve industry and agricultural land. Recently, overseas investment in Algeria has increased.
Most of the coastal area is hilly, sometimes even mountainous, and there are a few natural harbours. The area just south of the coast, known as the Tell Atlas, is fertile. Further south is the Atlas mountain range and the Sahara desert. The Ahaggar Mountains (Arabic: جبال هقار), also known as the Hoggar, are a highland region in central Sahara, southern Algeria. They are located about 1,500 km (932 miles) south of the capital, Algiers and just west of Tamanghasset.
Northern Algeria is in the temperate zone and has a mild, Mediterranean climate. It lies within approximately the same latitudes as Southern California and has somewhat similar climatic conditions. Its broken topography, however, provides sharp local contrasts in both prevailing temperatures and incidence of rainfall. Year-to-year variations in climatic conditions are also common.
In the Tell Atlas, temperatures in summer average between 21 and 24 °C and in winter drop to 10 to 12 °C. Winters are not particularly cold, but the humidity level is high. In eastern Algeria, the average temperatures are somewhat lower, and on the steppes of the High Atlas plateaux, winter temperatures hover only a few degrees above freezing. A prominent feature of the climate in this region is the sirocco, a dusty, choking south wind blowing off the desert, sometimes at gale force. This wind also occasionally reaches into the coastal Tell.
In Algeria, only a relatively small corner of the torrid Sahara lies across the Tropic of Cancer in the torrid zone. In this region even in winter, midday desert temperatures can be very hot. After sunset, however, the clear, dry air permits rapid loss of heat, and the nights are cool to chilly. Enormous daily ranges in temperature are recorded.
Rainfall is fairly abundant along the coastal part of the Tell Atlas, ranging from 400 to 670 mm annually, the amount of precipitation increasing from west to east. Precipitation is heaviest in the northern part of eastern Algeria, where it reaches as much as 1000 mm in some years. Farther inland, the rainfall is less plentiful. Prevailing winds that are easterly and north-easterly in summer change to westerly and northerly in winter and carry with them a general increase in precipitation from September through December, a decrease in the late winter and spring months, and a near absence of rainfall during the summer months. Algeria also has ergs, or sand dunes between mountains, which in the summer time when winds are heavy and gusty, temperatures can get up to 110 °F (43 °C).
The head of state is the President of the Republic, who is elected to a five-year term, renewable once. Algeria has universal suffrage at age 18. The President is the head of the Council of Ministers and of the High Security Council. He appoints the Prime Minister who is also the head of government. The Prime Minister appoints the Council of Ministers.
The Algerian parliament is bicameral, consisting of a lower chamber, the National People's Assembly (APN), with 380 members; and an upper chamber, the Council Of Nation, with 144 members. The APN is elected every five years.
Under the 1976 constitution (as modified 1979, and amended in 1988, 1989, and 1996) Algeria is a multi-party state. All parties must be approved by the Ministry of the Interior. To date, Algeria has had more than 40 legal political parties. According to the constitution, no political association may be formed if it is "based on differences in religion, language, race, gender or region."
Tensions between Algeria and Morocco in relation with the Western Sahara conflict, have put great obstacles in the way of tightening the Maghreb Arab Union, nominally established in 1989 but with little practical weight, with its coastal neighbors.
The fossil fuels energy sector is the backbone of Algeria's economy, accounting for roughly 60% of budget revenues, 30% of GDP, and over 95% of export earnings. The country ranks fourteenth in petroleum reserves, containing 11.8 billion barrels of proven oil reserves with estimates suggesting that the actual amount is even more. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that in 2005, Algeria had 160 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of proven natural gas reserves, the eighth largest in the world.
Algeria’s financial and economic indicators improved during the mid-1990s, in part because of policy reforms supported by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and debt rescheduling from the Paris Club. Algeria’s finances in 2000 and 2001 benefited from an increase in oil prices and the government’s tight fiscal policy, leading to a large increase in the trade surplus, record highs in foreign exchange reserves, and reduction in foreign debt. The government's continued efforts to diversify the economy by attracting foreign and domestic investment outside the energy sector have had little success in reducing high unemployment and improving living standards, however. In 2001, the government signed an Association Treaty with the European Union that will eventually lower tariffs and increase trade. In March 2006, Russia agreed to erase $4.74 billion of Algeria's Soviet-era debt during a visit by President Vladimir Putin to the country, the first by a Russian leader in half a century. In return, president Bouteflika agreed to buy $7.5 billion worth of combat planes, air-defense systems and other arms from Russia, according to the head of Russia's state arms exporter Rosoboronexport.
Algeria also decided in 2006 to pay off its full $8bn (£4.3bn) debt to the Paris Club group of rich creditor nations before schedule. This will reduce the Algerian foreign debt to less than $5bn in the end of 2006. The Paris Club said the move reflected Algeria's economic recovery in recent years.
Since Roman times Algeria has been noted for the fertility of its soil. 25 of Algerians are employed in the agricultural sector.
A considerable amount of cotton was grown at the time of the United States' Civil War, but the industry declined afterwards. In the early years of the twentieth century efforts to extend the cultivation of the plant were renewed. A small amount of cotton is also grown in the southern oases. Large quantities of a vegetable that resembles horsehair, an excellent fiber, are made from the leaves of the dwarf palm. The olive (both for its fruit and oil) and tobacco are cultivated with great success.
More than 7,500,000 acres (30,000 km²) are devoted to the cultivation of cereal grains. The Tell is the grain-growing land. During the time of French rule its productivity was increased substantially by the sinking of artesian wells in districts which only required water to make them fertile. Of the crops raised, wheat, barley and oats are the principal cereals. A great variety of vegetables and fruits, especially citrus products, are exported. Algeria also exports figs, dates, esparto grass, and cork. It is the largest oat market in Africa..
Algeria is known for Bertolli's olive oil spread, although the spread has an Italian background.
The current population of Algeria is 33,333,216 (July 2007 est.). About 70% of Algerians live in the northern, coastal area; the minority who inhabit the Sahara are mainly concentrated in oases, although some 1.5 million remain nomadic or partly nomadic. Almost 30% of Algerians are under 15. Algeria has the fourth lowest fertility rate in the Greater Middle East after Cyprus, Tunisia, and Turkey.
97% of the population is classified ethnically as Berber/Arab and religiously as Sunni Muslim 97% , the few non-Sunni Muslims are mainly Ibadis 1.3% from the M'Zab valley. (See also Islam in Algeria.) A mostly foreign Roman Catholic community of about 45,000 exists, along with about 350,000 Protestant Christians, and some 500 Jewish. The Jewish community of Algeria, which once constituted 2% of the total population, has substantially decreased due to emigration, mostly to France and Israel.
Europeans account for less than 1% of the population, inhabitating almost exclusively the largest metropolitan areas. However, during the colonial period there was a large (15.2% in 1962) European population, consisting primarily of French people, in addition to Spaniards in the west of the country, Italians and Maltese in the east, and other Europeans in smaller numbers known as pieds-noirs, concentrated on the coast and forming a majority in cities like Bône, Oran, Sidi Bel Abbès, and Algiers. Almost all of this population left during or immediately after the country's independence from France.
Housing and medicine continue to be pressing problems in Algeria. Failing infrastructure and the continued influx of people from rural to urban areas has overtaxed both systems. According to the UNDP, Algeria has one of the world's highest per housing unit occupancy rates for housing, and government officials have publicly stated that the country has an immediate shortfall of 1.5 million housing units.
Women make up 70 percent of Algeria’s lawyers and 60 percent of its judges. Women dominate medicine. Increasingly, women contribute more to household income than men. Sixty percent of university students are women, university researchers say.
Most Algerians are Berber or Arab, by language or identity, but almost all Algerians are Berber in origin. Today, the Arab-Berber issue is often a case of self-identification or identification through language and culture, rather than a racial or ethnic distinction. The Berber people are divided into several ethnic groups, Kabyle in the mountainous north-central area, Chaoui in the eastern Atlas Mountains, Mozabites in the M'zab valley, and Tuareg in the far south. Small pockets of Black African populations also are in Algeria. Turkish Algerians represent 5% of the population and are living mainly in the big cities. (citation needed)
Education is officially compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 15. In the year 1997, there was an outstanding amount of teachers and students in primary schools.
In Algeria there are 10 universities, seven colleges, and five institutes for higher learning. The University of Algiers (founded in 1909), which is located in the capital of Algeria, Algiers has about 267,142 students.] The Algeran school system is structured into Basic, General Secondary, and Technical Secondary levels:
Ecole fondamentale (Fundamental School)
Length of program: 10 years
Age range: age 6 to 15 old
Certificate/diploma awarded: Brevet d'Enseignement Moyen B.E.M.
Lycée d'Enseignement général (School of General Teaching) , lycées polyvalents (General-Purpose School)
Length of program: 3 years
Age range: age 15 to 18
Certificate/diploma awarded: Baccalauréat de l'Enseignement secondaire
(Bachelor's Degree of Secondary School)
Lycées d'Enseignement technique (Technical School)
Length of program: 3 years
Certificate/diploma awarded: Baccalauréat technique (Technical Bachelor's Degree)
Modern Algerian literature, split between Arabic and French, has been strongly influenced by the country's recent history. Famous novelists of the twentieth century include Mohammed Dib, Albert Camus, and Kateb Yacine, while Assia Djebar is widely translated. Among the important novelists of the 1980s were Rachid Mimouni, later vice-president of Amnesty International, and Tahar Djaout, murdered by an Islamist group in 1993 for his secularist views. In philosophy and the humanities, Jacques Derrida, the father of deconstruction, was born in El Biar in Algiers; Malek Bennabi and Frantz Fanon are noted for their thoughts on decolonization; Augustine of Hippo was born in Tagaste (modern-day Souk Ahras); and Ibn Khaldun, though born in Tunis, wrote the Muqaddima while staying in Algeria. Algerian culture has been strongly influenced by Islam, the main religion. The works of the Sanusi family in pre-colonial times, and of Emir Abdelkader and Sheikh Ben Badis in colonial times, are widely noted. The Latin author Apuleius was born in Madaurus (Mdaourouch), in what later became Algeria.
The Algerian musical genre best known abroad is raï, a pop-flavored, opinionated take on folk music, featuring international stars such as Khaled and Cheb Mami. However, in Algeria itself the older, highly verbal chaabi style remains more popular, with such stars as El Hadj El Anka, Dahmane El Harrachi and El Hachemi Guerouabi, while the tuneful melodies of Kabyle music, exemplified by Idir, Ait Menguellet, or Lounès Matoub, have a wide audience. For more classical tastes, Andalusi music, brought from Al-Andalus by Morisco refugees, is preserved in many older coastal towns.
Although (“ raï".) is welcomed and praised as a glowing cultural emblem for Algeria, there was time when raï’s come across critical cultural and political conflictions with Islamic and government policies and practices, post-independency. Thus the distribution and expression of raï music became very difficult. However, “then the government abruptly reversed its position in mid-1985. In part this was due to the lobbying of a former liberation army officer turned pop music impresario, Colonel Snoussi, who hoped to profit from raï if it could be mainstreamed.”  In addition, given both nations’ relations, Algerian government was pleased with the music’s growing popularity in France. Although the music is ore widely accepted on the political level, it still faces severe conflictions with the populace of Islamic faith in Algeria.
Most Algerians speak Algerian Arabic. Arabic is spoken natively in dialectal form ("Darja") by some 83 percent of the population. However, in the media and on official occasions the spoken language is Standard Arabic.
The Berbers (or Imazighen), who form approximately 45 percent of the population, largely speak one of the various dialects of Tamazight as opposed to Arabic. But a majority can use both Berber and Algerian Arabic. Arabic remains Algeria's only official language, although Tamazight has recently been recognized as a national language alongside it.
Ethnologue counts eighteen living languages within Algeria, splitting both Arabic and Tamazight into several different languages, as well as including Korandje, which is unrelated to Arabic or Tamazight.
The language issue is politically sensitive, particularly for the Berber minority, which has been disadvantaged by state-sanctioned Arabization. Language politics and Arabization have partly been a reaction to the fact that 130 years of French colonization had left both the state bureaucracy and much of the educated upper class completely Francophone, as well as being motivated by the Arab nationalism promoted by successive Algerian governments.
French is still the most widely studied foreign language, but very rarely spoken as a native language. Since independence, the government has pursued a policy of linguistic Arabization of education and bureaucracy, with some success, although many university courses continue to be taught in French. Recently, schools have started to incorporate French into the curriculum as early as children start to learn Arabic, as many Algerians are fluent in French. French is also used in media.
CREDIT : ENCYCLOPEDIA WIKIPEDIA