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Until the 1500s, Algeria's history was closely linked to that of neighboring Tunisia and Morocco. The region's earliest inhabitants were the Berbers, whose neolithic hunting and herding activities are graphically depicted in cave drawings at Tassili n'Ajjer. Phoenician traders arrived on the Algerian coast in the 12th century BC. The Phoenician city of Carthage, in present-day Tunisia, eventually dominated the entire western Mediterranean, including the coast of what is now Algeria, which had become known as Numidia. Northern Algeria was united under the Numidian tribal leader Masinissa after he supported Rome in the Second Punic War (218-201 BC). Carthage's destruction in 146 BC and the defeat of Numidia's King Jugurtha in 105 BC left Rome in control of the Maghrib, although Berber tribes continued to control the interior.
The prosperity of northern Algeria under Roman rule is evident from the ruins of thriving coastal and agricultural communities such as Timgad, Tipasa (originally a Punic settlement), and Djémila. Christianity flourished; Algerian-born Saint Augustine (AD 354-430), one of the most influential of all Christian thinkers, was bishop of Hippo (now Annaba). Invasions by Vandals ended Roman rule in the 5th century, although most of the area remained under Berber control. In the early 6th century the Byzantine Empire extended its influence as far west as present-day Algiers.
The Arabs forced the Byzantines from North Africa in the 7th and 8th centuries, and the Maghrib became part of the Umayyad caliphate. The Berbers converted to Islam but resisted Arab dominance. From the 10th to the 13th century, Algeria was ruled by a series of Muslim dynasties that originated in the Maghrib, including the Fatimids, Hammadids, Almoravids, and Almohads. The particularly prosperous Almohad period united North Africa and Muslim Spain.
In the late 15th century Christian Spain, having expelled the Muslims from the Iberian peninsula, captured several Algerian ports. They were forced off the coast with Turkish assistance, and Algeria became nominally part of the Ottoman Empire in 1518. The local rulers of the North African Barbary States had a high degree of autonomy. Piracy against European shipping led to British and American intervention in the early 19th century. This was followed in 1830 by a French invasion and the deposition of the dey (regent) of Algiers.
The French campaign to conquer northern Algeria ended in 1847 with the defeat of Algerian leader Abd al-Qadir (c.1807-83). The French gradually extended their influence southward, despite fierce local resistance, until Algeria's current boundaries were drawn in 1902.
France had encouraged European colonization of Algeria from about 1834; the area was declared an integral part of France in 1848. The European settlers confiscated Muslim land and created a flourishing colonial society removed from the Muslim majority. Muslims had almost no political rights and did not share in colonial prosperity. Organized Algerian nationalist movements arose after World War I under the leadership of Messali Hadj, who desired complete independence, and the moderate Ferhat Abbas, who wanted France to live up to its assimilationist ideals; and Abd al-Hamid ben Badis, who believed that assimilation was incompatible with Algeria's Muslim identity.
Algeria was under Vichy administration during the early years of World War II. After 1942, it served as a major base for the Allied North Africa campaign; Algiers was the capital of free France until the liberation of Paris. The nationalist hopes aroused during the war were not met, and thousands of Muslims perished in bloody reprisals after 88 Frenchmen were massacred during a disorderly 1945 nationalist demonstration at Sétif. Although the French government granted Muslims the vote on a separate electoral roll in 1947, demands for full political equality and further reform were opposed by the European colonists. The nationalist movement gained support and became increasingly radicalized.
In 1954 the FLN proclaimed a war of liberation, launching terrorist attacks against the French in both Algeria and France. The long Algerian War led to the fall of the Fourth Republic and the return to power of Charles de Gaulle in 1958. On July 3, 1962, de Gaulle finally proclaimed Algeria's independence (see photo of Algerian riots). After a power struggle within the FLN, Ahmed ben Bella became Algeria's first president in 1963.
Confronting a society devastated by war and dislocated by the flight of European colonists and capital, ben Bella nationalized abandoned colonial holdings and proclaimed his support of other national liberation movements. Conflict with Morocco, economic distress, and ben Bella's dictatorial personality provoked a bloodless coup (1965) led by Houari Boumedienne. Boumedienne implemented an authoritarian statist socialist system but enhanced Algeria's image as an avant-garde, revolutionary Third World state by nationalizing French hydrocarbon holdings in 1971 and by supporting Polisario demands for an independent Western Sahara.
After the death of Boumedienne in December 1978, Chadli Benjedid became president in 1979 and was reelected in 1984 and 1988. He maintained Algeria's Third World prominence and reconciled his country with its North African neighbors, leading to the formation of the Arab Maghrib Union in 1989. Nevertheless, FLN corruption, the rise of Islamic populism, Berber unrest, plunging world oil prices, and unemployed and disillusioned youth incited the October 1988 riots, which left hundreds dead. Subsequent democratic reforms and the legalization of a multiparty system ended the commitment to socialism and the FLN's monopoly of power in 1989.
The populist appeal of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) resulted in its astonishing successes in the June 1990 local elections (the first free elections in the nation's history) and the December 1991 first round of delayed parliamentary elections, although the top FIS leaders had been imprisoned since June 1991. Stunned "secular" military and civilian elites fearing the establishment of an Islamic state overthrew President Chadli Benjedid in January 1992. The new High Council of State (HCS) quickly annulled the elections and outlawed the FIS. The 1992 coup outraged many Muslims and led to protests and mounting violence, including the June 1992 assassination of HCS-installed president Mohammed Boudiaf. There was international condemnation of both the government's repression of political liberties and often brutal efforts to suppress the opposition and the increasingly divisive and radicalized Islamic movement's targeting of intellectuals, journalists, feminists, and foreigners.
Gen. Liamine Zeroual, who had been installed as president by the HCS before it dissolved itself in January 1994, won Algeria's first multiparty presidential elections, from which the FIS was banned, in November 1995. In November 1996, voters approved a multiparty constitution that made Islam the state religion and Arabic the official language. In June 1997 elections for the lower house of the legislature in which the FIS was not allowed to participate were held. Progovernment parties won nearly two-thirds of the seats. In September, following a series of post-election massacres, the military wing of the FIS called for a truce for the first time in six years of civil war, but politically motivated violence continued. In December the country held elections for two-thirds of the seats in the new upper house of the legislature; the remainder of the seats were to be filled by presidential appointment. Another wave of massacres, including one in which more than 400 villagers were slaughtered (Dec. 30, 1997), brought increased international pressure on the government to halt the violence. Little progress was made, however. The most radical of Algeria's Islamic extremist groups, the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), claimed responsibility for the June 1998 murder of the popular Berber singer Lounes Matoub, an event that sparked riots in the Berber-dominated northeast. Matoub had been an outspoken critic of both the government and the Islamic extremists. More than 100,000 Algerians, many of them civilians killed in massacres, died in the violence by Muslim extremists, the army, and civilian paramilitary groups between 1992 and late 2000.
In September 1998, under pressure to resign due to his failure to end the violence, President Zeroual announced that new presidential elections would be held ahead of schedule in February 1999 (later postponed to April 1999), and that he would not run for reelection. The following month a group of influential Islamic fundamentalist leaders, including the leaders of the Palestinian group Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, issued a joint statement condemning the killings in Algeria by the radical GIA and praising the decision by the mainstream FIS to support a cease-fire. In December, following the resignation of Ahmed Ouyahia due to opposition to his introduction of economic austerity measures designed to facilitate Algeria's transition to a free-market economy, Zeroual appointed Ismail Hamdani as prime minister. Hamdani, an experienced politician with no partisan political links, was charged with overseeing the runup to new presidential elections.
On the eve of the 1999 presidential election, however, six of the seven candidates withdrew, charging that they believed the military planned to rig the elections in favor of Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who had the backing of the army and four progovernment parties. Despite the controversy surrounding the election, which reduced hopes that it would end the cycle of violence, Bouteflika was officially declared the victor. He was sworn in as president on Apr. 27, 1999. In June the Islamic Salvation Army (the armed wing of the FIS) decided to end its armed insurgency against the government. Bouteflika, who had made peace his highest priority, then released several thousand Muslim militants jailed on minor charges. A draft law that would grant amnesty to Muslim rebels who renounced violence and had not been found guilty of murder or rape was passed by the legislature in July 1999, and a referendum on a peace plan that included this partial amnesty was approved by more than 98% of those voting in September 1999. Bouteflika, who said that he would resign if the plan were rejected by voters, pledged to reform the economy and the judicial system, attack corruption, and move to attract much-needed foreign investment. But he later declared that the FIS would not be allowed to return to politics, even under a new name. In December Bouteflika appointed a new cabinet headed by his close aide, former finance minister Ahmed Benbitour. On Jan. 11, 2000, he issued a blanket pardon to all members of the Islamic Salvation Army, whose members agreed to disarm. Benbitour resigned in August after differences with the president over economic policy. He was succeeded as prime minister by Ali Benflis. In December 2000, with the FIS still banned and many of its leaders still in prison, Islamic extremists who had rejected the accord, joined by disaffected FIS fighters, launched a new wave of violence in which more than 300 people died, calling the entire peace process into doubt. The following year there were massive protests in the northern part of the country by Berbers seeking equality for their language and greater economic opportunities. In protest over the killing of several demonstrators by security forces, the predominantly Berber Rally for Culture and Democracy pulled out of Bouteflika's coalition government in May.
Phillip C. Naylor, Assistant Professor of History, Merrimack College, North Andover, Mass.
Source: 2001 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, ©2000 Grolier Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Bibliography: Jamil M. Abun-Nasr, A History of the Maghrib in the Islamic Period (1987); Kay Adamson, Algeria: A Study in Competing Ideologies (1998); Mafoud Bennoune, The Making of Contemporary Algeria, 1830-1987 (1988); James Ciment, Algeria: The Fundamentalist Challenge (1997); John P. Entelis, Algeria: The Revolution Institutionalized (1986); John P. Entelis and Phillip C. Naylor, eds., State and Society in Algeria (1992); Alec G. Hargreaves and Michael J. Heffernan, eds., French and Algerian Identities from Colonial Times to the Present (1993); Ricardo R. Laremont, Islam and the Politics of Resistance in Algeria, 1783-1992 (1999); Richard I. Lawless, Algeria, 2d rev. ed. (1990); Robert Malley, The Call from Algeria: Third Worldism, Revolution, and the Turn to Islam (1996); Helen Chapin Metz, ed., Algeria: A Country Study, 5th rev. ed. (1994); Phillip C. Naylor and Alf A. Heggoy, Historical Dictionary of Algeria, 2d rev. ed. (1994); William B. Quandt, Between Ballots and Bullets: Algeria's Transition from Authoritarianism (1998); John Ruedy, Modern Algeria: The Origins ad Development of a Nation (1992); Martin Stone, The Agony of Algeria (1997); Michael Willis, The Islamist Challenge in Algeria: A Political History (1997); John B. Wolf, The Barbary Coast: Algeria Under the Turks (1979; repr. 1982).
Images: Map of Algeria © Lonely Planet All Rights Reserved. Oasis de Tamantit et Sid Ahmed Timmi, from The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands Photo Essay: The Algerian Wetlands. Algerian Horsemen, from Augustine in Algeria International Colloquium (April 2001) web site, assembled by James J. O'Donnell, Provost of Georgetown University. Algerian Industry (steel mill), from Embassy of Algeria. The French army confronts demonstrators for Algerian independence (1960), from Al-Ahram Weekly On-line, February 2000, Issue #468. Trajan Arch in Timgad, Algeria, from UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Symbolic flag: Algeria - The War of Independence 1954-1962 © 2000 Brian Train of Microgame Design Group. H21 Flying Banana, from www.kgwings.com web site, hosted by Keith Goodman. Abdelaziz Bouteflika, President of the Algerian Republic, from Algerian Embassy in Washington, DC.
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