History of Algeria

From Academic Kids

This article is part of the History of Algeria series
Prehistory of Central North Africa
North Africa during the Classical Period
Rise of Islam in Algeria
French rule in Algeria
Nationalism and resistance in Algeria
Algerian War of Independence
History of Algeria since 1962
Algerian Civil War

This article is an overview of the History of Algeria. Please refer to the individual sections of the series for more complete commentary.


Historical setting

In geography, the fertile coastal plain of North Africa, especially west of Tunis, is often termed the Maghrib.

Modern Algeria is mainly Arabic-speaking, but a large minority still speak the indigenous Berber language, surviving from Neolithic times. The most significant forces in the country's history have been the spread of Islam, Arabization, Ottoman and French colonization, and the struggle for independence.

North Africa served as a transit region for peoples moving toward Europe or the Middle East. Thus, the region's inhabitants have been influenced by populations from other areas. Out of this mix developed the Berber people, whose language and culture, although pushed from coastal areas by conquering and colonizing Carthaginians, Romans, and Byzantines, dominated most of the land until the spread of Islam and the coming of the Arabs.

The introduction of Islam and Arabic had a profound impact on North Africa (or the Maghrib) beginning in the seventh century. The new religion and language introduced changes in social and economic relations, established links with a rich culture, and provided a powerful idiom of political discourse and organization. From the great Berber dynasties of the Almoravids and Almohads to the militants seeking an Islamic state in the 1990s, the call to return to true Islamic values and practices has had social resonance and political power. For 300 years, beginning in the early sixteenth century, Algeria was a province of the Ottoman Empire under a regency that had Algiers as its capital (see Dey). During this period, the modern Algerian state began to emerge as a distinct territory between Tunisia and Morocco. Algeria and surrounding areas, collectively known as the Barbary States, were responsible for piracy in the Mediterranean Sea, as well as the enslaving of Christians, actions which brought them into the First and Second Barbary War with the United States of America.

The French occupation of Algeria, beginning in 1830, while having a profound impact, was immediatlely met by a rebellion led by Abdel Kadir. In addition to enduring the affront of being ruled by a foreign, non-Muslim power, many Algerians lost their lands to the new government or to colonists. Traditional leaders were eliminated, coopted, or made irrelevant, and the traditional educational system was largely dismantled; social structures were stressed to the breaking point. Viewed by the Europeans with condescension at best and contempt at worst,the Algerians endured 132 years of colonial subjugation. In the earlier part of the French colonization, native Muslims and Jews were viewed as French nationals, but not French citizens. However, in 1865, Napoleon III allowed them to apply for full French citizenship, a measure that few took, since it involved renouncing the right to be governed by sharia law in personal matters, and was considered a kind of apostasy; in 1870, French citizenship was made automatic for Jewish natives, a move which largely angered the Muslims, who began to consider the Jews as the accomplices of the colonial power. Nonetheless, this period saw progress in health, some infrastructures, and the overall expansion of the economy of Algeria, as well as the formation of new social classes, which, after exposure to ideas of equality and political liberty, would help propel the country to independence. During the years of French domination, the struggles to survive, to co-exist, to gain equality, and to achieve independence shaped a large part of the Algerian national identity.

The massacres of 1945 marked a turning point in Algerian history. In April 1945 the French arrested the most popular Algerian leader Messali Hadji. On May 1st the followers of his party the PPA(Parti du peuple algérien) participated in demonstrations which where violently suppressed by the police. Several Algerians were killed. But it was on May 8th, when France celebrated Germany's unconditional surrender, that more deaths provoked a violent uprising by the Algerian population in and around Sétif. The army set the villages on fire. 6,000 to 8,000 people were killed, according to Yves Bénot. From now on it seemed evident to all nationalists that independence could not be won by peaceful means.

The Algerian War of Independence (1954-62), brutal and long, was the most recent major turning point in the country's history. Although often fratricidal, it ultimately united Algerians and seared the value of independence and the philosophy of anticolonialism into the national consciousness. The systematic use of torture by the French did not secure military victory.

It should be remembered, however, that more than one million of Algerians (or 10% of the population of Algeria at the time) were forced to flee the country in 1962 due to the unbridgeable rifts opened by the civil war: these were the Algerians of European or Jewish descent (so-called pieds-noirs) and the Muslim Algerians who had supported a French Algeria (so-called harkis).

In 1965 the military toppled Ahmed Ben Bella and Houari Boumedienne became head of state. The military has been dominating Algerian politics up to today.

Chapters of the series

Main article: Prehistory of Central North Africa
The area which now consists of Algeria was settled by hunting people who left behind vivid cave paintings of a savanna region (now transformed into desert).

Main article: North Africa during the Classical Period
Since the 5th century BC, the indigenous peoples of northern Africa (identified by the Romans as Berbers) were pushed back from the coast by successive waves of Phoenician, Roman, Vandal, Byzantine, Arab, Turkish, and, finally, French invaders.

Main article: Rise of Islam in Algeria
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.

Main article: French rule in Algeria
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.

Main article: Nationalism and resistance in Algeria
A new generation of Muslim leadership emerged in Algeria at the time of World War I and grew to maturity during the 1920s and 1930s. Various groups were formed in opposition to French rule, most notable the National Liberation Front (FLN) and the National Algerian Movement.

Main article: Algerian War of Independence
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 Evian accords failed to protect the rights of minorities, leading to the exodus of one million pieds-noirs and harkis.

Main article: History of Algeria since 1962
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 the first president.

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 Houari Boumédiènne, 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 of success for the fundamentalist FIS party in the December 1991 balloting caused the army to intervene, crack down on the FIS, and postpone the subsequent elections. The fundamentalist response has resulted in a continuous low-grade civil conflict with the secular state apparatus, which nonetheless has allowed elections featuring pro-government and moderate religious-based parties. The FIS's armed wing, the Islamic Salvation Army, disbanded in January 2000 and many armed militants of other groups surrendered under an amnesty program designed to promote national reconciliation. Nevertheless, small numbers of armed militants persist in confronting government forces and carrying out isolated attacks on villages and other types of terrorist attacks. Other concerns include Berber unrest, large-scale unemployment, a shortage of housing, and the need to diversify the petroleum-based economy.

Related articles


fr:Histoire de l'Algérie lt:Alžyro istorija sv:Algeriets historia


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