After 132 years of French rule and eight years of the bloodiest warfare, Algeria became independent on 3 July 1962, and the country was named The Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria.
During the first three years after independence, Algeria’s new leaders, with Ahmed Ben Bella as President, ruled with an iron fist and imposed an archaic ideological type of socialism which made his government in the long run an obstacle to the construction of a new nation. An additional problem was caused by the departure of the French settlers, who had controlled all public administration and managed the country’s economy and agriculture. Basic activities were almost at a standstill. On 19 June 1965, the Vice-President and Minister of Defence, Colonel Houari Boumediene, with a group of army officers, overthrew Ben Bella’s regime.
Colonel Boumediene in turn ruled the country with a one-party system, the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) and the army. Despite several coup attempts, he controlled successfully all political activities and built up a modern Algerian state. He died on 27 December 1978 and was succeeded by Colonel Chadli Benjedid, who ran the country in good order until the success of Front Islamique du Salut (Islamic Salvation Front) (FIS) in the first round of elections in December 1991 caused the army to intervene and to depose President Chadli Benjedid, and the subsequent elections were cancelled. A crack-down on FIS followed and finally, the FIS was disbanded. In early January 1992 the army chiefs under the pretext of safeguarding the interests of the country, established the High Security Council to run the country as a collegiate presidency until the end of President Chadli’s term of office in December 1993. In order to avoid international criticism, the army generals offered the job of the High Security Council Chairman to Mohamed Boudiaf, one of the early leaders of the war of independence who had lived in exile in Morocco since 1964. He gladly accepted the job and returned home. A few weeks after taking the job, he began moves towards eradicating corruption. On 29 June 1992 he was assassinated while opening a cultural centre in Annaba, eastern Algeria.
In January 1994, the ruling Committee appointed General Liamine Zeroual, Minister of Defence, to the post of Head of State, and a general election took place on 16 November 1995. General Zeroual was elected for a five-years’ term by 61 per cent of votes.
In September 1998, President Zeroual announced on television that he would stand down as soon as a presidential election could be organised. In 1999, almost two years before the end of his five-year term, he handed over to Abdelaziz Bouteflika. The reason which was given at the time was that President Zeroual was suffering from poor health. But it was widely acknowledged at the time that he was forced out as a result of infighting within the army high command.
On 15 April 1999, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who returned from the exile he had chosen following allegations of corruption while he was Foreign Minister of Algeria from 1962-78, stepped into the limelight and ran for president. He was elected with 74 per cent of votes. No other candidates stood.
His five-years’ term expired in April 2004, and he was re-elected in that month with 84.99 per cent. However, the army chiefs who supported him in the 1999 election issued a statement in February 2004 saying that they would not support any candidates to the Presidency.
In 2009 his government amended the Constitution to allow him to run for a third term, on 12 February 2009 Bouteflika announced in a communiqué that he would run as an independent candidate. On 10 April 2009, the election result was that he won with 90.24% of the vote, on a turn out of 74%.
On 3 November 2008, The Council of Ministers which was chaired by Bouteflika announced after the meeting that the planned constitutional revision, proposed in 2006, would remove the presidential term limit in office (article 74). On 12 November 2008, the People’s National Assembly endorsed the removal of the term limit. This constitutional amendment allowed Bouteflika to run for a fourth term in 2014. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced that he would.
Abdelaziz Bouteflika, 77, has been in power for 15 years. He has rarely appeared in public or made a speech to the nation since suffering a stroke in 2013, is confined to a wheelchair and often travels to Paris for a check-up.
He had been widely expected to win a fourth term despite the fact that many opposition parties boycotted the election.
Bouteflika did not campaign himself, but loyalists praise him for guiding Algeria out of a 1990s civil war with Islamists that killed 200,000 people and in which many thousands disappeared. To-date there is no explanation of the whereabouts of those who have disappeared. The families have been demanding a commission of enquiry since Bouteflika became President in 1999.
This civil war left many Algerians wary of the turmoil that has swept neighbouring Tunisia, Egypt and Libya since their “Arab Spring” revolts in 2011.
Algeria’s election results
On 18 April 2014, the Interior Minister Tayeb Belaiz announced that Bouteflika had been re-elected with 81% of the vote, while his former Primer Minister, Mr Benflis was second placed with 12.18%. The turnout was 51.7%, down from the 75% turnout in 2009. Again several opposition parties had boycotted the election, making allegations of fraud.
Ali Benflis refused to recognise the incumbent’s re-election. “I do not recognize the result… [because] recognising it would be complicit in fraud,” Benflis told a news conference after being declared runner-up with 12.18 percent of the vote. He cited “serious irregularities” on polling day, condemning what he called “an alliance between fraud, suspicious money and control of the media.”
This is one of the most controversial elections in North Africa since independence. The results were procedurally contested by the opposition parties who co-ordinated massive protests in favour of Benflis and against the president’s running for a fourth term. The Algerian police violently dispersed these protests during the election campaign and media who reported these events were reprimanded by the regime; on the other hand protests in favour of Bouteflika were encouraged.
Abdelaziz Bouteflika who has been in power as Foreign Minister from Algerian independence in 1962 until 1978 and as President from 1999 to the present, is in a wheelchair and can hardly speak in public to the Algerian people, is not willing to give up power and look after himself. The tragedy in the Arab World, is that power is only given up when the Head of State dies or is removed by a military coup.
It has been widely reported in local and international press that his sister, Zhor, who has been very close to him and is now looking after him, did not want him to run for a fourth term but she was overruled by her younger brother Said who runs the Presidential office.
While some reforms were put in place under Chadli Bendjedid who ruled Algeria from February 1979 until he was pushed out by the Army on 11 January 1992, many Algerians know that ageing FLN leaders, business magnates and 26 powerful army generals have long managed politics in behind-the-scenes negotiations and see themselves as guardians of stability in Algeria.
Many Algerians who were interviewed by journalists during the April 2014 election campaign did not understand why a sick man sitting in a wheelchair was seeking to run a large country for another five years.
Former Primer Ministers and retired generals have organised many public meeting during the elections, warning that he is not fit to run the country particularly as the region is in turmoil due to continuing terrorism.
Riots and protests are common among younger Algerians frustrated over joblessness, economic opportunities and housing shortages. However, with around $200 billion of reserves from energy sales, the government has cash to ward off any unrest, opposition parties are weak and Algerians have no appetite for upheaval after their bloody civil war.
Algeria comprises the central section of the Maghreb and a large part of the Sahara, and has an area of 2,381,741 sq.km. On the coast of North Africa, yet close to Europe, Algeria feels the pull of two continents. The largest of the Maghreb states, her main geographical divisions are: the Coastal Chain and valleys of the Tell, in the north; the Sahara Atlas (the eastern reach up to the High Atlas range) in the centre; the plateau region between the Tell and the Atlas, to the West; and the Sahara desert to the south.
Lower in the west, and with its highest hills in the Kabylia region, the limestone range of the Djurdjura, in the Tell, reaches 2,286 metres in places. The Saharan Atlas stretches to Biskra, at its eastern end, and rises from the west to reach the peaks of the Ksour (2,234.75 metres), the mountain Amour (1,920.24 metres) the Oulad-Neils (1,645.92 metres); and the Ziban and Aurès Peaks are also over 2,328 metres. The high plateaux region between the Tell and the Saharan Atlas is 200 km wide, in places reaching 1,066.80 metres in height and containing shallow, brackish depressions, the chotts, these being also found south of the Aurès, near the Tunisian border. The climate in the north is Mediterranean; south of the Tell it is steppe-like, and frost is common during the winter, while to the south of the Atlas a desert climate prevails. Libya continues to claim about 32,000 sq.km in a long-standing border dispute still reflected on Libyan maps covering south-eastern Algeria.
After independence, Arabic was declared the national language, but the government and professional bodies were faced with a double dilemma. In the first place, the leading nationalists, academics and government officials used French as their means of communication to each other and to the people. In fact, to the present day, there is still some conflict between the views of those who desire to be rid of French, the language of colonialism and humiliation, and those who are committed to French as the language of science, culture, communication and commerce.
RELIGION AND ETHNICITY
The vast majority of Algeria’s 32,818,500 inhabitants are Sunni Muslims of the Malikite school, and of Arab and Berber extraction. The 40-45 per cent Berber-speaking population lives for the most part in Kabylia, the Aurès, the Mzab and the Hoggar region. The earliest known people, in Algeria as in other Maghrebi countries, were the Berbers, and despite invasions by the Vandals in 429, and continuing up to European colonialisation and Independence, the Berber language and culture is still flourishing. The reason for this has been that the Berbers were satisfied to be left alone by the new conquerors. However, since independence for all the North African countries, the Berber population has been demanding official recognition of their language and culture; but this issue has been ignored by the government, despite the fact that there are Berber ministers and deputies.
Morocco has finally recognised the problem and has established a Berber Institute to promote the Berber language and culture. Since September 2003, the Berber language is taught in Moroccan schools and also used on radio and television.
The Algerian authorities do not interfere with the worship of the one per cent Christian and Jewish population. However, any activities such as distribution of non-Islamic religious literature or trying to engage Algerians in debate about Christianity, are prohibited.
The hydrocarbons sector is the backbone of the Algerian economy, accounting for nearly 60 per cent of budget revenues, 30 per cent of GDP, and over 95 per cent of export earnings. Another additional foreign earning is Algerian workers’ remittances from abroad. Algeria has the fifth largest reserve of natural gas in the world and is the second-largest gas exporter; moreover, it ranks fourteenth in oil reserves in the world market.
Algeria was at one time the producer and exporter of wine, cereals, grain, potatoes and tomatoes. However, since independence, agriculture, the principal means of livelihood for many of the Algerian population for centuries, has declined in output, combined with a significant downward trend in the capital income of the agricultural sector.
A number of factors have contributed to the continuing decline in Algerian agriculture, apart from drought, the most important of which has been that the government has neglected this sector in order to allow the well-organised local Algerian import companies freedom to import food commodities. Also, during the last few years, due to civil war, many farmers have abandoned their farms to seek shelter in the safer cities, and workers who now receive a guaranteed monthly wage in other sectors simply do not have the incentive to work in agriculture. Privately-owned farms cannot at present get a loan from a bank or help from the state in order to increase production and compete with imported foods. For example, in 2003, there was very good rainfall all over Algeria, yet farmers could not find seeds, fertilisers and spare parts for machinery in the market. In fact, all statistics since independence to the present day show that the goal of the government for agriculture is simple: that importing food stuffs is better.
A further indicator is that, in all North African countries the import companies belong to highly influential people within the local establishment. Indeed, if one examines the profiles of the directors of these companies, it is apparent that these directors have family relations with the ruling élite. These links gives them carte blanche to import any commodities without interference from the State.
In 2003, the Algerian Minister of Agriculture, Mr Benalia Belhouadjeb, said that his Ministry will correct the past mistakes and will help Algerian farmers to improve their revenues and obtain loans from banks which have been denied to them in the past. He also seeks cooperation with the Spanish and the Canadians in the modernisation of Algerian agriculture, especially in the wine sector. The Minister is also in favour of privatising state-owned agricultural land.
There are about 20 political parties in Algeria, and six are represented in the Chamber of Deputies, but the FLN, which was the only legal political party from independence until 1989, still commands a lead.
There are several independent and government newspapers. The independent press is often silenced by the authorities although the government has not in the past used legal mechanisms to ban newspapers. Nevertheless, the State-owned printers and distributors, who have exclusive control in this field, often refuse to print the productions of the independent press on the grounds that these publishers owe money to the State, and the printers regularly remove pages of text without any legal justification. The independent press also suffers from a lack of advertising revenues since most companies prefer to advertise in the State-owned newspaper, El-moudjahid. Independent radio and television are not allowed at present.
At present, tourism is almost non-existent, and those who wish to apply for a tourist visa need an accommodation certificate duly certified by the authorities in Algeria.
ENTRY/ EXIT REQUIREMENTS
A valid passport is required, and a visa is required for almost all travellers. The processing time takes several days. One should therefore apply to an Algerian Consulate well in advance of travel to the country, especially as there will be a need to obtain an accommodation certificate and, in case of a business visa, to obtain an invitation letter from an Algerian sponsor company.