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The history of Algeria takes place in the fertile coastal plain of North Africa, which is often called the Maghreb (or Maghrib). North Africa served as a transit region for people moving towards 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 most significant forces in the country's history have been the spread of Islam, Arabization, Ottoman and French colonization, and independence.
Evidence of the early human occupation of Algeria is demonstrated by the discovery of 1.8 million year old Oldowan stone tools found at Ain Hanech in 1992. In 1954 fossilised Homo erectus bones were discovered by C. Arambourg at Ternefine that are 700,000 years old. Neolithic civilization (marked by animal domestication and subsistence agriculture) developed in the Saharan and Mediterranean Maghrib between 6000 and 2000 BC. This type of economy, richly depicted in the Tassili n'Ajjer cave paintings in southeastern Algeria, predominated in the Maghrib until the classical period. The amalgam of peoples of North Africa coalesced eventually into a distinct native population, the Berbers lacked a written language and hence tended to be overlooked or marginalized in historical accounts.
Since the 4000 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.
Phoenician traders arrived on the North African coast around 900 BC and established Carthage (in present-day Tunisia) around 800 BC. During the classical period, Berber civilization was already at a stage in which agriculture, manufacturing, trade, and political organization supported several states. Trade links between Carthage and the Berbers in the interior grew, but territorial expansion also resulted in the enslavement or military recruitment of some Berbers and in the extraction of tribute from others.
The Carthaginian state declined because of successive defeats by the Romans in the Punic Wars, and in 146 BC the city of Carthage was destroyed. As Carthaginian power waned, the influence of Berber leaders in the hinterland grew.
Berber territory was annexed by the Roman Empire in AD 24. Increases in urbanization and in the area under cultivation during Roman rule caused wholesale dislocations of Berber society, and Berber opposition to the Roman presence was nearly constant. The prosperity of most towns depended on agriculture, and the region was known as the breadbasket of the empire.
Christianity arrived in the 2nd century AD. By the end of the 4th century, the settled areas had become Christianized, and some Berber tribes had converted en masse.
According to historians of the Middle Ages, the Berbers are divided into two branches, two are from their ancestor Mazigh. In sum, the two branches Botr and Barnès are also divided into tribes. each Maghreb region is made up of several tribes. The large Berber tribes or peoples are Sanhadja, Houaras, Zenata, Masmouda, Kutama, Awarba, Berghwata ... etc. Each tribe is divided into sub tribes. All these tribes have independence and territorial decisions.
Several Berber dynasties have emerged during the Middle Ages to the Maghreb, Sudan, in Andalusia, Italy, in Mali, Niger, Senegal, Egypt ... etc.. Ibn Khaldoun made a table of Berber Dynasties: Zirid, Banu Ifran, Maghrawa, Almoravid, Hammadid, Almohad, Merinid, Abdalwadid, Wattasid, Meknassa, Hafsid dynasty.
The 8th and 11th centuries AD, brought Islam and the Arabic language.The introduction of Islam and Arabic had a profound impact on North Africa (or the Maghreb) beginning in the 7th 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 organisation. 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.
The first Arab military expeditions into the Maghreb, between 642 and 669, resulted in the spread of Islam. The Umayyads (a Muslim dynasty based in Damascus from 661 to 750) recognised that the strategic necessity of dominating the Mediterranean dictated a concerted military effort on the North African front. By 711 Umayyad forces helped by Berber converts to Islam had conquered all of North Africa. In 750 the Abbasids succeeded the Umayyads as Muslim rulers and moved the caliphate to Baghdad. Under the Abbasids, Berber Kharijites Sufri Banu Ifran were opposed to Umayyad and Abbasids. After, the Rustumids (761–909) actually ruled most of the central Maghrib from Tahirt, southwest of Algiers. The imams gained a reputation for honesty, piety, and justice, and the court of Tahirt was noted for its support of scholarship. The Rustumid imams failed, however, to organise a reliable standing army, which opened the way for Tahirt’s demise under the assault of the Fatimid dynasty.
With their interest focused primarily on Egypt and Muslim lands beyond, the Fatimids left the rule of most of Algeria to the Zirids and Hammadid (972–1148), a Berber dynasty that centered significant local power in Algeria for the first time but they still in war with Banu Ifran (kingdom of Tlemcen) and Maghraoua (942-1068). This period was marked by constant conflict, political instability, and economic decline. Following a large incursion of Arab bedouin from Egypt beginning in the first half of the 11th century, the use of Arabic spread to the countryside, and sedentary Berbers were gradually Arabised.
The Almoravid (“those who have made a religious retreat”) movement developed early in the 11th century among the Sanhaja Berbers of the western Sahara. The movement’s initial impetus was religious, an attempt by a tribal leader to impose moral discipline and strict adherence to Islamic principles on followers. But the Almoravid movement shifted to engaging in military conquest after 1054. By 1106 the Almoravids had conquered Morocco, the Maghreb as far east as Algiers, and Spain up to the Ebro River.
Like the Almoravids, the Almohads (“unitarians”) found their inspiration in Islamic reform. The Almohads took control of Morocco by 1146, captured Algiers around 1151, and by 1160 had completed the conquest of the central Maghrib. The zenith of Almohad power occurred between 1163 and 1199. For the first time, the Maghrib was united under a local regime, but the continuing wars in Spain overtaxed the resources of the Almohads, and in the Maghrib their position was compromised by factional strife and a renewal of tribal warfare.
In the central Maghrib, the Abdalwadid founded a dynasty that ruled the Kingdom of Tlemcen in Algeria. For more than 300 years, until the region came under Ottoman suzerainty in the 16th century, the Zayanids kept a tenuous hold in the central Maghrib. Many coastal cities asserted their autonomy as municipal republics governed by merchant oligarchies, tribal chieftains from the surrounding countryside, or the privateers who operated out of their ports. Nonetheless, Tlemcen, the “pearl of the Maghrib,” prospered as a commercial center.
The final triumph of the 700-year Christian reconquest of Spain was marked by the fall of Granada in 1492. Christian Spain imposed its influence on the Maghrib coast by constructing fortified outposts and collecting tribute. But Spain never sought to extend its North African conquests much beyond a few modest enclaves. Privateering was an age-old practice in the Mediterranean, and North African rulers engaged in it increasingly in the late 16th and early 17th centuries because it was so lucrative. Algeria became the privateering city-state par excellence, and two privateer brothers were instrumental in extending Ottoman influence in Algeria. At about the time Spain was establishing its presidios in the Maghrib, the Muslim privateer brothers Aruj and Khair ad Din—the latter known to Europeans as Barbarossa, or Red Beard—were operating successfully off Tunisia. In 1516 Aruj moved his base of operations to Algiers but was killed in 1518. Khair ad Din succeeded him as military commander of Algiers, and the Ottoman sultan gave him the title of beylerbey (provincial governor).
The Spanish expansionist policy in North Africa begun with the Catholic Monarchs and the regent Cisneros, once the Reconquista in the Iberian Peninsula was finished. That way, several towns and outposts in the Algerian coast were conquered and occupied: Mers El Kébir (1505), Oran (1509), Algiers (1510) and Bugia (1510). The Spaniards left Algiers in 1529, Bujia in 1554, Mers El Kébir and Oran in 1708. The Spanish returned in 1732 when the armada of the Duke of Montemar was victorious in the Battle of Aïn-el-Turk and took again Oran and Mers El Kébir. Both cities were held until 1792, when they were sold by the king Charles IV to the Bey of Algiers.
Under Khair ad Din’s regency, Algiers became the center of Ottoman authority in the Maghrib. For 300 years, Algeria was a province of the Ottoman Empire under a regency that had Algiers as its capital (see Dey). Subsequently, with the institution of a regular Ottoman administration, governors with the title of pasha ruled. Turkish was the official language, and Arabs and Berbers were excluded from government posts. In 1671 a new leader took power, adopting the title of dey. In 1710 the dey persuaded the sultan to recognize him and his successors as regent, replacing the pasha in that role.
Although Algiers remained a part of the Ottoman Empire, the Ottoman government ceased to have effective influence there. European maritime powers paid the tribute demanded by the rulers of the privateering states of North Africa (Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli, and Morocco) to prevent attacks on their shipping. The Napoleonic wars of the early 19th century diverted the attention of the maritime powers from suppressing piracy. But when peace was restored to Europe in 1815, Algiers found itself at war with Spain, the Netherlands, Prussia, Denmark, Russia, and Naples. 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.
North African boundaries have shifted during various stages of the conquests. The borders of modern Algeria were created by the French, whose colonization began in 1830 (French invasion began on July 5). To benefit French colonists (many of whom were not in fact of French origin but Italian, Maltese, and Spanish) and nearly the entirety of whom lived in urban areas, 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.
As a result of what the French considered an insult to the French consul in Algiers by the Dey in 1827, France blockaded Algiers for three years. In 1830, France invaded and occupied the coastal areas of Algeria, citing a diplomatic incident as casus belli. Hussein Dey went into exile. French colonization then gradually penetrated southwards, and came to have a profound impact on the area and its populations. The European conquest, initially accepted in the Algiers region, was soon met by a rebellion, led by Abdel Kadir, which took roughly a decade for the French troops to put down. By 1848 nearly all of northern Algeria was under French control, and the new government of the Second Republic declared the occupied lands an integral part of France. Three "civil territories"—Algiers, Oran, and Constantine—were organized as French départements (local administrative units) under a civilian government.
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. From 1856, native Muslims and Jews were viewed as French subjects, 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 many Muslims, which resulted in the Jews being seen as the accomplices of the colonial power by anti-colonial Algerians. 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.
A new generation of Islamic 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.
Colons (colonists), or, more popularly, pieds noirs (literally, black feet) dominated the government and controlled the bulk of Algeria’s wealth. Throughout the colonial era, they continued to block or delay all attempts to implement even the most modest reforms. But from 1933 to 1936, mounting social, political, and economic crises in Algeria induced the indigenous population to engage in numerous acts of political protest. The government responded with more restrictive laws governing public order and security. Algerian Muslims rallied to the French side at the start of World War II as they had done in World War I. But the colons were generally sympathetic to the collaborationist Vichy regime established following France’s defeat by Nazi Germany. After the fall of the Vichy regime in Algeria (November 11, 1942) as a result of Operation Torch, the Free French commander in chief in North Africa slowly rescinded repressive Vichy laws, despite opposition by colon extremists.
In March 1943, Muslim leader Ferhat Abbas presented the French administration with the Manifesto of the Algerian People, signed by 56 Algerian nationalist and international leaders. The manifesto demanded an Algerian constitution that would guarantee immediate and effective political participation and legal equality for Muslims. Instead, the French administration in 1944 instituted a reform package, based on the 1936 Viollette Plan, that granted full French citizenship only to certain categories of "meritorious" Algerian Muslims, who numbered about 60,000. In April 1945 the French had arrested the Algerian nationalist leader Messali Hadj. On May 1 the followers of his Parti du Peuple Algérien (PPA) participated in demonstrations which were violently put down by the police. Several Algerians were killed. The tensions between the Muslim and colon communities exploded on May 8, 1945, V-E Day. When a Muslim march in was met with violence, marchers rampaged. The army and police responded by conducting a prolonged and systematic ratissage (literally, raking over) of suspected centers of dissidence. According to official French figures, 1,500 Muslims died as a result of these countermeasures. Other estimates vary from 6,000 to as high as 45,000 killed. Many nationalists drew the conclusion that independence could not be won by peaceful means, and so started organizing for violent rebellion including use of terrorism.
In August 1947, the French National Assembly approved the government-proposed Organic Statute of Algeria. This law called for the creation of an Algerian Assembly with one house representing Europeans and "meritorious" Muslims and the other representing the remaining 8 million or more Muslims. Muslim and colon deputies alike abstained or voted against the statute but for diametrically opposed reasons: the Muslims because it fell short of their expectations and the colons because it went too far.
The Algerian War of Independence (1954–1962), 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. Abusive tactics of the French Army remains a controversial subject in France to this day.
In the early morning hours of November 1, 1954, the National Liberation Front (Front de Libération Nationale—FLN) launched attacks throughout Algeria in the opening salvo of a war of independence. An important watershed in this war was the massacre of civilians by the FLN near the town of Philippeville in August 1955. The government claimed it killed 1,273 guerrillas in retaliation; according to the FLN, 12,000 Muslims perished in an orgy of bloodletting by the armed forces and police, as well as colon gangs. After Philippeville, all-out war began in Algeria. The FLN fought largely using guerrilla and terrorist tactics whilst the French counter-insurgency tactics often included severe reprisals and repression.
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 guaranteed the religious and property rights of French settlers, but the perception that they would not be respected led to the exodus of one million pieds-noirs and harkis.
Between 350.000 and 1 million Algerians are estimated to have died during the war, and more than 2 million, out of a total Muslim population of 9 or 10 million, were made into refugees or forcibly relocated into government-controlled camps. Much of the countryside and agriculture was devastated, along with the modern economy, which had been dominated by urban European settlers (the pied-noirs). French sources estimated that at least 70,000 Muslim civilians were killed or abducted and presumed killed, by the FLN during the Algerian War. Citizens of European ethnicity (known as Pieds-Noirs) and Jews were also subjected to ethnic cleansing. These nearly one million people of mostly French descent were forced to flee the country at independence due to the unbridgeable rifts opened by the civil war and threats from units of the victorious FLN; along with them fled Algerians of Jewish descent and those Muslim Algerians who had supported a French Algeria (harkis). 30-150,000 pro-French Muslims were also killed in Algeria by FLN in post-war reprisals.
The referendum was held in Algeria on 1 July 1962, and France declared Algeria independent on 3 July. On 8 September 1963, a constitution was adopted by referendum, and later that month, Ahmed Ben Bella was formally elected the first president. The civil war and its aftermath had severely disrupted Algeria's society and economy. In addition to the physical destruction, the exodus of the colons deprived the country of most of its managers, civil servants, engineers, teachers, physicians, and skilled workers. The homeless and displaced numbered in the hundreds of thousands, many suffering from illness, and some 70 percent of the work force was unemployed.
The months immediately following independence witnessed the pell-mell rush of Algerians, their government, and its officials to claim the property and jobs left behind by the Europeans. In the 1963 March Decrees, Ben Bella declared that all agricultural, industrial, and commercial properties previously owned and operated by Europeans were vacant, thereby legalizing confiscation by the state. A new constitution drawn up under close FLN supervision was approved by nationwide referendum in September 1963, and Ben Bella was confirmed as the party's choice to lead the country for a five-year term.
Under the new constitution, Ben Bella as president combined the functions of chief of state and head of government with those of supreme commander of the armed forces. He formed his government without needing legislative approval and was responsible for the definition and direction of its policies. There was no effective institutional check on its powers. Opposition leader Hocine Aït-Ahmed quit the National Assembly in 1963 to protest the increasingly dictatorial tendencies of the regime and formed a clandestine resistance movement, the Front of Socialist Forces (Front des Forces Socialistes—FFS) dedicated to overthrowing the Ben Bella regime by force.
Late summer 1963 saw sporadic incidents attributed to the FFS. More serious fighting broke out a year later. The army moved quickly and in force to crush the rebellion. As minister of defense, Houari Boumédienne had no qualms about sending the army to put down regional uprisings because he felt they posed a threat to the state. However, when Ben Bella attempted to co-opt allies from among some of those regionalists, tensions increased between Houari Boumédienne and Ahmed Ben Bella. In 1965 the military toppled Ahmed Ben Bella, and Houari Boumedienne became head of state. The military has dominated Algerian politics until today.
On 19 June 1965, Houari Boumédienne deposed Ahmed Ben Bella in a military coup d'état that was both swift and bloodless. Ben Bella "disappeared", and would not be seen again until he was released from house arrest in 1980 by Boumédienne's successor, Colonel Chadli Bendjedid. Boumédienne immediately dissolved the National Assembly and suspended the 1963 constitution. Political power resided in the Council of the Revolution, a predominantly military body intended to foster cooperation among various factions in the army and the party.
Houari Boumédienne’s position as head of government and of state was initially not secure partly because of his lack of a significant power base outside the armed forces; he relied strongly on a network of former associates known as the Oujda group (after his posting as ALN leader in the Moroccan border town of Oujda during the war years), but he could not fully dominate the fractious regime. This situation may have accounted for his deference to collegial rule.
Following attempted coups—most notably that of chief-of-staff Col. Tahar Zbiri in December 1967—and a failed assassination attempt in (April 25, 1968), Boumédienne consolidated power and forced military and political factions to submit to what was essentially his personal rule. He took a systematic, authoritarian approach to state building, arguing that Algeria needed stability and an economic base before any political institutions.
Eleven years after Houari Boumédienne took power, after much public debate, a long-promised new constitution was promulgated in November 1976, and Boumédienne was elected president with 95 percent of the cast votes.
Boumédienne’s death on December 27, 1978 set off a struggle within the FLN to choose a successor. To break a deadlock between two candidates, Colonel Chadli Bendjedid, a moderate who had collaborated with Boumédienne in deposing Ahmed Ben Bella, was sworn in on February 9, 1979. He was re-elected in 1984 and 1988. After the violent 1988 October Riots, 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 Boumédienne, from a 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 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.
In 1996 a referendum introduced changes to the constitution, enhancing presidential powers and banning Islamist parties. Presidential elections were held in April 1999. Although seven candidates qualified for election, all but Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who appeared to have the support of the military as well as the FLN, withdrew on the eve of the election amid charges of electoral fraud. Bouteflika went on to win with 70 percent of the cast votes.
Following his election to a five-year term, Bouteflika concentrated on restoring security and stability to the strife-ridden country. As part of his endeavor, he successfully campaigned to provide amnesty to thousands of members of the banned FIS. The so-called Civil Concord was approved in a nationwide referendum in September 2000. The reconciliation by no means ended all violence, but it reduced violence to manageable levels. An estimated 80% of those fighting the regime accepted the amnesty offer.
The president also formed national commissions to study reforms of the education system, judiciary, and state bureaucracy. President Bouteflika was rewarded for his efforts at stabilizing the country when he was elected to another five-year term in April 2004, in an election contested by six candidates without military interference. In September 2005, another referendum -—this one to consider a proposed Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation—- passed by an overwhelming margin. The charter coupled another amnesty offer to all but the most violent participants in the Islamist uprising with an implicit pardon for security forces accused of abuses in fighting the rebels.