This series of profiles of foreign nations is part of the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The profiles offer brief, summarized information on a country's historical background, geography, society, economy, transportation and telecommunications, government and politics, and national security. Derived from The Library of Congress.
COUNTRY PROFILE: ALGERIA GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
Government Overview: The Algerian government is a multi-party republic with a constitution and a strong presidency. In 1992 Algeria’s military-led government cancelled the second round of national legislative elections following the overwhelming success of an Islamist party in the first round. This action led to a popular revolt that ultimately cost the lives of as many as 150,000 people. In the early 2000s, the government offered amnesty to the rebels; violence has since abated, but a state of emergency continues. The overwhelming re-election of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in April 2004 reflects his success in restoring relative stability to the country following a period of bloody civil strife.
Branches of Government: Algeria observes a separation of powers among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. In general, the president and the executive branch implement the law, the parliament passes legislation, and the courts decide on civil and criminal cases. The president is the head of state and has wide-ranging powers, including the ability to appoint and dismiss the prime minister, who serves as head of government. The president is also commander in chief of the armed forces, and the current president presently serves as minister of national defense. The president is elected to a five-year term and may be re-elected once. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was elected to a second term in April 2004, reportedly with 85 percent of the vote. Although the prime minister appoints the Council of Ministers, the president heads both the Council of Ministers and the High Security Council, which advises the president on national security issues.
Algeria has a bicameral parliament. The lower chamber is the 389-member National People’s Assembly (Assemblée Populaire Nationale—APN), and the upper chamber is the 144-member Council of the Nation. Members of the APN are popularly elected for five-year terms. The last elections for the APN were held in May 2002. Regional and local authorities elect two-thirds of the Council of the Nation, while the president appoints the remaining members. The members serve six-year terms; half stand for election or appointment every three years. The Council of the Nation was last constituted according to this procedure in 2003. Legislation may originate with either of the chambers or with the president.
Although Algeria’s constitution mandates an independent judiciary, the executive branch exercises some influence over its operations. Ordinary courts have initial jurisdiction over civil proceedings. Each of the 48 provinces has a court of appeal that reviews initial court decisions. The Supreme Court has the highest jurisdiction. Administrative courts have jurisdiction over minor disputes. The State Council, which was established in 1998, regulates the administrative courts. The Court of Auditors oversees public spending and services. The nine-member Constitutional Council ensures that legislation is consistent with the constitution and supervises elections. The High Islamic Council promotes Islamic case law. Military courts have jurisdiction over cases involving security- or terrorism-related charges brought against both military personnel and civilians.
Constitution: Algeria’s constitution was adopted on November 19, 1976. It was subsequently modified in 1979 and amended in 1988, 1989, and 1996. The constitution mandates a multi-party state, but the Ministry of Interior must approve all parties. Article 2 designates Islam as the state religion.
Administrative Divisions: Algeria is divided into 48 provinces (wilayas; sing., wilaya): Adrar, Aïn Defla, Aïn Temouchent, Alger, Annaba, Batna, Bechar, Bejaïa, Biskra, Blida, Bordj Bou Arreridj, Bouira, Boumerdes, Chelif, Constantine, Djelfa, El Bayadh, El Oued, El Tarf, Ghardaïa, Guelma, Illizi, Jijel, Khenchela, Laghouat, Mascara, Médéa, Mila, Mostaganem, M'Sila, Naama, Oran, Ouargla, Oum el Bouaghi, Relizane, Saïda, Sétif, Sidi Bel Abbes, Skikda, Souk Ahras, Tamanghasset, Tébessa, Tiaret, Tindouf, Tipaza, Tissemsilt, Tizi Ouzou, and Tlemcen. Provinces are further divided into communes.
Provincial and Local Government: A governor (walis), appointed by the president and subordinate to the Ministry of Interior, heads each of Algeria’s 48 provinces. Elected assemblies govern each province and commune, the next lower administrative division. In November 2005, the government held special regional elections to address under-representation of Berber interests in regional and local assemblies.
Judicial and Legal System: The top three sources of Algerian law are treaties or conventions ratified by the president, the legal code, and Islamic law. French jurisprudence has not been observed since 1975. According to the constitution, defendants are entitled to a public trial, during which they are presumed innocent, they may confront witnesses, and they may present evidence. They also have the right to appeal the verdict. Despite these constitutional protections, defendants, particularly women, are sometimes denied due process, including the opportunity to examine government evidence, according to the U.S. Department of State.
Electoral System: Universal suffrage applies at age 18. Presidential elections, which are held every five years, are next scheduled for April 2009. Legislative elections, also held every five years, are scheduled for May 2007.
Politics and Political Parties: The Ministry of Interior must approve all political parties, and, according to the constitution, membership may not be “based on differences in religion, language, race, gender, or region.” The most influential political party is the National Liberation Front (Front de Libération Nationale—FLN), which holds 52 percent of the seats in the National People’s Assembly. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika does not officially belong to any political party, but he is honorary chairman of the FLN. In February 2005, the FLN voted to support Bouteflika after a dissident faction agreed to drop opposition to his policies. Other major parties are the Front of Socialist Forces, the Movement for National Reform, the Movement of Society for Peace, and the National Rally for Democracy. In 1992 the government outlawed the Islamic Salvation Front. Altogether, Algeria has about 40 political parties.
Mass Media: Algeria has more than 45 independent French-language and Arabic-language publications as well as four government-owned newspapers (two published in French and two in Arabic), but the government controls all printing presses and advertising. The newspapers with the largest circulations are El-Khabar (530,000), Quotidien d’Oran (195,000), and Liberté (120,000); all three are employee-owned. The government also owns all radio and television outlets, which provide pro-government programming. In 2004 and 2005, the government increased the access of Berber language and culture to both print and broadcast media.
In general, the state exercises considerable control over Algeria’s mass media, and harassment of the press increased following President Bouteflika’s re-election in April 2004. The print media practice self-censorship to avoid various forms of government pressure, including defamation lawsuits and the potential withholding of state-controlled advertising. In 2004 two newspapers were closed or suspended over debts owed the state-owned printing company. In one notable defamation case, the managing editor of Le Matin began to serve a two-year prison term for libel in June 2004. During the civil strife from 1993 to 1997, mostly Islamist factions murdered some 57 journalists.
Foreign Relations: Algeria maintains diplomatic relations with more than 100 countries. From January 2004 until December 2005, Algeria held a non-permanent, rotating seat on the United Nations Security Council. Algeria and the United States have a somewhat ambivalent relationship, but the two countries formed strategic ties in the battle against radical Islam following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. Relations between Algeria and France also are ambivalent because of the mixed legacy of French colonialism. However, the French language remains influential, France is a major trading partner for Algeria, and the two nations were in the process of pursuing a friendship treaty in 2005. In Africa, Algeria’s diplomatic initiatives include hosting peace talks between Ethiopia and Eritrea in 2000, cooperating with Egypt, Nigeria, Senegal, and South Africa on the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (an African Union development initiative), and promoting the Arab Maghreb Union (an economic bloc encompassing Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia). Algeria supports the Polisario, a Western Sahara independence movement, by providing it with sanctuary in southwestern Algeria. The border region between Morocco and Algeria has been the site of terrorist violence. Although Morocco lifted visa requirements for Algerians in 2004, Algeria has declined to reciprocate. In the Middle East, Algeria advocates the Palestinian cause.
Membership in International Organizations: Algeria belongs to the following international organizations: African Development Bank, African Union, Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa, Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, Arab Maghreb Union, Arab Monetary Fund, Bank for International Settlements, Food and Agriculture Organization, Group of 15, Group of 24, Group of 77, International Atomic Energy Agency, International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank), International Chamber of Commerce, International Civil Aviation Organization, International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, International Criminal Court (signatory), International Criminal Police Organization, International Development Association, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, International Finance Corporation, International Fund for Agricultural Development, International Hydrographic Organization, International Labour Organization, International Maritime Organization, International Monetary Fund, International Olympic Committee, International Organization for Migration, International Organization for Standardization, International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, International Telecommunication Union, Islamic Development Bank, League of Arab States, Multilateral Investment Geographic Agency, Nonaligned Movement, Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (partner), Organization of American States (observer), Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries, Organization of the Islamic Conference, Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, United Nations, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, United Nations Industrial Development Organization, Universal Postal Union, World Customs Organization, World Health Organization, World Intellectual Property Organization, World Meteorological Organization, World Tourism Organization, and World Trade Organization (observer).
Major International Treaties: In the area of arms control, Algeria is a party to the following conventions: Biological Weapons, Chemical Weapons, Nuclear Nonproliferation, and Partial Test Ban. Algeria has signed, but not ratified, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and the Geneva Protocol. Regarding the environment, Algeria is a party to the following conventions: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, and Wetlands. In the area of counterterrorism, Algeria is a party to the following conventions: Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, Suppression of Terrorist Bombings, Marking of Plastic Explosives for the Purpose of Detection, Against the Taking of Hostages, Offences and Certain Other Acts Committed on Board Aircraft, Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft, Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation, Protocol on the Suppression of Unlawful Acts of Violence at Airports Serving International Civil Aviation, Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation, and Prevention and Punishment of Crimes against Internationally Protected Persons, including Diplomatic Agents.
Armed Forces Overview: Algeria’s military, paramilitary, and police forces are more concerned about an internal threat from Islamic extremists than a definable external threat. The military is credited with controlling the internal threat through operational and surveillance activities. Russia has supplied most of the military’s equipment.
Foreign Military Relations: Algeria’s leading arms supplier is Russia, and the second most important supplier is China. The United States has been reluctant to provide Algeria with arms, although the two nations began a dialogue on military relations in 2004. The United States trains Algerian troops under the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program. In 2004 France and Algeria began talks that could lead to a mutual defense treaty.
External Threat: Algeria does not face a clearly defined external threat. Theoretically, Algeria could become embroiled in a serious dispute with neighboring Morocco over Algeria’s support for the Polisario Front, a Western Saharan independence movement.
Defense Budget: In 2004 Algeria’s defense expenditures totaled about US$2.5 billion, corresponding to more than 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).
Major Military Units: Algeria’s active-duty military consists of 110,000 in the army (including 75,000 conscripts), 7,500 in the navy and coast guard, and 10,000 in the air force. In addition to active-duty personnel, Algeria has about 150,000 military reserves assigned to the army. The army is organized in six military regions. Reorganization into a divisional structure is under consideration. Major army units include two armored divisions, two mechanized divisions, one airborne division, one independent armored brigade, and four independent mechanized infantry brigades. Additional battalions are as follows: 20 independent infantry, two artillery, one air defense, and six antiaircraft artillery. The air force is organized in three fighter/ground attack squadrons, five fighter squadrons, two reconnaissance squadrons, two surveillance/signals intelligence squadrons, two maritime reconnaissance squadrons, two transport squadrons, and five training squadrons. The navy and coast guard have bases at Mers el Kebir, Algiers, Annaba, and Jijel.
Major Military Equipment: Algeria’s army has the following equipment: 1,000 main battle tanks, 124 reconnaissance vehicles, 989 armored infantry fighting vehicles, 630 armored personnel carriers, 406 towed artillery, 370 self-propelled artillery, 144 multiple rocket launchers, 330 mortars, an unspecified number of antitank guided weapons, 178 recoilless launchers, 246 antitank guns, about 900 air defense guns, and an unspecified number of surface-to-air missiles. The navy has two submarines, three principal surface combatants, 25 patrol and coastal combatants, three amphibious craft, and three support and miscellaneous craft. The air force has 175 combat aircraft and 91 armed helicopters.
Military Service: Military service is compulsory for males aged 19–30. The term of service is 18 months, consisting of 6 months of basic training and 12 months of civil projects.
Paramilitary Forces: Algeria’s paramilitary forces include the 60,000-member Gendarmerie Nationale, which is subordinate to the Ministry of National Defense; the 1,200-member Republican Guard, an elite corps of the Gendarmerie Nationale; and an estimated 20,000 national security forces in the General Directorate of National Security under the Ministry of Interior.
Foreign Military Forces: No foreign forces are based in Algeria.
Military Forces Abroad: Algeria has deployed observers with the United Nations (UN) Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Police: Responsibility for maintaining law and order is shared by the 60,000-member Gendarmerie Nationale, under the Ministry of National Defense, and the 30,000-member Sûreté Nationale, or national police force, under the Ministry of Interior. The Gendarmerie Nationale is mainly active in rural and remote areas of the country, while the Sûreté Nationale is primarily an urban police force. Algeria’s various security forces have been involved in counterterrorism operations and have been accused of excesses in the battle against Islamist groups. They also face complaints of harassing journalists.
Internal Threat: Algeria faces a threat from domestic Islamist radical groups. These groups rose up in rebellion in 1992 after the government halted a national election that would have given power to the militant Islamic Salvation Front. Related terrorism, which cost the lives of as many as 150,000 people, has abated since the government began to offer amnesty to rebels. Berber unrest also remains a concern and periodically manifests itself in the form of demonstrations to protest restrictions on ethnic, cultural, and linguistic rights.
Terrorism: Algeria has a tradition of Islamist-inspired terrorism, spurred by two groups that have competed for influence: the Armed Islamic Group (Groupe Islamique Armé—GIA) and the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat—GSPC). Al Qaeda was instrumental in establishing the GSPC as an alternative to the GIA, which continues to operate in a diminished form. In 1996 Osama bin Laden encouraged the GSPC to break away from the GIA because he disapproved of the GIA’s extremely unpopular policy of massacring Muslim civilians who were not jihadists. Bin Laden shares the GSPC’s Salafist beliefs, which advocate a restoration of the stringent form of Sunni Islam practiced by companions of the Prophet Muhammad. Although avoiding wanton violence against civilians, the GSPC targets the security services of Algeria’s secular government. In one notorious incident in 2003, the GSPC seized European tourists visiting the Sahara Desert. Fourteen of the hostages were released after more than five months in exchange for ransom paid by the German government; the fifteenth hostage died while in custody.
After 1992 terrorism flared when the government canceled the second round of elections in which an Islamist party, the Islamic Salvation Front, held a substantial lead after the first round. Ensuing civil strife led to the death of as many as 150,000 people. In the early 2000s, the government offered amnesty to the rebels; violence has since abated, but a state of emergency continues. President Bouteflika, who was re-elected in April 2004, enjoys broad support because of the success of his amnesty programs in ushering in a period of relative stability. In September 2005, Bouteflika’s approach was once again endorsed when a popular referendum on the Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation passed by an overwhelming margin. The charter provides for a continuing amnesty program for all but the most violent insurgents, exoneration of the security services for alleged misdeeds in fighting the insurgency, and compensation for the victims of violence.
Human Rights: In its annual country report on human rights practices released March 2006, the U.S. Department of State noted the persistence of a number of human rights problems in Algeria but credited the government with having taken several significant steps to strengthen human rights in 2005. Continuing problems listed in the report include failure to account for past disappearances, alleged incidences of abuse and torture of detainees, impunity, arbitrary arrest and prolonged pretrial detention, denial of due process, restrictions on civil liberties and freedom of religion, corruption, and discrimination against women and minorities. Improvements cited in the report include a significant reduction in the incidence of abuse, torture, and arbitrary arrest by security forces; a crackdown on government (including judicial) corruption; the strengthening of equal rights protections for women in the Family Code and Nationality Code; and an attempt to address under-representation of Berber interests in the Kabylie by holding special regional elections in November 2005.
Index for Algeria:
Overview | Government
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