Overview | Government

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.


March 2006


Formal Name: People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria

(Al Jumhuriyah al Jazairiyah ad Dimuqratiyah ash Shabiyah).

Short Form: Algeria (Al Jazair).

Term for Citizen(s): Algerian(s).

Capital: Algiers, with a population of about 1.7 million, or 3 million including suburbs.

Major Cities: After Algiers, the most populous cities are Oran, Constantine, and Annaba. According to 2004 estimates, Oran has a population of 700,000; Constantine, 350,000; and Annaba, 235,000.

Independence: Algeria celebrates independence from France on July 5, 1962.

Public Holidays: Official holidays include New Year’s (January 1); Feast of the Sacrifice (January 11, 2006*); Islamic New Year (January 31, 2006*); Ashoura (February 9, 2006*); Birth of Muhammad (April 11, 2006*); Labor Day (May 1); Ben Bella’s Overthrow (June 19); Independence Day (July 5); Ascension of Muhammad (August 22, 2006*); Beginning of Ramadan (September 24, 2006*); End of Ramadan (October 24, 2006*); and Anniversary of the Revolution (November 1). Dates marked with an asterisk vary from year to year according to the Islamic calendar.

Flag: Algeria’s flag features a red crescent and a red five-pointed star

against two equal vertical bands of green and white in the background.

The crescent, the star, and the color green symbolize Islam, the state



Prehistory of Central North Africa: Early inhabitants of the central Maghrib (also seen as Maghreb; designates North Africa west of Egypt) left behind significant remains including remnants of hominid occupation from ca. 200,000 B.C. found near Saïda. Neolithic civilization (marked by animal domestication and subsistence agriculture) developed in the Saharan and Mediterranean Maghrib between 6000 and 2000 B.C. This type of economy, so 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 that came to be called Berbers. Distinguished primarily by cultural and linguistic attributes, the Berbers lacked a written language and hence tended to be overlooked or marginalized in historical accounts.

North Africa During the Classical Period: Phoenician traders arrived on the North African coast around 900 B.C. and established Carthage (in present-day Tunisia) around 800 B.C. 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 brought about the enslavement or military recruitment of some Berbers and the extraction of tribute from others. The Carthaginian state declined because of successive defeats by the Romans in the Punic Wars, and in 146 B.C. the city of Carthage was destroyed. As Carthaginian power waned, the influence of Berber leaders in the hinterland grew. By the second century B.C., several large but loosely administered Berber kingdoms had emerged.

Berber territory was annexed to the Roman Empire in A.D. 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 “granary of the empire.” Christianity arrived in the second century. By the end of the fourth century, the settled areas had become Christianized, and some Berber tribes had converted en masse.

Islam and the Arabs: The first Arab military expeditions into the Maghrib, between 642 and 669, resulted in the spread of Islam. The Umayyads (a Muslim dynasty based in Damascus from 661 to 750) recognized 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, the Rustumid imamate (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 organize 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 (972–1148), a Berber dynasty that centered significant local power in Algeria for the first time. 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 eleventh century, the use of Arabic spread to the countryside, and sedentary Berbers were gradually Arabized.

The Almoravid (“those who have made a religious retreat”) movement developed early in the eleventh 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 Maghrib 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 Zayanids founded a dynasty at Tlemcen in Algeria. For more than 300 years, until the region came under Ottoman suzerainty in the sixteenth 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 sixteenth and early seventeenth 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). Under Khair ad Din’s regency, Algiers became the center of Ottoman authority in the Maghrib. 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 assumed 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 exacted 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 nineteenth century diverted the attention of the maritime powers from suppressing what they derogatorily called piracy. But when peace was restored to Europe in 1815, Algiers found itself at war with Spain, the Netherlands, Prussia, Denmark, Russia, and Naples. In March of that year, the U.S. Congress also authorized naval action against the so-called Barbary States.

France in Algeria: 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. France then used the failure of the blockade as a reason for a military expedition against Algiers in 1830. 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.

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, 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. The tensions between the Muslim and colon communities exploded on May 8, 1945, V-E Day. When a Muslim march 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.

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.

War of Independence: 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.

From its origins in 1954 as ragtag maquisards numbering in the hundreds and armed with a motley assortment of weapons, the National Liberation Army (Armée de Libération Nationale—ALN), the military wing of the FLN, had evolved by 1957 into a disciplined fighting force of nearly 40,000 that successfully applied hit-and-run guerrilla warfare tactics. By 1956 France had committed more than 400,000 troops to Algeria. In 1958–59 the French army had won military control in Algeria, but political developments had already overtaken the French army's successes. During that period in France, opposition to the conflict was growing, and international pressure was also building on France to grant Algeria independence.

When Charles De Gaulle became premier of France in June 1958, he was given carte blanche to deal with Algeria. De Gaulle appointed a committee to draft a new constitution for France's Fifth Republic, with which Algeria would be associated but of which it would not form an integral part. Muslims, including women, were registered for the first time with Europeans on a common electoral roll to participate in a referendum to be held on the new constitution in September 1958. Despite threats of reprisal by the FLN, 80 percent of the Muslim electorate turned out to vote in September, and of these 96 percent approved the constitution. In February 1959, de Gaulle was elected president of the new Fifth Republic.

Then, in a September 1959 statement, de Gaulle uttered the words "self-determination," which he envisioned as leading to majority rule in an Algeria formally associated with France. Claiming that de Gaulle had betrayed them, the colons, backed by units of the army, staged an insurrection in Algiers in January 1960 that won mass support in Europe. In Paris de Gaulle called on the army to remain loyal and rallied popular support for his Algeria policy in a televised address. Most of the army heeded his call, and French forces defused the insurrection. However, in April 1961 important elements of the French army joined in another unsuccessful insurrection intended to seize control of Algeria as well as topple the de Gaulle regime. This coup marked the turning point in the official attitude toward the Algerian war. De Gaulle was now prepared to abandon the colons, the group that no previous French government could have written off.

Talks with the FLN reopened at Evian in May 1961. In their final form, the Evian Accords allowed the colons equal legal protection with Algerians over a three-year period. At the end of that period, however, Europeans would be obliged to become Algerian citizens or be classified as aliens with the attendant loss of rights. The French electorate approved the Evian Accords by an overwhelming 91 percent vote in a referendum held in June 1962. On July 1, 1962, some 6 million of a total Algerian electorate of 6.5 million cast their ballots in the referendum on independence. The affirmative vote was a nearly unanimous mandate.

Independent Algeria, 1962–present: The creation of the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria was formally proclaimed on September 25, 1962. The following day, after being named premier, Ahmed Ben Bella formed a cabinet that linked the leadership of the three power bases—the army, the party, and the government. However, Ben Bella's ambitions and authoritarian tendencies ultimately led the triumvirate to unravel and provoked increasing discontent among Algerians.

The war of national liberation 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 had 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 with no need for legislative approval and was solely responsible for the definition and direction of its policies. Essentially, he had no effective institutional check on his powers.

Opposition leader Hosine Ait-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 Boumediene 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 Boumediene and Ben Bella. On June 19, 1965, Boumediene deposed Ben Bella in a military coup d'état that was both swift and bloodless.

Boumediene 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. Boumediene’s position as head of government and of state was not secure initially, partly because of his lack of a significant power base outside the armed forces. This situation may have accounted for his deference to collegial rule. But following attempted coups and a failed assassination attempt in 1967–68, Boumediene succeeded in consolidating power. Eleven years after he took power and after much public debate, a long-promised new constitution was promulgated in November 1976, and Boumediene was elected president with a 95 percent majority.

Boumediene’s death on December 27, 1978, set off a struggle within the FLN to choose a successor. As a compromise to break a deadlock between two other candidates, Colonel Chadli Bendjedid, a moderate who had collaborated with Boumediene in deposing Ben Bella, was sworn in on February 9, 1979 (and subsequently reelected in 1984 and 1988). In June 1980, he summoned an extraordinary FLN Party Congress to produce a five-year plan to liberalize the economy and break up unwieldy state corporations. However, reform efforts failed to end high unemployment and other economic hardship, all of which fueled Islamist activism. Incidents indicating social unrest increased as the economy foundered from 1985 to 1988. The alienation and anger of the population were fanned by the widespread perception that the government had become corrupt and aloof. The waves of discontent crested in October 1988, when a series of strikes and walkouts by students and workers in Algiers degenerated into rioting. In response, the government declared a state of emergency and used force to quell the unrest.

The stringent measures used to put down the riots of “Black October” engendered a groundswell of outrage. In response, Benjedid conducted a house cleaning of senior officials and drew up a program of political reform. A new constitution, approved overwhelmingly in February 1989, dropped the word socialist from the official description of the country; guaranteed freedoms of expression, association, and meeting; and withdrew the guarantees of women’s rights that had appeared in the 1976 constitution. The FLN was not mentioned in the document at all, and the army was discussed only in the context of national defense. The new laws reinvigorated politics. Newspapers became the liveliest and freest in the Arab world, while political parties of nearly every stripe vied for members and a voice. In February 1989, the Islamic Salvation Front (Front Islamique du Salut—FIS) was founded.

Algeria’s leaders were stunned in December 1991 when FIS candidates won absolute majorities in 188 of 430 electoral districts, far ahead of the FLN’s 15 seats, in the first round of legislative elections. Faced with the possibility of a complete FIS takeover and under pressure from the military leadership, Benjadid dissolved parliament and then resigned in January 1992. He was succeeded by the five-member High Council of State, which canceled the second round of elections. The FIS, as well as the FLN, clamored for a return of the electoral process, but police and troops countered with massive arrests. In February 1992, violent demonstrations erupted in many cities. The government declared a one-year state of emergency and banned the FIS. The voiding of the 1991 election results led to a period of civil conflict that cost the lives of as many as 150,000 people. Periodic negotiations between the military government and Islamist rebels failed to produce a settlement.

In 1996 a referendum passed that 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 70 percent of the 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 grant 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 percent 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.


Location: Algeria is located in northwestern Africa, bordering the

Mediterranean Sea between Morocco and Tunisia.

Size: Algeria has an area of almost 2.4 million square kilometers,

more than four-fifths of which is desert. Nearly 3.5 times the size

of Texas, Algeria is the tenth largest country in the world and the

second largest in Africa.

Land Boundaries: Algeria shares borders with Morocco

(1,559 kilometers), Mali (1,376 kilometers), Libya (982 kilometers), Tunisia (965 kilometers), Niger (956 kilometers), Mauritania (463 kilometers), and Western Sahara (42 kilometers).

Disputed Territory: Algeria has border disputes with Morocco and Libya. Disagreements between Algeria and Morocco concern smuggling activities along the border, jurisdiction over territory in southeastern Morocco, and Morocco’s claim to Western Sahara. Libya claims 32,000 square kilometers of southeastern Algeria.

Length of Coastline: Algeria’s 998-kilometer northern border stretches along the southern edge of the Mediterranean Sea from Morocco in the west to Tunisia in the east.

Maritime Claims: Algeria claims a territorial sea of 12 nautical miles and an exclusive fishing zone of 32–52 nautical miles.

Topography: A sharp contrast exists between the relatively fertile, mountainous, topographically fragmented north, dominated by parallel ranges of the Atlas Mountains, and the vast expanse of the Sahara Desert in the south. The fertile Tell region in the north, extending eastward from the Moroccan border, is the country's heartland, containing most of its cities and population. The Tell is made up of the hills and plains of the narrow coastal region, several Tell Atlas mountain ranges, and intermediate valleys and basins. South of the Tell, the High Plateaus region stretches more than 600 kilometers eastward from the Moroccan border. This region consists of undulating, steppe-like plains lying between the Tell Atlas Mountains to the north and the Saharan Atlas mountains to the south. The High Plateaus region averages between 1,100 and 1,300 meters in elevation in the west, dropping to 400 meters in the east. Northeastern Algeria consists of a massif area extensively dissected into mountains, plains, and basins. It differs from the western portion of the country in that its prominent topographic features do not parallel the coast. The Algerian portion of the Sahara extends south of the Saharan Atlas for 1,500 kilometers to the borders with Niger and Mali. The desert is an otherworldly place, scarcely considered an integral part of the country. Far from being covered wholly by sweeps of sand, it is a region of great diversity. Immense areas of sand dunes occupy about one-quarter of the territory. Much of the remainder of the desert is covered by rocky platforms, and almost the entire southeastern quarter is taken up by highlands.

Principal Rivers: Algeria’s largest river, the Chelif, flows 725 kilometers from the Tell Atlas into the Mediterranean Sea.

Climate: The coastal lowlands and mountain valleys are characterized by a Mediterranean climate, mild winters, and moderate rainfall. In this densely populated region, temperatures average between 21° C and 24° C in the summer and drop to 10° C to 12° C in the winter. Average temperatures and precipitation are lower in the intermountain High Plateaus. The desert is hot and arid. Most of the country experiences little seasonal change but considerable diurnal variation in temperature. Rainfall is fairly abundant along the coastal part of the Tell, ranging from 400 to 670 millimeters annually, the amount of precipitation increasing from west to east. Precipitation is heaviest in the northern part of eastern Algeria, where it reaches as much as 1,000 millimeters in some years. Farther inland the rainfall is less plentiful.

Natural Resources: Algeria’s natural resources consist of petroleum, natural gas, iron ore, phosphates, uranium, lead, and zinc. Algeria has proven oil reserves of 11.8 billion barrels, a relatively modest amount. Proven natural gas reserves are estimated at 160 trillion cubic feet, the eighth largest in the world.

Land Use: In 2001 Algeria’s land use was as follows: 3.22 percent, arable; 0.25 percent, permanent crops; and 96.56 percent, other. More than four-fifths of Algeria’s territory is desert.

Environmental Factors: A disturbing environmental trend is the encroachment of the Sahara Desert on the fertile coastal and highland Tell and inland Saharan Atlas regions. Poor farming practices and overgrazing have led to soil erosion. The dumping of sewage and waste from the petrochemical industry has damaged the Mediterranean coast. Water is scarce, so a premium is placed on conservation and desalination. For centuries desert nomads have relied on creative irrigation techniques, including the use of underground water tunnels and palm fronds to draw moisture. In June 2005, General Electric announced plans to build Africa’s largest seawater desalination plant in Algeria.

Time Zone: Algeria’s time zone is Central European Time (Greenwich Mean Time plus 1 hour).


Population: As of January 1, 2005, Algeria’s population was estimated to total 32.6 million. The population was growing at an annual rate of 1.2 percent. More than 90 percent of the country’s population is concentrated along the Mediterranean coast, which constitutes only 12 percent of the country’s land area. Therefore, the overall population density of 13.6 people per square kilometer is deceptive. About 59 percent of Algeria’s population is urban. Drought conditions have led to an internal migration of farmers and herdsmen to the cities to seek other employment. High unemployment encourages emigration. In 2005 Algeria’s net migration rate was estimated at –0.37 migrants per 1,000 people. Algeria also hosts more than 100,000 Sahrawi refugees from Western Sahara, who began taking refuge in Algeria in the 1970s following Spain’s withdrawal and the eruption of a struggle for control of the territory. Most live in desert areas of western Algeria and depend on the United Nations and other relief agencies for their survival.

Demography: In 2005 population distribution by age was as follows: 0–14 years: 29 percent; 15–39 years: 47 percent; 40–64 years: 19 percent; and 65 years and older: 5 percent. As this distribution indicates, Algeria has a very young population, a fact that poses a challenge for the labor market and the education system. According to the World Health Organization, in 2003 life expectancy was 70 years (69 years for men and 72 years for women). Based on this information, Algeria ranked 116 out of 224 countries in life expectancy. According to the Algerian Statistical Office, in 2004 the birthrate was nearly 20.7 per 1,000 people, and the death rate was nearly 4.4 per 1,000 people. The infant mortality rate was 30.4 per 1,000 live births according to official statistics but 38 per 1,000 live births according to some independent observers. The fertility rate was 1.9 children born per woman. Some 1.05 males were born for every female.

Ethnic Group(s): An estimated 99 percent of the population is Arab-Berber, combining Islamic faith with North African Berber cultural identification. Europeans constitute the remaining 1 percent. Unrest persists in the Kabylie region in the northeast in response to restrictions on Berber ethnic, cultural, and linguistic rights.

Languages: The official language is Arabic. French is the language of business, and Berber (Tamazight) is also spoken. In October 2001, the government recognized Berber as a national language but not as an official language. As a result, the language issue remains contentious.

Religion: Sunni Islam is the state religion, and Muslims constitute 99 percent of the population. The remaining 1 percent of the population is Christian, mostly Roman Catholic but also Methodist and Evangelical Christian. Algeria’s Jewish population is barely a trace of its former presence, reportedly numbering only about 60 persons. The government imposes restrictions on religious freedom (not all of which are strictly enforced in practice), including prohibition of proselytizing by non-Muslims, controls on imported religious materials (both Muslim and non-Muslim), and limits on public assembly by non-Muslims without a license. The government provides financial support for mosques, imams, and the study of Islam in public schools. As part of its regulation of the practice of Islam, the government prohibits the dissemination of Muslim literature promoting violence and monitors teaching in religious schools and preaching by imams in order to prevent extremism.

Education and Literacy: In 2003 Algeria’s literacy rate was 70 percent, subpar by international standards. The breakdown by gender was 79 percent for males and 61 percent for females. A lag persists for women despite progress since independence in 1962. Education consumes one-quarter of the national budget. Algeria’s education system faces the challenge of accommodating a sharp rise in the number of eligible children and young adults. Education is free and officially compulsory for Algerians aged 6–15, but actual enrollment falls far short of 100 percent. Enrollment drops off sharply from primary to secondary school. In fact, only about half the eligible population is enrolled in secondary school, which consists of two three-year cycles beginning at age 12. In addition, Algeria has 10 universities, seven university centers (centres universitaires), and several technical colleges. The primary language of school instruction is Arabic, but Berber-language instruction has been permitted since 2003, in part to ease reliance on foreign teachers but also in response to complaints about Arabization.

Health: According to the latest available information, Algeria has inadequate numbers of physicians (one per 1,000 people) and hospital beds (2.1 per 1,000 people), as well as poor access to water (87 percent of the population) and sanitation (92 percent of the population). Given Algeria’s young population, policy favors preventive health care and clinics over hospitals. In keeping with this policy, the government maintains an immunization program. However, poor sanitation and unclean water still cause tuberculosis, hepatitis, measles, typhoid fever, cholera, and dysentery. In 2003 about 0.10 percent of the population aged 15–49 was living with human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS). The poor generally receive health care free of charge, but the wealthy pay for care according to a sliding scale. Access to health care is enhanced by the requirement that doctors and dentists work in public health for at least five years. However, doctors are more easily found in the cities of the north than in the southern Sahara region.

Welfare: In 2003 Algeria ranked 103 out of 177 countries in the United Nations’ human development index, a measure of overall well-being. Approximately half the Algerian population lives below the poverty line. About 45 percent of wealth is concentrated in the hands of the top 5 percent of the population, a phenomenon that is partly the result of collusion among businessmen, public officials, and military officers.


Overview: Algeria’s economy is in the midst of a difficult and halting transition from state control to an open market. The economy depends heavily on the hydrocarbons industry, which is highly cyclical. In the current high price environment for oil and natural gas, Algeria’s economy is experiencing an upswing, and hydrocarbons account for about 66 percent of revenues, 35 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), and 95 percent of exports. However, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is encouraging Algeria to diversify its economy, in part to reduce the country’s high rate of unemployment (24 percent as of the end of 2003) but also to promote stability and assist in the transition to a market economy. Under the leadership of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika (1999– ), the government is pursuing an economic reform program that embraces not just diversification but also other IMF initiatives such as deregulation, banking reform, and trade liberalization. However, the program is expected to encounter bureaucratic resistance, particularly in the area of privatization. Much improvement is needed; in a 2005 survey of business conditions in 155 countries, the World Bank ranked Algeria 128 for ease of doing business.

Gross Domestic Product (GDP): In 2003 Algeria’s GDP was US$65.2 billion, or US$1,986 per capita. Using purchasing power parity, per capita GDP was US$5,016. The average annual GDP growth rate over the past 10 years was 3.6 percent. In 2004 industry accounted for 57.4 percent of GDP, services constituted 32.3 percent, and agriculture provided the remaining 10.3 percent. Even though industry is a much larger part of the economy than agriculture, agriculture employs more people (27 percent of the workforce) than industry (less than 9 percent of the workforce). One of the reasons for this disparity is that the energy sector is very capital-intensive.

Government Budget: In 2003 government revenues of US$26.6 billion exceeded expenditures of US$24.4 billion. Receipts from the hydrocarbons industry accounted for almost 66 percent of revenues, and taxes on goods and services accounted for an additional 12.5 percent. The US$2.2 billion surplus represented about 3.2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

Inflation: In 2004 the average inflation rate was 4.6 percent, a relatively low rate that was attributable to import competition.

Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishing: Algeria’s agricultural sector, which constitutes about 10 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) but employs 27 percent of the workforce, is unable to meet the food needs of the country’s population. As a result, some 45 percent of food is imported. The primary crops are wheat, barley, and potatoes. Farmers also have had success growing dates for export. Cultivation is concentrated in the fertile coastal plain of the Tell region, which represents just a slice of Algeria’s total territory. Altogether, only about 3 percent of Algerian territory is arable. Even in the Tell, rainfall variability has a significant impact on production. Government efforts to stimulate farming in the less arable steppe and desert regions have met with limited success. However, herdsmen maintain livestock, specifically goats, cattle, and sheep, in the High Plateaus. In 2002 livestock farmers produced 551,500 tons of meat.

Algeria’s climate and periodic fires are not conducive to a thriving forestry industry. However, Algeria is a producer of cork and Aleppo pine.

Algeria’s fishing industry does not take full advantage of the Mediterranean coast, in part because fishing is generally done from small family-owned boats instead of large commercial fishing trawlers. However, the government is attempting to boost the relatively small catch—slightly more than 100,000 tons in 2001—by modernizing fishing ports, permitting foreigners to fish in Algerian waters, and subsidizing fishing-related projects.

Mining and Minerals: Algeria’s Ministry of Energy and Mines is responsible for overseeing the nation’s mineral production. State-owned steel and gold production companies were privatized in 2001–2. In 2003 the major products of Algeria’s mining sector (listed by metric tonnage) were as follows: crude petroleum (580,000 tons); nitrogen (578,200 tons); pozzolan, an admixture for concrete (500,000 tons); salt (191,017 tons); natural gas (137,634 tons); methanol (115,690 tons); crushed marble (105,249 tons); and hydraulic lime (100,000 tons).

Industry and Manufacturing: In 2004 industry accounted for 57.4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), but most of that amount (about 40 percent of GDP) was attributable to the hydrocarbons sector. By contrast, manufacturing’s share of GDP was only about 9 percent, and the trend line was downward. In fact, manufacturing output declined each year from 2001 through 2003. The main drag on manufacturing is inefficient state-owned enterprises, which constitute about three-quarters of the sector and are operating at only about 40 percent of capacity. Some of Algeria’s top manufactured products are cement, footwear, pig iron, steel ingots, and trucks.

Energy: A member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Algeria exports both crude oil and natural gas, and elevated energy prices in recent years have led to an improvement in the country’s budget, external debt, and foreign currency reserves. Algeria has proven oil reserves, as of March 2005, of 11.8 billion barrels, a relatively modest amount. Proven natural gas reserves are estimated at 160 trillion cubic feet, the eighth largest in the world, and natural gas production has exceeded oil production since 1997. The European Union and the United States are Algeria’s top natural gas customers. Out of more than 1.9 million barrels of oil, condensate, and natural gas produced per day in 2004, nearly 1.7 million barrels were exported. Algeria’s largest oil field, Hassi Messaoud in the Sahara Desert, contributed 400,000 barrels per day. The energy and mining minister is optimistic that crude oil production, which averaged 1.2 million barrels per day in 2004, can rise to 2 million barrels per day by 2010, partly as a result of foreign investment. A hydrocarbons law passed in April 2005 removes many restrictions on foreign energy companies. In 2003 Algeria’s electricity production was 27 billion kilowatt-hours, slightly exceeding electricity consumption of 25 billion kilowatt-hours.

Services: In 2004 Algeria’s services sector accounted for 32.3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) but employed the majority of the workforce. The services sector expanded at an average annual rate of 1.9 percent in 1990–2002, by 2.0 percent in 2001, and by 2.5 percent in 2002. The services sector is undergoing deregulation and is being opened to private and foreign competition. Insurance, banking, air transportation, and air courier services already have been deregulated. However, most banks are still public, and the capital markets are severely underdeveloped. Tourism is weak, reflecting the low quality of accommodations and the fear of insurgency-related terrorism.

Banking and Finance: Algeria’s banking sector is dominated by public banks, which suffer from high levels of non-performing loans to state-owned enterprises (SOEs). As of year-end 2004, public banks still controlled 90 percent of financial assets, even though 15 private banks had been licensed since 1998. Each year from 1991 to 2002, public banks’ losses associated with non-performing loans equated to an average of 4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). However, several reforms proposed by the International Monetary Fund are being implemented, including replacing bank credits to SOEs with government subsidies; boosting bank supervision, accountability, and transparency; and modernizing the payments system. Only a few companies are listed on the underdeveloped and relatively opaque Algiers stock exchange.

Tourism: Algeria receives only about 200,000 tourists and visitors annually. In 2001 the top two countries of origin for tourists were France (36 percent) and Tunisia (17 percent). Other countries of origin in order of popularity were Mali, Italy, Libya, Germany, Spain, and Morocco. The modest level of tourism is attributable to a combination of poor hotel accommodations and the threat of terrorism. Despite the relatively weak tourism sector, the Algerian government has set the goal of boosting the number of foreign visitors, including tourists, to 1.2 million by 2010.

Labor: At the end of 2003, the unemployment rate was about 24 percent, but the rate among those under the age of 25 was twice as high. New entrants to the workforce and the lack of emigration options make unemployment a chronic problem and an important challenge to the government. In 2003 about 18 percent of the workforce was unionized.

Foreign Economic Relations: In its foreign economic relations, Algeria is seeking more trade and foreign investment. For example, Algeria’s hydrocarbons law passed in April 2005 is designed to encourage foreign investment in energy exploration. Increased production could raise Algeria’s profile as a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. In keeping with its pro-trade agenda, Algeria is on the verge of gaining association status with the European Union (EU). This status will enable Algeria to export goods to the EU tariff-free, while it gradually lifts tariffs on imports from the EU. Algeria has signed bilateral investment agreements with 20 different nations, including many European countries, China, Egypt, Malaysia, and Yemen. In July 2001, the United States and Algeria agreed on a framework for discussions leading to such an agreement, but a final treaty has not yet been negotiated. Ultimately, trade liberalization, customs modernization, deregulation, and banking reform are designed to improve the country’s negotiating position as it seeks accession to the World Trade Organization.

Imports: In 2003 Algerian imports totaled US$13.3 billion. The principal imports were capital goods (US$5.0 billion), food (US$2.7 billion), semi-finished goods (US$2.4 billion), and consumer goods (US$2.2 billion). The top suppliers were France (32.9 percent), Italy (10.2 percent), Spain (6.5 percent), and Germany (6.1 percent).

Exports: In 2003 Algeria exported US$26.0 billion, nearly twice as much as it imported. Exports accounted for 38 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Hydrocarbon products constituted at least 95 percent of exports. These products included crude oil (US$11.6 billion), natural gas (US$6.1 billion), condensate (US$4.2 billion), refined products (US$3.3 billion), and liquefied petroleum gas (US$2.6 billion). The top export recipients were Italy (18.9 percent), the United States (17.9 percent), France (13.2 percent), and Spain (10.9 percent).

Trade Balance: In 2003 Algeria posted a positive merchandise trade balance of US$12.7 billion.

Balance of Payments: In 2003 Algeria achieved a positive current account balance of US$9.0 billion, corresponding to 13.8 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Estimates for the current account balance in 2004 range from US$10.9 billion (according to Algeria’s central bank) to US$12.7 billion (according to the International Monetary Fund). High prices for Algeria’s energy exports are the main driver for the improvement in Algeria’s current account balance.

External Debt: Reflecting strong oil export revenues, external debt is on a downward trajectory. For example, these revenues facilitated early repayments of US$900 million in loans from the African Development Bank and Saudi Arabia. Accordingly, the external debt to gross domestic product (GDP) ratio was expected to decline to 25 percent in 2005, down from 35 percent in 2003. In 2004 external debt was estimated at US$21.9 billion.

Foreign Investment: In 2004 foreign direct investment (FDI) in Algeria totaled US$3.5 billion, most of which for the first time was directed at non-oil sectors such as telecommunications. FDI into the oil sector may rise as a result of a hydrocarbons law, approved in April 2005, that creates a more even playing field for foreign oil companies to compete with Algeria’s state-owned oil company, Sonatrach, for exploration and production contracts. Algeria also is seeking foreign investment in power and water systems.

Foreign Aid: As of mid-2005, cumulative World Bank assistance to Algeria totaled US$5.9 billion, encompassing 72 projects. Currently, the World Bank is pursuing nine projects, including budget, finance, and mortgage systems, earthquake recovery, energy and mining, rural employment, telecommunications, and transportation. In 2004 economic assistance to Algeria from the United States amounted to US$1.5 million, most of which was attributable to the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) and the remainder to International Military Education and Training (IMET). MEPI encourages economic, political, and educational reform in the Middle East. IMET provides U.S. military training to foreign troops. During 1995–2003, the European Union (EU) contributed US$71.4 billion out of a total commitment of US$417.1 billion to Algeria’s economic development under the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. In 2003 the EU contributed US$14.5 billion out of a total commitment of US$49.5 billion. The disparity between payments and pledges is attributable to the threat of terrorism, which prevented the EU from maintaining its original schedule.

Currency and Exchange Rate: Algeria’s currency is the dinar (DZD). The dinar is loosely linked to the U.S. dollar in a managed float. Algeria’s main export, crude oil, is priced in dollars, while most of Algeria’s imports are priced in euros. Therefore, the government endeavors to manage fluctuations in the value of the dinar. As of mid-March 2006, US$1 was equivalent to about DZD73.

Algeria’s foreign currency reserves have grown rapidly since 2000, reflecting rising prices for exported oil. By the end of the third quarter of 2005, foreign reserves totaled US$37 billion, up from US$12 billion in 2000 and the equivalent of almost two years of imports.

Fiscal Year: Calendar year.


Overview: Since independence in 1962, Algeria’s transportation system has been neglected. The country has a very limited road system and an antiquated rail network that is oriented more toward cargo than passenger traffic. Port activity revolves around the export of hydrocarbons. A state-owned airline faces diminished private competition. Algeria’s telecommunications system is also underdeveloped, particularly in rural areas.

Roads: Algeria has 104,000 kilometers of roads, two-thirds of which, or 71,656 kilometers, are paved. About 640 kilometers are regarded as expressways.

Railroads: Algerian National Railways (Société Nationale des Transports Ferroviaires—SNTF) manages Algeria’s 4,200-kilometer rail network, which suffers from mostly antiquated rolling stock and poor signaling equipment. In 2001 SNTF purchased 15 new locomotives from General Motors. At most 300 kilometers of broad-gauge track, dedicated to cargo traffic between iron-ore mines and the port of Annaba, are electrified. Rail lines service Algiers, major cities along the Mediterranean coast, and the border with Tunisia. Terrorism against the rail system led to a decline in the number of passengers carried, the distance traveled by passengers, and the amount of freight carried during the late 1990s. In Algiers a 26.5-kilometer metro line has been under construction since 1991 and is scheduled to open beginning in 2008.

Ports: Algeria has the following Mediterranean ports: Algiers, Annaba, Arzew, Bejaïa, Djendjene, Jijel, Mostaganem, Oran, and Skikda. The busiest port by far is Arzew, which handles about 40 million tons of cargo annually and is responsible for the largest share of Algerian crude oil exports; Skikda has the second largest share. Algiers, Annaba, Oran, and Bejaïa also handle crude oil exports. Algeria plans to expand the petrochemical facilities at Arzew.

Inland Waterways: Algeria has no navigable inland waterways.

Civil Aviation and Airports: Algeria has 124 airports, of which 53 have permanent surfaces. The country’s principal international airport is Algiers Houari Boumediene International Airport, with an annual capacity of 2 million passengers. In early 2006, the new Algeria International Airport is scheduled to open in Algiers with three times the capacity of the existing airport. Services will be transferred to the new facility by mid-2006. Algeria’s primary airline is state-owned Air Algérie, which dominates the sector in spite of competition from eight private airlines, notably including Khalifa Airways. However, in 2003 Khalifa Airways began to experience severe financial difficulties.

Pipelines: The state-owned Algerian oil company, Sonatrach, manages more than 2,400 kilometers of crude oil pipelines. The longest pipeline carries oil 805 kilometers from the Hassi Messaoud oil field to the port of Arzew. Sonatrach is building a parallel pipeline to more than double capacity. The only oil pipeline that crosses into another country runs 257 kilometers from the In Amenas oil field to the Tunisian export terminal at La Skhira. A network of natural gas pipelines emanates from the Hassi R’Mel natural gas field. Two pipelines carry natural gas from Algeria to Europe: the 1,078-kilometer Trans-Mediterranean pipeline to Italy and the 1,609-kilometer Maghreb-Europe Gas pipeline to Spain. Additional natural gas pipelines to Europe are planned.

Telecommunications: Outside of the urban north, Algeria’s telecommunications network is underdeveloped, and in general ownership of telephones, computers, televisions, and radios is very limited. According to the World Bank, it takes an average of 174 days to secure a telephone line in Algeria, the second longest time among 51 developing countries surveyed. However, the telecommunications sector has begun to expand since the government authorized the privatization of the sector in 2000. In accordance with this policy, Algérie Télécom, a new joint stock company, assumed control of fixed-line and mobile telephone service from the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, which will be responsible for regulating the sector.

In 2001 Algeria had an average of 146 telephone mainlines and 110 mobile phones per 1,000 people. Telephone service is better in the north, particularly in urban areas, than in the rural south, where it is sparse. In 2001 Algeria had 292 television sets and 346 radios per 1,000 people. In 1999 there were 46 television broadcast stations, plus 216 repeaters, as well as 25 AM, one FM, and eight shortwave radio stations. In 2001 Algeria had 28.1 personal computers per 1,000 people, and Internet users totaled about 69 million. In 2004 the country had 897 Internet hosts.

Index for Algeria:
Overview | Government


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