Algeria (French AlgÃ©rie), officially Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria, republic of western North Africa; bounded on the north by the Mediterranean Sea; on the east by Tunisia and Libya; on the south by Niger, Mali, and Mauritania; and on the west by Morocco. Its total area is 2,381,741 sq km (919,595 sq mi).
LAND AND RESOURCES
Algeria has four main physical regions, which extend east to west across the country in parallel zones. In the north, along the Mediterranean coast and extending inland for 80 to 190 km (50 to 120 mi), is the Tell. The region consists of a narrow and discontinuous coastal plain backed by the mountainous area of the Tell Atlas, a range of the Atlas Mountains system. The numerous valleys of this region contain most of Algeriaâ€™s arable land. The countryâ€™s principal river, the Chelif (725 km/450 mi long), rises in the Tell Atlas and flows to the Mediterranean Sea; no permanent streams are found south of the Tell. The next region, lying to the south and southwest, is the High Plateau, a highland region of level terrain. Several basins here collect water during rainy periods, forming large, shallow lakes; as these dry they become salt flats, called chotts, or shatts. South of this lie the mountains and massifs of the Saharan Atlas. The fourth region, comprising more than 90 percent of the countryâ€™s total area, is the great expanse of the Algerian portion of the Sahara. Much of the terrain is covered by gravel, although the Grand Erg Oriental and the Grand Erg Occidental are vast regions of sand dunes. In the south, rising above the desert, are the Ahaggar Mountains, which culminate in Mount Tahat (3,003 m/9,852 ft), the highest peak in Algeria.
The population consists almost entirely of Berbers, Arabs, and people of mixed Arab and Berber ancestry. Until 1962 about 1 million European settlers, mainly French, and an indigenous population of 150,000 Jews lived in Algeria; more than 90 percent of this group, however, emigrated after Algeria became independent in 1962. Very few European settlers and Jews live in Algeria today. Some 42 percent of the population is classified as rural, living in villages and on small farms.
The population of Algeria (2004 estimate) is about 33,357,089. The overall population density is 14 persons per sq km (36 per sq mi). Approximately 90 percent of the population is concentrated in the coastal Tell region. Life expectancy is 69.4 years for men and 72.3 years for women. The population is young: About 32 percent of Algerians are under 15 years old. The population growth rate was 1.6 percent in 2001, down from rates as high as 3 percent in the 1980s. In recent decades many Algerians have emigrated to other countries. Approximately 1 million Algerians live in France.
Algeria is divided into 48 provinces (wilayat). These are subdivided into nearly 700 local communes.
Algiers is the capital, chief seaport, and largest city. Other important cities are Oran, a trading center; Annaba, an industrial and manufacturing center; Arzew and Skikda, both centers for petroleum refining; and Constantine, the hub of a livestock- and wheat-producing region.
Language and Religion
Arabic is the official language and is spoken by about 83 percent of the population; most of the remainder speak Berber dialects, such as Kabyle, Chaouia, Chenoua, and Tamazight. French, however, is still widely read and spoken by many educated Algerians. Islam is the official religion and is professed by the vast majority of the population.
French tradition formerly dominated the cultural life of Algeria. Even before independence, however, there was a growing movement among Algerian artists and intellectuals to revive national interest in Arab-Berber origins, a movement that, since 1962, has gained official support. Nevertheless, culture has also been a divisive issue. The stateâ€™s emphasis on Arab culture and language has alienated Algeriaâ€™s Berber minority, who cherish their own traditions and dialects.
While Algeria is one of the wealthiest nations of Africa, declining oil prices reduced the annual income per capita to $1,720 in 2002, down from $2,360 in 1988. Agriculture plays a declining but still important role in the Algerian economy. Mineral, especially hydrocarbon, production accounts for the largest part of the gross domestic product (GDP). Since the late 1960s the government has instituted major industrialization programs. The inflation rate averaged 14 percent annually in the period from 1990 to 2002. GDP, which measures the total value of goods and services produced, was $55.9 billion in 2002. Economic growth is highly influenced by oil and natural gas prices. The GDP grew an average of 2.17 percent annually in the period from 1990 to 2002.
Commerce and Trade
The principal Algerian exports are natural gas, petroleum, iron ore, vegetables, wine, tobacco, phosphates, fruit, cork, and hides. Major imports are machinery, textiles, sugar, cereals, iron and steel, coal, and gasoline. Chief purchasers of Algeriaâ€™s exports are Italy, the United States, France, The Netherlands, Belgium, and Spain; leading sources for imports are France, Italy, the United States, Germany, Spain, and Japan. In 2000 annual exports totaled $22 billion and imports $9.2 billion. Algeriaâ€™s trade volume and balance depend heavily on petroleum prices.
Under the constitution adopted in 1976, Algeria became a socialist republic. The constitution declared the National Liberation Front (Front de LibÃ©ration Nationale, FLN) as the sole legitimate political party. A revised constitution in 1989 abandoned the commitment to socialism and allowed the formation of other political parties. After it became clear that the Islamic Salvation Front (Front Islamique du Salut, FIS), an Islamist party, would gain a legislative majority in the countryâ€™s first multiparty parliamentary elections in 1992, the elections were annulled and the countryâ€™s unicameral legislature, the National Peopleâ€™s Assembly, was suspended. Algeria was ruled by a High Council of State from 1992 until 1994, when the council appointed a president as head of state. After a constitutional referendum, the constitution was again revised in 1996, most significantly to ban political parties based solely on ethnicity, religion, or another separatist feature, and to create a new, bicameral legislature.
Executive and Legislature
A president is head of state of Algeria. The president is popularly elected to a five-year term and may serve no more than two terms. The president appoints a prime minister as head of government. The prime minister in turn appoints a council of ministers to help carry out the functions of government.
Algeria has a bicameral legislature consisting of a 144-member Council of the Nation as the upper house and a 389-member National Peopleâ€™s Assembly as the lower house. One-third of the Council of the Nation members are appointed by the president; the other two-thirds are chosen by municipal councils. All members serve six-year terms. Members of the National Peopleâ€™s Assembly are popularly elected to four-year terms.
The earliest inhabitants of what is now Algeria were Berbers, tribal peoples of unknown origin. Cave paintings in the Ahaggar region dating between 6500 and 1200 bc depict a people who raised cattle and hunted game in the area