Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria
Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria
Type of Government
Algeria is a multiparty republic. The president, who serves as head of state, is popularly elected to a five-year term. The president appoints a prime minister, who serves as head of government and presides over the cabinet, called the Council of Ministers. The legislature is a bicameral parliament consisting of the National People’s Assembly and the National Council. The three-tiered judiciary includes lower courts that resolve civil disputes and some criminal cases, provincial courts that conduct more serious criminal trials and hear appeals, and a Supreme Court.
On the southern coast of the Mediterranean Sea between Morocco and Libya, Algeria reaches southward into Africa’s Sahara Desert. When French forces conquered the country in the nineteenth century, they called it Algérie, based on the Arabic name al-Jazair.
The native people of northern Africa who inhabited the region were called Berbers by the ancient Greeks. From the fifth century BC, the Berbers endured waves of invasion by the Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, and Byzantines. Arabs invaded between the eighth and eleventh centuries, bringing Islam, Muslim culture, and the Arabic language. The Ottoman Empire controlled the region from the sixteenth century into the nineteenth century.
After a brief period of independence following Ottoman rule, Algeria was invaded by France in 1830. Algerians resisted conquest in a series of wars that ended in the mid 1870s, and the Algerian population fell by nearly one-third during this time. Under colonial rule, Algerians had fewer rights than the French, who occupied the country to take advantage of its natural resources.
On November 1, 1954, Algerian nationalists who had organized as the National Liberation Front (FLN) launched a revolution. The war, characterized by attacks on civilians that killed more than 30,000 French and perhaps 1.5 million Algerians, lasted until a cease-fire agreement in March 1962, when France agreed to hold a referendum on independence. On July 1, 1962, Algerian voters chose independence, and France declared the country independent two days later. Algeria became a member of the United Nations on October 8, 1962.
In a process controlled by the FLN, Algerians approved a constitution in 1963, and Ahmed Ben Bella (1918–) became the country’s first president. The constitution initially created a socialist government, but the country later became a republic. The constitution was amended five times between 1976 and 1996, and constitutional government has been suspended during times of violent civil conflict.
Algeria’s head of state is a president elected for up to two five-year terms. The president leads the armed forces, supervises foreign affairs, negotiates and ratifies treaties, and presides over the prime minister and cabinet. The president appoints many officials, including the prime minister and cabinet, civil and military officials, and the governors of Algeria’s forty-eight provinces, or wilayas. The president also appoints one-third of the members of parliament’s upper chamber, the National Council. The president has power to make law in special circumstances, but parliament must approve such decrees. In presidential elections, if no candidate receives a simple majority in the first round of voting, a run-off election is held between the top two candidates.
Along with the president, the prime minister and cabinet function as the executive branch of the government to administer the country’s laws and policies. The prime minister nominates cabinet members subject to the president’s approval. The prime minister has power to introduce legislation and, with the cabinet, executes the laws and programs adopted by the parliament. Parliament holds the power to investigate the actions of the prime minister and cabinet members. Its lower chamber, the National People’s Assembly, can call for a vote to censure the prime minister and cabinet. If two-thirds of the Assembly votes for censure, the prime minister and cabinet must resign.
Algeria’s legislature is a bicameral parliament. It meets in two ordinary sessions annually, each lasting at least four months, and may meet for extraordinary sessions under certain conditions. The lower chamber is the National People’s Assembly. It contains 389 members elected by the people for five-year terms, with eight seats reserved for Algerians living abroad. The Assembly is the only chamber with power to introduce legislation. Laws pass the chamber with a simple majority vote. If, however, the president requests a second reading, a law must receive a two-thirds vote to pass. After consulting the leaders in parliament and the prime minister, the president has power to dissolve the Assembly, in which case the country holds elections within three months.
The upper chamber of parliament is the National Council. It has 144 members who serve six-year terms. The president appoints one-third of the members, and council members from Algeria’s provincial and other local governments elect the other two-thirds. The Council does not have power to introduce legislation, but it must approve laws by a three-fourths vote for them to take effect.
Algeria has a judicial system that is independent in theory under the constitution, although all judges are appointed by the executive branch without legislative approval and can be removed at will. The Supreme Court of Algeria sits atop the system. It has separate chambers for civil and commercial, social, criminal, and administrative cases. The Supreme Court hears appeals from provincial appellate courts that sit in each of Algeria’s forty-eight provinces. The provincial courts handle various cases and hear appeals from tribunal courts, which sit at the lowest level of the hierarchy to decide civil, commercial, and some criminal cases. Algeria’s laws are a combination of Islamic law and the civil code tradition inherited from France.
The judiciary has various bodies that operate outside the Supreme Court’s hierarchical system. The Constitutional Council is the final authority on electoral matters and on deciding whether laws violate the constitution. The Council of State has power to hear certain administrative matters. The Tribunal of Conflicts adjudicates disputes over whether a case belongs before the Council of State or the Supreme Court. Finally, the Supreme Judicial Council, headed by the president, administers the judiciary.
Algeria is divided into forty-eight provinces, each of which has a governor appointed by the president and a council elected by the people. The provinces are divided further into municipalities with their own mayors and assemblies. The power of local governments is restricted mostly to implementing programs mandated by national law. Algerians who are at least eighteen years old have the right to vote.
Political Parties and Factions
For more than two decades after independence in 1962, the National Liberation Front (FLN), which launched the revolution of 1954, was Algeria’s only legal political party. When they revised their constitution in 1989, Algerians ended FLN’s monopoly. To operate lawfully, however, a party must be approved by the Ministry of Interior, which also has the power to dissolve parties. The Organic Law Governing Political Parties forbids parties from organizing based on race, religion, gender, language, or region.
Algeria’s parliamentary system is designed to allow political participation by many parties. Twenty-four parties competed in legislative elections for the National People’s Assembly in 2007, with just one party failing to win any seats. With the momentum of history and its former monopoly, the FLN has usually been the most powerful political party during Algeria’s modern independence. It won the most seats, though less than a majority, in Assembly elections in 2007. The next two most successful parties were the National Democratic Rally and the Movement of Society for Peace, both of which were allies of FLN in a coalition called the Presidential Alliance. Other influential parties included the Movement for National Reform, Workers’ Party, Algerian National Front, Islamic Renaissance Movement, Party of Algerian Renewal, and the Movement of National Understanding.
Algeria’s history since independence in 1962 is characterized by its movement from socialism toward republican democracy with periods of violent civil strife and authoritarianism. In June 1965 a nonviolent coup led by Houari Boumédienne (1927–1978) and the Council of the Revolution exiled Algeria’s first president, Ben Bella. Boumédienne ruled as head of state until 1976 and then as elected president until his death in 1978.
The FLN, then Algeria’s sole lawful political party, nominated Chadli Bendjedid (1929–) to replace Boumédienne. Bendjedid was elected in 1979, 1984, and 1989. His administration brought a loosening of socialism and the growth of capitalism, all of which fueled the rise of government opposition by Islamic fundamentalist groups.
In 1989 Algerians amended their constitution to allow multiple political parties. The militant Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) thrived in municipal elections in 1990 and in a round of parliamentary elections in 1991. Faced with potential control of the National People’s Assembly by FIS, Bendjedid dissolved the party on January 4, 1992, and then resigned a week later. A High Council of State assumed control of the presidency and canceled parliamentary elections, triggering violence. On January 16, independence hero Muhammad Boudiaf (1919–1992) returned from exile to be president, only to be assassinated in June as the government continued to suppress the FIS. Algeria entered a decade of state violence and Islamic terrorism that killed approximately 100,000 people. The primary terrorist organization was the Armed Islamic Group.
Liamine Zeroual (1941–) served as head of state from 1994 to 1999. In April 1999 Algerians went to the polls to elect a new president. While seven people sought the position, all but FLN candidate Abdelaziz Bouteflika (1937–) withdrew at the last minute under the belief that the results were rigged. Bouteflika was declared the winner with 70 percent of the votes cast.
Following his inauguration, Bouteflika proposed a Civil Concord policy to grant amnesty to everyone who fought against the government in the 1990s except those guilty of “blood crimes” such as murder and rape. Algerians approved the policy in a referendum election in September 2000. Algerians reelected Bouteflika in 2004. The election was tarnished by accusations of preferential press coverage for Bouteflika by the state media and by governmental action taken against the FLN when it nominated a candidate other than Bouteflika. After reelection, Bouteflika proposed to build on the Civil Concord of 2000 with a Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation. The charter would grant amnesty to individuals who laid down arms against the government, pardon certain people convicted of armed violence, absolve government security forces for responsibility for their violence, and yet compensate victims of terrorism and families of people who had disappeared during the fighting.
Algerians approved the charter in a referendum in September 2005, but implementation proceeded slowly. Violence in the country continued, perpetrated by groups such as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), which pledged allegiance to the terrorist organization al Qaeda. In 2007 GSPC changed its name to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Ageron, Charles. Modern Algeria: A History from 1830 to the Present. Translated and edited by Michael Brett. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 1991.
Ruedy, John. Modern Algeria: The Origins and Development of a Nation. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005.
Stora, Benjamin. Algeria, 1830–2000: A Short History. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001.