LOCATION: Western North Africa (the Maghrib)
LANGUAGE: Arabic; Berber; French
RELIGION: Islam (Sunni Muslim)
RELATED ARTICLES: Vol. 1: Tuaregs
Algeria is one of several countries forming the Maghrib, a region in the western part of North Africa that borders the Mediterranean Sea. (Maghrib is the Arabic word referring to the direction of the sunset.) Algeria's history has been turbulent, involving repeated conquests and a particularly bitter resistance to modern European colonialism. This history has left its mark on contemporary Algeria, which from 1992 to 1998 experienced a violent civil war between the military junta running the country and a coalition of Islamist opposition parties known as the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS). Ferocious fighting killed between 100,000 and 300,000 people—the exact figures are in dispute and likely will never be known. The conflict erupted following a December 1991 election in which the FIS won by a landslide; the government quickly annulled the results, spurring outrage.
Algeria's known history can be traced as far back as 30,000 BC. Cave paintings found at Tassili-n-Ajjer and elsewhere in Algeria, dated to between 8000 BC and 4000 bc, show how ancient hunters shared a savannah region with giant buffalo, elephants, rhinoceroses, and hippopotamuses. Neolithic civilization, which is characterized by animal domestication and agriculture, developed in the area between 6000 BC and 2000 BC. Today, this area is primarily desert.
The various peoples who eventually settled in the area came to be called Berbers. Roman, Greek, Byzantine, and Arab conquerors all attempted to defeat or assimilate the Berbers into their cultures, with varying degrees of success. Phoenician traders arrived in the area around 900 BC and established the city of Carthage in approximately 800 BC in what is today neighboring Tunisia. From there, the Phoenicians established towns along the coast and in the area that would become Algeria. The Berbers were either enslaved by the Phoenicians or forced to pay tribute. By the 4th century bc, the Berbers formed the largest part of the Phoenician slave army and began to revolt as the power of Carthage weakened. In time, several Berber kingdoms were created that vied for power until the arrival of the Romans in AD 24.
The Roman conquest was disastrous for the Berbers. Tribes were forced to become settled or leave the area. For this reason, the Berbers resisted Roman rule. The Romans began their occupation by controlling the coastal lands and cultivating the area. It is estimated that North Africa produced 1 million tons of cereal each year for the Roman Empire, in addition to fruits, figs, grapes, beans, and olive oil.
Along with the Roman presence, Judaism and Christianity began to influence the Berbers. Many Jews who had been expelled from Palestine by the Romans settled in the area, and some Berber tribes converted to Judaism. Christianity arrived in the 2nd century AD and was especially attractive to slaves. By the end of the 4th century ad, much of the settled areas had become Christian along with some Berber tribes.
In AD 429, the German king Gaiseric, backed by 80,000 Vandals (a German tribe), invaded North Africa from Spain, eventually weakening Roman control. With the decline of Roman power, Berber tribes began to return to their old lands. Meanwhile, the Byzantine emperor Justinian sent his army to North Africa in AD 533 and within a year conquered the German forces, although the Byzantines never established as firm a hold on the area as the Romans had.
The most influential conquest in the area was the invasion of Arab Muslims between AD 642 and AD 669. Nomadic Berbers quickly converted to Islam en masse and joined the Arab forces. Christian Berber tribes in Algeria converted to Islam, and in AD 711, the Muslims established firmer control in the region.
The ruling Arab view of Islam at the time was that Islam was primarily a religion for Arabs, and therefore non-Arab converts were treated as second-class citizens. Political sentiment developed among Muslims on the Arabian Peninsula, however, that rejected the Arabism of the ruling Umayyad dynasty in favor of strict equality for all Muslims. Followers of this movement, called Kharijites, spread to North Africa, and many Berbers became attracted to their message of Islamic equality and strict piety. They eventually rebelled against the Arab caliphate's control of the area and established a number of independent kingdoms.
In AD 750, the Abbasids, successors to the Umayyad dynasty, spread their rule to the area and appointed Ibrahim ibn al-Aghlab as governor in al-Qayrawan, in Tunisia. By the end of the 9th century ad, Ismaili Muslims (Shi'a Muslims who followed a more esoteric and mystical interpretation of Islam) converted the Kutama Berber tribes from Algeria and led them against the established rulers. In AD 909, the Ismaili forces established the Fatimid dynasty in North Africa.
The Fatimids were more interested in the lands to the east and left Algeria and neighboring Tunisia to Berber rule. However, considering the diverse loyalties of the different tribes, conflict became inevitable. In the 11th century, the Fatimids sent Arab bedouins to North Africa to assist their forces against other Berbers. Eventually, the influx of Arabs promoted the arabization of the entire area.
Nevertheless, independent kingdoms did manage to establish themselves in the area. The greatest of these were the Almoravids, the Almohads, the Hafsids, and the Zayanids. These kingdoms were all led by Muslim leaders who greatly encouraged learning and the arts.
Meanwhile, the Catholics of Spain were set on reclaiming southern Spain from the Muslims. Spain had become a cosmopolitan and pluralistic center of learning under Muslim rule. The Spanish conquest in 1492, however, fundamentally changed the character of the area. The new rulers forced all Muslims and Jews to convert to Christianity. Many fled to North Africa, and a sizable community of Jews settled in Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco.
Between 1560 and 1620, Algeria became a base for privateers, or pirates. Because Muslim vessels were not allowed to enter European ports, Muslim pirates began raiding European ships. The most famous of these pirates was Khayr ad-Din, known to Europeans as Barbarossa, or Red Beard. Thanks in part to Khayr ad-Din, the Muslim Ottoman Empire (based in what is today Turkey) managed to spread its rule over North Africa and form a buffer against European expansion.
Many European states paid tribute to the rulers in Algeria in order to ensure the safety of their ships. Once the United States became independent of England, its ships were no longer protected by British payments and were subsequently attacked. In 1797, the United States signed a treaty with rulers in Algiers, Algeria's capital, paying tribute in exchange for safe passage.
By 1815, however, the European states were in a temporary state of peace and decided to combine forces against the North African states. Spain, the Netherlands, Prussia, Denmark, Russia, and Naples declared war against Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli. The United States also joined the battle, which eventually ended the practice of privateering.
In 1827, politics in France prompted the French to establish a blockade against Algiers that would persist for three years. The French monarch, Charles X, was politically weak and thought that strong action against Algiers would strengthen his popularity at home. In 1830, he decided to invade Algeria on a self-proclaimed “civilizing mission.” In June of that year, 34,000 French soldiers invaded Algiers and, after a three-week battle, took the city. French troops raped women, looted the treasury, desecrated mosques, and destroyed cemeteries. Their actions set the tone for the next century of French rule.
By 1834, a new liberal government had been established in Paris. Although the government was initially opposed to the occupation of Algeria, it annexed the country and its 3 million Muslim inhabitants as a colony for the sake of national prestige. All occupied areas were seized from their inhabitants and sold at extremely low prices to poor immigrants from France and other European countries. The colonists were called colons or pied noirs (black feet). Many were prisoners from France who had been exiled to Algeria.
France still had many battles to fight, however. 'Abd al-Qadir, a 25-year-old Muslim, united the tribes throughout Algeria to resist the French occupation. By 1839, he controlled more than two-thirds of Algeria, creating a government, collecting taxes, supporting education, and promoting the economy. The French sent 108,000 soldiers—one-third of the French army—to defeat 'Abd al-Qadir's forces. They starved the Muslim population by destroying their crops, orchards, and herds. 'Abd al-Qadir was finally forced to surrender in 1847.
In 1871, another insurrection against the French broke out as a result of French economic policies, which had led Muslim areas to famine. Between 1868 and 1871, 20% of the Muslim population of the city of Constantine alone died of starvation. As a result of the revolt, France confiscated even more land.
By the time of World War I (1914–1918), a new class of European nationalists had emerged among the Algerian Muslims. Almost 200,000 Algerians fought for France during the war, and many now wanted full rights as French citizens. Some, however, wanted national independence for Algeria. The French denied both. Muslims were forbidden to become citizens in most cases unless they renounced Islam, and France considered Algeria an integral part of its nation.
During World War II (1939–1945), the Muslim opposition to France nevertheless joined the Free French forces in opposing the German Nazi invasion. Following the defeat of France by Adolf Hitler's forces, the local French government in Algeria joined the Nazi troops. At one point, they ordered that all Jews in Algeria be shipped to concentration camps in Europe. The Jews in Algiers hid in Muslim homes.
Upon the defeat of the French and German Nazi forces, the Algerians—along with Tunisians and Moroccans—asked France and the United States for independence as a reward for their support throughout the war. Their request was refused, and many of the same French leaders who had supported Hitler were reinstated in Algeria.
These events led to the Algerian War of Independence in 1954, in which Algerian Muslim nationalist parties launched a series of bombings on French military positions around the country. In August 1955, the Algerians attacked French civilians for the first time, killing 123 people in an attack in the city of Phillippeville. The French army responded by massacring as many as 12,000 Muslims. Between 1957 and 1960, the French—in what today would be called “ethnic cleansing”—forcibly removed more than 2 million Algerians from their villages to concentration camps in the plains, where tens of thousands died.
Nearly a million people—one-tenth of the Algerian population at the time—were killed between 1956 and 1962. It was one of the worst genocides in modern history. France eventually decided that the price of occupation was too high, and French president Charles De Gaulle negotiated a French withdrawal from Algeria. On 1 July 1962, Algerians voted nearly unanimously for independence, and Algeria was declared an independent country on 5 July 1962—exactly 132 years after the French invasion.
After independence, Algeria became a one-party socialist state ruled by the National Liberation Front, which had led the War of Independence. Many European companies were nationalized. French law was maintained on many civil issues, although Islamic traditions were also given representation in the law of the land. Algeria announced a strict policy of non-alignment, allying with neither the Soviet Union nor the United States.
The stagnation of oil prices on the world market negatively affected all Middle Eastern and North African states, including Algeria, which relies on oil for the majority of its revenues. Riots erupted in 1988 to protest the price of food, very high unemployment, and corruption among government officials. The riots were put down with bloody force, and hundreds were killed.
In response, the government rewrote the constitution to allow new parties to form and to liberalize the economy. The most popular of the new parties was the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), which preached a return to traditional Islamic values and strict morality in public service. Its message had great appeal for the millions of unemployed Algerian young people. In the 1990 local elections, the FIS made substantial gains in all the major cities. In the first round of national elections in December 1991, the FIS also won large-scale victories despite the fact that the government had arrested its leaders. Fearing an FIS victory, the army took over, canceled elections, and sent 10,000 FIS activists to concentration camps in the desert; many were simply killed.
In response, civil war erupted. The exact number of dead in perhaps the most vicious civil war in North Africa will likely be never known. Estimates range from 100,000 to 300,000. Many of these deaths resulted from unprovoked raids by marauding militias attacking villages, often hacking their victims to death with hatchets.
LOCATION AND HOMELAND
Algeria has a population of almost 34 million, 60%–70% of whom are under the age of 30. Some 100,000 Algerians live in France, mainly for economic reasons but also because of deep historical ties. Many of these Algerians lead marginalized lives outside the mainstream of French culture, although they are third- or fourth-generation French residents. In 2006, French president Nicolas Sarkozy, for example, wondered aloud why there are no “French” players on the French national football team. The team's most famous player, Zinedine Zidane, was born in the French town of Marseille but is of Algerian descent.
Algeria is located in North Africa on the Mediterranean Sea. It is situated to the west of Libya and Tunisia and east of Morocco. The north is relatively fertile and mountainous. The south includes part of the Sahara desert. In all, more than four-fifths of the country is desert.
Arabic is the national language of Algeria. Before the Arab conquests, Berber was the chief spoken language. Today, Berber is still spoken in very rural areas.
Arabic, a highly evolved Semitic language that is related to Hebrew and Aramaic, is spoken by the majority of people in Algeria. Written Arabic has two forms: the first is classical Arabic, which is derived from the Quran. Modern Standard Arabic is the language of the written media throughout the Arab-speaking world. Algerians also speak many dialects of Arabic. The Algerian dialect includes many slang terms from French. The dialect also includes many Berber words, including the names for plants and areas.
The literacy rate among Algerians over 15 years of age is 70%—79% for men and 60% for women. French is widely spoken, English less so. As in all Arabic countries, the Algerians take great pride in the Arabic language, as they believe it is the language in which Allah narrated the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad.
Some of the more common Arabic words used in Algeria (as in most Arabic) are religious in nature. When pledging to do something, an Algerian Muslim says, Insha' Allah (If God wills it). Prior to any action, a Muslim should say, Bismillah (in the name of God).
Common Algerian female names are Nafisa, 'Aysha, and Farida. Common male names are 'Abd al-Haq, Hamid, and 'Abd al-Latif.
Algeria has many legends based on the exploits of Muslim leaders who resisted the Crusaders or the French colonizers. These leaders often come from highly religious backgrounds and are considered well learned. They are called marabouts, or holy men, and they are believed to have baraka, a blessing or divine grace that allows them to perform miracles. Their burial sites are often destinations of pilgrimage, and some have become saints in the popular mind. Many people visit their graves to ask for intercession.
Most folklore in Muslim countries tells stories of important figures in religious history. One such story, which is commemorated annually throughout the Islamic world, tells of al-Isra' wa al-Mi'raj. According to legend, on the 26th day of the Islamic month of Rajab, the Prophet Muhammad traveled at night from Mecca, Saudi Arabia (then Hijaz) to Jerusalem. From Jerusalem, he rode his wondrous horse, al-Burak, on a nocturnal visit to heaven.
The overwhelming majority of Algerians are Muslims. The practice of Islam, however, varies from individual to individual. For example, the secular revolutionaries who fought against France in the War of Independence called themselves mujahideen, or “those who struggle in the cause of God.” Once victorious, however, the Algerian revolutionaries created a secular state. Most Algerians belong to the Sunni sect of Islam, which was introduced by the conquering Arabs. There are still remnants, however, of the Kharijite influence, which espouses a stricter egalitarianism.
Islam teaches that God regularly sent guidance to humans in the form of prophets and accepts the earlier Semitic prophets, including Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. Muslims believe that Muhammad was the last in a line of prophets who were sent with the message that there is only one God. Muslims also believe in heaven and hell, the Day of Judgment, and angels. The Quran is the holy book of Muslims, and it teaches that in order to get to heaven, men and women must believe in God, do good works, and follow the dictates of Allah, as spelled out in the five pillars of Islam: (1) Muslims must pray five times a day; (2) Muslims must give alms, or zakat, to the poor; (3) Muslims must fast during the month of Ramadan; (4) Muslims must make the pilgrimage, or hajj, to Mecca; and (5) each Muslim must recite the shahada—ashhadu an la illah ila Allah wa ashhadu in Muhammadu rasul Allah—which means, “I witness that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the prophet of Allah.”
There are about 25,000 Roman Catholics in Algeria who remained after the French evacuation. Although there were about 140,000 Algerian Jews before the revolution, most moved to France. Today, there are only 1,000 Jews in Algeria.
Algeria commemorates both secular and Muslim religious holidays. One major Muslim holiday is Eid al-Fitr, which comes at the end of the month of fasting called Ramadan. During the month, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, or having sex during the daytime in order to reflect on God and on the plight of the unfortunate who do not have enough food. At the end of the month, Muslims celebrate for three days. The other major Muslim holiday is Eid al-Adha, which commemorates the willingness of Abraham, as well as his son, to obey God's command in all things, even as Abraham was ready to sacrifice his son. This holiday falls on the last day of the hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca), and pilgrims are expected to sacrifice a goat or sheep and to offer the meat to the poor.
Religious holidays are celebrated by going to the mosque for group prayers and then coming home to large meals with the family and visiting relatives. Muslims exchange gifts on religious holidays. Part of the feast is normally given to relatives and to the poor.
Secular holidays include New Year's Day (1 January); the socialist Labor Day (1 May), which commemorates worker solidarity around the world; and Independence Day (5 July). Most businesses, banks, and government offices close on these holidays.
RITES OF PASSAGE
Children between the ages of 5 and 15 are required by law to attend school. After that, they choose their preference for secondary education from a general, technical, or vocational track. Exams taken at the end of their studies decide whether students qualify for continuing education in a university, a technical institute, or a vocational training center.
Major personal events that cause Algerian families to celebrate together include births, baby-naming ceremonies, male circumcisions, and weddings. Weddings are very joyous affairs and feature customs particular to the different regions of the country. In general, marriage celebrations last for several days; the groom is responsible for the cost of the festivities. After days of singing and eating, the bride is carried off to her groom, and the union is followed by another week of celebrations.
Algerians shake hands when greeting one another, and kissing on the cheek between two good friends of the same sex is common. Religious men and women do not shake hands with persons of the opposite sex.
Most socialization revolves around the family. Guests are treated with great hospitality and are served pastries and sweets. Visitors to Algeria frequently find themselves invited to join strangers in tea shops and even in private homes.
Algerian men and women do very little private socializing together. The sexes are separated at most gatherings. Dating is not allowed, and marriages are therefore arranged by well-meaning families or matchmakers.
Upon the evacuation of the French forces, Algeria's health care system suffered. Many hospitals were destroyed by the departing French. Because of poor education, there were only 300 doctors in all of Algeria at the end of the war.
Since independence, Algeria has made great improvements in health care. After 1975, the government provided free national health care for everyone. In 1984, the government began shifting the focus of medical care to preventing disease. Instead of building large hospitals, clinics and health centers were built in many areas, and these provided free immunizations and health care. In 2007, Algeria spent 3.6% of its gross domestic product (GDP) on health care. The government spent $104 per capita on health care in 2004. In 2002, Algeria had 2002 physicians, equivalent to 1.13 per 1,000 persons; there were 62,000 nurses, or 1.99 per 1000 persons.
Housing, on the other hand, has become a greater problem than it was at the time of independence. Initially, as hundreds of thousands of French left Algeria for France, many poor Algerians were able to move into vacant properties. Other poor Algerians began building shantytowns near the cities. Unfortunately, the government did not pay much attention to the need for housing. As Algeria's population grew, the number of homes remained relatively stagnant. Today, Algeria has an acute housing shortage, and many families live together in the same home.
Algerian houses and gardens are surrounded by high walls for privacy. Inside, most homes have a central open area or patio, which is surrounded by the rooms of the house. Homes have a receiving room, bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom, and, if the family is wealthy, a second patio. The outside of the house is usually whitewashed brick or stone.
In the 1980s, Algeria began been investing heavily in transportation, though these investments were seriously derailed by the years of vicious violence. In 2004, there were 108,302 km of roadways, of which 70% were paved. There are approximately 4,000 km of railways. A rail line connects major cities and links Algeria with Morocco and Tunisia. Algeria has eight international airports, and its national airline, Air Algerie, links major Algerian cities and serves foreign destinations. There is frequent discussion of privatizing air travel in Algeria, but as of 2008, there were no private domestic carriers.
The Internet and mobile telephony are widely available in Algeria. In 2006, there were 21 mobile phone subscribers, 2.8 million land lines, 25 AM radio stations, 1 FM radio station, and 46 broadcast television stations. Algeria's Internet domain is.dz. In 2007, the country had 2,077 Internet hosts and 2.5 million regular Internet users.
Before the French occupation, Algerian family life was very traditional. Algerians lived with their extended families in tightly knit communities. A mother and father would live with their children in one home. The grandparents of the father would usually live with them. As male children married, they would bring their wives into the family as well. If a daughter became divorced or widowed, she, too, would live with the family. Children were raised by the entire extended family, and people in a town would pay close attention to the children of others in case they needed anything. Marriages were conducted by negotiation between the families of a bride and groom.
With the destruction of so many towns and villages by the French forces, extended family units broke down. Instead, Algerians developed loyalties to people who shared their particular predicament. A group of families living in a concentration camp, for example, developed loyalties to each other, similar to the blood ties of earlier times. In cities, the nuclear family started to predominate as more well-off Algerians began to imitate the French colons. The creation of modern, capitalist industry also turned most Algerians into hourly wage earners. Men and women alike worked in order to provide a minimum standard of living for their families.
In traditional Algerian society, women had generally been segregated in public life. Their primary responsibilities were raising children and taking care of home and husband. During the War of Independence, all this changed. Women were often involved in military battles, and some became commanders. Housewives became involved in planning resistance activities and hiding revolutionaries. The active participation of women led to a greater feeling of self-worth and greater self-empowerment among women. Men, too, began to change their perspectives as they learned to appreciate the contributions that women were making in all fields.
After independence, women were removed from the spotlight but continued to hold on to many of the gains they had earned during the war. As Algerian society has become more conservative in the face of economic deterioration, women's battle to maintain rights already won has taken on a greater urgency. In the last 10 years, women have become particularly politicized, engaging in demonstrations and more vocally expressing their interests.
Two trends in clothing are currently visible in Algeria. Many Algerians, especially in the cities, dress in Western-style clothing. Many others, however, dress in traditional attire. Village men wear a burnous (a long hooded robe) and baggy pants, and women wear a haik (a long piece of cloth draped over the entire body and head). The hijab (a long, loose dress and hair covering) is an Islamic garment worn by many women.
During the civil war, traditional Algerian dress became politicized. The French banned women from wearing the hijab, but the prohibition had little practical effect. Women continued to dress traditionally, both as a sign of resistance to colonialism and because many Muslim women believe that their religion requires the modesty afforded by the hijab. Once independence was achieved, many women continued to wear hijab in public in order to gain greater public access. The hijab, it was felt, allowed them to interact with society as humans, not specifically as women. Recently, armed groups from the government and the opposition have begun assassinating women for dressing either in Western dress or in hijab, as they are viewed as expressing loyalty to either the military junta or to the Islamist opposition parties.
Couscous is Algeria's national dish. It is steamed semolina wheat formed into tiny granular particles that are combined with other ingredients to make a main course. Couscous can be accompanied by meat, such as lamb or chicken, and/or mixed with a variety of vegetables. Algerians enjoy combining meat and fruit, and this combination is often served with couscous. The following is a Berber dish that combines all three North African favorites.
Chicken Stuffed with Dried Fruit
3-1/2 pound chicken
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts or chopped almonds
1 cup mixed dried fruit (apricots, apples, pears, prunes, and raisins), soaked, drained, and chopped
salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 325°F. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a pan, and cook the onion until pale gold. Stir in the nuts and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the dried fruits and seasoning. Let cool. Stuff the chicken with the dried fruit mixture and truss. In a large, heavy, flame-proof casserole, brown the chicken in the remaining oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and lay the chicken on one side. Cover the dish and cook in the oven for 1-1/2 hours, turning the chicken every 30 minutes. Leave chicken breast-side up for the last 30 minutes. Serve the chicken and stuffing with couscous.
(from North African Cooking: Exotic Delights from Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt, by Hilaire Walden)
Spices are used in abundance in Algerian cooking, especially cumin, coriander, and cinnamon. Couscous can be mixed with honey, cinnamon, and almonds to make a pudding-like dessert.
Pork and alcoholic beverages are forbidden by the Islamic faith. Algeria does, however, produce wine, which it exports to Europe.
Algeria has made great advances in education. At the time of independence, fewer than 1 million children were enrolled in school. The government sent many teachers to be trained abroad and hired many teachers from other countries to help make up the shortfall. Schools were built and enlarged. By 1975, 1.5 million children were in school, and by 2004, 12.5 million were enrolled. The seriousness with which the government viewed education is evidenced by the country's expenditures in the area. In 2003, Algeria spent 40% of its budget on schooling. The results can be seen in improved literacy rates. At the time of independence, only 10% of Algerians were literate. By 2007, fully 70% of the population had achieved literacy.
Algerian literature stresses themes of nationalism, land, and tradition—elements that are considered vital to the decolonization process that Algeria has undergone. Perhaps the most famous French-language Algerian writer is Albert Camus, an essayist, playwright, and novelist. In 1957, Camus won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Another great Algerian French writer was Frantz Fanon, author of The Wretched of the Earth (1961), which is considered one of the great works of postcolonial literature. Algerian-produced films have gained acclaim worldwide. The 1982 Cannes Film Festival award was won by an Algerian, Mohammed Lakhdar-Hamina, for his film Desert Wind, about the lives of Algerian women within traditional society. By far the most famous Algerian film is the 1966 black-and-white classic The Battle of Algiers, directed by the world-renowned Algerian director Gillo Pontecorvo. It tells the story of the Algerian War of Independence against the French and features some of the actual guerrilla fighters in the film. It won the Grand Prize at the Venice Film Festival and was nominated for three Academy Awards in the United States: best screenplay, best director, and best foreign-language film.
Since independence, Algeria has worked hard to industrialize its economy. The costs of industrialization and social welfare have been met by oil and natural gas production. In 2007, oil and gas made up approximately 60% of Algeria's budget revenues, 30% of GDP, and 96% of export earnings. The country has the eighth largest natural gas reserves in the world and is the fourth largest gas exporter. Algerians have recently begun mining and exporting nonfuel minerals such as mercury, phosphate, and iron ore. Algeria's GDP growth rate in 2006 was 4.6%, outpacing most of Europe and the United States. In addition to these sources of employment, Algerian laborers manufacture electronics, building materials, plastics, fertilizer, paper, clothing, leather goods, and food products. About one-third of workers are employed in the industrial sector. Although in the 1980s and 1990s, many Algerians worked in the farm sector, in 2004, only 8.1% did. In all, 61% worked in industry. Algerians who do not find work at home are often successful at finding employment across the Mediterranean in Europe. Algerian workers are commonplace in Europe, especially in France.
Algeria's national sport is football, known as soccer in the United States. Football is popular both as a spectator sport and as a participation sport played by boys and men. In the city, boys play outside housing developments. Algeria has a national team that participates in matches organized by the African Football Confederation. In 2008, FIFA (International Federation of Association Football) ranked Algeria's national team 17th among the teams in Africa and 78th in the world. Algerians also enjoy horseback riding and swimming. Clubs that specialize in water activities are found along the Mediterranean coast.
ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION
Algeria's newspapers are published in both Arabic and French, and television shows are also produced in both languages. There are three radio networks, and each broadcasts in a different Algerian language—Arabic, French, and Berber.
Although Algeria has movie theaters, there are not enough for Algeria's population. Swimming pools in most cities and villages are very limited in number, and Western-style dance halls are almost nonexistent. Algerians are beachgoers. Summer resorts along the Mediterranean coast are popular with the middle class and are centers for swimming, water skiing, and tennis.
FOLK ART, CRAFTS, AND HOBBIES
Algerian handicrafts include rugs, pottery, embroidery, jewelry, and brass. Handwoven baskets are sold at suqs (markets) and used by customers to carry the goods they purchase.
The greatest problems facing Algeria today stem from the bitterness engendered by the long, vicious civil war. In addition to the hundreds of thousands of civilians massacred by both sides, the infrastructure of the country suffered great deterioration. The capital, Algiers, became an armed camp, with certain districts controlled by the military and the remainder run by the resistance. Both sides targeted civilians in order to spread fear and hatred.
Life has slowly returned to normal, but in 2007, several European tourists were kidnapped, some of whom died in captivity. Violence has returned to parts of Algeria since a lull in the late 1990s; though crime rates are significantly reduced, the trend is troubling for the country.
In 2007, the unemployment rate was 14%, and the percentage of the population living below the poverty rate was 25%.
The government is also faced with the question of what to do with the refugees from the disputed Western Sahara. According to 2006 estimates, 90,000 were living in squalid conditions in the southwestern part of the country. Additionally, there are approximately half a million internally displaced persons as a result of continued internal violence.
Human trafficking is a significant problem, particularly among sub-Saharan women, who are often promised transit trough Algeria to the European Union but find themselves instead sold into brothels in Algeria or other destinations. Slavery is also a concern, particularly among orphaned children. During the bloody civil war, many urban, educated women sided with the moderates against the Islamists, fearing the imposition of strict Islamic laws. Still, as in many Islamic countries, many Algerian women gladly wear the abaya and the hijab, believing it to be a marker of modesty, a highly valued attribute in both Arab and Muslim culture, as well as a symbol of adherence to the teachings in the Quran.
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—revised by J. Henry