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Algerian Americans


by Olivia Miller


Algeria is an Arab country in Northern Africa that gained independence from France in 1962. Bordering the Mediterranean Sea, between Morocco and Tunisia, Algeria is more than three times the size of Texas. Its name is Arabic for "the islands," and it is believed to be a reference to the 998 kilometers of coastline beside the rocky islands of the Mediterranean. The country is mostly high plateau and desert with some mountains. The Sahara desert covers 80 percent of the entire country. Natural resources include petroleum, natural gas, iron ore, phosphates, uranium, lead, and zinc. Algeria has the fifth-largest reserves of natural gas in the world, is the second largest gas exporter, and ranks fourteenth for oil reserves. Its population of 30 million speaks Arabic, the official language, as well as French and Berber dialects. Algeria's ethnic mix is 99 percent Arab-Berber, with less than one percent European. The term Berber is derived from the Greeks, who used it to refer to the indigenous people of North Africa. Algerian Arabs, or native speakers of Arabic, include descendants of Arab invaders and of native Berbers. Since 1966, however, the Algerian census no longer has a category for Berbers. Algerian Arabs, the major ethnic group of the country, constitute 80 percent of Algeria's people and are culturally and politically dominant. The lifestyle of Arabs varies from region to region. There are nomadic herders in the desert, settled cultivators and gardeners in the Tell, and urban dwellers on the coast. Linguistically, the groups differ little from each other, except that dialects spoken by nomadic and semi-nomadic peoples are thought to be derived from Beduin dialects. The dialects spoken by the urban population of the north are thought to stem from those of early seventh-century invaders. Urban Arabs identify with the Algerian nation, whereas remote rural Arabs are more likely to identify with a tribe.

Islam is the state religion, and 99 percent of Algerians are Sunni Muslim, one of two Islamic sects into which Muslims split 30 years after the death of the religion's founder, the Prophet Mohammed. The remaining one percent of Algerians are Christians and Jews. The national capital is Algiers. The flag is described as two equal vertical bands of green and white with a red, five-pointed star within a red crescent. The crescent, star, and color green are traditional symbols of Islam.


Algeria was populated around 900 B.C. by Berbers, a group from North Africa that was influenced by Carthaginians, Romans, and Byzantines. The Romans urbanized Algeria and maintained a military presence there in the second century. Algeria was ruled next by Vandals, a Germanic tribe, who were in turn conquered by Byzantine Arabs, who brought the Islamic faith to the region. Beginning in the early sixteenth century, Algeria was part of the Ottoman Empire for 300 years, and became a distinct province between Tunisia and Morocco. European nations, and eventually the United States, were required to pay tribute to these countries of North Africa, which ruled the shipping lanes of the Mediterranean until the French invaded Algeria in 1830.


In 1834 France annexed Algeria, then a population of three million Muslims, as a colony. France developed Algerian agriculture, mining, and manufacturing, centering the economy around small industry and a highly developed export trade. Algerian and European groups formed two separate subcultures with very little interaction or intermarriage. Many Algerians lost their lands to colonists, traditional leaders were eliminated, and Muslims paid higher taxes than the European settlers. The colonial regime seriously hindered the overall education of Algerian Muslims who, prior to French rule, relied on religious schools to learn reading, writing, and religious studies. The French refused to provide money to maintain mosques and schools, but spent money on the education of Europeans.

After World War I, a generation of Muslim leadership called the Young Algerians emerged. The first group to call for Algerian independence was the Star of North Africa, a group that formed in Paris in 1926. Then in World War II, Algerian Muslims supported the French, and after France's defeat by Germany, stripped Algerian Jews of their French citizenship. The Allies, with a force of 70,000 British and U. S. troops under Lt. Gen. Eisenhower, landed in Algiers and Oran in November 1942, and were joined by Algerian Muslims who fought for their homeland. At the end of the war, Algerians demanded the creation of an independent Algerian state federated with France. Instead, they were granted an Algerian Assembly allowing a small voice in self-government.

Algerians emerged from 132 years of rule by a European culture with the War of Independence (19541962). Nearly one million Algerians died during the War of Independence. The Arabization of Algerian society brought about this inevitable break with France. The French government had consistently maintained a tolerant position toward the survival of Arab culture in daily life and local political affairs. Upon independence, approximately one million Europeans, including 140,000 Jews, left Algeria. Most of those departing had French citizenship and did not identify with the Arab culture. In the early 1980s, the total foreign population was estimated at roughly 117,000. Of this number, about 75,000 were Europeans, including about 45,000 French. Many foreigners worked as technicians and teachers. Algeria and France continued many beneficial economic and preferential relationships.

After independence, the resultant one-party, secular government organized public-sector enterprises into state corporations in an economy described as Algerian socialism. But fundamental Islamists who wanted to redefine Algerian identity clashed with the existing political system. The push to become more Arabic was seen as a means of national unity and was used by the national government as a tool to ensure national sovereignty. After gaining independence, Algerian street signs and shop signs were changed to Arabic, despite the fact that 60 percent of the population at that time could not read Arabic. Fundamentalists wanted Algeria to totally eliminate the legacy from its colonial past, but Arabization was, and is, a controversial issue. In 1961 Algeria joined with other Arab nations to establish the Organization of Petroleum exporting Countries (OPEC) to take control of the power of the international oil market. Laws in the 1990s required the Arabization of secondary school and higher education, and made Arabic the only legal language in government and politics.

The pressure to Arabize was resisted by Berber population groups, such as the Kabyles, the Chaouia, the Tuareg, and the Mzabt. The Berbers, who constitute about one-fifth of the Algerian population, had resisted foreign influences since ancient times. They fought against the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Ottoman Turks, and the French after their 1830 occupation of Algeria. In the fighting between 1954 and 1962 against France, Berber men from the Kabylie region participated in larger numbers than their share of the population warranted. Since independence, the Berbers have maintained a strong ethnic consciousness and a determination to preserve their distinctive cultural identity and language.

A new constitution in 1989 dropped the word socialists from the official description of the country and guaranteed freedom of expression, association and meeting, but withdrew the guarantee of women's rights granted in the 1976 constitution. This same year saw the formation of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), an umbrella organization for fundamentalist subgroups that sought to create a single Islamic state in which Islamic law is strictly applied. The FIS was banned by the government in 1992. In April of 1999, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, backed by Algeria's powerful military, won a presidential election in which all six other candidates withdrew to protest fraud. Bouteflika, 63, a former foreign minister, took 73.8 percent of the vote to become Algeria's first civilian president in more than three decades. There is an elected parliament, but the main opposition party, the Islamic Salvation Front, is still banned.


From 1821 until 1830, only 16 immigrants from all of Africa arrived in the United States. From 1841 until 1850, 55 more arrived. In immigration records until 1899 and in census records until 1920, all Arabs were recorded together in a category known as "Turkey in Asia." Until the 1960s, North African Arabs were counted as "other African." Mass migrations of Muslims to the United States did not happen because Muslims feared that they would not be permitted to maintain their traditions. Census records suggest that only a few hundred Muslim men migrated between 1900 and 1914.


More than 1 million Arabs live in the United States. According to the 1990 U.S. Census, there were approximately 3,215 people of Algerian ancestry living in the United States. Of this group, 2,537 cited Algerian ancestry as their primary ancestry, and 678 people cited Algerian as second ancestry.

Algeria was introduced as an immigrant record category in 1975, and 72 Algerians immigrated that year. Immigrant numbers increased gradually so that by 1984 there were 197 immigrants. Fourteen were relatives of U.S. citizens, and 31 were admitted on the basis of occupational preference. In 1998, 1,378 Algerians were winners of the DV-99 diversity lottery. The diversity lottery is conducted under the terms of Section 203(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act and makes available 50,000 permanent resident visas annually to persons from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States.

The U.S. Census is not allowed to categorize by religion so the number of Islamic followers can not be counted. However, the census is permitted to list Arab ancestry. In many cases, Algerian immigrants are listed as "Other Arabs" when statistics are cited. Of the "other Arabs" category in the 1990 U.S. Census, 45 percent were married, 40 percent were female, and 60 percent were male.


Algerian Americans have settled in urban areas such as New York City, Miami, Washington, and Los Angeles. The 1990 U.S. Census lists New York City as the port of entry for 2,038 Algerians, followed by Washington with 357 Algerians, and Los Angeles as entry for 309 Algerians. Of the 48 Algerians who became American citizens in 1984, 12 settled in California, eight in Florida, four in New York, three in Texas, and 24 in other places. Many Algerian Americans came seeking a better education or to flee instability and religious persecution. Employment opportunities for professionals such as scientists, physicians, and academics result in a geographically wide settlement pattern of immigrants, often in communities without other Algerian Americans.

Still, Algerian Americans have created communities in university cities and urban areas such as Dallas, Austin and Houston, Texas, and Boston, Massachusetts, and North California. For example, in the late 1990s, there were an estimated 12,500 African immigrants from many different countries living in the Dallas area. The Algerian Americans often form association such as the Algerian American Association of Houston, a local community sponsoring events, providing an environment to preserve and promote the Algerian heritage within the American fabric. Many of these organizations aim at strengthening ties of friendship and cooperation between the United States and Algeria.

Acculturation and Assimilation

Many Algerian Americans are highly-educated Berbers with professional occupations. Most Algerian American women abandon the hidjab, the head scarf veil worn with a loose gown as a symbol of modest Islamic dress, when they arrive. Generally, they have fewer children, cook fewer meals, and gradually adapt to American social customs. There is no segregation of sexes at social gathering in homes and churches except among the most traditional Muslims. Algerian Americans sometimes have as much difficulty gaining acceptance among American-born African Americans as they do among whites. Algerian Americans who hold to Muslim beliefs purposely resist many aspects of assimilation as an expression of their religious beliefs. However, their children learn English and adapt to the new culture so that by the second and third generations, Algerian Americans are well assimilated and better educated than their parents. A study by Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi of Muslim immigrant communities in the West found that second generation Muslims compete for places at universities with ambitions of becoming doctors and engineers. The younger generation plans to own homes and cars. Between 70 and 80 percent of western Muslims do not feel bad about drinking, dancing, and dating. Most western couples select their own marriage partners, though most Muslim marriages are arranged in Algeria.


Algerian Americans continue the cultural traditions of Muslims. Umma, the Arabic word for "community," makes no distinction between a citizen of a particular country and the worldwide Muslim community. Thus, the universal Arab society may move from country to country without losing their distinct culture. Muslims pray at a mosque on Friday, and in this way an American city's Arab community comes together for the sharing of culture and identity. Once in a lifetime a devout Muslim makes the pilgrimage to Mecca, called the Hajj. Most Algerian Americans observe Ramadan, a month of fasting.


Algerian culture is rich in proverbs. Examples include: "If you want the object to be solid, mold it out of your own Clay." "None but a mule denies his origin." "The friend is known in a time of difficulty." "An intelligent enemy is better than an ignorant friend." "The iron is struck while it is hot." "Barber learn on the head of orphans." "He who has been bitten by a snake is afraid of a palmetto cord." "One day is in favor of you and the next is against you." "God brings to all wheat its measure" meaning it is natural to marry a person of one's own class or position. "Ask the experienced one, don't ask the doctor" is the answer a woman gives when she is reproved for speaking ill of another woman. "Eye does not see, heart does not suffer" means to deliberately ignore a family member whose conduct is not good. "The forest is only burnt by its own wood" is the complaint of a parent whose child causes him trouble. "The son of a mouse will only turn out to be a digger" means that children become like their parents. "If your friend is honey, don't eat it all" means that you should not demand too much from your friend. "He who mixes with the grocer smells his perfume" means you should be in the company of people from whom you may learn useful things.


Algerian cuisine has a distinctive flavor, due to its diverse cultural heritage. Algerian Americans enjoy many tasty vegetable soups such as Chorba, a lamb, tomato, and coriander soup served with slices of lemon. A popular Algerian salad is made with sweet red peppers, tomatoes, sliced cucumber, onion, anchovy, boiled eggs, and basil or cilantro seasoned with olive oil and vinegar.

Other favorites include entree variations of couscous, made of Baobab leaves, millet flour and meat. One variety of Algerian couscous is made with onion, zucchini yellow squash, red potatoes, green pepper, garbanzo beans, vegetable stock, tomato paste, whole cloves, cayenne, and turmeric. Favorite meat dishes include Tagine, made with chicken or lamb and flavored with olives or onions, okra or prunes, and the lamb dish L'Ham El HLou which is made with cinnamon, prunes and raisins. Algerian deserts are light and delicate. In keeping with the foods abundant in North Africa, many dishes feature honey and dates, but others, like crepes, reflect the French influence that helped shape Algeria.


Traditional Algerian costume, also worn with minor variations by Berbers, has been replaced for the most part by European dress, except in rural areas. Traditionally, a man wore a loose cotton shirt, usually covered by another reaching to the knees, and an outer garment of white cotton or wool draped so that the right arm remained free below the elbow. On the head was a red fez with a piece of cloth wound around it as a turban. Shepherds wore a muslin turban, loose baggy pants, and a leather girdle around a cloak. The turban was wound so that a loop of material hanging below the chin could be pulled up to cover the face. Women of nomadic tribes did not cover their faces and they wore a shirt and pants less bulky than men's trousers, under one or more belted dresses of printed cotton. Modest Islamic dress for a women was the hidjab, the head scarf worn with a loose gown that allowed nothing but the hands and face to be seen.

Berber men in Kabylia wore a burnous, a full-length cloak worn with a hood, woven out of very fine white or brown wool. The fota, a piece of cloth usually red, yellow and black, was worn at the hips by Kabyle women. Kabyle women wore brightly colored loose dresses with a woolen belt and head scarves. Taureg men, Algerians living in the south, wore a distinctive blue litham, a veil wound around the head to form a hood that covered the mouth and nose, and made a turban behind the head.


Chaabi is a very popular brand of traditional Algerian folk music, characteristic of the region of Algiers. Raï (pronounced ra'yy) is a music style mixing modern, western rhythms and synthesizers and electronic magnification technology with a traditional music line. It originated in northwestern Algeria in the 1970s and has become popular throughout the world, spread through locally produced cassettes. The most prominent performers live in France. Raï is an Arabic word meaning "opinion." Raï has provoked the Algerian government, which banned it from being played on the radio until 1985, and militant fundamentalists, who have been responsible for the death of raï singer Cheb Hasni. Another musician, Cheb Khaled, known as the king of raï, left Algeria and lives in Paris.


Algerian Americans follow the American custom of observing New Year's Day in January. The most important national Algerian holiday celebrated is the anniversary of the revolution on November 1, 1954. Additional Algerian holidays still observed include Labour Day on May 1, Commemoration Day on June 19, and Algerian Independence Day on July 5. Algerians also observe Ramadan, the Islam month of fasting usually in January and Eid Al-Fitr, the Islamic feast that signifies the end of Ramadan, usually in February. Eid Al-Adha, the festival of sacrifice, is celebrated on the last day of the haj, the annual pilgrimage to Makkah required of all Muslims at least once in their lifetime in April. Algerians also celebrate Hijriyya, the calendar New Year, usually May and Mawlid An-Nabi (Prophet Mohammed's birthday) on July 29.


Many Algerians suffer from tuberculosis, considered their most serious health problem. Second is trachoma, a fly-borne eye infection, which was directly or indirectly responsible for most cases of blindness. Waterborne diseases such as typhoid fever, cholera, dysentery, and hepatitis among all age-groups have also been a problem. These diseases are related to nutritional deficiencies, crowded living conditions, a general shortage of water, and insufficient knowledge of personal sanitation and modern health practices. Only a small part of the Algerian population has been entirely free from trachoma. In contrast, there are no known medical conditions specific to or more frequent among Algerian Americans.


Ethnic communities in Algeria were distinguished primarily by language, where 17 different languages were spoken. The original language of Algeria is Tamazight (Berber). Arabic was a result of the Islamic conquest. French was imposed by colonization, which in Algeria began earlier and ended later than in the other nations of the Maghreb, the term applied to the western part of Arab North Africa. Arabic encroached gradually, spreading through the areas most accessible to migrants and conquerors, but Berber remained the mother tongue in many rural areas. In the late 1990s, 14 percent of Algerians spoke Berber languages.

Arabic, the language of the majority and the official language of the country, is a Semitic tongue related to Hebrew, Aramaic, and Amharic. The dominant language throughout North Africa and the Middle East, Arabic was introduced in the seventh and eighth centuries AD to the coastal regions by the Arab conquerors. Written Arabic is psychologically and sociologically important as the vehicle of Islam and Arab culture and as the link with other Arab countries. Two forms are used, the classical Arabic of the Koran and Algerian dialectical Arabic. Classical Arabic is the essential base of written Arabic and formal speech throughout the Arab world. The religious, scientific, historical, and literary heritage of Arabic people is transmitted in classical Arabic. Arabic scholars or individuals with a good classical education from any country with Arab heritage can converse with one another.

As in other Semitic scripts, in classical Arabic only the consonants are written. Vowel signs and other diacritical marks to aid in pronunciation are used occasionally in printed texts. The script is cursive, often used as decoration. Berber and Arabic have mixed so that many words are swapped. In some Arabic-speaking areas, the words for various flora and fauna are still in Berber, and Berber place-names are numerous throughout the country, some of them borrowed. Examples of Berber place-names are Illizi, Skikda, Tamanrasset, Tipasa, and Tizi Ouzou.

Berber is primarily a spoken language. There is an ancient Berber script called tifinagh that survives among the Tuareg of the Algerian Sahara, where the characters are used more for special purposes than for communication. Several Berber dialect groups are recognized in modern Algeria, but only Kabyle and Chaouia are spoken by any considerable number. The Chaouia dialect, which is distinguishable from but related to Kabyle, bears the mark and influence of Arabic. Separate dialects, however, are spoken by the Tuareg and by the Mzab.

Family and Community Dynamics

Before the War of Independence, the basic Algerian family unit was the extended family, and it consisted of grandparents, their married sons and families, unmarried sons, daughters (if unmarried, divorced or widowed with their children), and occasionally other related adults. The patriarchal structure of the family meant the senior male member made all major decisions affecting family welfare, divided land and work assignments, and represented the family in dealings with outsiders. Within the home, each married couple usually had their own rooms opening onto the family courtyard, and they prepared meals separately. Women spent their lives under male authority, either their father or husband, and devoted themselves entirely to the activities of the home. Children were raised by all members of the group, who passed on to them the concept and value of family solidarity.

In Algeria, women average 3.4 children per family. Because a woman gained status in her husband's home when she produced sons, mothers loved and favored their boys, often nursing them longer than they nursed girls. The relation between a mother and her son remained warm and intimate, whereas the father was a more distant figure. Families expressed solidarity by adhering to a code of honor that obligated members to provide aid to relatives in need and, if moving to a city to find work, to seek out and stay with family members. Among Berber groups, the honor and wealth of the lineage were so important that blood revenge was justified in their defense.

In the early 1990s, Algeria continued to have one of the most conservative legal codes concerning marriage in the Middle East, strictly observing Islamic marriage requirements. The legal age for marriage is twenty-one for men, eighteen for women. Upon marriage the bride usually goes to the household, village, or neighborhood of the bridegroom's family, where she lives under the authority of her mother-in-law. Divorce and polygamy were permitted in the classical Muslim law of marriage. Today, divorce is more frequent than polygamy.

Algerian American families tend to be smaller and better educated. They prefer to live in separate quarters, have fewer children, and run their lives independently. Familial ties of loyalty and respect have loosened, and family relationships have been rearranged with respect to living space and decision making.

Marriage is traditionally a family rather than a personal affair and it is intended to strengthen existing families. An Islamic marriage is a civil contract rather than a sacrament, and consequently, representatives of the bride's interests negotiate a marriage agreement with representatives of the bridegroom. Although the future spouses must, by law, consent to the match, they usually take no part in the arrangements. The contract establishes the terms of the union and outlines appropriate recourse if they are broken.


For Algerian Americans, education in the United States is an eye-opening experience because subject matter, especially history, is not taught from a pro-Islam perspective. In U.S. schools, religion is separated from course instruction by law, whereas Algerian schools are exactly opposite. When Algeria became independent in 1962, the government inherited an education system focused on European content and conducted in a foreign language by foreign teachers. By the 1990s, teachers were more than 90 percent Algerian at all levels. Algerians redesigned the system to make it more suited to the needs of a developing nation. In the mid-1970s, the primary and middle education levels were reorganized into a nine-year system of compulsory basic education. The reforms of the mid-1970s included abolishing all private education. Since then, on the secondary level, pupils followed one of three tracksgeneral, technical, or vocationaland then sat for the baccalaureate examination before proceeding to one of the universities, state technical institutes, or vocational training centers, or directly to employment. There are ten universities in Algeria, accommodating over 160,000 students. Aside from the University of Algiers, there are universities and technical colleges in Oran, Constantine, Annaba, Batna, Tizi Ouzou and Tlemcen.

Reorganization was completed in 1989, although in practice the basic system remained divided between the elementary level, with 5.8 million students in grades one to nine, and the high school level, with 839,000 students. Although education has been compulsory for all children aged between 6 and 15 years of age since 1976, by 1989 nearly 40 percent of the entire population over 15 years of age still had no formal education. Despite government support for the technical training programs meant to produce middle- and higher-level technicians for the industrial sector, a critical shortage remained of workers in fields requiring technical skills.

Algerian society in the early 1990s did not encourage women to assume roles outside the home, and female enrollments remained slightly lower than might have been expected from the percentage of girls in the age-group. Many Algerian students also study abroad. Most go to France or other West European countries, various countries of Eastern Europe, and the United States.


In Algeria women are traditionally regarded as weaker than men in mind, body, and spirit. The honor of the family depends largely on the conduct of its women. Consequently, women are expected to be decorous, modest, and discreet. The slightest implication of impropriety, especially if publicly acknowledged, can damage the family's honor. Female virginity before marriage and fidelity afterward are considered essential to the maintenance of family honor. If they discover a transgression, men are traditionally bound to punish the offending woman. Girls are brought up to believe that they are inferior to men and must cater to them and boys are taught to believe that they are entitled to that care.

In the traditional system, there was considerable variation in the treatment of women. In Arab tribes, women could inherit property, but in Berber tribes they could not. In Berber society, Kabyle women seem to have been the most restricted. A husband could not only divorce his wife by repudiation, but he could also forbid her remarriage. In contrast, Chaouia women could choose their own husbands.

The Algerian women's movement has made few gains since independence, and women in Algeria have fewer rights compared with women in neighboring countries of Tunisia and Morocco. Once the War of Independence was over, women who played a significant part in the war were expected to return to the home and their traditional roles by both the government and larger society. Despite this emphasis on women's customary roles, the government created the National Union of Algerian Women (Union Nationale des Femmes AlgériennesUNFA) in 1962, as part of its program to mobilize various sectors of society in support of the socialism. About 6,000 women participated in the first march to celebrate International Women's Day. But the union failed to gain the support of feminists, and it did not attract membership among rural workers who were probably the most vulnerable to patriarchal traditions.

Another major gain was the Khemisti Law. Drafted by Fatima Khemisti, wife of a former foreign minister, the resolution raised the minimum age of marriage. Whereas girls were still expected to marry earlier than boys, the minimum age was raised to 16 years for girls and 18 years for boys. This change greatly facilitated women's pursuit of further education, although it fell short of the 19 year minimum specified in the original proposal. In 1964 the creation of Al Qiyam (values), a mass organization that promoted traditional Islamic values, diminished women's rights. The resurgence of the Islamic tradition was a backlash against the former French efforts to "liberate" Algerian women by pushing for better education and eliminating the veil.

Women's access to higher education has improved, even though rights to employment, political power, and autonomy are limited. Typically, women return to the home after schooling. Overall enrollment at all levels of schooling, from primary education through university or technical training, has risen sharply, and women represent more than 40 percent of students.

The National People's Assembly (APN) provided one of the few public forums available to women. But, in 1965 Boumediene suspended the APN. No female members were elected to the APN under Ben Bella, but women were allowed to propose resolutions before the assembly. In the 1950s and 1960s, no women sat on any of the key decisionmaking bodies, but nine women were elected to the APN when it was reinstated in 1976. However, women at local and regional levels did participate. By the late 1980s, the number of women in provincial and local assemblies had risen to almost 300.

The 1976 National Charter recognized women's right to education and referred to their role in the social, cultural, and economic facets of Algerian life. But in the early 1990s, the number of women employed outside the home remained well below that of Tunisia and Morocco. In 1981 a new family code backed by conservative Islamists curtailed provisions for divorce initiated by women and limited the restrictions on polygyny, but increased the minimum marriage age for both women and men to 18 and 21 years, respectively.

New women's groups emerged in the early 1980s, including the Committee for the Legal Equality of Men and Women and the Algerian Association for the Emancipation of Women. In 1984 the first woman cabinet minister was appointed. Since then, the government has promised the creation of several hundred thousand new jobs for women, although a difficult economic crisis made achievement of this goal unlikely. In the mid-1950s, about 7,000 women were registered as wage earners. By 1977, a total of 138,234 women, or 6 percent of the active work force, were engaged in full-time employment. Corresponding figures for the mid-1980s were about 250,000, or 7 percent of the labor force. Many women were employed in the state sector as teachers, nurses, physicians, and technicians. Although by 1989 the number of women in the work force had increased to 316,626, women still constituted only a little over 7 percent of the total work force. When the APN was dissolved in January 1992, few female deputies sat in it, and no women, in any capacity, were affiliated with the body that ruled Algeria in 1993. The resurgence of traditional Islamic groups threatened to further restrict the women's movement.

Feminist leader Khalida Messaoudi has written of the terrible reality of life in Algeria. Women have been betrayed and stripped of their rights as people by the government under the Family Code and then enslaved, terrorized, and murdered by the enemies of that same government. The extent of fundamentalist control over the roles of women is seen in the nation's response to world-class track champion Hassiba Boulmerka. After she won the 1,500-meter championship in 1991, fundamentalists in Algeria issued a kofr, a public disavowal because she bared her legs in the race. When she won Olympic gold in Barcelona, the majority of Algerians congratulated her, but she remains a target of terrorism by fundamentalists. Hassiba Boulmerka makes public appearances to encourage young Algerian women to follow her example.


Only after a couple is engaged may they visit each other's homes and date. The wedding party and consummation occur later. The guests at the traditional wedding party expect to remain until the bride and groom retire to a room nearby and consummate the marriage. Then the bride's undergarments or bedclothes stained with hymenal blood are publicly displayed. Many couples opt to undertake only the legal engagement phase of the wedding ceremony, and forego the traditional family celebration.


Muslim life is noted for the great respect shown to the dead. Burial takes place as quickly as possible, often within hours of death. The deceased is washed, wrapped in a shroud, and carried to a cemetery. A coffin may or may not be used. The body is placed in the grave with the face oriented toward Mecca. Either at the deathbed or at the grave, the shahada, the witness to God's oneness, is whispered in the ear of the deceased. A memorial service is held 40 days after the death, and friends and family gather to mourn. Cemeteries often include other buildings such as hostels, libraries, hospitals and kitchens for feeding the poor. Muslims hold festivals, gather for meetings, and even picnic in the great cemeteries of the cities.


Berbers represent one-fifth of the Algerian population and have worked to maintain a strong ethnic consciousness and preserve their cultural identity. The encroaching Islamic movement has resulted in conflicts. But generally Algerian Americans, even those of Berber descent, have no bitter rivalries with other ethnic groups.


Islam is the state religion, and 99 percent of Algerians are Sunni Muslim, the broader, more tolerant form of Islam. Generally, Algerian Americans are less strict Muslims. Some do not belong to any Islamic Center or mosque. A study of Muslim communities in the West showed the gradual loss of specifically Islamic values with each succeeding generation. Because there are around one million Muslims living in the United States, there are mosques in many communities. Immigrants can join the community of Arabs by attending Friday prayers. The rise of the Muslim ethnic identity in the 1960s in the United States provided an identity with the American public. But, there is a continuing bias against some Arabs in the United States, often directed at particular countries such as Iran, Iraq, and Libya.

A key belief of Muslims is the concept of balance and moderation, signified by the religious concept of sirat al-muataquin, or keeping to the straight path of the Koran. Islam forbids eating pork, drinking alcohol, gambling, or lending money with excessive interest. Hisba, to promote what is right and prevent what is wrong, is the primary duty of every Muslim. A person converts to Islam at a local mosque by making a declaration of faith, followed by efforts to learn about and cultivate other aspects of Muslim life given by the Koran, the written message from God. This call to Islam, called dawah, comes through evangelical, enthusiastic converts who challenge others to accept Muslim beliefs.

Employment and Economic Traditions

Of the 197 Algerian immigrants in 1984, 116 were professionals and 81 had no occupation. Of this same group, 133 were spouses of Algerian Americans. Many Algerian Americans are employed as physicians, academics, and engineers. Overall, they have more education than the average Algerian.

In the Algerian labor force of 7.8 million, percentages by occupation are: government 29.5 percent, agriculture 22 percent, construction and public works 16.2 percent, industry 13.6 percent, commerce and services 13.5 percent, transportation and communication 5.2 percent. The unemployment rate in 1997 was 28 percent. Algeria's rapidly growing labor force of about 5.5 million unskilled agricultural laborers and semiskilled workers in the early 1990s accurately reflected the high rate of population growth. More than 50 percent of the labor force was between 15 and 34 years old. Almost 40 percent of the labor force either had no formal education or had not finished primary school and 20 percent of the labor force had completed secondary school or beyond. Women officially constituted only about seven percent of the labor force, but that figure did not take into account women working in agriculture. Unskilled laborers constituted 39 percent of the total active work force, but nonprofessional skilled workers, such as carpenters, electricians, and plumbers, were in short supply because most tended to migrate. Algerian workers lacked the right to form multiple autonomous labor unions until the Law on Trade Union Activity was passed by the National Assembly in June of 1990.

Algerian American workers receive higher salaries and have more opportunities for advancement. In the United States, especially for women, the marketplace is more receptive to entrepreneurs. Back home in Algeria the entrepreneurial sector of society began to emerge as late as 1993. For most of Algeria's political history, the socialist orientation of the state precluded the development of a class of small business owners and resulted in strong public anti-capitalist sentiment. Economic liberalization under Benjedid transformed many state-owned enterprises into private entities and fostered the growth of an active and cohesive group of professional associations of small business owners, or patronat. The patronat has strongly supported government reforms, and has persisted in its lobbying efforts. The patronat consists of well over 10,000 members and is growing. Some of its member associations include the Algerian Confederation of Employers, the General Confederation of Algerian Economic Operators, and the General Union of Algerian Merchants and Artisans.

Politics and Government

A foreign policy lobbying organization of the Arab-American community, called the National Association of Arab-Americans, was founded in 1972 to the formulate and implement a nonpartisan U.S. policy agenda in the Middle East and Arab nations. The formation of the American-Arab Anti-discrimination Committee (ADC) in 1980 gave Algerian Americans an opportunity for political activity at a national level. The ADC is a non-sectarian, nonpartisan civil rights organization committed to defending the rights of people of Arab descent and promoting their rich cultural heritage. The ADC, which is the largest Arab-American grassroots organization in the United States, was founded by former Senator James Abourezk and has chapters nationwide. The ADC is at the forefront combating defamation and negative stereotyping of Arab Americans in the media and wherever else it is practiced. In doing so, it acts as an organized framework through which Arab Americans can channel their efforts toward unified, collective and effective advocacy. It also promotes a more balanced U.S. Middle East policy and serves as a reliable source for the news media and educators. By promoting cultural events and participating in community activities, the ADC has made great strides in correcting anti-Arab stereotypes and humanizing the image of the Arab people. In all of these efforts, the ADC coordinates closely with other civil rights and human rights organizations on issues of common concern.


The United States and Algeria have endured a rocky relationship, starting at the beginning of U.S. history. European maritime powers paid the tribute demanded by the rulers of the privateering states of North Africa (Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli, and Morocco) to prevent attacks on their shipping by corsairs. No longer covered by British tribute payments after the American Revolution, U.S. merchant ships were seized and sailors enslaved. In 1794 the U.S. Congress appropriated funds for the construction of warships to deal with the privateering threat, but three years later it concluded a treaty with the ruler of Algiers, guaranteeing payment of tribute amounting to $10 million over a 12 year period. Payments in ransom and tribute to the privateering states amounted to 20 percent of U.S. government annual revenues in 1800. In March of 1815, the U.S. Congress authorized naval action against the Barbary States and the then-independent Muslim states of Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli. Commodore Stephen Decatur threatened Algiers with his guns and concluded a favorable treaty that the ruler repudiated shortly after.

The United States and Algeria continued to have competing foreign policy objectives. Algeria's commitment to strict socialism and the Islamists' commitment to a global revolution against Western capitalism and imperialism antagonized relations with the United States. The United States maintained good relations with France instead of Algeria following the War of Independence. Algeria broke diplomatic relations with the United States in 1967, following the June 1967 war with Israel, and U.S. relations remained hostile throughout the 1970s. A number of incidents aggravated the tenuous relationship between the two countries. These included the American intervention in Vietnam and other developing countries, Algerian sponsorship of guerrilla and radical revolutionary groups, American sympathies for Morocco in the Western Sahara, and continued support for Israel by the United States. Algeria's policy of allowing aid and landing clearance at Algerian airports for hijackers angered the United States.

In the 1980s, increased U.S. demands for energy and a growing Algerian need for capital and technical assistance resulted in increased interaction with the United States. In 1980 the United States imported more than $2.8 billion worth of oil from Algeria and was Algeria's largest export market. Algeria's role as intermediary in the release of the 52 U.S. hostages from Iran in January 1981 and its retreat from a militant role in the developing world also encouraged better relations with the United States. In 1990 Algeria received $25.8 million in financial assistance and bought $1.0 billion in imports from the United States, indicating that the United States had become an important international partner. On January 13, 1992, following the military coup that upset Algeria's burgeoning democratic system, the United States issued a formal but low-key statement condemning the military takeover. The next day Department of State spokesmen retracted the statement, calling for a peaceful resolution, but offering no condemnation of the coup. Since then, the United States has accepted a military dictatorship in Algeria. The military government has opened the country to foreign trade.

Individual and Group Contributions

Thelma Schoonmaker (1940 ) is a filmmaker, born in Algiers, who edited Taxi Driver (1976) and The Age of Innocence (1993).



The Amazigh Voice.

A newsletter published quarterly since 1992, it informs members and other interested persons about Amazigh (Berber) language and culture and acts as a medium for the exchange of ideas and information. It is distributed worldwide and is also available on the world wide web.

Address: The Newsletter of the Amazigh Cultural Association in America, P. O. Box 1763, Bloomington, Illinois 61702.

The News Circle/Arab-American Magazine.

The oldest independent Arab-American magazine in the United States. Founded in Los Angeles in 1972.

Address: P.O. Box 3684, Glendale, California 91221-0684.

Fax: (818) 246-1936.



Created by News Circle Publishing, Arabesco is a TV program aimed at disseminating Arab culture and tradition to America. It was founded in Los Angeles in 1995. It is a series of 29-minute episodes narrated in English and viewed mainly on Cable TV.

Address: P.O. Box 3684, Glendale, California 91221-0684.

Fax: (818) 246-1936.

Organizations and Associations

Algerian-American Association of New England (AAANE).

This is a relief organization that facilitates the adaptation of Algerian-Americans to the American community, while maintaining and fostering their unique heritage. It hosts an Annual Algerian-American Business Conference. It utilizes educational programs and other appropriate means to foster greater awareness, understanding, and appreciation of the Algerian cultural and ethnic heritage.

Address: P.O. Box 380165, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238-0165.

Telephone: 617-284-9349.

E-mail: [email protected]

Algerian American Association of Northern California.

A non-profit organization established in 1992 to develop and strengthen ties between Algerian-Americans and their friends in Northern California in particular, and the nation in general. It serves to create and nurture a positive sense of cultural identity among Algerian-Americans and to preserve Algerian culture.

Address: P.O. Box 2213, Cupertino, California 95015.

Algerian American National Association.

This was the first cultural non-profit corporation with the goals of preserving the Algerian heritage. It serves as a platform of support for the new American citizens and promotes relations between the two countries with educational and cultural programs. It was established in 1987 as a non-sectarian association open to everyone.

Address: P. O. Box 19, Gracie Station, New York, New York 10028.

Telephone: (212) 309-3316.

Fax: (212) 348-8195.

Algerian Embassy.

Ambassador Ramtane Lamamra, Diplomatic representation in the United States

Address: 2118 Kalorama Road NW, Washington, DC 20008.

Telephone: (202) 265-2800.

Algerian Mission to the United Nations.

Address: 750 Third Ave., 14th Floor, New York, New York 10012.

Telephone: (212) 986-0595.

The Amazigh Cultural Association in America (ACAA), Inc.

This is a non-profit organization registered in the state of New Jersey. It is organized and operated exclusively for cultural, educational, and scientific purposes to contribute to saving, promoting, and enriching the Amazigh (Berber) language and culture.

Address: 442 Route 206 North, Suite 163, Bedminster, New Jersey 07921.

Telephone: (215) 592-7492.

American-Arab Anti-discrimination Committee.

This is a civil rights organization committed to defending the rights of people of Arab descent and promoting their rich cultural heritage.

Address: 4201 Connecticut Ave, N.W, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20008.

Telephone: (202) 244-2990.

National Association of Arab-Americans (NAAA).

This is a premier foreign policy lobbying organization of the Arab-American community, which was founded in 1972. NAAA is dedicated to the formulation and implementation of an evenhanded and nonpartisan U.S. policy agenda in the Middle East.

Address: 1212 New York Avenue, NW, Suite 230, Washington, DC 20005.

Telephone: (202) 842-1840.

World Algerian Action Coalition, Inc.

This organization is dedicated to presenting a balanced and politically non-biased portrayal of the political, social, and economic conditions in Algeria.

Address: P.O. Box 34093, Washington, DC 20043.


Museums and Research Centers

The Historical Text Archive, Mississippi State University.

This archive holds historical documents and maps.

Address: Mississippi State University, Starkville, Mississippi 39762.

Telephone: (662) 325-3060.

Middle East & Islamic Studies Collection, Cornell University Library.

This collection contains political documents, studies, maps, and other printed artifacts on Algerian culture and history.

Contact: Ali Houissa, Middle East & Islamic Studies Bibliographer .

Address: Collection Development Department, 504 Olin Library, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853.

Telephone: (607) 255-5752.


Sources for Additional Study

Entelis, John P., and Phillip C. Naylor. State And Society in Algeria. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1992.

Metz, Helen Chapin. Algeria: A Country Study. Washington, D.C.: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 1984.

Messaoudi, Khalida. Translated by Anne C. Vila. Unbowed: An Algerian Woman Confronts Islamic Fundamentalism. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998.

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