Before the period of recorded history, the North African coastal area now known as Algeria was inhabited by Berber tribal groups, from whom many present-day Algerians are descended. Phoenician sailors established coastal settlements, and after the 8th century BC , the territory was controlled by Carthage. Roman dominance dates from the fall of Carthage in 146 BC . Completely annexed in AD 40, the region, known as Numidia, became a center of Roman culture. Christianity flourished, as did agriculture and commerce; Numidian wheat and olives were shipped to Rome. By the mid-third century there were some 20 Numidian bishops. Despite the prosperity of the Roman cities and the cereal-growing countryside, there were frequent Berber revolts. The Roman influence gradually declined, especially after the Vandal invasion of 430–31. The Byzantine conquered eastern Numidia in the 6th century.
After the Arab conquest began in 637, the area was known as Al-Maghrib al-Awsat, or the Middle West and continued for a century. The Berbers accepted Islam but preserved their own traditional political and social institutions, in effect absorbing the invaders. Arabs from the east attacked in the 11th century. These newcomers, unlike their predecessors, were nomadic herders rather than farmers; they destroyed many of the towns and farms and reinforced a more pastoral type of economy. Almoravids from Morocco also took possession of part of the region in the 11th century, and they were succeeded by Almohads a century later. Although these and other dynasties and individuals united the territory and consolidated it with Morocco and Spain, local rulers retained considerable autonomy. Meanwhile, seafaring and piracy became important.
Spain conquered part of the coast in the early 16th century, and Algerians asked the aid of 'Aruj, known as Barbarossa, a Turkish pirate. He expelled the Spaniards from some of their coastal footholds, made himself sultan, and conquered additional territory. The area of Barbarossa's control was extended by his brother, Khayr ad-Din, also called Barbarossa, who placed his territory under the suzerainty of the Ottoman sultan in Constantinople. Until 1587, Algiers was governed by beylerbeys; from 1587 to 1659, by pashas, who were appointed for three-year terms; and after 1659, by aghas and finally by deys (28 deys in all, 14 of whom were assassinated). Other parts of what is now called Algeria were ruled either by Turkish officials or by local chieftains. Spain held a small area around Oran until 1708 and controlled it again from 1732 to 1791.
Algiers became increasingly independent of Constantinople and, joining with other states of the Barbary Coast, thrived on piracy. At this time, it had diplomatic and trade relations with many European countries, including France. But with the defeat (though not suppression) of the Barbary pirates by US and European fleets during 1815–16, and with the growing European interest in acquiring overseas colonies, Algiers was seen as a possible addition to either the British or the French empire. In 1830, the French took over the principal ports; they gradually subjugated the Berbers, annexed the northern regions, and set up a system of fortified posts. Thereafter, sporadic revolts broke out, notably the guerrilla war from 1830 to 1847, led by the legendary hero, Abd al-Qadir, and the Kabyle rebellion in 1871. Other sections, however, remained independent of France until the first decade of the 20th century.
Al-Jazair, as it was called in Arabic, became, in French, Algérie, a name that France applied to the territory for the first time in 1839. In 1848, northern Algeria was proclaimed an integral part of France and was organized into three provinces. Following the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71, large numbers of Alsatians and other French colonizers settled the most fertile confiscated lands, as did other Europeans at the invitation of France. Muslims had no political rights except for limited participation in local financial delegations.
Following World War I, France took the first steps toward making all Algeria an integral part of France. In 1919, voting rights were given to a few Muslims, based on education and military service qualifications. (French citizenship had previously been open to Muslims who renounced their Koranic status.)
During World War II, in exchange for loyalty to France, many Muslims hoped for political concessions, and moderates believed that France might be persuaded to grant Algeria a separate status while retaining close diplomatic, economic, and defense ties. In 1957, all Muslims became French subjects, but about 9 million Muslims and 500,000 Europeans voted on separate electoral rolls for a joint assembly. Unsuccessful in obtaining further reforms and faring poorly in several apparently rigged elections, the moderate Muslim nationalist group led by Ferhat Abbas was greatly weakened.
The war in Algeria toppled several French governments before causing the demise of the Fourth Republic in May 1958. Gen. Charles de Gaulle was then brought to power by French rightists and military groups in Algeria. To their surprise, however, he pursued a policy of preparing for Algerian independence. He offered self-determination to Algeria in September 1958. Referendums in France and Algeria on 8 April and 1 July 1962 approved a settlement, and independence was formally proclaimed on 3 July, despite a program of counterterrorism by the French Secret Army Organization in Algeria. Meanwhile, younger nationalists had formed what would become known as the National Liberation Front (Front de Libération Nationale— FLN), and a guerrilla war was launched on 1 November 1954. The FLN's National Liberation Army (Armée de Libération Nationale—ALN) perpetrated acts of terrorism and sabotage throughout Algeria and gained increasing mass support. Eventually, France was forced to maintain at least 450,000 troops in Algeria. During the hostilities, the French army completely cleared many rural areas of their civilian populations and evacuated some two million Muslims to army-controlled regroupment centers or new large villages. Although the army gradually eliminated the power of the FLN to carry out large-scale attacks, the latter continued its terrorist acts against the French army, French settlers, and pro-French Muslims. Terrorist activities, mainly as a result of factional disputes, also were carried on by Algerian Muslims in France. During more than seven years of civil war, well over 1,000,000 Muslim guerrillas and civilians and 10,000 French soldiers lost their lives.
With independence achieved, a seven-man Political Bureau, set up as the policy-making body of the FLN, took over effective control of the country on 5 August 1962. Ahmed Ben Bella became the first premier, and Ferhat Abbas was chosen speaker of the Assembly. The Assembly adopted a constitution, which was endorsed by referendum in September 1963.
Elected president in October, Ben Bella began to nationalize foreign-owned land and industry. Opposition to his authoritarian regime led to an outbreak of armed revolts in the Kabilia and Biskra areas in July 1964 and to open attacks on the regime by leading political figures. On 19 June 1965, the Ben Bella government was overthrown in a bloodless coup directed by Col. Houari Boumedienne, first deputy premier and defense minister. The 1963 constitution was suspended, and a revolutionary council headed by Boumedienne took power. The new government shifted to a gradualist approach to national development, with deliberate economic planning and an emphasis on financial stability. During the 1970s, the council nationalized the oil industry and initiated agrarian reforms. Boumedienne ruled by decree until June 1976, when a national referendum approved a Socialist constitution providing for a one-party state with a strong presidential system and an elected National Assembly. Boumedienne was elected president in December 1976 but died two years later.
The FLN Central Committee, with strong army backing, chose Col. Chadli Bendjedid as the party's leader, and his presidential candidacy was ratified by the electorate on 7 February 1979. He was reelected without opposition in January 1984 for a second five-year term. After a period of maintaining continuity with the previous regime, the Bendjedid government moved toward more moderate policies, expanding powers for the provinces and state enterprises and attempting to revitalize the FLN and government agencies. In foreign affairs, Algeria reduced its earlier support for liberation groups around the globe and for hard-line nonaligned positions. It patched up its dispute with Morocco over the Western Sahara and sharply reduced its aid to the Polisario. Algeria played a key role in helping the United States resolve the hostage crisis in 1981 and worked hard for the Arab Maghreb Union, a planned EC for North Africa. Serious internal trouble developed in 1988 when young Algerians rioted over high prices, unemployment, and the dictatorship of an aging, inept, and corrupt revolutionary regime. Shocked by the 500 deaths in the streets, Bendjedid moved to liberalize his government. Political parties were allowed to form outside the FLN and the prime minister and cabinet were made responsible to the National Assembly. He won a third term in 1989, supported by 81% of the electorate.
Burdened by heavy debts and low oil prices, Bendjedid was obliged to pursue austere economic policies and to abandon socialism for the free market—actions which further inflamed his opposition, now led by the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS). In 1989, the party won 55% of urban election seats while the FLN maintained power in the countryside. Elections to the National Assembly, postponed six months, were held in December 1991 under relatively free conditions. FIS candidates won 188 out of 231 contested seats, needing only 28 more places in a second vote to control the 430-member Assembly. The FLN won only 16 seats.
The army intervened, arresting FIS leaders and postponing indefinitely the second stage vote. Bendjedid resigned under pressure from the army and Mohammed Boudiaf, a hero of the revolution, returned from exile to lead the High State Council which the army established. A harsh crackdown on Islamists began; the FIS was banned and its local councils were closed. As acts of terrorism continued by both sides in 1992 and 1993, the regime declared a state of emergency, set up special security courts and arrested more than 5,000 persons. Boudiaf was assassinated in June 1992 to be replaced by Ali Kafi with Redha Malek as prime minister in August 1993. In January 1994, Defense Minister Liamine Zeroual was named president and the five-man presidential council was abolished.
Zeroual released two top FIS leaders in September 1994 and began a dialogue with the FIS. After six weeks of apparently halfhearted talks, Zeroual ended the dialogue and called for new presidential elections. Opposition parties—including the FLN, the FIS, and other Islamist groups—met in late 1994 and early 1995 under the auspices of the Sant' Egidio Roman Catholic community in Italy to produce a national contract to end the violence through a transitional government that would include all parties. Zeroual rejected the meeting as foreign interference in Algeria's internal affairs and condemned the contract that it produced. He continued to attempt dialogue with the legalized opposition parties with no results.
While parties accounting for nearly 80% of the vote in the 1991 parliamentary elections were excluded from participating, Zeroual did have three opponents for the presidency in the November 1995 elections. The elections went ahead as scheduled. Despite widespread calls for boycotts and threats of violence, the government claimed 75% of registered voters participated in the election, which gave Zeroual the office of presidency with 61% of the votes. Opposition groups disputed the turnout figures.
Zeroual's first objective after election was the passing of a new constitution greatly expanding presidential powers. The referendum approving the new constitution was passed with nearly 80% of the registered voters participating and 86% approving the new constitution. While there were widespread electoral irregularities, the vote was generally viewed as reflecting Algeria's weariness with civil war (which, as of 2003, had claimed approximately 100,000–120,000 lives since 1992) and a willingness to give the government the power to end it. At the very least, the elections showed that few of Algeria's registered voters respected the boycott calls made by opposition parties, even when those calls were backed up with threats of violence.
However, the elections did not stop the cycles of violence. When the government thought it had effectively stopped the terror campaign, the Ramadan of 1997 (the traditional high point of terrorist activity) was the bloodiest ever, with daily reports of bombings and massacres.
Despite the violence and instability, Zeroual continued to hold elections as he reshaped Algeria's government. In June 1997, parliamentary elections were held. Thirty-nine political parties registered for the elections with over 7,000 candidates contesting for the 280 seats in the National People's Assembly. Violence continued throughout the campaigning. The result of the election was a victory for pro-government parties. However, though the FIS and other religious parties were barred from participating, two other more moderate Islamist parties won more than 100 seats and received over 20% of the votes cast. Regional and municipal council elections were held in October 1997, with the RND (Rassemblement national pour la démocratie or National Democratic Rally) winning more than half of the seats.
In September 1998 President Zeroual gave a surprise address announcing that he would step down from power in February 1999, two years before his term was to expire. The decision was most likely due to infighting in the regime, which had become increasingly public. Forty-seven candidates presented themselves for election, but only seven made it to the final list, with Abdelaziz Bouteflika quickly emerging as the leading candidate. Tarnishing the results of the election, four of the candidates officially withdrew from the contest two days before the 15 April election day claiming massive fraud in favor of Bouteflika in the forming of election lists. They were joined the following day by the other two candidates. The fraud claims were rejected by the minister of the interior and the election went ahead with Bouteflika as the single candidate.
Following his election victory Bouteflika instituted dialogue with opposition groups and at the end of 1999 moved against corruption. Within weeks of his election, Bouteflika announced a "Civil Concord Plan" based upon a 1997 truce between the military and the FIS's Islamic Salvation Army (AIS). In September 1999, a referendum was held on the plan, which was approved by more than 98% of the voters; voter turnout was over 85% nationwide, but was below 50% in eastern regions of the country, which are dominated by the opposition. The plan included an amnesty for those Islamists who renounced violence; up to 5,500 rebels participated in the amnesty, and the AIS formally disbanded in 2000. Those guilty of murder, rape, or the placing of bombs were to be prosecuted; however, the death penalty would not be used, and no prison sentence would be longer than 20 years. The plan was supported by the FIS; however, violence continued, and was still ongoing as of March 2003.
In April 2001, a Berber youth taken into custody by the police was killed, sparking months of demonstrations and rioting in the northeastern region of Kabylie. More than 90 people died in the unrest, which also spread beyond Kabylie. The Berber protesters' complaints went beyond the act of police brutality, addressing concerns of ethnic discrimination, corruption, housing shortages, unemployment, repression, and violence. In May, the mainly Berber party, the Rally for Culture and Democracy, withdrew from the government in protest against the government's handling of the unrest. In October, Bouteflika agreed to a constitutional amendment granting national recognition to the Berber language, Tamazight. However, the language would not be granted "official" status, like Arabic.
In the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, the United States called upon all states to implement counterterrorism measures. Algeria pledged its support for the Bush administration's campaign against terrorism, and sent the United States a list of 350 Islamic extremists known to be living abroad who may have had contacts with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network. Bouteflika made two official state visits to President Bush in 2001, the first such visits by an Algerian president in 15 years. In return for Algeria's aid, the Bush administration agreed to ease restrictions on arms sales to Algeria.
In parliamentary elections held on 30 May 2002, the FLN won 199 of 389 seats in the National Assembly; it was one of 23 parties participating. Four parties, including 2 Berber parties, boycotted the elections, which were marred by violence and low voter turnout (47%).
On 3 March 2003, French president Jacques Chirac visited Algiers, the first state visit by a French president since Algeria won independence in 1962. Chirac stated that the two countries could not forget the brutal war for independence that had created "countless victims, tore families apart, and shattered destinies and dreams." He laid flowers at a monument for Algerians who fought the French during the war, which was regarded as an act of reconciliation. Chirac also called on the government to use dialogue to end the Islamic insurgency ongoing since 1992.