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Algeria, country in northwestern Africa that borders the Mediterranean Sea, officially known as the Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria. Algeria is the second largest country on the African continent. Only Sudan covers more area. The Sahara, a vast desert, spreads over nine-tenths of the country. Coastal plains lie near the Mediterranean, separated by mountains from the Sahara. The overwhelming majority of Algeria’s people live in the northern part of the country, near the coast. Algiers, along the Mediterranean coast, is the country’s capital and largest city. Algeria’s name in Arabic, al-Jaza’ir (“the islands”), refers to small islands lying off the coast near the capital.

Most of Algeria’s people are of Arab, Berber, or mixed Arab and Berber ancestry. The Berbers were the first people known to have inhabited northwestern Africa. At the end of the 7th century ad, Muslim Arabs appeared in North Africa, conquered the area and introduced the religion of Islam and the Arabic language. Today, the overwhelming majority of Algerians are Muslims and speak the Arabic language. The Berber minority accepts Islam but preserves its language and customs. French is also widely spoken in Algeria.

Algeria was a colony of France from the mid-19th century until it won independence in 1962 in one of the bloodiest independence struggles in history. The eight-year war for independence caused enormous destruction and led to the departure of many of Algeria’s European settlers.

Algeria’s economy was underdeveloped and based largely on agriculture at the time of independence, and the government soon began efforts to modernize it. Today, Algeria is one of the wealthier countries in Africa, largely because of its petroleum reserves. In the early 1990s fighting between the military and Islamist fundamentalists plunged the country into civil war. Although outbursts of violence continue, government efforts at conciliation quieted the turmoil by the early 2000s.

Sources

Algeria

Ciment, James. Algeria: The Fundamentalist Challenge. Facts on File, 1997. Highly readable account of the factors that led to Algeria's civil war.

Entelis, John P. Algeria: The Revolution Institutionalised. Westview, 1986. Scholarly examination of 20th-century Algerian history; analysis of culture, economy, politics, and foreign policy.

Fanon, Frantz. Pref. Jean-Paul Sartre. Trans. Constance Farrington. The Wretched of the Earth. Grove, 1963, 1986. Classic portrayal of the psychological cost of revolution in Algeria.

Fuller, Graham E. Algeria: The Next Fundamentalist State? Rand, 1996. Detailed history of Algeria's colonial struggle, the emergence of the National Liberation Front, and the emergence of the Islamic Salvation Front.

Laremont, Ricardo Rene. Islam and the Politics of Resistance in Algeria, 1783-1992. Africa World, 1999. A solid history underscoring the centrality of Islam in Algeria's development.

McDowall, David. Algeria. Chelsea House, 1988. Easy-to-read overview for younger readers.

Quandt, William B. Between Ballots and Bullets: Algeria's Transition from Authoritarianism. Brookings Institution Press, 1998. A scholarly look at Algeria's authoritarian history and the difficulties of making a transition to democracy.

Shahin, Emad Eldin. Political Ascent: Contemporary Islamic Movements in North Africa. Westview, 1997. Historical analysis of the rise of political Islam in the North African countries of Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco.

Stone, Martin. The Agony of Algeria. Columbia University Press, 1997. Argues that issues left unresolved after Algeria won independence in 1962 are at the heart of its current crisis.

Willis, Michael. The Islamist Challenge in Algeria. New York University Press, 1999. Charts the rapid rise of Algeria's large and powerful Islamic movement.

Wolf, John B. The Barbary Coast: Algeria Under the Turks, 1500-1830. Norton, 1979, 1982. Battles of Muslim corsairs against European Christians.

Contributors

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