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Algeria Country Guide

Algeria, the 10th largest country in the world, is located in the Maghreb region of Northwest Africa. Algeria is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea on one side, Morocco and Tunisia on the other sides. The official name of the country is the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria. The capital is Algiers which means "The Islands." 

People have lived in Algeria since 10.000 BC. Artefacts and cave paintings have been found that link tools found to Neanderthals back to 43.000 BC. The residents were eventually called Berbers by the Greeks and Romans and were considered to be barbarians and were wandering nomads. Muslim Arabs settled in Algeria in the mid 7th century and many of the locals converted to the Muslim faith. The Berbers retained power over the majority of the Maghreb region through the Middle Ages. In the early 1500's, Algeria was under the rule of the Spanish Empire until 1517 when the country was turned over to the Ottoman Empire. Under the military rule of Hassan Agha, Algeria grew into a one of the strongest military forces in the Mediterranean. The Barbary Coast was a haven for Muslim pirates that controlled the Mediterranean Sea, preying on Christian or non-Islamic ships. The pirates captured between 1 to 1.5 million slaves from the 16th to the 19th centuries. The pirates issued a "license tax" where ships would be granted safe passage if the fee was paid. 

In 1814, the European powers decided that the Barbary corsairs had to be stopped. After the Napoleonic wars, Algeria was weakened from fighting with England, Prussia, Spain, Netherlands, Russia, Denmark and Naples. A treaty was reached in which Algeria agreed to stop the practice of slavery. 

The French invaded Algeria in 1830 after much bloodshed from the previous wars. The fighting and disease resulted in the Algerian population being drastically reduced. In a twenty year span in the 1800's, 50,000 French citizens migrated to Algeria. In 1954, the National Liberation Front began a guerrilla campaign for its independence from France. Algerian rebels began killing innocent citizens. Over one million people made a hasty retreat into France in just a couple of months. Somewhere between 50,000 and 150,000 people were massacred by mobs in Algeria during this time. On July 3, 1962, France declared Algeria a free country.

The first elected president was Ahmed Ben Bella, who was a strict socialist and authoritarian. He was overthrown in 1965 by Houari Boumedienne, Bella's former defence minister. Boumedienne depended more on the army that Bella did and also increase the production of oil . He is known for creating "modern Algeria." Boumedienne died in office in December 1978. Colonel Chadli Bendjedid was elected president in 1979 and served until he resigned in 1992 from military pressure. A new constitution was adapted in 1989 which allowed political parties other than the FLN to hold office and it also removed the armed forces from running the government. The Militant Islamic Salvation Front was the leading political party in Algeria, taking more than half the vote in the 1992 election. Mohamed Boudiaf returned from 28 years of exile to serve as president. Violence and terrorism continued to be a problem. The High Council of State declared a state of emergency. The FIS Party was disbanded and over 50,000 members were jailed following a court decision. In June 1992, Boudiaf was killed in Annaba in front of TV cameras by Islamic extremists. 

Violence and terrorism continued to haunt Algeria all through the 1990's. In April of 1999, Abdelaziz Bouteflika was elected to a 5 year presidential term. Under his leadership, the focus was placed on restoring security to the country. He granted amnesty for those that fought the government in the 1990's except the ones that had carried out "blood crimes" like rape or murder. The plan was very popular with the people of Algeria. In 2004, Bouteflika was re-elected for a second term; then in 2009 he was chosen for a third time after constitutional amendments that removed presidential term limits. 

The official language of Algeria is Arabic. French and Berber dialects are also spoken.