History of Algeria

History of Algeria

In this article, we shall discuss the history of Algeria, with primary attention to domestic politics and international relations. We shall look at various historical events in Algeria, and the relationship that they had to Algerian politics.

Algeria and French Colonialism

In 1830, France first colonized Algeria. They would continue to occupy the country until 1962, when Algeria declared its independence from France. But throughout this time, the French government not only controlled the political spheres of Algeria, but they also established economic, and military power in the country. Throughout the years, they discriminated against Algerians in many aspects of their daily lives. They often restricted the use of Arabic, minimized Islam in public, took lands from Algerians, imposed various taxes on the population, and offered little political voice in the country.

Algerian War of Independence

In the mid-1950s, Algerian anti-colonialst forces fought with the French military over control of Algeria. As Ruedy (2005) explains, “[o]f the several violent independent struggles that accompanied the decolonization process in the years after World War II, that of the Algerians stands out as the longest, the costliest, and arguably the most poignant in terms of the human rights issues it juxtaposed” (156). Leading up to the beginning of the Algerian civil war in 1954, the French government was continuing to advocate that Algeria was a part of France, and that they could not have independence. However, in November of 1954, the beginning of an eight year civil war broke out in the country. And while some believed that the French government would not alter their position on Algeria, “…against all reasonable odds, the profoundly disadvantaged Algerians, in eight years of determined struggle, wore down a people immensely more numerous, wealthy, and powerful than themselves, extracting at the end of the unqualified recognition of their independence” (156).

However, as noted, this was not easy. Early in the rebellion, most in Algeria were not willing to become involved in the military struggle, despite their frustrations with the French colonialists. And this pattern continued into the first year. However, the revolutionaries, over time, convinced the Algerian public to act against French colonialism (Ruedy). They did this through organized military structure, as well as through continued dialogue with the population. Militarily, the Algerian political leadership “erected a revolutionary structure that continued and developed with modifications the clandestine organization of the PPA of the early 1940s and of the later OS. It divided the territory into five and later six military districts, which, by 1956, came to be known as wilayas…The wilaya was headed by a colonel supported by three assistants, one each for political affairs, logistics, and liaison and information” (Ruedy, 2005: 157).

This wilayas began brining more and more people into the resistance movement. In November of 1954, the armed revolt began when various wilayas attacked the colonialists. Shortly after, the rebels called for a new movement, which was entitled the Front de liberation nationale (FLN). A couple of the goals and objectives of the FLN were as follows:


National independence through:

1). The restoration of the sovereign, democratic, and social Algerian state within the framework of Islamic principles;

2). Respect of basic liberties without distinction as to race or religion.

Interior Objectives:

1). Political house-cleaning through re-directing the national revolutionary movement into the right path and in this to eliminate all vestiges of corruption and reformism which are the reasons for our present regression;

2). Concentration and organization of all the wholesome energies of the Algerian people for the liquidation of the colonial system (Harbi, 1981, in Ruedy, 2005: 160).

The FLN and the French military and police engaged in years of violent conflict. Over the years, the FLN grew in numbers, as did the French forces. For example, “French forces that had totalled 80,000 in 1954 were built up to over 400,000” in 1956 (Ruedy, 2005: 167). But in addition to the increase in numbers, there was also an increase in violence, a number of events which were also targeted non-combatants. In fact, Both of the sides were also accused of committing various human rights violations, whether it was attacks against civilians, torture, etc…

Post Algerian Independence

Algeria and the Arab Uprisings

While much of the attention regarding the Arab Uprisings (or the “Arab Spring) was centered on countries such as Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Bahrain, and Yemen, there were also protests against the Abdelaziz Bouteflika led-governemnt in Algeria. As Entils (2012) explains, “[t]he conditions that led to uprisings in other parts of North Africa–overeducated, unemployed youth, political suffocation, widespread corruption–have long existed in Algeria. Riots and protests have been a regular feature of Algerian political life, with public sector strikes occurring almost daily…” (Entils, 2012: 2). And, when looking at civil society’s frustrations with Algeria in recent years, many are not happy with the state. For example, “Algeria has witnessed more self-immolations than Tunisia since 2011 and many people express astonishment that a state with foreign exchange reserves of $182bn (£108bn) does not do more to improve their lives” (The Guardian, 2011). Furthermore, “There were deadly riots in January 2011, when revolts were spreading elsewhere in the region, but the regime snuffed out the protests in Algeria with a sprinkling of political reforms and pay rises” (The Guardian, 2014). In addition, “When the Arab Spring erupted in January 2011, Algeria witnessed deadly unrest. A month later, Bouteflika met an opposition demand and lifted a 19-year state of emergency” (Paven & Ouali, 2014). In addition, in language, he called for a more inclusive electoral process (Entils, 2012).

However, as scholars point out, there has been little democratic change since the Arab uprisings in Algeria. In fact, some have called Algeria a “democratic Façade” (Entils, 2012). For example, “the May 2012 elections became another instance of electoral engineering from the top–a smoke and mirrors strategy intended to give the appearance of authentic contestation while preserving the status quo” (Entils, 2012). And it is for this reason, as Entils (2012) wrote in 2012, that “[a]lthough the fraud in these elections has heightened tensions, for the immediate future, Algeria will remain precariously stable–contained through a combination of coercion and selective socioeconomic incentives” (1). Many were suspicious of the 2012 elections. For one, there was an unexpectedly high voter turnout (at 41.14 percent). But along with this, the most serious challenger to Bouteflika, the Islamist Green Alliance did very badly in the elections, winning only 47 seats out of a total of 462 seats in the government. And not only this, but also, “[t]he pro-regime FLN received a whopping 221 seats despite seeming more out of touch with the electorate than ever. Its coalition partner in government, the RND, won 70; the two parties together garnered nearly 63 percent of the seats in the newly expanded parliament” (Entelis, 2012: 3). Many opposition candidates demanded that a commission look into what they believed was election fraud. And, following the elections, “…the National Commission for the Surveillance of Legislative Elections, a multiparty election monitoring panel, confirmed the allegations of fraud, citing irregularities in voter registries that allowed for multiple voting, the government’s thwarting of monitoring efforts, and government pressure on security forces to vote for FLN and RND candidates” (4).

But along with voting fraud, there are other reasons why Bouteflika has been able to stay in power. For example, there are some in society that do want him to stay in power. Part of this is because of Algeria’s history; many in Algeria are aware of the past, as well as other events in the region. For example, having come off a civil war that was filled with violence and terror, many are not willing to move to the possibility of a new regime, and what that could bring to Algeria. In addition, with the rise of violence Islamist groups in the region (such as in Libya), there are many that prefer Bouteflika’s response to terrorism (Entils, 2012).

Human Rights in Algeria

As mentioned, Algerians were protesting the policies of Bouteflika and the FLN government. And yet, despite Boutflika’s promises of electoral and political reforms, very little has seemed to change in terms of human rights in Algeria (Human Rights Watch, 2014). For example, as Human Rights Watch (2014) explains, when speaking about Freedom of Assembly in Algeria, they say that “Algerian authorities continue to restrict freedom of assembly, relying on pre-emptive techniques, including blocking access to sites of planned demonstrations and arresting organizers in advance to prevent public protests from even beginning. During peaceful demonstrations in the south of the country organized by associations of the unemployed, police arrested protesters. Courts later sentenced several of them to fines or suspended prison terms.” And the government has continued to challenge freedom of association, as well as freedom of speech. For example, on the issue of free speech in Algeria, 

The state operates all television and radio stations, and on key issues, such as security and foreign and economic policy, they broadcast the official line and allow no dissident commentary or critical reporting.

The January 2012 Law on Information eliminated prison sentences but raised fines for journalists who commit speech offenses. The offenses include defaming or showing contempt for the president, state institutions, and courts. The law has also broadened restrictions on journalists by requiring them to respect vaguely worded concepts, such as national unity and identity, public order, and national economic interests.

Other speech offenses still pervade the penal code, which provides for up to three years in prison for tracts, bulletins, or flyers that “may harm the national interest” and up to one year for defaming or insulting the president of the republic, parliament, the army, or state institutions. Prosecutors haul journalists and independent publishers into court for defaming or insulting public officials, and first instance courts sometimes sentence them to prison and heavy fines, only to have appeals courts overturn or convert to suspended sentences the penalties imposed by the lower courts (Human Rights Watch, 2014).

In addition, authorities have also went after citizens who tried to establish worker’s unions. For example, “[a]uthorities have blocked union demonstrations, arbitrarily arrested trade unionists, and prosecuted some on criminal charges, when the real motive behind their prosecution appears to have been punishment for union activities” (Human Rights Watch, 2014). In addition, “Algerian authorities engage in administrative maneuvers to withhold legal status from independent unions. The law on legalizing new unions requires these groups only to notify the authorities that they exist, not to seek their permission to form. But authorities sometimes refuse to issue a receipt proving they have been notified” (Human Rights Watch, 2014).

2014 Algerian Elections

The 2014 Algerian elections were controversial. Abdelaziz Bouteflika won 81 percent of the vote. However, the opposition was not happy with the elections. Many of the opposition parties have spoke out against Bouteflika running. Plus, they continue to criticize the Algerian system in one that is heavily dominated by Bouteflika.

The Current Politics of Algeria

N.K. (2014) has pointed out that “While Algeria may have a better record than some countries in the Arab world—diplomats say torture is no longer officially sanctioned, for example—its rulers have squandered its resources and run the country into economic ruin. And they are unwilling to share power. Since independence, Algeria’s elderly ruling class has been able to weaken the political opposition through co-option and repression.” However, Bouteflika has been able to hold onto power, and do so without a strong political challenger (or challengers) in the country (for a more detailed discussion about current politics in Algeria, see the article on Abdelaziz Bouteflika).



Entelis, J.P. (2012). Silent Complicity: The International Community and Algeria’s Democratic Facade. POMED Project on Middle East Democracy. June 28, 2012.

Harbi, M. (1981). Les archives de la Revolution algerienne. Paris: Editions Jeune Afrique.

Human Rights Watch (2014). Algeria. World Report 2014. Available Online: http://www.hrw.org/world-report/2014/country-chapters/algeria?

N.K. (2014). Algerian Politics: New Opponents. The Economist. April 29, 2014. Available Online: http://www.economist.com/blogs/pomegranate/2014/04/algerian-politics

Nield, R. (2014). Bouteflika Debate Consumes Algerian Politics. Al Jazeera. 08 August 2014. Available Online: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/08/bouteflika-debate-consumes-algerian-politics-2014811641197874.html

Paven, B. & Ouali, A. (2014). Algerian President Bouteflika ‘hospitalized in France.’ Yahoo News. AFP. November 14, 2014. Available Online: http://news.yahoo.com/algerian-president-bouteflika-hospitalised-france-sources-171642777.html

Ruedy, J. (2005). Modern Algeria: The Origins and Development of a Nation. Bloomington, Indiana. Indiana University Press.

The Guardian (2014). Abdelaziz Bouteflika sworn in for fourth term as Algerian president. The Guardian. April 28, 2014. Available Online: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/28/abdelaziz-bouteflika-algerian-president-election

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