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Algeria in Detail
Algeria, large, predominantly Muslim country of North Africa. From the Mediterranean coast, along which most of its people live, Algeria extends southward deep into the heart of the Sahara, a forbidding desert where Earth’s hottest surface temperatures have been recorded and which constitutes more than four-fifths of the country’s area. The Sahara and its extreme climate dominate the country. The contemporary Algerian novelist Assia Djebar has highlighted the environs, calling her country “a dream of sand.”
History, language, customs, and an Islamic heritage make Algeria an integral part of the Maghreb and the larger Arab world, but the country also has a sizable Amazigh (Berber) population, with links to that cultural tradition. Once the breadbasket of the Roman Empire, the territory now comprising Algeria was ruled by various Arab-Amazigh dynasties from the 8th through the 16th century, when it became part of the Ottoman Empire. The decline of the Ottomans was followed by a brief period of independence that ended when France launched a war of conquest in 1830.
By 1847 the French had largely suppressed Algerian resistance to the invasion and the following year made Algeria a département of France. French colonists modernized Algeria’s agricultural and commercial economy but lived apart from the Algerian majority, enjoying social and economic privileges extended to few non-Europeans. Ethnic resentment, fueled by revolutionary politics introduced by Algerians who had lived and studied in France, led to a widespread nationalist movement in the mid-20th century. A war of independence ensued (1954–62) that was so fierce that the revolutionary Frantz Fanon noted, Negotiations ended the conflict and led to Algerian independence, and most Europeans left the country. Although the influence of the French language and culture in Algeria remained strong, since independence the country consistently has sought to regain its Arab and Islamic heritage. At the same time, the development of oil and natural gas and other mineral deposits in the Algerian interior brought new wealth to the country and prompted a modest rise in the standard of living. In the early 21st century Algeria’s economy was among the largest in Africa. The capital is Algiers, a crowded bustling seaside metropolis whose historic core, or medina, is ringed by tall skyscrapers and apartment blocks. Algeria’s second city is Oran, a port on the Mediterranean Sea near the border with Morocco. Less hectic than Algiers, Oran has emerged as an important centre of music, art, and education.
Land: 85% of Algeria is desert land which makes it uninhabitable. This is located to the south of the country and constitutes the western part of the Sahara. The northern part of Algeria is influenced by Mediterranean features. These are such as the Atlas Mountains which create a separation between the coastal and desert regions.
Did you know? Sahara means desert.
Relief: The highest point in the Algerian Sahara can be found in the majestic summits of the Ahaggar Mountains. Here you will find Mount Tahat reaching 9,573 feet in elevation.
The Tell is characterized by features such as folded massifs, coastal plains, Sharan Atlas, Tell Atlas and High Plateau.
Drainage: Artesian wells and springs are built by the Algerian black minority for pennies less than other Algerians. This refers to a well that doesn’t need to be pumped for water and instead relies on hydrostatic pressure to push water to the surface.
Unfortunately, the Chelif River has been over-irrigated and has suffered the impacts of unregulated water usage. In the summer months, it is now unable to flow as far down south as it used to.
Soils: Soil erosion by strong Saharan winds is by far the biggest impediment to the soil quality found in Algeria. The southern regions are filled with unproductive soil which directly correlates to the area’s aridity.
The northern Tell is characterized by red soils of the Mediterranean in the region’s lower elevations.
Brown and rich soils are the preserve of the uplands where you will find oak forests that are evergreen.
Climate: Sirocco – a dry and sandy wind that seasonally around summer coming from the Sahara. Many of Algeria’s activities such as agriculture depend on the amount of precipitation and the intensity of the sirocco. The climate could be described as arid to semi-arid.
There are two principal geographic zones in Algeria: the eastern zone is abundant in vegetation and forest cover making it commercially profitable, the western zone needs irrigation to cultivate cereal crops. Pastoralists dominate the region and it has less forest cover.
The Mountains and Coastal zones experience warm and dry summers and rainy, and mild winters. This region around the coastal mountains has sufficient precipitation and temperatures vary. Extreme temperatures are experienced in the High Plateau. Characterized by cold winters and hot summers, they have insufficient precipitation.
The Meditarranean climate is limited to the North of Algeria because its relief is parallel to the coastline. Humid winds blow inland and record an excess in annual precipitation upwards of 40 inches in the region of Edough.
Other regions west and south of the Edough region such as the Chelif Plain, littoral plains the immediate plain, are limited in precipitation
Plant and animal life (Fauna and Flora): Most vegetation in Algeria is affected by seasonal aridity. To survive this harsh climate, these plants have drought resistant characteristics. You will find stunted tree shrubs and plants that don’t need water to survive such as cram cram (Cenchrus biflorus) and drinn (Aristida pungens).
The mountain regions that constitute the 2 percent of forest cover in the country, are filled with evergreen forests on the moister slopes that are mostly inaccessible. Currently, only patches of commercially profitable cedar trees are available. The region is dominated by oak, conifers and cork oaks.
North of the Tell region previously covered in woodland, has been replaced with maquis dotted with evergreen shrubs such as rosemary, aurel and thyme.
As the soil quality degenerates, maquis turn into garrigues which are short shrubs such as lavender, sage and gorse.
To the South, aridity increases and creates a treeless plain on steppe dominated by esparto grass.
Wild Boars, Mouflons, Barbary Deer and Macaques are found around the northern mountains. Storks and Flamingos fly across the country in multitudes during migration between September and October.
Small mammals such as the desert hare and gerbils are found in the Sahara along with the big mammals such as the jackals, hyenas, fences, and gazelles. Locusts periodically swarm the country and insects abound. Best lookout for scorpions out here!
Ethnic groups: Algeria’s ancestors are the Afrikan Amazigh people who intermarried with the Arab Middle Easterners, the southern Europeans and the Sub-Saharan Afrikans. The indegenous Amazigh people experienced extreme Arabization and Islamization of their life and cultures. A fifth of the Algerian population identify as Amazigh. The largest group of Amazighs, Kabyle Imazighen (plural), reside in the mountainous regions
Others are the Shawia, a group living in the Aurès Mountains, the M’zabites in the northern edge of the Sahara, and the nomad Tuaregs of the Ahaggar region.
Settlers of European descent from France, Italy and Malta have long left the country.
The Afrikan Algerians (Berbers) are in constant conflict with the Arabic Algerians. They face regular abuse especially verbally, they do all the odd jobs like building water drainage channels as sales for meagre pay and they are forbidden from parts of the country.
Constitutionally they are underrated and unrecognized as citizens of Algeria which is an ongoing contentious issue.
Languages: The Amazigh language (Tamazight) has been greatly affected by Arabization though still spoken by the Imazighen. Facing near extinction through the indoctrination of Islamic and Arabic values, Amazighs resisted these efforts and lobbied for their cause. Tamazight was granted the national language status in 2002 and later in 2016, it got upgraded to an official language. Amazigh people are bilingual in Arabic and their dialects vary by geographic location.
French has also been gradually dropped since independence and has made way to the widespread use of Arabic as the national language. It is also the language of instruction used in teaching at both primary and secondary school levels.
Religion: 99.7% of the Algerian population subscribes to Sunni Islam or Muslim religion of the Mālikī rite. Everything, from culture, society, ethics and norms, is governed by the Islam religion.
The Superior Islamic Council is tasked with the responsibility to ensure that Algerians understand the Muslim teachings and the three views practiced. They also carry out assessments on the influence of Islam on the society.
In Algeria currently, there are less than 0.1% of protestant Christians and less than 0.1% off Roman Catholic.
Muslim extremist groups periodically have clashed with both left-wing students and emancipated women’s groups
Settlement patterns: The Algerian coastline and cities are the most populated. This is owing to the urbanization that happened under the French rule where larger cities were filled with suburbs and new buildings. The industrial activities at the ports also influenced this growth and these regions are overcrowded to this day.
The Tell region which is sufficiently precipitated along the plains and the coast is also heavily populated. Towards the south, the population decreases as the temperatures and geography changes.
The Saharan Atlas and the southern High Plateau are sparse in population and moving more into the Sahara, inhabitants are even fewer.
Rural settlement in Algeria is made up of scattered hamlets that were built by the French in colonial times. Around the oases, Great Kabylia and the Aures Mountains, you will find concentrated villages with people still carrying on the traditional way of life.
Demographic trends: Life expectancy in Algeria is 70 years although the population is quite youthful with the average being 15 years. In the latter half of the 20th century the population was growing steadily but with government intervention in the fields of family planning, birth rates have significantly decreased.
In the Sahara, effects of drought and government policies promoting resettlement have greatly reduced nomadic activities in the region.
Nomads are now found predominantly around oases such as Tamanghasset and Djanet. Algerian immigrants are prominent in France, Belgium and west European nations. However, this movement has been on a decline following France’s decision to restrict emigration.
Petroleum and natural gas are Algeria’s largest export products and they contribute to about a third of the country’s annual GDP. During colonial rule, agriculture complemented France’s economy. Since then, there has been rapid growth in industrialization following the mass production and extraction of hydrocarbons.
A centrally planned economy was established by the government within the first two decades of independence. Breaking off from this socialist system, Algeria has since the ‘80s focused more on privatization.
Algeria is intermediately developed with food production falling way below the self-sufficient level.
Agriculture, forestry, and fishing: A fifth of the land in Algeria is cultivable and the four fifth remainder is pastoral land. French settlers seized the coastal plains and valleys for their rich soil in which they grew vineyards, orchards, citrus groves and market gardens.
To the east, Beajaia and Annaba, to the south, Mitidja Plain and further into Oran and Tlemcen are where the best farms can be found.
Medea and Mascara are widely known for their vineyards. Crop production has been limited by insufficient precipitation. Thankfully this has been controlled by the construction of dams and irrigation projects.
With close to 40 sizable dams, the nation still struggles to meet its urban-industrial demands. Agriculture is currently one of Algeria’s most underdeveloped and underfinanced industry. It therefore only contributes less than one-tenth of the annual GDP.
The influence of Islam is very significant in the downward trend in wine production. With a strong belief against alcoholic beverages, many vineyards have been uprooted and the wine export business has since died down.
As a country blessed with a coastline, one would be wrong to think that the fishing industry is in any way sustainably developed. Even as the government has taken steps to construct new fishing ports, canning and refrigeration facilities are wanting.
Land wrangles have been prevalent since the 1980s and a section of the fertile lands in Oran remain unproductive.
Algeria has grown from a heavy-weight food production and exporting nation to one that needs to import three quarters of its food to sustain the population.
 RESOURCES AND POWER
Hydrocarbons: In the mid ‘50s, the Algerian Sahara was discovered to have deposits of sulfur-free light crude oil. Concentrated in the fields of Hassi Messaoud, Zarzaitine-Edjeleh and El-Borma, production began in 1958.
Natural gas was first discovered in 1956 at Hassi R’Mel and since then there have been discoveries in other locations. In terms of gas exports and reserves, Algeria ranks among the top.
It contains ethane, propane, helium and over 80 percent of methane.
Mining: Algeria is known for its high-grade iron ore which is largely mined in Ouenza in open-cut works and is used to supply their domestic steel industry.
Medium-grade iron ore is found around Gara Djebilet near Tindouf. Reserves of nonferrous metal ores like zinc are found scattered around the El-Abed area near Tlemcen. At Azzaba there is an ore for mercury.
Inferior grade phosphate deposits can be mined at Djebel Onk which is to the south of Tebessa. Of this supply two-thirds is exported as raw material and the rest is stocked at the Annaba fertilizer complex.
In the Ahaggar Mountains, there have been found traces of nickel, tin, chrome, cobalt and uranium. At Djebel Dabar, deposits of kaolin have been found and large marble reserves discovered at Djebel Filfila.
Manufacturing: Previously limited to food production, cigarettes, textiles and clothing before independence, the manufacturing sector in Algeria has transformed over the years.
With state steel corporations at Annaba, agricultural equipment, machine tools, automobiles, trucks and buses are created for domestic consumption.
At Skikda’s petrochemical complex, there is a plastic factory, liquid petroleum gas separation facilities, gas liquefaction plant and benzene refinery.
At Arzew, they have a nitrogenous fertilizer company, liquid petroleum gas separation plant, and oil refinery on top of the gas liquefaction plant.
Due to financial inadequacies and poor management, manufacturing, which was previously run by state before the 1980s is now a joint venture with the private sector.
Currently, there is a privately owned steel mill operating in the country and in the petrochemical field, deals have been struck between the Algerian government and foreign investors.
Both European and Korean owned industries have set up shop in Algeria and successfully established themselves in the production of automobiles, fertilizers, and electrical goods.
Finance: Established in 1963, the Banque d’Algerie is an independent bank that issues the national currency: Algerian dinar.
In the mid-1980s, the government restructured the commercial banking system and opened up to create more state-owned commercial banks.
Then in the 1990’s they extended their scope to include private banks and some foreign ones as well.
Before 1995, the government controlled the pricing of most commodities. Through agreements with the International Monetary Fund has seen a phasing out of these price subsidies.
Unfortunately, these international agreements have led to the subsequent devaluation of the dinar which has artificial ties to the French franc.
Trade: Foreign exchange in Algeria is earned majorly through export of petroleum and natural gas products which are both increasing domestically in production and refinery.
Vegetables, tobacco, leather goods and phosphates are other export products that bring in significant revenue.
They import semi-finished products and capital goods such as industrial equipment, foodstuffs and consumer goods.
The European Union is the largest trade partner followed closely by the United States. Trade with France has severely declined since the 1960s especially with heavy restrictions placed on the importation of wine.
Algerians in the diaspora contribute to a healthy balance-of-payments through the funds they send to their relatives annually.
Services: In Algeria, the service industry contributes but a small amount to the country’s GDP and constitutes a very small portion of the labor force.
In spite of Algeria’s striking scenery and deep history tourism makes up just but a small fragment of the economy. This could be attributed to the rise in civil unrest since the 1990s.
Labour and taxation: Algerian law guarantees organized labor and only one trade union, the Union Générale de Travailleurs Algériens, is tasked with regulation of labor. As a Muslim nation the work week extends from Saturday to Wednesday. It is set at 40 hours per week with a guaranteed minimum wage.
Agriculture, transport and public administration industries are the biggest employers. Unfortunately, a third of the eligible workforce remains unemployed.
Government revenue is generated by the sale of natural gas and petroleum despite any changes within the world oil market.
Custom duties, fees, valued-added and income taxes supplement this revenue.
Transportation and telecommunications: The transportation network at Algeria’s independence served colonial interests and did not integrate nationally or regionally. A road network compete with Express Highways exists in the Tell region presently. Rail service is fast and frequent connecting Algiers, Oran and Constantine.
Extending from the Moroccan to the Tunisian border is the main rail line. Branching off from the main rail line are several standard-gauge lines.They connect to port cities and some interior towns.
To cross the High Plateau to the Algerian Sahara, you may use the few narrow-gauge lines. There are two trans-Saharan roads both from El-Goléa; one is paved and it runs southwards to Niger with a connection at Tamanghasset, another connects to Mali with a terminal at Adrar.
2011 ushered in the first subway line with 10 stations and spanning nine kilometres. Intercity bus services are reliable and provided by both the state and select private companies.
At sea, Algeria’s merchant fleet consists of more than 150 vessels with both specialized liquefied natural gas and oil tankers. This fleet is managed by the Algerian National Navigation Company and has established itself as a formidable global shipping line. There are primary ports at Arzew and Skikda for both petroleum and natural gas. Others like Algiers, Oran, Bejaïa, Mostaganem, Ténès, Bettioua and Annaba are principal ports.
Air transportation is provided by the state airline company, Air Algérie. It operates internationally and has daily domestic flights connecting its major cities. Airports are at Annaba, Tlemcen, Constantine, Oran, Ghardaïa and Algiers.
Telecommunications has undergone great changes since its infrastructure was established in the 70’s by the government. In the 2000’s, laws pushing for deregulation of the monopolised industry opened up the market to foreign companies. This sector is controlled by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (MPT). Algérie Telecommunications is state owned and operates separately from MPT.
However, a lot remains to be desired in the telecommunications sector. This is true because the phone and internet service is limited and the general population cannot afford the bills it attracts. Hence, cybercafes continue to thrive and satisfy internet needs.
 GOVERNMENT AND SOCIETY
Constitutional framework: Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) dominated Algeria as the sole legal political party until 1989 when new laws were passed turning the country into a multiparty state.
The President is the highest government executive and is elected by majority for a term limited to two five-years. In consultation with his appointed Prime Minister, the President appoints state officials of both civilian and military cadres.
The National People’s Assembly, represents the government’s lower house and its members serve for a five-year term having been elected by universal adult suffrage. They are in charge of debating and ratifying draft legislation and they have the power to alter these draft documents.
The Council of the Nation is the upper house and its members serve a six-year term. A third of them are appointed by the President and two-thirds are elected by secret ballot of local and district legislatures. Uniquely, in accordance with the constitution, half of these Council members should be replaced every three years.
This Council presides over criminal, state finance, personal status, exploitation of natural resources among other such matters. To pass legislation, they must achieve a three-fourth consensus.
Established in 1996, the Constitutional Council regulates and supervises elections, referendums, negotiations, amendments and rules on constitutional treaty issues. This council is appointed jointly by the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. The constitution has been amended thrice now, in 1996, 2008 and recently in November of 2020 amidst great dissonance.
Algeria’s government is heavily influenced and controlled by its military in the background but puts up a civilian front.
Local Government: The country of Algeria is divided into provinces best known as wilāyāt, each with its own elected assembly (Assemblée Populaire de Wilaya; APW), executive council, and governor. The provinces are further divided into dawāʾir (administrative districts) and then into baladīyāt (communes), each one having its own assembly (Assemblée Populaire Communale) to run local affairs.
The executive council of the province is the chief regional authority. It consists of regional directors of the state agencies that are situated in the province. The council is thus responsive to both regional and national concerns.Through the provincial governor, the province exercises trusteeship and administrative control of local collectives, public establishments, independent enterprises, and national societies. As an organ of the national government, the provincial leadership participates in the planning and application of the national development plan and helps coordinate matters related to the province.
Justice: At independence Algeria inherited colonial judicial institutions that were widely held by Muslim Algerians to have been established to maintain colonial authority. Judicial organization was based on two separate foundations: Muslim jurisdiction—practicing Sharīʿah (Islamic law)—and French civil courts; the latter were primarily located in the larger towns where the Europeans were concentrated. Sharīʿah courts were the first—and all too frequently the final—recourse for Muslims seeking judicial redress.
Post-independence governments were quick to take steps to eliminate the French colonial judicial legacy. In 1965 the entire system was reformed by a decree that instituted a new judicial organization. This decree was followed a year later by the promulgation of new legal codes—the penal code, the code of penal procedure, and the code of civil procedure. A provincial court in each province and nearly 200 widely distributed tribunals were eventually created.
The judiciary now consists of three levels. At the first level is the tribunal, to which civil and commercial litigation is submitted and which takes action in penal cases of the first instance. At the second level is the provincial court, which consists of a three-judge panel that hears all cases and that functions as a court of appeal for the tribunals and for the administrative jurisdictions of the first instance. At the third and highest level is the Supreme Court, which is the final court of appeal and of appeals against the decisions of the lower courts. In 1975 the Court of State Security, composed of magistrates and high-ranking army officers, was created to handle cases involving state security. The constitution of 1996 instituted two new high courts to complement the Supreme Court. The Council of State acts as an administrative equivalent to the Supreme Court, hearing cases not ordinarily reviewed by that body; and the Tribunal of Conflicts was instituted to regulate any jurisdictional disputes that might arise between the other two high courts.
Political process: Until 1989 all candidates for the National People’s Assembly were chosen by the FLN. Following reforms, the scope of political participation widened with the birth of new independent political parties. In local and national elections in 1990 and 1991, the Islamist parties, especially the Islamic Salvation Front (Front Islamique du Salut; FIS), made the largest gains of any new parties, while in Kabylia local Amazigh parties gained control of local assemblies. With this democratization hundreds of new cultural, environmental, charitable, and athletic associations were formed, independent of the stringent control formerly exercised by the FLN in those areas. A coup in 1992 slowed democratization but did not totally suppress the process. Corruption among government officials and violent outbreaks by Islamic extremists against democratic reforms continued in the late 1990s. Conditions had improved sufficiently by 2003 to permit the release from detention of two main FIS leaders.
Security: Although its yearly military expenditures are well above the world average, Algeria maintains a relatively small active military. More than half of its troop strength consists of conscripts who serve for six months (with an additional year of civic service). Most conscripts serve in the army. Algeria has only a small air force and navy. The former has relatively few high-performance aircraft, and the navy consists largely of coastal patrol craft.
Paramilitary and police forces outnumber the active-duty military by a substantial margin, and years of civil unrest have forced the government to rely on such forces—divided among several ministries and directorates—both for internal security and, often, for quelling internal dissent.
Health and welfare: Because of the country’s relatively young population and pressing medical needs, the health care system is oriented toward preventive medicine rather than treatment. Instead of building expensive hospitals, Algeria emphasizes smaller clinics and health centres and maintains a comprehensive vaccination program. Medical care, including medication, is provided by the state without charge, although those earning middle and higher incomes pay a part of their medical fees on a proportional scale. There is an increasing trend toward private health care. In an effort to extend health care to everyone, the government requires all newly qualified physicians, dentists, and pharmacists to work in public health for at least five years. Most medical personnel and facilities, however, remain concentrated in the north, especially in the large cities. Remote mountain locations and much of the Sahara are nearly devoid of modern facilities. Tuberculosis, hepatitis, measles, typhoid fever, cholera, and dysentery are the principal health problems, often brought about by inadequate sanitation facilities and a lack of safe drinking water.
Housing: Algeria’s chronic housing shortage contributed to health problems throughout much of the latter half of the 20th century. Continuous rural-urban migration and unchecked population growth allowed urban shantytowns to proliferate. The government, whose spending priorities had been focused largely on heavy industry since independence, did little to relieve the housing shortage until the mid-1980s. At that time, however, development plans began emphasizing investment in social infrastructure and services. More construction of affordable government-subsidized housing units has since taken place, including a large prefabricated housing construction program to tackle the most urgent housing needs.
The growth of more than 100,000 new households each year placed a considerable strain on existing housing conditions. A sharp drop in oil prices in 1986 and the inability to meet the mounting needs for new housing led the Algerian government to withdraw from some of its commitments and encourage local and private housing initiatives. Foreign companies—including some from the now defunct Yugoslavia—were increasingly granted large construction contracts. Algeria also benefited from soft loans throughout the 1990s from the World Bank, the European Union, and other Arab countries to promote its construction sector. State companies were privatized, and joint ventures with European and American companies finally began to address some of the country’s housing needs.
Education: Since independence Algerian authorities have worked on redesigning the national educational system. Particular attention has been given to replacing French with Arabic as the language of instruction and to emphasizing scientific and technical studies. Education in Arabic is officially compulsory for all children between 6 and 15 years of age, and roughly nine-tenths of boys of that age are in school; enrollment for girls is slightly lower. Children residing in rural areas have remained underrepresented in the classroom, although much progress for both groups has been made since independence. The literacy rate is about three-fourths for men but less than half for women. The educational system has experienced extreme difficulty in trying to accommodate the increasing number of school-age children. The scarcity of qualified Arabic teachers has been ameliorated by the recruitment of teachers from other Arab countries. Arabic replaced French as the language of instruction at all institutes of higher learning in 2000. Amazigh discontent over the policy of Arabization, however, has prompted the government to restore Amazigh language and literature studies at a number of universities. The major institutions include Islamic universities in Algiers and Constantine, several regional university centres, and a number of technical colleges. Each year a few thousand Algerian students go abroad to study, mainly in France, other European countries, or the United States.
 CULTURAL LIFE
Algerian culture and society were profoundly affected by 130 years of colonial rule, by the bitter independence struggle, and by the subsequent broad mobilization policies of post independence regimes. A transient, nearly rootless society has emerged, whose cultural continuity has been deeply undermined. Seemingly, only deep religious faith and belief in the nation’s populist ideology have prevented complete social disintegration. There has been a contradiction, however, between the government’s various populist policies—which have called for the radical modernization of society as well as the cultivation of the country’s Arab Islamic heritage—and traditional family structure. Although Algeria’s cities have become centres for this cultural confrontation, even remote areas of the countryside have seen the state take on roles traditionally filled by the extended family or clan. Algerians have thus been caught between a tradition that no longer commands their total loyalty and a modernism that is attractive yet fails to satisfy their psychological and spiritual needs. Only the more isolated Amazigh groups, such as the Saharan Mʾzabites and Tuareg, have managed to some degree to escape these conflicting pressures.
As is true elsewhere in North Africa, Algeria has experienced a dislocating clash between traditional and mass global culture, with Hollywood films and Western popular music commanding the attention of the young at the expense of indigenous forms of artistic and cultural expression. This clash is the subject of much fiery commentary from conservative Muslim clergymen, whose influence has grown with the rise of Islamic extremism. Extremists have opposed secular values in art and culture and have targeted prominent Algerian authors, playwrights, musicians, and artists—including the director of the National Museum, who was assassinated in 1995; novelist Tahar Djaout, who was murdered in 1993; and the well-known Amazigh musician Lounès Matoub, who was assassinated in 1998. As a result, much of the country’s cultural elite has left the country to work abroad, mostly in France.
Daily life and social customs: Despite efforts to modernize Algerian society, the pull of traditional values remains strong. Whether in the city or countryside, the daily life of the average Algerian is permeated with the atmosphere of Islam, which has become identified with the concept of an autonomous Algerian people and of resistance to what many Algerians perceive as a continued Western imperialism. Practiced largely as a set of social prescriptions and ethical attitudes, Islam in Algeria has more characteristically been identified with supporting traditional values than serving a revolutionary ideology.
In particular, the influential Muslim clergy has opposed the emancipation of women. Algerians traditionally consider the family—headed by the husband—to be the basic unit of society, and women are expected to be obedient and provide support to their husbands. As in most parts of the Arab world, men and women in Algeria generally have constituted two separate societies, each with its own attitudes and values. Daily activities and social interaction normally take place only between members of the same gender. Marriage in this milieu is generally considered a family affair rather than a matter of personal preference, and parents typically arrange marriages for their children, although this custom is declining as Algerian women take on a greater role in political and economic life. Some women continue to wear veils in public because traditionally minded Algerian Muslims consider it improper for a woman to be seen by men to whom she is not related. The practice of veiling has in fact increased since independence, especially in urban areas, where there is a greater chance of contact with nonrelatives.
Algerian cuisine, like that of most North African countries, is heavily influenced by Arab, Amazigh, Turkish, and French culinary traditions. Couscous, a semolina-based pasta customarily served with a meat and vegetable stew, is the traditional staple. Although Western-style dishes, such as pizza and other fast foods, are popular and Algeria imports large quantities of foodstuffs, traditional products of Algerian agriculture remain the country’s best-liked. Mutton, lamb, and poultry are still the meat dishes of choice; favourite desserts rely heavily on native-grown figs, dates, and almonds and locally produced honey; and couscous and unleavened breads accompany virtually every meal. Brik (a meat pastry), merguez (beef or lamb sausage), and lamb or chicken stew are among the many local dishes served in homes and restaurants. As is the case in the Middle East, strong, sweet Turkish-style coffee is the beverage of choice at social gatherings, and mint tea is a favourite.
Algeria observes several religious and secular holidays, including the important Islamic festivals and commemorations such as Ramadan, the two ʿīds (festivals), Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, and mawlid (the Prophet’s birthday), as well as national holidays such as Independence Day (July 5).
The arts: Various types of music are native to Algeria. One of the most popular, originating in the western part of the country, is raï (from Arabic raʾy, meaning “opinion” or “view”), which combines varying instrumentation with simple poetic lyrics. Both men and women are free to express themselves in this style. One especially popular Algerian singer of raï, Khaled, has exported this music to Europe and the United States, but he and other popular musicians such as Cheb Mami have been targets of Islamic extremists. Wahrani (the music of Oran), another style, blends raï with classical Algerian music of the Arab-Andalusian tradition.
Algeria has produced many important writers. Some, such as the Nobel Prize winner Albert Camus and his contemporary Jean Sénac, were French, although their work was influenced by the many years they spent in Algeria. The writing of Henri Kréa reflects the two worlds he inhabited as the son of a French father and an Algerian mother. ʿAbd al-Hamid Benhadugah is the father of modern Arabic literature in Algeria, while Jean Amrouche is considered the foremost poet of the first generation of North African writers who wrote in French; his younger sister Marguerite Taos Amrouche was a noted singer and writer. The work of Mouloud Feraoun reflects Amazigh life. Mohammed Dib, Malek Haddad, Tahar Djaout, Mourad Bourboune, Rachid Boudjedra, and Assia Djebar have all written about contemporary life in Algeria, with Djebar reflecting on this from a woman’s perspective.
Algeria has maintained a lively film industry, although filmmakers frequently have endured bouts with government pressure and, more recently, have been subjected to intimidation by Islamic extremists. The first major postcolonial production was the celebrated film La battaglia di Algeri (1966; The Battle of Algiers). Though written and directed by an Italian, Gillo Pontecorvo, the work—a stark factual retelling of urban warfare during the revolution—was supported by the Algerian government and was cast with numerous nonactors, including many residents of Algiers who participated in the actual events. The following year Mohammed Lakhdar-Hamina directed Rīḥ al-Awras (1966; The Winds of the Aures), the first work by an Algerian to win international acclaim. His Chronique des annees de braise (1975; Chronicle of the Year of Embers), another gritty tale of the revolution, was awarded the Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival nearly a decade later. Several films by the celebrated director Merzak Allouache, including Omar Gatlato (1976) and Bāb al-wād al-ḥawmah (1994; Bab El-Oued City), which deal with the complexity of daily life in urban Algeria, have received international recognition. Additionally, director Bourlem Guerdjou examined the difficulties of the Algerian diaspora in France in his award-winning Vivre au paradis (1997; Living in Paradise).
Cultural institutions: Algeria has a number of fine museums, most of which are located in the capital and are administered by the Office of Cultural Heritage (1901). The National Museum of Antiquities (1897) displays artifacts dating from the Roman and Islamic periods. The National Fine Arts Museum of Algiers (1930) houses statues and paintings, including some lesser works of well-known European masters, and the Bardo Museum (1930) specializes in history and ethnography. Most other cultural institutions also are found in Algiers, including the National Archives of Algeria (1971), the National Library (1835), and the Algerian Historical Society (1963).
Sports and recreation: Algerians enjoy football (soccer), handball, volleyball, and athletics. Algerian athletes have participated in the Olympic Games since 1964. They have won medals in boxing, but their major success has been in the area of middle-distance running, especially the 1,500-metre event, which Algerian runners have won several times.
Media and publishing: Despite pressure from the government and threats and intimidation by Islamic militants, Algeria has one of the most vigorous presses in the Arab world. Daily newspapers are published in both Arabic and French in Algiers, Oran, and Constantine. Several weeklies and a host of magazines are also published in the country. The number and range of newspapers increased during the 1990s, despite frequent violent attacks directed against journalists by Islamic extremists. Radiodiffusion Télévision Algérienne operates as a broadcasting institution under the Ministry of Information and Culture. Its three radio channels offer programming in Arabic, Kabyle, and, on its international channel, a mixture of French, English, and Spanish. The television network—with two channels—transmits to most of the country. The number of satellite dishes has increased, and many Algerians are now able to receive European stations.