Phillip Naylor

in African Studies

ISBN: 9780199846733
Published online October 2012 | | DOI:

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Algeria, Africa’s largest country, remains understudied except for its modern history, which features an oppressive colonialism, a dramatic war of decolonization, and a contentious postcolonial period scarred by recent civil strife. Nevertheless, Algeria’s earlier histories are also important and impressive. In Antiquity, the kingdom of Numidia (fl. 3rd and 2nd centuries bce) emerged in eastern Algeria. During the Roman period, Algeria served as a granary and numerous cities flourished. Algeria significantly contributed to the development of Christianity. Augustine was a native who served as bishop of Hippo (modern Annaba). The Vandals and Byzantines had brief but significant presences before the Arab invasion and the introduction of Islam. The Rustamids established the Maghrib’s first Muslim polity in Algeria during the 8th century. Muslim dynasties—the Umayyads, Abbasids, Aghlabids, Fatimids, Zirids, Hammadids, Almoravids (Murābiṭūn), Almohads (Muwaḥḥidūn), Zayyanids, Hafsids, and Marinids exercised various degrees of power that integrated Algeria into a wider “Islamdom” (see General Overviews). Although under Ottoman suzerainty, the Algiers Regency acted autonomously. France seized Algiers in 1830, although Paris deferred the decision to colonize the territory for a few years. The Emir ‘Abd al-Qādir notably resisted French expansion until his capture in 1847. A year later, Paris administratively assimilated northern Algeria as French departments. Consequently, Algerians found themselves being administratively part of France, yet not citizens, while being victimized by a coercive colonialism. Nationalist movements eventually emerged, culminating in the successful War of Independence (1954–1962). Independent Algeria confronted the consequences of colonialism, including underdevelopment, illiteracy, and the perpetuation of French economic, social, and cultural influence. Thus, Algeria concurrently pursued postcolonial decolonization, highlighted by the nationalization of French oil concessions in 1971, while inaugurating state plans to accelerate development. Plummeting petroleum prices and disaffected youth primarily provoked the riots of October 1988, which led to rapid liberalization and Islamist electoral success. Fearing an Islamist takeover after the first round of parliamentary elections in December 1991, the “Pouvoir” (the military and civilian “power” elite) overthrew the government and repudiated the elections. This incited civil strife, reportedly costing 150,000 to 200,000 lives, which continues sporadically despite national reconciliation initiatives. While nominally democratic, in the second decade of the 21st century Algeria was a presidential authoritarian state. Its hydrocarbon wealth (especially natural gas) and human dimension (e.g., the immigrant workers in France [and Europe], the pieds-noirs or European colonial settlers, and the harkis, Algerians who sided with the French) add to its contemporary strategic and social significance. Algerians have also distinguished themselves in literature, music, and film.

Article.  12584 words. 

Subjects: African History ; African Languages ; African Music ; African Philosophy ; African Studies

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