Algeria: Algeria after Independence

Algeria after Independence

On July 1, 1962, the people of Algeria voted almost unanimously for independence in a referendum, and on July 3, France recognized Algeria's sovereignty. As a result of the fighting and of the exodus of colonists, the Algerian economy lay in ruins. Ben Khedda, the moderate leader of the GPRA, formed the initial Algerian government, but in Sept., 1962, he was replaced as prime minister by Ahmed Ben Bella, a leftist radical who had the support of the ALN (led by Houari Boumedienne). A constituent assembly chosen in late 1962 established a strong presidential government, and in Sept., 1963, Ben Bella was elected president. Ben Bella, who increasingly concentrated power in his hands, followed a left-wing domestic policy that included the confiscation of European-held farms and the nationalization of various parts of the economy. From 1963 to 1965 the Socialist Forces Front, a Berber group that had fought against French rule, mounted a rebellion against the new Arab-dominated Algerian government.

In 1965, Ben Bella was deposed in a bloodless coup by Boumedienne, his defense minister, who suspended the constitution and established a ruling revolutionary council, of which he became president. At first Boumedienne faced resistance from students and regional groups, but by the end of 1968 he had a secure hold on power. Algeria gave strong vocal support to the Arabs in the Arab-Israeli wars of 1967 and 1973 and also contributed soldiers and matériel. After an initial slowdown Boumedienne increased the pace of state involvement in the economy. In 1971 he nationalized (with compensation) French oil and natural gas companies in Algeria, and by 1972 output had reached record levels. Price rises for petroleum and natural gas in 1973–74 resulted in considerably higher export earnings.

Boumedienne died in 1978 and was succeeded as head of the republic by FLN leader Colonel Chadli Bendjedid. Berbers rioted in 1980 over legislation making Arabic the only official language, and in the same year a massive earthquake struck NW Algeria, killing an estimated 4,500 people. The 1986 collapse of world oil prices plunged the country into a severe recession. Riots in 1988 led to a series of constitutional reforms in 1989 that legalized opposition parties and guaranteed workers the right to strike; at the same time, government control was established over the media.

Civil unrest resulting from a rise in Islamic fundamentalism led to the postponement of national elections set for June, 1991. When first-round elections were held in December, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) took a commanding lead and was poised to win power. But in early 1992, Bendjedid resigned under pressure, and the military canceled the second round of elections and imposed a state of emergency. FIS activists were arrested and jailed, and their party banned. Islamic militants responded with a campaign of violence. An interim military council took power, with former independence leader Mohammed Boudiaf as president; he was assassinated in June, 1992, and succeeded by Ali Kalfa.

In Jan., 1994, Gen. Liamine Zéroual was appointed president. Under Zéroual, limited efforts at negotiations with the Islamic opposition were followed by a renewed crackdown. Zéroual won the Nov., 1995, presidential elections, which were boycotted by Islamic militants. Fighting continued, and he resigned early in 1999. Presidential elections held in Apr., 1999, were won by Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the candidate of the military oligarchy; all the opposition candidates had withdrawn before the vote, claiming ballot-rigging.

The Islamic Salvation Army, the armed wing of the outlawed FIS, renounced its armed struggle in June, 1999; its members were to be granted amnesty (approved in a referendum in September) and invited to join government forces in fighting other radical guerrillas still waging war against the state. In Jan., 2000, President Bouteflika granted a blanket pardon to the Islamic Salvation Army forces, and the government announced that 80% of all the Islamic guerrillas had surrendered under the amnesty. Violence has diminished since then, but attacks do continue to occur. It is estimated that as many as 150,000 people were killed in the violence and repression that began in 1992.

The easing of the fighting has brought such issues as government corruption and widespread poverty and unemployment (estimated at 30%) to the fore. In addition, in 2001 there were large demonstrations and clashes with police by Berbers, who remained deeply unhappy about Arabic's status as the sole national language, a policy that was reversed the following year. Berber protests also sparked demonstrations against the country's stagnant economy by non-Berber Algerians. Parliamentary elections in May, 2002, were boycotted by a number of major opposition parties and many voters, and the FLN won more than half the seats.

French president Jacques Chirac made a state visit to Algeria in Mar., 2003; it was the first such visit since Algerian independence. Two months later a strong earthquake devastated many towns east of the capital, killing more than 2,200 people. The ineffective official response to the disaster led to public outrage and widespread criticism of the government. Late in 2003, tensions between the president and Ali Benflis, the FLN party leader and a former prime minister, led to a split in the government and within the party. Bouteflika was returned to office in Apr., 2004, in an election that observers called Algeria's fairest to date, but the vote for Bouteflika (83%) led Benflis, his main opponent, to accuse the government of massive fraud.

In 2005 the government reached an agreement with Berber leaders that promised economic aid and greater recognition of the Berber language and culture, but many of the details were not finalized. Voters approved a government national reconciliation plan that would provide amnesty for many Islamic insurgents and government security forces and compensate the families of persons killed in the insurgency. The plan, which was criticized by human-rights groups for absolving government forces of their involvement in extrajudicial killings, came into effect in 2006. At the same time, Algeria's remaining Islamic fundamentalist guerrillas, while largely confined to more remote mountain and desert regions, continued to mount attacks against the government and sought to expand their influence through training non-Algerian Islamists and recruiting fighters for non-Algerian conflicts from among Muslims in Europe and elsewhere outside Algeria. The main fundamentalist guerrilla group also officially aligned itself with Al Qaeda, and in Dec., 2007, mounted bombings against government and UN buildings in Algiers. Bombings, some of them significant, and other attacks continued into 2009. By 2012, however, government counterinsurgency efforts largely had confined the group to the rugged Kabylia region, and its attacks were much diminished. Other Islamist guerrillas, associated with a Mali-based group, have launched attacks in the remote Saharan south.

The May, 2007, parliamentary elections were won by the FLN-led governing coalition, whose three parties secured nearly two thirds of the seats. Turnout was light, however, with a little more than a third of the voters going to the polls, and some parties boycotted or were banned from the campaign. In Nov., 2008, parliament ended presidential term limits, enabling Bouteflika to run for a third term in 2009. In Apr., 2009, the president was reelected with 90% of the vote; although the election was boycotted by some opposition parties, the goverment said there was a 74% turnout.

In Jan., 2011, protests overs food prices soon turned into protests demanding political reforms, paralleling those in other Arab nations. They continued in subsequent weeks, but after the government in February ended the state of emergency dated to the military takeover in 1992, the protests dwindled. In April, the president promised to enact democratic constitutional and legal reforms. Elections for the parliament in May, 2012, resulted in a significant majority for the FLN-led government, but opposition parties denounced the result, and turnout appeared to be much lighter than the 42% announced by the government.

Bouteflika, despite significant health problems due to a stroke, won a fourth term as president in Apr., 2014; turnout was reported at nearly 52%, with more than 81% voting for the president. Several candidates withdrew from the race after Bouteflika announced he would run; his main opponent, a former ally, alleged the voting was affected by serious irregularities. By late 2015 Bouteflika's sequestration from public life and from some former associates had created divisions in the leadership of the country and resulted in accusations that the president's brother and a clique associated with him was running Algeria. A number of constitutional changes, including restoring presidential term limits, were adopted in Feb., 2016. Parliamentary elections in May, 2017, again resulted in a majority for the FLN-led government, but the FLN lost seats.

In early 2019, as Bouteflika prepared to run for a fifth term, there were ongoing antigovernment demonstrations, and the president then lost the support of the army, the largest union, and other political allies. In April, he resigned and was succeeded by Abdelkader Bensalah, chairman of the Council of the Nation (parliament's upper house), who called a presidential election for July, but in June it was postponed. A number of high ranking FLN leaders also resigned and others were investigated for corruption as protests continued by Algerians wanting thorough reforms. Bensalah's term as acting president was extended by the Constitutional Council in July.

In September, Bensalah, under pressure from the military, called a presidential election for December. In the vote, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, a former prime minister, was elected to the post. In Nov., 2020, voters approved an amended constitution that included term limits for the president and legislators, somewhat reduced presidential powers, and other changes, but less than a quarter of voters participated, and the opposition had called for a boycott, deeming the changes inadequate.

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