Country in North Africa bounded by Tunisia and Libya to the E; Niger and Mali to the S; Mauritania and Morocco to the W; and on the N by the Mediterranean Sea, which has been the key to its history.
Carthage established trading posts at Annaba, Skikda, and Algiers (then Icosium) on the route to Spain shortly after 1200 b.c. Algeria passed into Roman possession in 104 b.c., becoming part of Africa Proconsularis. At the time its eastern part was called Numidia. Rome initiated tremendous building projects across Algeria and Tunisia, erecting cities, roads, aqueducts, and bridges.
In the fifth century a.d. the Vand als briefly controlled the country as they moved from Spain to Tunisia, and Algeria collapsed into anarchy. By 700 the emerging Arab rule of North Africa, centered in Morocco and Tunisia, swept over Algeria. The people adopted Islam and were divided into small Arab principalities until the end of the 15th century, when resurgent Christians from Spain captured several Algerian ports in their offensive against Islam. Turkish forces were appealed to for aid, displaced the Spanish, and took control of Algeria.
The Ottoman Empire ruled it directly until 1671, when Algeria was granted largely autonomous status as a Turkish vassal state under a ruler called the dey. The country’s international position rested on the large fleet of privateers that it maintained. During the 16th and 17th centuries Algeria levied tribute from Christian European states and preyed on the ships of nations not protected by treaty. The growth of European naval strength, however, lessened Algeria’s influence during the 18th and early 19th centuries to that of nuisance piracy. In 1830 France ended the Turkish regency in Algeria with the capture of Algiers. France slowly gained control of the coastline and determined to rule central and eastern Algeria. In 1840 this aim resulted in warfare with the Berber nationalist Emir Abd el Kader. He was defeated by 1847, but sporadic rebellions erupted until 1880.
Under French control a ruling minority of approximately one million European settlers built extensively and prospered, but the aftermath of World War II saw an intense growth of anticolonial Arab nationalism in Algeria. Terrorism and reprisals began to be commonplace, leading to a state of fullscale civil war. By 1960 at least 100,000 nationalist soldiers had been killed and 10,000 French, and civilian casualties were high. In 1962 French president Charles de Gaulle signed the Evian Accords, which halted the fighting and set up an independent Algeria closely allied with France. During the next year most of the European populace fled to France. The nation’s economy was greatly disrupted, and the only steady source of income came from its productive oil fields in the Sahara region. These were nationalized in 1971, and the rising price of oil catapulted Algeria into a position of enormous power. Its economy made enormous strides throughout the 1970s. Algeria supported the Polisario rebels in Western Sahara against Morocco after Morocco annexed the region after the Spanish left the former colony. The rebels, based in W Algeria, preside over large refugee camps, but have not been actively fighting since a cease-fire in 1991.
Algerian Berbers rioted in 1980 over legislation making Arabic the only official language. In the same year a massive earthquake struck NW Algeria, killing an estimated 4,500 people. Algeria has been ruled by the military, which has overseen an Arab socialist model of development. In the 1990s, an Islamic group opposing the military government brought the nation close to all-out civil war. Elections in 1999 were won by Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the cand idate of the military, while opposition cand idates boycotted the elections. In 2003, a large earthquake east of Algiers killed more than 1,200. In the 2004 elections, Bouteflika was reelected with more than 80% of the vote.