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History of Algeria since 1962

 This article is part of the History of Algeria series.
 Prehistory of Central North Africa
 North Africa during the Classical Period
 Rise of Islam in Algeria
 French rule in Algeria
 Nationalism and resistance in Algeria
 Algerian War of Independence
 History of Algeria since 1962

Table of contents
1 History of the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria, 1962-present
2 Aftermath of the War
3 Ben Bella and the FLN
4 Boumediene Regime
5 Chadli Bendjedid
6 Recent developments
7 Reference

History of the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria, 1962-present

In preparation for independence, the CNRA had met in Tripoli in May 1962 to work out a plan for the FLN's transition from a liberation movement to a political party. The Tripoli Program called for land reform, the large-scale nationalization of industry and services, and a strong commitment to nonalignment and anticolonialism in foreign relations. The platform also envisioned the FLN as a mass organization broad enough to encompass all nationalist groups. Adoption of the Tripoli Program notwithstanding, deep personal and ideological divisions surfaced within the FLN as the war drew to a close and the date for independence approached. Competition and confrontation among various factions not only deprived the FLN of a leadership that spoke with a single voice, but also almost resulted in full-scale civil war. According to historian John Ruedy, these factions, or "clans" did not embody "family or regional loyalties, as in the Arab East, because the generations-long detribalization of Algeria had been too thorough. Rather, they represented relationships based on school, wartime or other networking."

The ALN commanders and the GPRA struggled for power, including an unsuccessful attempt to dismiss Colonel Houari Boumediene, chief of staff of the ALN in Morocco. Boumediene formed an alliance with Ahmed Ben Bella, who together with Khider and Bitat, announced the formation of the Political Bureau (Bureau Politique) as a rival government to the GPRA, which had installed itself in Algiers as the Provisional Executive. Boumediene's forces entered Algiers in September, where he was joined by Ben Bella, who quickly consolidated his power. Ben Bella purged his political opponents from the single slate of candidates for the forthcoming Algerian National Assembly elections. However, underlying opposition to the Political Bureau and to the absence of alternative candidates was manifested in an 18 percent abstention rate nationwide that rose to 36 percent of the electorate in Algiers.

The creation of the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria was formally proclaimed at the opening session of the National Assembly on September 25, 1962. Ferhat Abbas, a moderate unconnected with the Political Bureau, was elected president of the assembly by the delegates. On the following day, after being named premier, Ben Bella formed a cabinet that was representative of the Political Bureau but that also included Boumediene as defense minister as well as other members of the so-called Oujda Group, who had served under him with the external forces in Morocco. Ben Bella, Boumediene, and Khider initially formed a triumvirate linking the leadership of the three power bases--the army, the party, and the government, respectively. However, Ben Bella's ambitions and authoritarian tendencies were to lead the triumvirate to unravel and provoke increasing discontent among Algerians.

Aftermath of the War

The war of national liberation and its aftermath severely disrupted Algeria's society and economy. In addition to the physical destruction, the exodus of the colons deprived the country of most of its managers, civil servants, engineers, teachers, physicians, and skilled workers--all occupations from which the Muslim population had been excluded or discouraged from pursuing by colonial policy. The homeless and displaced numbered in the hundreds of thousands, many suffering from illness, and some 70 percent of the work force was unemployed. Distribution of goods was at a standstill. Departing colons destroyed or carried off public records and utility plans, leaving public services in a shambles.

The months immediately following independence had witnessed the pell-mell rush of Algerians, their government, and its officials to claim the lands, houses, businesses, automobiles, bank accounts, and jobs left behind by the Europeans. By the 1963 March Decrees, Ben Bella declared that all agricultural, industrial, and commercial properties previously operated and occupied by Europeans were vacant, thereby legalizing their confiscation by the state. The term nationalization was not used in the decrees, presumably to avoid indemnity claims.

The FLN called its policy of widespread state involvement in the economy "Algerian socialism." Public-sector enterprises were gradually organized into state corporations that participated in virtually every aspect of the country's economic life. Although their activities were coordinated by central authorities, each state corporation was supposed to retain a measure of autonomy within its own sphere.

The departure of European owners and managers from factories and agricultural estates gave rise to a spontaneous, grass-roots phenomenon, later termed autogestion, which saw workers take control of the enterprises to keep them operating. Seeking to capitalize on the popularity of the self-management movement, Ben Bella formalized autogestion in the March Decrees. As the process evolved, workers in state-owned farms and enterprises and in agricultural cooperatives elected boards of managers that directed production activities, financing, and marketing in conjunction with state-appointed directors. The system proved to be a failure, however. The crucial agricultural sector suffered particularly under self-management, partly as result of bureaucratic incompetence, graft, and theft.

Ben Bella and the FLN

Whereas Ben Bella could count on the support of an overwhelming majority in the National Assembly, an opposition group led by Ait Ahmed soon emerged. Opponents outside the government included the supporters of Messali Hadj, the PCA, and the left-wing Socialist Revolution Party (Parti de la Révolution Socialiste--PRS) led by Boudiaf. The communists, who were excluded from the FLN and therefore from any direct political rule, were particularly influential in the postindependence press. The activities of all these groups were subsequently banned, and Boudiaf was arrested. When opposition from the General Union of Algerian Workers (Union Générale des Travailleurs Algériens--UGTA) was perceived, the trade union organization was subsumed under FLN control.

Contrary to the intent of the Tripoli Program, Ben Bella saw the FLN as an elite vanguard party that would mobilize popular support for government policies and reinforce his increasingly personal leadership of the country. Because Khider envisioned the FLN as playing a more encompassing, advisory role, Ben Bella forced him from office in April 1963 and replaced him as party secretary general. Khider later absconded with the equivalent of US$12 million in party funds into exile in Switzerland. In August 1963, Abbas resigned as assembly president to protest what he termed the FLN's usurpation of the legislature's authority. He was subsequently put under house arrest. A new constitution drawn up under close FLN supervision was approved by nationwide referendum in September, and Ben Bella was confirmed as the party's choice to lead the country for a five-year term. Under the new constitution, Ben Bella as president combined the functions of chief of state and head of government with that of supreme commander of the armed forces. He formed his government without needing legislative approval and was responsible for the definition and direction of its policies. There was no effective institutional check on its powers.

Ait Ahmed quit the National Assembly to protest the increasingly dictatorial tendencies of the regime, which had reduced the functions of the legislature to rubber-stamping presidential directives. The Kabyle leaders also condemned the government for its failure to carry through on reconstruction projects in war-ravaged Kabylie, but Ait Ahmed's aims went beyond rectifying regional complaints. He formed a clandestine resistance movement, the Front of Socialist Forces (Front des Forces Socialistes--FFS), based in the Kabylie and dedicated to overthrowing the Ben Bella regime by force. Late summer 1963 saw sporadic incidents attributed to the FFS and required the movement of regular troops into the Kabylie.

More serious fighting broke out a year later in the Kabylie as well as in the southern Sahara. The insurgent movement was organized by the National Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (Comité National pour la Défense de la Révolution-- CNDR), which joined the remnants of Ait Ahmed's FFS and Boudiaf's PRS with the surviving regional military leaders. Khider was believed to have helped finance the operation. The army moved quickly and in force to crush the rebellion. Ait Ahmed and Colonel Mohamed Chabaani, a wilaya commander leading insurgents in the Sahara, were captured and sentenced to death in 1965, after a trial in which Khider and Boudiaf were similarly condemned in absentia. Chabaani was executed, but Ait Ahmed's sentence was subsequently commuted to life imprisonment. In 1966 he escaped from prison and fled to Europe where he joined the two other chefs historiques in exile.

As minister of defense, Boumediene had no qualms about sending the army to crush regional uprisings because he felt they posed a threat to the state. However, when Ben Bella attempted to co-opt allies from among some of the same regionalists whom the army had been called out to suppress, tensions increased between Boumediene and Ben Bella. In April 1965, Ben Bella issued orders to local police prefects to report directly to him rather than through normal channels in the Ministry of Interior. The minister, Ahmed Medeghri, one of Boumediene's closest associates in the Oujda Group, resigned his portfolio in protest and was replaced by a Political Bureau loyalist. Ben Bella next sought to remove Abdelaziz Bouteflika, another Boumediene confidant, as minister of foreign affairs and was believed to be planning a direct confrontation with Boumediene to force his ouster. On June 19, however, Boumediene deposed Ben Bella in a military coup d'état that was both swift and bloodless. The ousted president was taken into custody and held incommunicado.

Boumediene Regime

Boumediene described the military coup as a "historic rectification" of the Algerian War of Independence. Boumediene dissolved the National Assembly, suspended the 1963 constitution, disbanded the militia, and abolished the Political Bureau, which he considered an instrument of Ben Bella's personal rule.

Until a new constitution was adopted, political power resided in the Council of the Revolution, a predominantly military body intended to foster cooperation among various factions in the army and the party. The council's original twenty-six members included former internal military leaders, former Political Bureau members, and senior officers of the Armée Nationale Populaire (ANP--People's National Army) closely associated with Boumediene in the coup. They were expected to exercise collegial responsibility for overseeing the activities of the new government, which was conducted by the largely civilian Council of Ministers, or cabinet, appointed by Boumediene. The cabinet, which shared some functions with the Council of the Revolution, was also inclusive; it contained an Islamic leader, technical experts, FLN regulars, as well as others representing a broad range of Algerian political and institutional life.

Boumediene showed himself to be an ardent nationalist, deeply influenced by Islamic values, and he was reportedly one of the few prominent Algerian leaders who expressed himself better in Arabic than in French. He seized control of the country not to initiate military rule, but to protect the interests of the army, which he felt were threatened by Ben Bella. Boumediene's position as head of government and of state was not secure initially, partly because of his lack of a significant power base outside the armed forces. This situation may have accounted for his deference to collegial rule as a means of reconciling competing factions. Nonetheless, FLN radicals criticized Boumediene for neglecting the policy of autogestion and betraying "rigorous socialism"; in addition, some military officers were unsettled by what they saw as a drift away from collegiality. There were coup attempts and a failed assassination in 1967-68, after which opponents were exiled or imprisoned and Boumediene's power consolidated.

Agricultural production, meanwhile, still failed to meet the country's food needs. The so-called agricultural revolution that Boumediene launched in 1971 called for the seizure of additional property and the redistribution of the newly acquired public lands to cooperative farms.

Eleven years after he took power, in April 1976, Boumediene set out in a draft document called the National Charter the principles on which the long-promised constitution would be based. After much public debate, the constitution was promulgated in November 1976, and Boumediene was elected president with 95 percent of the votes. Boumediene's death on December 27, 1978, set off a struggle within the FLN to choose a successor. As a compromise to break a deadlock between two other candidates, Colonel Chadli Bendjedid, a relative outsider, was sworn in on February 9, 1979.

Chadli Bendjedid

Bendjedid, who had collaborated with Boumediene in the plot that deposed Ben Bella, was regarded as a moderate not identified with any group or faction; he did, however, command wide support within the military establishment. In June 1980, he summoned an extraordinary FLN Party Congress to examine the draft of the five-year development plan for 1980-84. The resultant First Five Year Plan liberalized the economy and broke up unwieldy state corporations.

The Benjedid regime was also marked by protests from Berber university students who objected to arabization measures in government and especially in education. Although Bendjedid reaffirmed the government's long-term commitment to arabization, he upgraded Berber studies at the university level and granted media access to Berber-language programs. These concessions, however, provoked counterprotests from Islamists (also seen as fundamentalists).

Islamists gained increasing influence in part because the government was unable to keep its economic promises. In the late 1970s, Muslim activists engaged in isolated and relatively small-scale assertions of their will: harassing women whom they felt were inappropriately dressed, smashing establishments that served alcoholic beverages, and evicting official imams from their mosques. The Islamists escalated their actions in 1982, when they called for the abrogation of the National Charter and the formation of an Islamic government. Amidst an increasing number of violent incidents on campuses, Islamists killed one student. After police arrested 400 Islamists, about 100,000 demonstrators thronged to Friday prayers at the university mosque. The arrests of hundreds more activists, including prominent leaders of the movement, Shaykh Abdelatif Sultani and Shaykh Ahmed Sahnoun resulted in a lessening of Islamist actions for several years. Nonetheless, in light of the massive support the Islamists could muster, the authorities henceforth viewed them as a potentially grave threat to the state and alternately treated them with harshness and respect. In 1984, for example, the government opened in Constantine one of the largest Islamic universities in the world. In the same year, acceding to Islamist demands, the government changed family status law to deprive women of freedom to act on their own by making them wards of their families before marriage and of their husbands after marriage.

The country's economic crisis deepened in the mid-1980s, resulting in, among other things, increased unemployment, a lack of consumer goods, and shortages in cooking oil, semolina, coffee, and tea. Women waited in long lines for scarce and expensive food; young men milled in frustration on street corners unable to find work. An already bad situation was aggravated by the huge drop in world oil prices in 1986. Dismantling Algeria's state capitalist system seemed to Bendjedid the only way to improve the economy. In 1987 he announced reforms that would return control and profits to private hands, starting with agriculture and continuing to the large state enterprises and banks.

Notwithstanding the introduction of reform measures, incidents indicating social unrest increased in Algiers and other cities as the economy foundered from 1985 to 1988. The alienation and anger of the population were fanned by the widespread perception that the government had become corrupt and aloof. The waves of discontent crested in October 1988 when a series of strikes and walkouts by students and workers in Algiers degenerated into rioting by thousands of young men, who destroyed government and FLN property. When the violence spread to Annaba, Blida, Oran, and other cities and towns, the government declared a state of emergency and began using force to quell the unrest. By October 10, the security forces had restored a semblance of order; unofficial estimates were that more than 500 people were killed and more than 3,500 arrested.

The stringent measures used to put down the riots of "Black October" engendered a ground swell of outrage. Islamists took control of some areas. Unsanctioned independent organizations of lawyers, students, journalists, and physicians sprang up to demand justice and change. In response, Bendjedid conducted a house cleaning of senior officials and drew up a program of political reform. In December he was offered the chance to implement the reforms when he was reelected, albeit by a reduced margin. A new constitution, approved overwhelmingly in February 1989, dropped the word "socialist" from the official description of the country; guaranteed freedoms of expression, association, and meeting; and withdrew the guarantees of female rights that appeared in the 1976 constitution. The FLN was not mentioned in the document at all, and the army was discussed only in the context of national defense, reflecting a significant downgrading of its political status.

Politics were reinvigorated in 1989 under the new laws. Newspapers became the liveliest and freest in the Arab world, while political parties of nearly every stripe vied for members and a voice. In February 1989, Abbassi Madani and Ali Belhadj founded the Islamic Salvation Front (Front Islamique du Salut-- FIS). Although the constitution prohibited religious parties, the FIS came to play a significant role in Algerian politics. It handily defeated the FLN in local and provincial elections held in June 1990, in part because most secular parties boycotted the elections. The FLN's response was to adopt a new electoral law that openly aided the FLN. The FIS, in turn, called a general strike, organized demonstrations, and occupied public places. Bendjedid declared martial law on June 5, 1991, but he also asked his minister of foreign affairs, Sid Ahmed Ghozali, to form a new government of national reconciliation. Although the FIS seemed satisfied with Ghozali's appointment and his attempts to clean up the electoral law, it continued to protest, leading the army to arrest Belhadj, Madani, and hundreds of others. The state of emergency ended in September.

Algeria's leaders were stunned in December 1991 when FIS candidates won absolute majorities in 188 of 430 electoral districts, far ahead of the FLN's fifteen seats. Some members of Bendjedid's cabinet, fearing a complete FIS takeover, forced the president to dissolve parliament and to resign on January 11, 1992. Leaders of the takeover included Ghozali, and generals Khaled Nezzar (minister of defense) and Larbi Belkheir (minister of interior). After they declared the elections void, the takeover leaders and Mohamed Boudiaf formed the High Council of State to rule the country. The FIS, as well as the FLN, clamored for a return of the electoral process, but police and troops countered with massive arrests. In February 1992, violent demonstrations broke out in many cities, and on February 9 the government declared a one-year state of emergency and the next month banned the FIS.

Recent developments

Despite efforts to restore the political process, violence and terrorism characterized the Algeria landscape during the 1990s. In 1994, Lamine Zeroual was appointed Head of State for a 3-year term. During this period, the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) launched terrorist campaigns against government figures and institutions to protest the banning of the Islamist parties. A breakaway GIA group--the Salafist Group for Preaching and Call (GSPC)--also undertook terrorist activity in the country. Govenrment officials estimate that more than 100,000 Algerians died during this period.

Zeroual called for presidential elections in 1995, though some parties objected to holding elections that excluded the FIS. Zeroual was elected president with 75% of the vote. By 1997, in an attempt to bring political stability to the nation, the Rassemblement National Democratique (RND) party was formed by a more progressive group of FLN members. Zeroual announced that presidential elections would be held in early 1999, nearly 2 years ahead of the scheduled time.

Algerians went to the polls in April 1999, following a campaign in which seven candidates qualified for election. On the eve of the election, all candidates except Abdelaziz Bouteflika pulled out amid charges of widespread electoral fraud. Bouteflika, the candidate who appeared to enjoy the backing of the military, as well as FLN and RND party regulars, won with an official vote count of 70% of all votes cast. He was inaugurated on April 27, 1999 for a 5-year term.

President Bouteflika's agenda focused initially on restoring security and stability to the country. Following his inauguration, he proposed an official amnesty for those who fought against the government during the 1990s unless they had engaged in "blood crimes," such as rape or murder. This "Civil Concord" policy was widely approved in a nationwide referendum in September 2000. FIS's armed wing, the Islamic Salvation Army, dissolved itself in January 2000; government officials estimate that 85% of those fighting the regime during the 1990s have accepted the amnesty offer and have been reintegrated into Algerian society. Bouteflika also has launched national commissions to study education and judicial reform, as well as restructuring of the state bureaucracy. His government has set ambitious targets for economic reform and attracting foreign investment.

Three years into Bouteflika's mandate, the security situation in Algeria has improved markedly. However, some residual fighting continues; terrorism has not been totally eliminated, and terrorist incidents still occur, particularly in remote or isolated areas of the country. An estimated 100-120 Algerians are killed monthly, down from a high of 1,200 or more in the mid-1990s. In 2001, Berber activists in the Kabyle region of the country, reacting to the death of a youth in gendarme custody, unleashed a resistance campaign against what they saw as government repression. Strikes and demonstrations in the Kabyle region have become commonplace as a result and some have spread to the capital. Chief among Berber demands is recognition of Amagizh (Berber) as a national language, restitution for death of Kabylies killed or wounded in demonstrations, and some type of autonomy for the region. Representatives of major Kabylie factions are currently in discussions with the government on this matter.

In November 2001, devastating floods hit Algeria, killing more than 800 people, mostly in Algiers. The floods caused an estimated $350 million in damages. Algeria is planning for a new round of legislative elections in Spring 2002.

Other concerns include large-scale unemployment and the need to diversify the petroleum-based economy.