Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika waves to the crowd wearing a traditional “burnous” dress from the Kabyle ethnic minority in Tizi Ouzou, Algeria. PA
Here are some key facts about Algeria, where former veteran President Abdelaziz Bouteflika died two years after resigning after weeks of massive protests against his candidacy for a fifth term.
The largest country in Africa
Algeria, which has 44 million inhabitants, is the largest country in Africa although most of its territory is desert.
Over 80 percent of the population lives along the Mediterranean coast, where the capital Algiers is located. Almost 54% are under 30 years old.
The country has some 10 million ethnic Amazigh (Berber) people, most of them living in Kabylia, a mountainous region east of Algiers.
The official languages of Algeria are Arabic and the Tamazigh Berber language but not the former French colonial language, although it is widely spoken.
Former French colony
A French colony since 1830, Algeria became independent in 1962 after a war that lasted nearly eight years.
In 1963, Ahmed Ben Bella, secretary general of the National Liberation Front (FLN) which had led the fight against the French regime, became its first president.
Two years later, Houari Boumediene of the FLN overthrew and imprisoned Ben Bella, continuing to rule Algeria as a one-party state until his own death in 1978.
Colonel Chadli Bendjedid was then elected president, a position he held until 1992.
In 1988, violent demonstrations shake Algiers, prompting the authorities to declare a state of emergency.
The army cracked down on protesters but introduced political reforms that ended the one-party system.
However, when the country held its first multiparty parliamentary elections in 1991, the military intervened to prevent the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) from gaining an overwhelming majority.
This sparked a civil war from 1992 in which some 200,000 people were killed. The Armed Islamic Group (GIA) has claimed responsibility for numerous massacres of civilians.
At the height of the conflict, FLN veteran Abdelaziz Bouteflika won the 1999 presidential election. His amnesty law helped end the war in 2002.
Events of the “Hirak”
Bouteflika won a fourth term in 2014 despite suffering a stroke the previous year that confined him to a wheelchair.
His candidacy for a fifth term in 2019 sparked mass protests, which forced him to resign on April 2 after losing support from the powerful military.
He died two years later, on September 17, at the age of 84, after being hidden from the public at his residence in western Algiers.
In December 2019, Bouteflika’s former prime minister, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, won the presidential election with an official turnout of less than 40%.
The protesters of Hirak, an Arabic word for “movement”, immediately rejected Tebboune, demanding an end to the system of governance in place since independence.
Algeria retains a huge public sector from its long years of one-party rule.
It is Africa’s third-largest oil producer and one of the world’s largest producers of natural gas.
Oil revenues help subsidize fuel, water, health care, housing and basic items.
But they fell sharply in the face of the global economic slowdown triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Oil and gas account for around 90 percent of Algeria’s total exports. Its hard currency reserves have fallen from $ 180 billion in 2014 to less than $ 50 billion this year.
Tebboune acknowledged Algeria’s continued “vulnerability” to fluctuations in oil prices after successive governments failed to take steps to diversify the economy.