Algeria is the second largest country in Africa with an area of 2.3 million km2 , 2/3 of which is occupied by the Sahara Desert. Algeria has more than 1000km of Mediterranean coastline and shares borders with Tunisia, Libya, Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco and the Western Sahara.
Alger, the capital city, exceeds 4 million inhabitants. Other principal cities include the second largest city, Oran, on the west coast, Constantine, an important cultural, industrial and university hub, Annaba in the east, an economic and commercial center and home to the largest steel manufacturing plant in Africa, Bejaia, an important Mediterranean port for commerce and the petroleum industry and Setif, a large hub for culture and learning.
According to the Office National des Statistiques (ONS), January 1, 2013, there are 37.8 million inhabitants made up of predominantly 2 ethnic groups: Arabs and Berbers (with many subgroups). Berbers make up about 50% of the population. The Berbers are the indigenous people of this region with Kabyles being the largest subgroup. The Kabyles (Kaba'il), mostly farmers, live in the compact mountainous section in the northern part of the country between Algiers and Constantine. The Chaouia (Shawiyyah) live in the Aurès Mountains of the northeast. The Mzab, or Mozabites, include sedentary date growers in the Ued Mzab oases. Desert groups include the Tuareg, Tuat, and Wargla (Ouargla). Arabs began settling in the region at the beginning of the 7th century bringing with them Islam. Although the country is considered 'arabized', the Berber groups have maintained much of their traditions and characteristics.
Arabic is the official language with Kabyle widely spoken in the Kabyle region and the other Berber subgroups speaking their dialects in their specific regions, such as Tuareg being spoken in the south. While the majority of French people have left Algeria since independence in 1962, the French language remains the most used and understood foreign language in the country.
The first inhabitants of Algeria were the Berbers. Little is known about their origins. Around 1100BC the Phoenicians, accomplished sailors of the eastern Mediterranean basin, established a state at Carthage located in modern day Tunisia. During the Punic Wars between Carthage and Rome (3rd-2nd Century BC) Massinissa (202-148 BC), a Berber chief allied with Rome, founded Numidia, the first Algerian kingdom. His grandson, Jugurtha, submitted to Roman authority in 106BC. Under the protection of the Roman Empire Numidia prospered.
Carthage and then Rome were satisfied to allow the Numidia princes certain autonomy. However, in 42 AD the Algerian territory was annexed and became a province of Caesarean Mauritania. Later the Vandals settled there from 430-534AD until the arrival of the Byzantines.
The Arabs invaded the land sometime after 720AD and Algeria fell under submission to Islam. Until the 16th century the land was mired in a constant state of instability as a result of the rivalry between Arabs and Berbers as well as divisions among the Berbers themselves. Only the kingdom of Tlemcen attained prosperity from the 13th-16th century.
In the 16th century Algeria became part of the Ottoman Empire. Administrative power was entrusted to a local leader (a dey) in 1671 and Algiers became a base for Turkish pirates on the Mediterranean.
After the capture of Algiers July 5, 1830, France systematically conquered the rest of Algeria through military campaigns that lasted until 1857. Abdel-Kader was the hero of the resistance against the French (1839-1847). His adversary General Bugeaud created the African Army.
The regime imposed upon Algeria was a fluctuation of compromises between colonization, assimilation and local autonomy. During WWII from 1939-1945 Algeria participated in the war effort and Algiers in 1944 became the provisional seat of power and government for France.
The freedom movements born in the 1930s to pursue political equality between the French and Muslims proved ineffective and thus gave way to a new uprising. The National Liberation Front (FLN) was formed in 1954 and was the main force behind a series of attacks against French rule that began November 1, 1954. These attacks launched a war that was marked by violent clashes between communities and by the stubborn resistance of European colonists who provoked the fall of the 4th Republic and then threatened the 5th Republic (by action of the Secret Army Organization OAS).
On March 18, 1962, under the presidency of General de Gaulle, a cease fire was signed in Evian. France, by referendum, approved Algerian independence and on July 1, 1962 the new independent nation was announced sparking a mass exodus of Europeans from Algeria. Ahmed Ben Bella, president of Algeria in 1963 was thrust from power in 1965 by Colonel Boumediene. At the death of Houari Boumediene (1978), the FLN designated Chadli Benjadid as his successor. Benjadid was later elected as president in 1979 and reelected in 1984 and 1988.
In October 1988 a popular revolt forced the president to reshuffle the government. In February 1989 a new constitution was adopted and a multiparty system was implemented. The Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) who carried municipal elections in June 1990 was gaining momentum as an opposition to the existing regime. In December 1991, FIS swept the first round of legislative elections. The army forced president Chadli to step down, canceled election results and turned power over to a High Committee with Mohamed Boudiaf at its head. Boudiaf put in place a state of emergency (February) dissolved the FIS (March) and began a strong campaign against the Islamists who responded with terrorism.
The assassination of M. Boudiaf in June 1992, replaced by Ali Kafi, accentuated the country's instability. Beginning in 1993 a climate of insecurity and terror expanded with the murders of intellectuals, artists, women and foreigners and with the increase in terrorist attacks. Named as head of state in January 1994, General Liamine Zeroual, after talks broke off with the leaders of FIS, abandoned all chance of compromise and lauched a campaign to eradicate terrorism and violence and organized new presidential elections from which he rose as the winner in November 1995.
In April 1999 Abdelaziz Bouteflika was elected President and passed a civil agreement that ushered in a new peace. Armed groups, little by little put down their weapons. Two years later in April 2001 was the 'black spring' in Kabylie; a popular uprising which was suppressed by the authorities resulting in 120 civilian deaths.
On May 21, 2003, a violent earthquake shook the city of Boumerdes killing more than 2000 people. With 83.49% of the vote Abdelaziz Bouteflika was reelected in 2004 and passed by referendum in 2005 a charter for national reconciliation. Despite low voter turnout (35%) legislative elections in May 2007 were carried by the Presidential Alliance, a coalition government bringing together nationalist, liberal and moderate Islamic parties.
Reelected April 9, 2009 for his third term with 90.24% of the vote, with 74.54% voter participation, the Algerian president set the priorities of his new term (national reconciliation, state reform, economic renewal, fiscal reform, education, employment, and job-placement programs) which constitute a transition: the generation coming from the War of Independence is coming into power in terms of government in a country where the youth represent 70% of the population.
Beginning in January 2011, these youth were spearheading the demonstrations that engulfed the country following a sharp price rise in basic foods (around 20-30%). The population did not accept this price surge at a time when the financial reserves of the country are enormous because of its oil. The riots caused five deaths (directly or indirectly). During several days of riots in Algiers and Oran, in Annaba, Tidjelabine (Boumerdes), Bejaia, Tizi-Ouzou, etc.., protesters attacked the country's economic and political symbols such as banks, police and government offices. Calm returned after the government suspended taxes and tariffs on sugar and oil for eight months.
But in the wake of the riots and the "Jasmine" revolution in neighboring Tunisia, January 21 2011 saw the formation of a National Coordination for Change and Democracy (NCCD), composed of representatives of opposition parties, the civil society and informal unions. As of February 12, opponents decided to meet every Saturday until the fall of the regime, but they were faced with large deployments of security forces. Under pressure from the street, February 25, President Bouteflika announced the lifting of the martial law in force for 19 years, and a series of measures for the economy, employment and for housing.
A few weeks later, on the occasion of the celebration of March 19, President Bouteflika pledged to open a "new page in the path of comprehensive reforms", including political. The head of the Algerian state, in power for 12 years, wanted to stop the multiplication of demonstrations even if their magnitude never reached that of the neighboring countries.
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It is practically impossible to realistically and precisely put a number on those who have left Islam for the Christian faith because no viable statistics exist. In September 2002 the UN estimated the number of Catholics to be 10,000 and placed the number of Protestants in the range of 5,000 to 20,000. In 2005 the US State Department reported a much smaller number of Christians: 3,000 Protestants (primarily Kabyle) and 300 Catholics. Despite these reports, local Christian leaders estimate the number of Protestant Christians to be as high as 500,000 and some estimate as low as 5000. It is difficult to make an exact count but taking into consideration recent decisions by the government it is clear that the rising tide of Christianity in the country is perceived as a real threat.
The Daily Newspaper El Khabar reported on January 15, 2008 that the local security service had launched a strategy to counter the wave of evangelization that they are calling a 'crusade invasion'. One group of imams and sheiks presented a detailed report to the authorities including a proposition for the creation of a 'commission for the fight against Christianization'. This report that was to be submitted to the President names a variety of evangelism activities occurring in several regions.
In March 2006 the National Assembly adopted a law limiting all non Muslim religions to meetings held exclusively in registered and clearly identified buildings. By default this made all informal meetings in homes or elsewhere illegal. Already in 2007, 8 previously recognized churches were closed according to the dictates of the new law. Furthermore, the importation of Christian material is now strictly regulated.
Proselytism is now considered as a criminal offense and carries a 1-3 year prison sentence. Missionary groups who carry out humanitarian projects are authorized to continue so long as they remain discrete and do not proselytize.
Regular attacks organized by Al Qaeda in North Africa continue to produce ongoing bloodshed in Algeria. Attacks similar to those perpetrated in August 2008 have produced more than a hundred victims. In February 2010, an international symposium was held in Algiers on the theme: "The practise of religion, a right guaranteed by religion and law." This unprecedented forum brought together 200 religious, political and academic representatives. Although Algeria had no Christian representative, still this conference was an opportunity for free and respectful exchange. Certain participants expressed their satisfaction that freedom of conscience and worship were reaffirmed.
Algeria continues to be the scene of terrorist attacks with the government being pressured by Al-Qaeda to implement more Islamic legislation. The young Algerian church consisting principally of Muslim background believers faces discrimination from family as well as the state. Encouraged by Arab Spring, Islamic groups have become more visible and have increasingly monitored Christian activities in 2012. Even though there are challenges, Christianity is growing at a significant rate especially among the Kabylie people group.
Algerian churches claimed a victory on July 18, 2011 when the Ministry of Interior officially recognized the EPA (Protestant church of Algeria established 1972) and gave it registration papers to act as the council of the country's Protestant churches. EPA is first indigenous Protestant Christian church in North Africa with any official recognition.
This opens the door to many questions which cannot be dealt with by those without any recognition at all:
- how to marry
- how to be buried
- how to be judged in court as a Christian and not a Muslim (at what point does Islamic law apply?)
- how to deal with the Ramadan, etc.
There are still Christians being accused of offending Islam or similar offenses and the Evangelical Church of Algeria is helping to defend its members, often in court, when they are accused because of their faith.
Algerian church leaders said they hope that the official recognition of the EPA will help lift restrictions on individual churches (Ordinance 06-03 established in 2006), which are still required to register individually though they are under the EPA.
In January,2013 Algeria was placed 29th in the traditional persecution index, of the Christian Association OpenDoors, an organization that specializes in the defense of the Church and Christians oppressed in the world.