In Arabic, the country is known as Al-Jaza'ir, which is short for Al-Jumhuriyal Al-Jaza'iriyah ad-dimuqratiyah ash-sha'biyah. Orientation
Identification. The name Algeria is derived from the name of the country's oldest continuous settlement and modern capital, Algiers, a strategically located port city with access to both Europe and the Middle East. Most of the population of the country is in the north. While the majority of the population who are Arab (or mixed Arab and Berber) identify with the common Algerian culture, the Berber tribes, particularly in the more isolated southern mountainous and desert regions, retain more of the indigenous Berber culture and identity. Location and Geography. Algeria is in northern Africa. It borders Tunisia and Libya to the east; Niger, Mali, and Mauritania to the south; Morocco and Western Sahara to the west; and the Mediterranean Sea to the north. It covers a total of 919,595 square miles (2,381,751 square kilometers), making it the second largest country in Africa (after Sudan), and the eleventh largest in the world. Almost nine-tenths of this area is composed of the six Saharan provinces in the south of the country; however, 90 percent of the population, and most of the cities, are located along the fertile coastal area known as the Tell, or hill. The climate is desert like, although the coast does receive rain in the winter. Only 3 percent of the land is arable, this along the Mediterranean. Inland from the coast is the High Plateau region, with an elevation of 1,300 to 4,300 feet (396 to 1,311 meters). This is mostly rocky and dry, dotted with vegetation on which cattle, sheep, and goats graze. Beyond the plateau are the Saharan Atlas Mountains, which form the boundary of the Algerian Sahara desert. Despite efforts by the government to contain the desert by planting rows of pine trees, it continues to expand northward. The vast expanse contains not only sand dunes and typical desert life such as snakes, lizards, and foxes, but also oases, which grow date and citrus trees. There are also striking sandstone rock formations, red sand, and even a mountain, Mount Tahat, the highest point in Algeria, that is sometimes snow-topped. Demography. The estimated population as of 2000 is 31,193,917. Ethnically it is fairly homogeneous, about 80 percent Arab and 20 percent Berber. Less than 1 percent are European. The Berbers are divided into four main groups. The largest of these are the Kabyles, who live in the Kabylia Mountains east of Algiers. The Chaouias live in the Aurès Mountains, the M'zabites in the northern Sahara, and the Tuaregs in the desert. Linguistic Affiliation. The original language of Algeria was Berber, which has varied dialects throughout the country. Arabic came to the country early in its history, along with Arab culture and the Muslim religion. When the French came, they attempted to get rid of native culture, and one of the ways they did this was to impose their language on the people. At independence, Arabic was declared the official language. Arabic and Berber are the languages most spoken in day-to-day life. French is being phased out, but it remains an important language in business and some scientific and technical fields, and it is taught as a second language in the schools. Symbolism. The flag is green and white, with a red star and crescent. The star, crescent, and the color green are all symbolic of the Islamic religion.
History & Ethnic Relations
Emergence of the Nation. The Berbers were the original inhabitants of the region. The first invaders were the Phoenicians, whose empire covered the area that is today Lebanon. They began establishing ports along the Mediterranean in 1200 B.C.E. They built the cities of Constantine and Annaba in the east of present-day Algeria, but aside from teaching the Berbers how to raise crops, for the most part they kept their distance from them. The Romans began making inroads into North Africa,...