Dominated by the Sahara, Algeria is mostly high plateau with some mountains and a narrow coastal plain along the Mediterranean that has played a major role in the region’s history. Strategic Roman outposts dotted Algeria’s coast until Emperor Trajan (19–117 C.E.) spread his legions building distant desert cities like Thamugadi (Timgad) and Cuicul (Djemila); these im-posing ruins still stand amid sand dunes and oil rigs. However, commanding these Roman settlements was not easy: Native Berber resistance to their presence was constant.
Algeria’s Roman cities not only secured Roman in-volvement in the regional political theater, but also produced some of the Mediterranean’s most distin-guished personalities, including Saint Augustine of Hippo (354–430), one of Christianity’s most notable theologians. Later besieged by Vandals in 429, fol-lowed by Byzantine troops 100 years later, Algeria has been a battlefield for citizenry against intruders for more than 2,000 years.
POPULATION GEOGRAPHYAlgeria’s earliest inhabitants were Berbers who re-mained in the mountainous regions through Roman, Vandal, and Byzantine raids and colonization. Even during Arab expansion and the spread of Islam during the 7th century, the Berbers managed to stay distant, preserving much of their culture, and to this day they represent 30 percent of Algeria’s population and a growing voice throughout the country. After Arab, Ot-toman Turk, and Spanish influence, the French conquered Algeria in 1830. This protectorate of France en-dured cultural concession, oppression and compromise until the struggle for independence began in 1954. Fo-mented by the National Liberation Front (FLN), Alge-ria gained its political freedom eight long years later in 1962.
Since the late 1980s, Algerian politics have been managed by a discomforting antagonism between mil-itary and Islamic militants. In 1992, a victory by the Is-lamist Party was rescinded, setting off bloodshed that killed thousands of citizens. Only after national amnesty was declared were the weapons laid down on both sides.
After political instability and the natural death of President Boumediene in 1980, his closest friend and minister of foreign affairs, Abedlaziz Bouteflika, was forced into exile, only to return eight years later to work with the FLN Congress. In 1999, he was elected president and reelected in 2004. In 2002, after months of unrest among the Berber communities, the govern-ment recognized Berber as an official language, shap-ing a new focus on its unique culture and history.
Though the country is nearly 10 times the size of CALIFORNIA, Algeria’s narrow Mediterranean coast is today home to most of the activity: cities, farms, ports, and highways. With a lucrative export trade overshad-owing its low import levels, Algeria’s industrial sector has been strong since oil was discovered in 1956. Alge-ria’s extensive supplies now rank worldwide as fifth in gas reserves and 14th in oil, which have dramatically increased the gross domestic product. Oil and gas wells are primarily located inland, with an extensive pipeline network feeding the ports of Arzew and Skikda. Petro-leum, petrochemicals, and natural gas are Algeria’s largest exports.
BIBLIOGRAPHY. World Factbook (CIA, 2003); J. McGuin-ness, Footprint Marrakech & the High Atlas Handbook (Footprint Press, 2001); Ken Park, ed., World Almanac and Book of Facts (World Almanac Publishing, 2004).