Algeria History, Language and Culture
History of Algeria
Having won independence from France in 1962 following a bloody War of Independence that remains the defining event of the country’s modern history, Algeria has had a dramatic and rocky first half-century of going it alone. Following a secular, socialist path throughout the 1970s and 1980s to keep the simmering Arab-Berber tensions at bay, the country nevertheless became mired in popular discontent by the late 1980s.
In the 1990s, Algerian politics was dominated by a bloody struggle between the military and Islamic militants that engulfed much of the county and caused huge loss of life. The civil war petered out by 2002, when Abdelaziz Bouteflika, formerly Algeria's long-standing and respected foreign minister, was elected Algeria’s president, a role he has held ever since. Bouteflika has run the country with an iron hand ever since, and while being no democrat, he has arguably brought the country something it needs far more in the short term – stability and peace.
As well as its problems with Islamic militants, the government has also been confronted with agitation from the country's Berber ethnic minority pressing for greater cultural and political recognition, which have resulted in limited concessions to their demands such as Tamazight, the Berber tongue, being recognised as an official national language.
Algeria today is largely stable, with the problems of violence and kidnapping that have plagued it for long now consigned to the past. President Bouteflika won his third term in office in 2009 and while democracy and human rights continue to suffer under his rule, most Algerians are simply glad that the country is a functioning entity and the economy finally growing again.
Religion in Algeria
99% of the population adhere to Islam.
Social Conventions in Algeria
Courtesy should be adopted with new acquaintances. The provision and acceptance of hospitality are as important a part of Algerian culture as elsewhere in the Arab world. In the main cities, the urban population lives at a frantic pace much akin to European urban dwellers, but in the south and in rural areas people are much more open and friendly. Algerian women are expected to dress modestly in rural areas but this is not necessary in Algiers. Tourist visits should be avoided during Ramadan. Military installations and personnel should not be photographed. Police roadblocks are frequent – slow down and follow their instructions very carefully and respectfully should you be driving around the country. Always carry your passport or identification papers with you.
Language in Algeria
The official languages are Arabic and Berber (Tamazight), but French is still used for most official and business transactions. Berber (Amazigh) is spoken in the northern mountainous regions of the Kabylias and the Aures and also in the south. In general, English is spoken only in major business or tourist centres.