In Arabic, the country is known as Al-Jaza'ir, which is short for Al-Jumhuriyal Al-Jaza'iriyah ad-dimuqratiyah ash-sha'biyah.
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 and 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, declaring a new kingdom called Numidia. Roman rule lasted six hundred years.
The Arabs swept across North Africa in the seventh century (during the lifetime of Muhammad, who died in 632), and again in the eleventh century. The Berbers put up resistance, particularly to the edict that both religious and political leaders could only be Arabian. The second Muslim conquest saw a great shift in Berber civilization, as the people were forced to convert in great numbers or to flee to the hills. However, as internal conflicts began to sway the Muslim stronghold in North Africa in the fifteenth century, Europeans capitalized on this, and by 1510 Spain had seized Algiers, Oran, and other important port cities.
The French took control in the nineteenth century. In retaliation for Algerian debts and insolence toward the European nation, they blockaded several Algerian ports, and when this did not succeed, they invaded Algiers on 5 July 1830. Four years later they declared Algeria a colony, beginning a 132-year reign. In 1840 Abd al-Qadir, an Algerian freedom fighter, led the Arabs in an insurgence against their colonizers, which ended in defeat in 1847. At about the same time, the French began immigrating in large numbers to Algeria, in an attempt by the French government to replace Algerian culture with their own. By 1881 there were 300,000 Europeans (half of them French) in an area of 2.5 million Arabs.
In 1871 Muslims staged the biggest revolt since that of Abd al-Qadir thirty-one years earlier. The French responded by tightening control and further restricting the rights of the Algerians.
Throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the French continued to expand their influence and land holdings, and by 1914 they had extended their domain to include large tracts of land that were formerly wilderness or the property of Berber tribes. During World War I and again in World War II, Algerians were drafted to fight with the French. After World War II, Algerian leaders demanded Muslim equality in exchange for this service. Charles de Gaulle, the leader of the French resistance against Germany during the war and the leader of France's provisional government after the war, agreed to grant French citizenship to certain select Muslims, an unsatisfactory response that resulted in rising tensions between Algerians and their colonizers. Anti-French sentiment had been building for some time—the first anticolonial group was formed in 1926, and another, the Algerian People's Party, in 1937—but it was not until 1945 that the independence movement really began to gain momentum. In 1947, de Gaulle refused to relinquish French hold on the colony. The Algerian war for independence broke out in 1954, when the National Liberation Army (ALN)—the military arm of the National Liberation Front (FLN)—staged guerrilla attacks on French military and communication posts and called on all Muslims to join their struggle.
Over the next four years the French sent almost half a million troops to Algeria. Their tactics of bombing villages and torturing prisoners gained worldwide attention and was condemned by the United Nations and U.S. president John F. Kennedy. In 1959 De Gaulle, who was now president of France, issued a promise of independence to the colony, but the next year proceeded to send troops to restore order. In 1961 leaders of the FLN met with the French government, and the following year, Algeria finally won its independence. Ahmed Ben Bella was declared premier. He was head of the government and of the FLN, the country's sole political party. The extent of his power began to make people uncomfortable, and in 1965 a bloodless coup took him out and put Houari Boumedienne, the former defense minister, in his place. Boumedienne continued but modified Ben Bella's socialist policies, concentrating his efforts on reducing unemployment and illiteracy, decentralizing the government, and taking control of the land back from the French colonizers. When he died in 1978 he was succeeded by Colonel Chadli Bendjedid. During the 1980s, Islamic fundamentalism became an increasingly strong movement, and several times led to riots. A new constitution, introduced in 1989, reduced the power of the FLN, and for the first time allowed other political parties. The first part of a general election was held in December 1991, but the process of democratization was cut short when the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) came close to victory and forced Bendjedid to resign. The FIS never attained control of the government, however, as Bendjedid was replaced by a military takeover of anti-FIS forces. They established a transitional governing body called the Higher Council of States (HCS). Elections were again scheduled in 1992 but the outcome seemed set to favor the outlawed FIS party, and the elections were canceled. This has resulted in ongoing retaliations and counterattacks, in which both sides have ravaged villages and tens of thousands have been killed. In September 1999, Algerians by a large margin passed a referendum proposed by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to stop the seven-year-long conflict. However, legal injunctions have not yet manifested themselves to end to the violence.
National Identity. The national identity of Algeria is based on a combination of Berber and Arab cultures. The strong influence of Islam in all aspects of Algerian life creates a sense of identity that extends beyond national boundaries to include other Arab nations. Opposition to the French colonizers also has been a uniting force in defining a sense of identity in Algeria.
Ethnic Relations. There is some distrust between the Arabs and the Berbers, which dates back centuries to the conquest of the area by Arab settlers. Although most Berbers have adopted the Islamic religion, they remain culturally distinct, and even when they are forced to migrate to the cities in search of work, they prefer to live in clans and not integrate themselves into the dominant Arab society. The Kabyles are the most resistant to government incursion. The Chaouias are traditionally the most isolated of all the Berber groups; the only outsiders their villages received were occasional Kabyle traders. This isolation was broken during the war for independence, when the French sent many of the Chaouias to concentration camps.
Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space
The population of Algeria is split evenly between urban and rural settings. The center of old cities is the casbah (Arabic for fortress), a market of serpentine alleyways and intricate arches where a variety of traditional crafts are sold, from carpets to baskets to pottery. Outside of this relatively unchanged remnant of the old way of life, Algerian cities are a mix of Western influence and Arabic tradition.
The largest city is the capital, Algiers, in the north, on the Mediterranean coast. It is the oldest city in the country, dating back almost three thousand years, to Phoenician times. It served as the colonial capital under both the Turkish and the French. In the casbah, the old Islamic part of the city, many of the buildings are dilapidated, but the narrow streets are lively, with children playing, merchants selling, and people walking and shopping. The casbah is surrounded by newer, European-style buildings. The city contains a mix of modern high-rises and traditional Turkish and Islamic architecture. The port at Algiers is the largest in the country and is an industrial center.
Oran, to the west of Algiers, is the second-biggest city. It was built by the Arabs in 903, but was dominated by the Spanish for two centuries, and later by the French. It thus shows more European influence than any other city in Algeria, housing a large number of cathedrals and French colonial architecture.
Other urban centers include Constantine and Annaba. All of Algeria's cities have been hard hit by overpopulation, and its attendant problems of housing shortages and unemployment.
While most of Algeria's desert is uninhabited, it does have some villages, many of them surrounded by stone walls. Reflecting the same values of privacy and insulation, traditional homes also are walled in. The rooms form a circle around a patio or enclosed courtyard. Most architecture, from modern high-rises to tarpaper shacks, uses this same model. Traditional building materials are whitewashed stone or brick, and in older houses, the ceilings and upper parts of the walls are decorated with tiled mosaics.
Nomads of the desert and the high plateau live in tents woven from goat's hair, wool, and grass. In the Kabylia Mountains, villagers build their one-room homes of clay and grass or piled stones, and divide the room into two parts, one for the animals and one for the family.
Food and Economy
Read more about the Food and Cuisine of Algeria.
Food in Daily Life. The national dish of Algeria is couscous, steamed semolina wheat served with lamb or chicken, cooked vegetables, and gravy. This is so basic to the Algerian diet that its name in Arabic, ta'am, translates as "food." Common flavorings include onions, turnips, raisins, chickpeas, and red peppers, as well as salt, pepper, cumin, and coriander. Alternatively, couscous can be served sweet, flavored with honey, cinnamon, or almonds. Lamb also is popular, and often is prepared over an open fire and served with bread. This dish is called mechoui. Other common foods are chorba, a spicy soup; dolma, a mixture of tomatoes and peppers, and bourek, a specialty of Algiers consisting of mincemeat with onions and fried eggs, rolled and fried in batter. The traditional Berber meal among the poorer people is a cake made of mixed grains and a drink mixed together from crushed goat cheese, dates, and water.
Strong black coffee and sweetened mint tea are popular, as well as apricot or other sweetened fruit juices. Laban also is drunk, a mixture of yogurt and water with mint leaves for flavoring. Algeria grows grapes and produces its own wine, but alcohol is not widely consumed, as it is forbidden by the Islamic religion.
Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Religious holidays are often celebrated with special foods. For the birthday of Muhammad, a holiday called Mulud, dried fruits are a common treat. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims refrain from food and drink during the daylight hours. Each evening, the fast is broken with a family meal. Eid al-Fitr, the final breaking of the Ramadan fast, involves consuming large quantities of foods, sweets, and pastries in particular.
Basic Economy. Algeria's economy is based primarily on oil and natural gas. The nation has the world's fifth-largest reserves of natural gas and is the second-largest exporter. It also has the fourteenth-largest reserves of oil.
At independence, the economy was primarily based on agriculture, although since then other industries have eclipsed the importance of farming. Currently 22 percent of the population are farmers, but their production accounts for only 6 percent of the country's economy. The agricultural industry is plagued by droughts, encroaching desert, poor irrigation, and lack of machinery as well as by government policies that favor industry over farming. Most food produced is for local consumption; the most common crops include wheat, barley, corn, and rice, as well as fruits and vegetables. However, Algeria is able to produce only 25 percent of its food needs.
Thirty percent of the labor force is employed by the government; 16 percent in construction and public works; 13 percent in industry; and 5 percent in transportation and communications. The country has a serious problem with unemployment, with a rate of 30 percent. This has lead a number of men to migrate to the cities in search of work. There also are a significant number of Algerians who have immigrated to France to find jobs. Many of them return home in the summer to see their families.
Land Tenure and Property. When the country was under French rule, the colonizers owned the best farmland, while the Algerians were forced to work the less fertile areas. In the southern plateau and desert regions in particular, many people are nomadic tent-dwellers, who lead their animals from one pasture to another and lay no claim to any land. At independence, the government set up cooperative farms and made some attempt to redistribute land under a socialist model. Under Ben Bella's March Decrees of 1963, which allowed the takeover of property abandoned by French colonists, the government itself became the owner of the best farmland, as well as factories, mines, banks, and the transportation system. However, economic inequality has remained a pressing problem and has lead to riots and violent outbreaks.
Commercial Activities. The center of commercial life in Algeria is the souk, large, open-air markets where farmers and craftspeople sell their products. One can buy locally produced meat, fruits, vegetables, and grains—oats, barley, grapes, olives, citrus fruit—as well as woven rugs, jewelry, baskets, metalwork, and other crafts. Souks are held regularly
Major Industries. The largest industry in Algeria is the production and processing of oil and gas. Services (trade, transport, and communications) also are important. Other industries include agriculture, construction, mining, and manufacturing.
Trade. Algeria's main exports are oil and gas, followed by dates, tobacco, leather goods, vegetables, and phosphates. The primary trading partners are Italy, France, Spain, Brazil, the Netherlands, and[fj] the United States. Imports include raw materials, food, beverages, and consumer products. However, the government imposes strict regulations on imports in an effort to make the country more self-sufficient.
Division of Labor. Most of Algeria's workers are unskilled. However, many of the jobs in the country's industries require specific training, and this fact contributes to the high unemployment rate. The government has made an effort to change this by starting specialized training programs. Although they have the freedom to pursue whatever career path they choose, many Algerians are constrained by financial hardship and the unpromising job market.
Classes and Castes. The majority of Algerians are poor. Those who are better off are almost always Arabs, and tend to be urban and well educated. The upper classes generally look down not just upon the Berbers, but also upon rural, seminomadic Arabs who speak a different dialect. However, most Algerians are racially a mix of Arab and Berber, and variations in skin tone and hair color are not reflected in social standing.
Symbols of Social Stratification. In the cities, most men, and some younger women, now wear European-style clothing. The traditional garb is a white woolen cloak, called a gandoura, worn over a long cotton shirt. A cape called a burnous is sometimes draped over the shoulders; it is made of linen for the summer and wool for the winter. Sometimes the burnous is plain, or sometimes it is adorned with fancy embroidery, indicating the wealth of the
Women's clothing is similar, although more complete in its coverage. The haik drapes them from head to foot, and is worn over loose pants, which are gathered at the ankle. Tuareg men can be distinguished by the length of indigo cloth they wear wrapped around the head in a turban, extending over their robes, and covering them completely with the exception of their eyes.
Government. Algeria is officially a multiparty republic. It has been controlled since independence by the FLN. In 1988 a new constitution legalized other parties, although certain militant Islamic groups, such as the FIS, have been outlawed. There is one legislative house, the National People's Assembly, composed of 295 elected deputies who serve five-year terms and are allowed to run for consecutive terms. They prepare and vote on all the country's
The country is divided into forty-eight provinces, or wilayat, each of which elects its own assembly. The governor, or wali, is appointed by the national government, and serves as the primary liaison between local and federal government. The wilayat are further divided into administrative districts or diaraat, which are themselves broken up into communes.
Leadership and Political Officials. There is a strongly felt divide in Algeria society between the political elite and the majority of the population, who feel largely disenfranchised and powerless. Because the people feel that they are not represented in the government, many resort to violent action as their only form of political expression.
Social Problems and Control. There is a large degree of social unrest, which is exacerbated by both political repression and unemployment. The political repression gives way not infrequently to various forms of terrorism, including kidnaping and the murder of civilians. The high unemployment rate has contributed to an increase in crime, particularly in the cities.
There are forty-eight provincial courts, one for each wilayat, plus an additional two hundred tribunals spread throughout the country. The tribunal is the first level in the justice system. Above this is the provincial court. The highest level for appeals is the supreme court. Also there are three courts that deal with economic crimes against the state. Their verdicts are final and cannot be appealed. The Court of State Security, composed of magistrates and army officers, tries cases involving state security.
Military Activity. The president is commander in chief of Algeria's armed forces, which total 121,700, including an army of 105,000, a navy of 6,700, and an air force of 10,000. There also are 150,000 reservists. Military expenditures are $1.3 billion (U.S.), 2.7 percent of the total budget.
Social Welfare and Change Programs
The government provides free health care for children under sixteen and adults over sixty. It also offers pensions to the elderly and disabled, and gives allowances for families with children. The welfare system is financed by contributions from employers and employees as well as the state.
Algeria also receives aid from various countries that send specialists to help with the development of education, industry, health care, and the military.
Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations
Algeria is a member of the Arab League, whose goal is to strengthen ties among Arab nations, to coordinate their policies, and to protect their common interests. Algeria also is part of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which coordinates policies among its member states.
Gender Roles and Statuses
Division of Labor by Gender. Women work almost exclusively in the home, taking care of all domestic chores. Anything that involves leaving the house is taken care of by men, including shopping. Only 7 percent of women work outside the home, most of these in traditionally female professions such as secretarial work, teaching, or nursing. (However, this 7 percent does not include women who work in agriculture, and in farming communities; it is common for women as well as men to work in the fields.) Women are allowed to run for public office, but such attempts are still extremely rare.
The Relative Status of Women and Men. As in Arabic culture in general, women in Algeria are considered weaker than men, and in need of protection. Men are entrusted with most important decisions. Women live in a very confined circle of house and family; their only contact aside from male family members is with other women. Men, on the other hand, have a much broader sphere, which includes the mosque, the streets, marketplaces, and coffee shops. Independence did not bring much change in this realm. Although the new government adopted socialist principles, gender equality faced great opposition from conservative Islamic groups.
The Berbers have their own concepts and practices regarding gender, which vary widely among the different groups. The role of Kabyle women is most similar to the Arabic tradition; they are unable to inherit property or to remarry without the consent of the husband who divorced them. The Chaouia women, while still socially restricted, are thought to have special magical powers, which gives them a slightly higher status. The M'zabites advocate social equality and literacy for men and women within their villages but do not allow the women to leave these confines. The Tuaregs are an anomaly among Muslim cultures in that the society is dominated more by women than by men. Whereas it is traditional in Islam for women to wear veils, among the Tuaregs it is the men who are veiled. Women control the economy and property, and education is provided equally to boys and girls.
Marriage, Family and Kinship
Marriage. Marriages in Algeria are traditionally arranged either by parents of the couple or by a professional matchmaker. Despite its prevalence in Algeria, the influx of Western culture has had little influence in this realm, as the majority of marriages still are arranged. It is considered not just the union of two individuals, but also of two families. Wedding celebrations last for days, including music, special sweets, and ritual baths for the bride. The groom covers the costs of the festivities.
By a law passed in 1984, women gained the right to child custody and to their own dowries. However, the law also considers women permanent minors, needing the consent of their husbands or fathers for most activities, including working outside the home. The decision to divorce rests solely with the husband. It is still legally permissible, although rare, for men to have up to four wives, a code that is laid out in the Qurán (Koran).
Domestic Unit. Traditionally the domestic unit included whole extended families. The husband, his wives, and their children continued to live with the husband's parents. Grandparents also were part of the household, as were widowed or divorced daughters and aunts and their children. This has changed somewhat since independence, with increasing urbanization and the trend toward smaller families. However, it is still common for Algerian women to have between seven and nine children.
Inheritance. Inheritance passes from father to the eldest son. If there are no children, land and belongings are distributed among other relatives.
Kin Groups. In areas of the country with a stronger Arab influence, affiliations are based mostly on blood relations. Loyalty to family is more powerful than any other relationship or responsibility. Traditionally, kin groups have lived in close proximity. Today these ties are somewhat weaker than in the past, due to the influence of urbanization and modernization, but even in the cities, life still centers around the family.
In the Berber tradition, loyalty breaks down along the lines of village groupings, or sofs. These groups are political, and part of a democratic process governing life in the village.
Infant Care. As in many cultures, infant care is an exclusively female domain. Most women almost never leave the home and thus are never far from their infant children.
Child Rearing and Education. Children are highly valued in Arabic society and are considered a wealth and a blessing to their parents. However, child rearing standards differ significantly for male and female children: Girls are taught to be obedient to all males, while boys learn that the primary function of girls and women is to attend to the males' needs and desires. Girls typically have more duties and chores than boys, who are free to play and spend more time out of doors. Traditionally, only boys were educated, although this has begun to change in recent times.
In 1977, only 42 percent of the population was literate. This increased to 57 percent in 1990, with a male literacy rate of 70 percent and a female rate of 45 percent. The government has concentrated its efforts more on youth than on adult literacy.
Before independence, the Algerian education system was based on the French model. The majority of Algerian children did not attend school. In the years since 1971, the government made education free and mandatory for children between ages six and fifteen, and has made an effort to use the education system to define the nation. Its program stresses the study of the Arabic language as well as technical skills. Ninety percent of children in the cities and 67 percent of rural children now attend primary school. Half of all eligible secondary-age children are enrolled. Girls now comprise 38 percent of students in the secondary schools, a significant increase from preindependence days, when virtually no females attended schools. Despite its lofty goals, however, the system has had difficulty accommodating the increasing population of students, while the number of qualified teachers has diminished. In 1985 a total of 71 percent of secondary teachers were foreign.
Higher Education. During French rule, the sole university in the country, in Algiers, was open only to French students. Today there are more than thirty institutes of higher learning, with universities in a number of cities, including Algiers, Oran, Constantine, Annaba, and Tlemcen. This also includes state-funded institutes for technical, agricultural, vocational, and teacher training. A number of Algerians study abroad as well, and the government pays to send them to the United States, Eastern Europe, and Russia.
Greetings are lengthy and involved, including inquiries into health and family. Social interactions are much more common among members of the same gender than between men and women. Public displays of affection—touching, hand-holding— between men and women are rare, but not between members of the same sex.
Algerians are known for their hospitality and generosity. Visiting is a mainstay of social life, mostly within the circle of extended family. The host serves tea or coffee and sweets.
Religious Beliefs. Ninety-nine percent of Algeria is Sunni Muslim. There also is a tiny Jewish community, whose presence goes back centuries. Christianity has existed in Algeria since the Roman era, but despite efforts (particularly by the French colonizers) to convert, the number of Algerian Christians is very small. Islam forms the basis not only of religious life in Algeria but also is a unifying force (both within the country and with other Arab nations), creating for all believers a common ground that is both cultural and spiritual. There is a range of observance among Algerian Muslims; rural people tend to hold more strictly to the traditional practices.
There also are remnants of the indigenous Berber religion, which has been almost entirely subsumed by Islam. Despite opposition by both the French colonizers and the Algerian government (who viewed this religion as a threat to the unity of the country), there are still some organizations, called brotherhoods, that hold on to their magical practices and ceremonies.
The term Islam means submission to God. It shares certain prophets, traditions, and beliefs with Judaism and Christianity, the main difference being the Muslim belief that Muhammad is the final prophet and the embodiment of God, or Allah. The foundation of Islamic belief is called the Five Pillars. The first, the Shahada, is profession of faith. The second is prayer, or Salat. Muslims pray five times a day; it is not necessary to go to the mosque, but the call to prayer echoes out over each city or town from the minarets of the holy buildings. Friday is the Muslim Sabbath, and the most important prayer of the week is the noon prayer on this day. The third Pillar, Zakat, is the principle of almsgiving. The fourth is fasting, which is observed during the month of Ramadan each year, when Muslims abstain from food and drink during the daylight hours. The fifth Pillar is the Hajj, the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca, in present-day Saudi Arabia, which every Muslim must make at some time in his or her life.
Religious Practitioners. There are no priests or clergy in Islam. There are, however, men called mufti, who interpret the Qurán (the Muslim holy book) for legal purposes, as well as khatib, who read the Qurán in the mosques, and imam, who lead prayers in the mosques. There are also muezzins, who give the call to prayer. The Qurán, rather than any religious leader, is considered the ultimate authority, and holds the answer to any question or dilemma one might have.
In the indigenous Berber religion, the holy men, called marabouts, were thought to be endowed by God with special powers.
Rituals and Holy Places. The most important observation in the Islamic calendar is Ramadan. This month of fasting is followed by the joyous
The mosque is the Muslim house of worship. Outside the door there are washing facilities, as cleanliness is a necessary prerequisite to prayer, demonstrating humility before God. One also must remove one's shoes before entering the mosque. According to Islamic tradition, women are not allowed inside. The interior has no altar; it is simply an open carpeted space. Because Muslims are supposed to pray facing Mecca, there is a small niche carved into the wall pointing out in which direction the city lies.
Death and the Afterlife. Death is marked by visiting the family of the deceased. Family members dress in black. Death also is mourned in a larger, more communal way as part of the Islamic New Year's celebration, called Ashura. Muslims mark the passing of the old year by going to cemeteries to commemorate the dead.
Medicine and Health Care
Medical care is free and nationalized. The government concentrates its efforts on preventive medicine and vaccinations, building local clinics and health centers rather than large centralized hospitals. After completing their training, all medical workers are obligated to put in several years at a state medical facility. The biggest health problems are tuberculosis, venereal diseases, malaria, trachoma, typhoid fever, and dysentery.
Virtually all health care facilities and providers are concentrated in the more populous north; most people in rural areas have no access to modern medical care. Overpopulation and housing shortages in the cities have created their own health problems, due to poor sanitation and lack of safe drinking water.
New Year's Day, 1 January; Labor Day, 1 May; Commemoration Day (anniversary of the overthrow of Ahmed Ben Bella), 19 June; Independence Day, 5 July; Anniversary of the outbreak of the revolution, 1 November.
The Arts and the Humanities
Support for the Arts. During the French regime, Algerian culture was largely suppressed in an attempt by the colonizers to supplant it with their own. However, since independence, the government has made an effort to strengthen the native Berber, Arabic, and Islamic culture by giving money to open handicraft centers and by encouraging the traditional arts of rug-making, pottery, embroidery, and jewelry-making. The National Institute of Music revives music, dance, and folklore from the ancient Arabic and Moorish traditions. There is a national film company as well, which produces most Algerian movies.
Literature. Algeria counts among its literary stars both French writers who lived and wrote in Algeria (e.g., Albert Camus and Emmanuel Robles) as well as native Algerians, some of whom have chosen to write in the colonial language (such as playwright Kateb Yacine), and some of whom write in Arabic or Berber dialects. One advantage of writing in French is that it allows books to be published in France, and then distributed in both France and Algeria. The choice to write in Arabic or Berber, however, is often an act of national pride, and creates a different audience for the work. Many Algerian writers draw on both the influence of European literature and the ancient Arabic tradition of storytelling.
Graphic Arts. Traditional crafts include knotted and woven carpets made from wool or goat hair; basket-weaving; pottery, silver jewelry; intricate embroidery; and brassware. Algerian films have recently won accolades, both within the country and abroad. Many of them are dramas and documentaries that deal with issues of colonialism, revolution, and social issues. The director Mahmed Lakhdar Hamina won the Cannes Film Festival award in 1982 for his film Desert Wind.
Performance Arts. Algerian music and dance follow in the Arabic tradition. These forms of expression were suppressed during the French regime, but are today experiencing a revival. Arabic music is tied to the storytelling tradition and often recounts tales of love, honor, and family. Technically, it is repetitive and subtle. It uses quarter notes and makes small jumps on the scale. Traditional instruments are the oud, a stringed instrument similar to the lute; small drums held in the lap; and the rhita, or reed flute.
The State of the Physical and Social Sciences
There is the University of Science and Technology at Oran, as well as the Houari Boumedienne University of Science and Technology. There are the Ministry of Energy and Petrochemicals and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fishing, both of which sponsor educational institutes.
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—E LEANOR S TANFORD