Algeria is Africa’s second largest country, covering an area of nearly 2.5 million square miles. Algeria’s indigenous Berber people has been under foreign rule for much of the last 3000 years. The Phoenicians (1000 BC) and the Romans (200 BC) were the most important of these. With the incursion of Muslim Arabs in the 7th-8th century into the region, Islamic influence came to the Berbers and almost a millenium of domination by Arab dynasties.
In the beginning of the 16th century the region was placed under protection of the ottoman Sultan of Istanbul, followed by reigns of ottoman beys, pachas, and aghas, brought to an end with the beginning of the French colonization in 1830. The French occupation condemned Algeria’s population to economic, social and political inferiority and caused an armed resistance lasting for decades. After a century of rule by France, Algeria became independent in 1962 and Arabic became official language – with a little help of Quran teachers from Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Since then le pouvoir (“the power”), an elite of business leaders and generals behind a democratic façade has run Algeria.
The group was formerly known as the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, and has its roots in an Islamist militia involved in the civil war in the 1990s.
Although experts doubt whether AQLIM has direct operational links with al-Qaeda elsewhere, its methods – which include suicide bombings – and its choice of targets, such as foreign workers and the UN headquarters in Algiers, follow the al-Qaeda method. Islamist groups throughout the Sahara region are linking up under the umbrella of the new movement, reinforced by arms obtained during the Libyan civil war.
After years of political upheaval and violence, Algeria’s economy has been given a lift by frequent oil and gas finds. It has estimated oil reserves of nearly 12 billion barrels, attracting strong interest from foreign oil firms.
However, poverty remains widespread and unemployment high, particularly among Algeria’s youth. Endemic government corruption and poor standards in public services are also chronic sources of popular dissatisfaction.