Principal Government Officials
Chief of State: President Abdelaziz Bouteflika
Head of Government: President Abdelmalek Sellal
Under the 1976 Constitution (as modified 1979 and amended in 1988, 1989, 1996, and 2008), Algeria is a multi-party state. The Ministry of the Interior must approve all political parties. According to the Constitution, no political association may be formed "based on differences in religion, language, race, gender or region." Algeria has universal suffrage at the age of 18.
The head of state and of government is the president of the republic. The president, elected to a 5-year term, is the head of the Council of Ministers and of the High Security Council. He appoints the prime minister as well as one-third of the upper house of parliament (the Council of the Nation).
The Algerian parliament is bicameral, consisting of a lower chamber, the National People's Assembly (APN), with 389 members and the upper chamber, the Council of the Nation, with 144 members. The APN is elected every 5 years. Legislative elections for the APN were held in May 2007. Two-thirds of the Council of the Nation is elected by regional and municipal authorities; the rest are appointed by the president. The Council of the Nation serves a 6-year term with one-half of the seats up for election or reappointment every 3 years. Either the president or one of the parliamentary chambers may initiate legislation. Legislation must be brought before both chambers before it becomes law, but this cannot happen without the support of the presidency. If the APN vetoes legislation, it must technically be dissolved. Sessions of the APN are televised.
Algeria is divided into 48 wilayat (states or provinces) headed by walis (governors) who report to the Minister of Interior. Each wilaya is further divided into communes. The wilayat and communes are each governed by an elected assembly.
Addressing the underlying issues that brought about the political turmoil of the 1990s remains the government's major task. The Algerian Government in recent years has espoused free-market competition and participatory democracy, stating that it will continue to open the political process and encourage the creation of political institutions.
In January 2011, riots sparked by increases in staple food prices spread across 24 of Algeria’s 48 provinces. A fledgling political opposition coalition failed to garner widespread public support, and the government prevented the group from staging weekly marches in Algiers. In February the government lifted the state of emergency that had been in effect since 1992. Beginning in March and extending through mid-April 2011, dozens of sectoral groups staged protests and sit-ins in public spaces and in front of government ministries in Algiers, demanding higher wages, improved benefits, and better working conditions. Most of the protests remained peaceful and ended after the government agreed to meet most demands. In April, President Bouteflika gave a speech promising sweeping political reforms. By January 2012, the government had enacted new laws on elections, political parties, female participation in politics, associations, and the media.
Elections for the National Assembly will be held in spring 2012. The next presidential elections are scheduled for 2014.
Algeria has more than 45 daily newspapers published in Arabic and French, with a total circulation of more than 1.5 million copies. There are 20 domestically printed weekly publications with total circulation of 622,000 and 11 monthly publications with total circulation of 600,000. Algerian newspapers are widely seen to be among the freest in the region, although editors of major Arabic- and French-language print dailies often complain of the government’s reluctance to share information, grant interviews, or relax its defamation law.
In 2001, the government amended the Penal Code provisions relating to defamation and slander, a step widely viewed as an effort to rein in the press. While the Algerian press is relatively free to write as it chooses, use of the defamation laws following President Bouteflika's April 2004 re-election victory significantly increased the level of press harassment and, as a result, the press began to censor itself. In July 2006, President Bouteflika pardoned all journalists convicted of defaming or insulting state institutions. The pardon effectively dismissed the charges against 67 people. Critics point out that, according to the criminal code, insulting the president is punishable by prison sentence. Nevertheless, the pardon was widely seen as a significant step toward democracy.
The government holds a virtual monopoly over broadcast media. In January 2012, the government enacted a new media law as part of President Bouteflika’s democratic reforms that seeks to open up the audio-visual sector to private companies.
Terrorist violence in Algeria resulted in more than 150,000 deaths during the 1990s. In the years following Bouteflika's first election, the security situation in Algeria has improved markedly.
In September 2005, Algeria passed a referendum in favor of President Bouteflika's Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation, paving the way for implementing legislation that would pardon certain individuals convicted of armed terrorist violence. The Charter, implemented on March 1, 2006, builds upon the Civil Concord and the Rahma (clemency) Law of the late 1990s and shields from prosecution anyone who laid down arms in response to those previous amnesty offers. The Charter specifically excluded from amnesty those involved in mass murders, rapes, or the use of explosives in public places. The window for combatants to receive amnesty expired in September 2006, though its terms may still be applied on a case-by-case basis at the discretion of the Algerian president. The Charter gained the surrender of a number of moderate Islamists; approximately 2,500 Islamists were released under the Charter, although many may have returned to militant groups in Algeria.
The Charter has emboldened more hard-core elements, in particular the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), which merged with al-Qaida in September 2006, and changed its name in January 2007 to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Terrorist incidents still occur, particularly in the provinces of Boumerdes, Tizi-Ouzou, and in the remote southern areas of the country. Suicide attacks against a government building and a provincial police station on April 11, 2007 killed over 20 persons. A twin suicide attack on December 11, 2007 destroyed the UN headquarters in Algiers as well as the Constitutional Council, killing at least 60 people according to some accounts. Since that time, Algerian Government counterterrorism operations have greatly limited terrorists’ capacity to conduct high-profile attacks, particularly in major Algerian cities. Nevertheless, terrorists continue to carry out lethal operations in towns and rural areas sporadically, using ambushes and roadside bombs against government and civilian targets. Terrorists also occasionally kidnap civilians to obtain ransoms to finance their operations.
Algeria has traditionally practiced an activist foreign policy and, in the 1960s and 1970s, was noted for its support of Third World policies and independence movements. Algerian diplomacy was instrumental in obtaining the release of U.S. hostages from Iran in 1981. Since his first election in 1999, President Bouteflika worked to restore Algeria's international reputation, traveling extensively throughout the world. In July 2001, he became the first Algerian President to visit the White House in 16 years. He has made official visits to France, South Africa, Italy, Spain, Germany, China, Japan, Portugal, Russia, the United Kingdom, and Latin American countries, among others, since his inauguration.
Algeria has taken the lead in working on issues related to the African continent. Host of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) Conference in 2000, Algeria also was key in bringing Ethiopia and Eritrea to the peace table in 2000. In 2001, the 37th summit of the OAU formally adopted the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) to address the challenges facing the continent. In 2006, Algeria negotiated the Algiers Accords between the Malian Government and Tuareg rebel groups and has continued to play an active role in seeking resolution to that conflict. In August 2009, Algeria initiated a regional counterterrorism approach with Mali, Niger, and Mauritania, seeking to increase security cooperation and address the root causes of instability in the region. More recently, Algerians also campaigned publicly for strengthening the international legal regime against ransom payment for terrorist kidnappings, including the call for a UN-sponsored resolution condemning such payments.
Since 1976, Algeria has supported the Polisario Front, which claims to represent the indigenous population of Western Sahara. A staunch defender of the Sahrawi right to self-determination under the UN Charter, Algeria has provided the Polisario with support and sanctuary in refugee camps in the southwestern Algerian province of Tindouf. UN involvement in the Western Sahara includes MINURSO, a peacekeeping force, UNHCR, which handles refugee assistance and resettlement, and the World Food Program (WFP). Active diplomatic efforts to resolve the dispute under the auspices of the United Nations Secretary General are ongoing.
Algeria's support of self-determination for the Sahrawi is in opposition to Morocco's claim of sovereignty over Western Sahara. The dispute remains a major obstacle to bilateral and regional cooperation, though with the January 2012 visit of Moroccan Foreign Minister Saad Eddine Othmani to Algiers, along with other ministerial exchanges during the past year, relations between Algeria and Morocco may be warming. Although the land border between Morocco and Algeria was closed in the wake of a 1994 terrorist attack in Marrakech, Morocco lifted visa requirements for Algerians in July 2004. Algeria reciprocated by lifting visa requirements for Moroccans on April 2, 2005. Algeria has friendly relations with its neighbors Tunisia and Libya, and with its sub-Saharan neighbors, Mali and Niger. It closely monitors developments in the Middle East and has been a strong proponent of the rights of the Palestinian people, as well as a supporter of Iraq's democratic transition.
Algeria has diplomatic relations with more than 100 foreign countries, and over 90 countries maintain diplomatic representation in Algiers. Algeria held a nonpermanent, rotating seat on the UN Security Council from January 2004 to December 2005. Algeria hosted 13 Arab leaders at the Arab League Summit, March 22-23, 2005.
Sources:CIA World Factbook (January 2012)
U.S. Dept. of State Country Background Notes ( January 2012)