Main languages: Arabic and Tamazight (Berber) are official languages, French is used in business and media.
Main religions: Islam
Main minority groups and indigenous peoples: Amazighs (Berbers) between 6.6 million and 9.9 million (20-30 per cent, including Kabyles, Shawiya/Chaoui, Mozabites and Tuareg), Saharawi 120,000, Black Algerians, sub-Saharan migrants, Ahmadis and Christians.
Algerians are primarily of Amazigh and Arab descent, but a considerable size of the population is of Black descent (10 per cent, according to unofficial statistics). The French population, approximately 10 per cent of the total in colonial times, has fallen to about 1 per cent today. Many other Europeans and almost all 150,000 Jews in Algeria left the country after independence. More than three million Algerians live abroad, mainly in France.
Amazigh languages were originally spoken from the Canary Islands to Western Egypt (a region called Tamazgha by Amazigh). Tamazgha thus designates a vast geographical area that stretches from the Canary Islands in Spain to the Siwa oasis in western Egypt and includes parts of the Sahel (Mauritania, Mali and Niger). These are the historical settlement areas of the Amazigh populations of North Africa.
Estimates of current Tamazight speakers in Algeria vary significantly from 17 per cent to 45-55 per cent of the population considering bi/trilingual speakers. The decline of Tamazight in Algeria (also in Morocco and Tunisia) was due to the spread of Arabic as the official language of religion and culture, and the rise of French as a prestige language during colonization, as well as assimilationist policies that prohibited the use of this language. For instance, conferences in Tamazight language were forbidden during the 1980s, which sparked revitalization movements across many regions. Varieties of Tamazight are often mutually intelligible, and numbers of speakers vary considerably according to the community: in Algeria, Taqbaylit (the Kabyle variety) has millions of speakers, while Chenoua (the Chaoui variety) has tens of thousands of speakers.
A law adopted in 1991 prevented the use of any language other than Arabic in several contexts. The Algerian Constitution of 1989 recognised Arabic as the sole national and official language. A significant change came about with the creation of the Haut Commissariat à l’Amazighité in 1995, whose objective was to promote the Amazigh language. Change came about because of strikes in the Kabylie region led by students and professors, who demonstrated against the enforcement of Arabic and French in teaching and learning sectors. Two further changes came about after the 2002 constitutional amendment, which made Tamazight the second national language, and finally in the 2016 Constitution, which states in Article 3 that Arabic is and will remain the official language while Article 4 further stipulates that ‘Tamazight is equally the national and official language’.
When plans for the teaching of Tamazight at school and university were introduced in 1995, the objective was to start the programme in 24 governorates and gradually reach the whole national territory (i.e., 48 governorates at the time, and 58 following a reform in February 2021). According to some sources, in 2017, Tamazight was taught as a subject in some schools in mostly Amazigh-speaking areas across 37 governorates. However, the 2008 Law on National Education (still valid today) guarantees the facultative character of Tamazight teaching and learning at school. Protests took place in 2017, because the allocation of state funding for the teaching of Tamazight was rejected by Parliament. Many commentators argue that these various legal guarantees have not been accompanied by sufficiently coherent efforts in language planning and other practical moves, such as the necessary allocation of funding to pay for an increase in the number of Amazigh-speaking teachers in primary, secondary and tertiary education.
Black Algerians, indigenous to southern Algeria, account for an estimated 10 per cent of the country’s total population as per a 2009 academic estimate. However, no official statistics exist. These Algerian citizens suffer from racial discrimination largely due to the institutionalisation of a ‘white Arab and Muslim only’ national policy.
Black Algerians suffer from endemic day-to-day racism, which includes stigmatisation when claiming national identity in northern Algeria at police roadblocks or airports, as well as racial slurs, such as kahlouche (‘blackie’) and abd (‘slave’). Black Algerian women appear to be particularly vulnerable to such acts of racial discrimination, as evidenced by events following the selection of Khadija Benhamou as Miss Algeria in January 2019. Indeed, the scale and magnitude of the attacks faced by Benhamou on social media following her nomination, notably claiming that she did not represent the beauty and identity of the country, bear witness to the prevalence of anti-Black racism in Algeria.
Generally speaking, all requests to register non-Muslim associations are deferred. In 2010, only one application for registration by a Jewish community was approved. The places of worship of the small Algerian Jewish community had been closed during the civil war in the 1990’s, for security reasons. Algerian Minister of Religious Affairs Mohamed Aïssa, in office from 2014 until 2019, declared in 2014 in Oran that ‘the places of worship for the Jews will reopen their doors’ but added that ‘for the moment the state does not plan to do this right away because the security of the worshippers could not be guaranteed’ – a positive stance that stood in stark contrast with that of his predecessors. Aïssa wanted to show that his ministry would not only deal with Islam but with all religions, provided that religious minorities submit to Algerian law, including Ordinance No. 06-03 of 2006, which governs the practice of faiths other than Islam.
Islam is unquestionably ‘the religion of the state’, as clearly stated in Article 2 of the 2020 Algerian Constitution. Article 73 of the 2016 Constitution affirmed that the President of the Republic must be Muslim and must take an oath ‘to respect and glorify the Islamic religion’. In the 2020 Constitution, the same oath is presented in Article 90. However, this does not prevent the presence and practice of other faiths. Ordinance No. 06-03 of 2006 expressly guarantees ‘the free exercise of worship’ and that ‘the State also guarantees tolerance and respect between different religions’.
The ‘free exercise of worship’ established by the 2006 legislation is nevertheless strictly regulated. It is subject to respect for ‘public order, morality and the fundamental rights and freedoms of third parties’. Above all, the collective exercise of worship is confined to the buildings assigned for this purpose by the Algerian authorities. This is especially problematic for Jews since no synagogue has reopened since the 1990s.
Religious groups suspected of attempting to convert Muslims are particularly vulnerable to spurious charges and find themselves under near-constant surveillance. This has resulted in the ongoing persecution of Ahmadis, Ibadis and evangelical Christians.
The former leader of the Ahmadi community, Mohamed Fali, was arrested on 28 August 2017, and charged with ‘raising funds without a permit’, ‘insulting the Prophet Muhammad’, and ‘forming an unauthorized association’. He was given a six-month suspended prison sentence based on these charges. The Algerian authorities seized his passport, and he was banned from leaving the country. After the beginning of the Hirak movement, Mohamed Fali asked to recover his passport and chose to leave the country. Scores of other Ahmadis have been imprisoned since June 2016 in a context where religious intolerance is espoused at the highest level, with government officials claiming that Ahmadis represent ‘a threat to the majority Sunni Muslim faith’.
Persecution against members of the Ahmadi community has continued, with the government still denying this group freedom of religion. Routinely prosecuted ‘for joining an unauthorized association’ and ‘collecting donations without permission’, members of this community have been denied recognition as Muslims by the competent ministry. On 15 December 2020, for instance, 31 followers of the Ahmadiyya faith were summoned to appear before the court in Tizi Ouzou (Kabylie). Charges brought against them under Article 96 of the Penal Code included ‘distribution of leaflets with the aim of undermining the national interest’, ‘occupation of a building to hold a religious service secretly without authorization’, and the ‘collection of funds and donations without authorization’, in application of Articles 5, 7, 12 and 13 of Ordinance No. 06-03 governing the exercise of religions other than Islam. In January 2020, the Prosecutor’s Office in Constantine brought seven Ahmadis in for questioning. Their passports were confiscated, and they were charged with forming an illegal association. While later acquitted, the authorities reportedly did not return their passports.
Since 2013, inter-communal clashes between Ibadi Mozabites (Amazighs) and Sunni Maliki Arabs in the Mzab Valley have led to dozens of deaths, the burning and looting of thousands of businesses and homes and the destruction of cultural heritage sites, including a UNESCO-classified Ibadi shrine.
The crisis in Ghardaia weaves the issue of ethnic and religious minorities with political and economic concerns felt elsewhere in the south. The Mozabites face structural discrimination in Arabization policies as well as attacks on their homes, religious symbols and businesses by Arab Maliki groups. More recently, takfiri preachers (i.e. those who make declarations of ex-communication) in the region have accentuated the stigmatisation of Mozabites as ‘Shi’a apostates’, justifying violent attacks on them. In July 2015, around a hundred Mozabite activists, the best known of whom was Kameleddine Fekhar, were arrested. Fekhar, a doctor and founder of an Amazigh rights organization, died while on hunger strike following further detention in 2019.
Security forces have continued to target Christians who have converted from Islam. On 31 July 2016, Slimane Bouhafs, an Algerian Christian, was arrested on charges related to expressing his Christian beliefs. He was originally sentenced to five years of imprisonment and given a heavy fine, but the sentence was reduced to three years on appeal and the fine was dropped. In July 2017, President Bouteflika granted Slimane a partial pardon, reducing the sentence by a further 16 months. Bouhafs was released from prison on 31 March, having served his twenty-month sentence. In August 2018, he sought asylum in Tunisia and was granted refugee status in September 2020 by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Tunisia. In August 2021, eyewitnesses reported that cars with unknown license plates arrived at the house where the Algerian activist lived and took him to an undisclosed destination. It later transpired that Bouhafs had been handed over by the Tunisian authorities to their Algerian counterparts.
Since 2010, activists of the Movement for the Self-Determination of Kabylie (Mouvement pour l’autonomie de la Kabylie, MAK), which is a region near Algiers inhabited by Kabyles (Amazighs), regularly face arbitrary arrests and harassment by the police. Many of them have also been subject to employment loss and discrimination, bureaucratic discrimination, abductions and an array of other difficulties. Some activists have even seen their passports confiscated by the Ministry of the Interior. The movement was labelled a terrorist group by the Algerian authorities in May 2021. The MAK, whose president Ferhat Mehenni resides in France, is targeted by the Algerian courts and accused of being involved in starting fires, particularly in Kabylie during the summer of 2021.
On 21 April 2020, the Algerian Ministry of Justice presented a draft Law on Preventing and Combating Discrimination and Hate Speech before the specialized commission of the Assemblée Populaire Nationale (APN), and two days later it was adopted by the Council of Ministers. Meanwhile, another law amending the Penal Code was put before parliament almost simultaneously. The new legislation called for the creation of a National Observatory for the prevention of discrimination and hate speech, placed under the authority of the President of the Republic. Many consider it vague, giving judges a margin of interpretation that reinforces the impression that the judicial system is far from being independent.
Although there is no direct mention of Amazighs in the laws, they are the main target of hate speech in the media and on social networks in Algeria. There is also no mention of discrimination based on religion or of the word ‘minority’. The law carries a sentence of up to 10 years of imprisonment for anyone accused of authoring or supporting hate speech, online or offline, that is ‘likely to undermine security or public order’. The law also introduces two provisions into the Penal Code. Article 196-bis criminalizes the dissemination of false information ‘likely to undermine security or public order’. Vaguely worded, this provision can be broadly interpreted in the context of violations of freedom of expression. Article 95-bis foresees up to seven years of imprisonment and a fine for any individual or organization receiving funds from abroad with the objective of carrying out ‘actions likely to undermine the security of the State, the stability of its institutions, national unity, territorial integrity, the fundamental interests of Algeria or public security and order’.
In March 2021, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) expressed concern about the situation in Algeria, while calling on the government to put an end to the arbitrary arrests and detention of people who exercise their rights to freedom of opinion, expression and peaceful assembly. An OHCHR press briefing spoke of some 1,000 individuals who had been prosecuted for participating in the Hirak movement since demonstrations resumed in February 2021 or for posting social media messages critical of the government. According to Amnesty International, prosecutions were initially limited to those carrying the Amazigh flag during demonstrations; however, the crackdown against civil society has intensified since then.
On 24 August 2021, Kamira Nait Sid, Co-President of the Congrès Mondial Amazigh, was abducted from her home by security forces and held incommunicado for three days. Criminal charges were brought against her, including ‘membership of a terrorist organization’ and ‘undermining national unity and state security’ under Article 87-bis of the Penal Code. This Article authorizes penalties ranging from 10 years to life imprisonment and the death penalty.
In February 2022, Human Rights Watch reported that ‘at least 280 activists, many of whom are associated with Hirak’, are currently detained by Algerian authorities. These individuals are facing trial or have been convicted based on arbitrary charges, in violation of fundamental fair trial rights.
Article 37 of the Algerian Constitution of 2020 guarantees the principle of equality among all Algerian citizens, prohibiting any discrimination on the grounds of ‘birth, race, gender, opinion or any other personal or social condition or situation’. Article 295-bis of the Penal Code punishes with up to three years’ imprisonment ‘anyone who publicly incites hatred or discrimination against a person or a group of people because of their racial or ethnic affiliation ’, while Article 298-bis of the Penal Code makes it a punishable offense with up to six months’ imprisonment to “insult one or more persons belonging to an ethnic group or a particular religion’. Finally, Law no. 20-05 on the Prevention and Fight Against Discrimination and Hate Speech adopted in April 2020, provides a definition of discrimination under Article 2, which includes race and ethnic origin as prohibited grounds for discrimination.
These provisions raise several critical issues since they do not prohibit discrimination based on religion or belief, sexual orientation or gender identity; tend to be (ab)used by the government to unduly restrict free speech as previously mentioned; and thus, fail to address acts of discrimination appropriately and systematically, allowing rights violations of several segments of Algerian society to persist.
Africa’s largest country, Algeria borders Tunisia, Libya, Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco and Western Sahara. The country stretches from its 1,300 km Mediterranean coastline south through a varied topography to the Sahara Desert. Around 80 per cent of the country consists of the Sahara, where Algeria’s oil and natural gas reserves are located.
Amazighs (Berbers, pl. Imazighen) are the indigenous inhabitants of North Africa, isolated from the rest of Africa by the Sahara Desert. Jewish populations arrived in North Africa around the third century BCE. Waves of Arab migration into the region started in the mid-seventh century and brought cultural and religious changes, with most inhabitants converting to Islam. Intensified persecution in Spain in the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries sparked a new Jewish migration into the region.
The area that is present-day Algeria became part of the Ottoman Empire in 1517. The Ottomans allowed ethnically defined guilds to maintain a broad degree of autonomy over their peoples, but discriminated against Jews, who were targeted with special taxes.
North Africa was part of the trans-Saharan slave trade, being one of the major routes to the Mediterranean and the rest of the Ottoman Empire. While Black Algerians are indigenous to Algeria’s Sahara, slavery lasted 1,300 years (from the seventh through to the twentieth century) and profoundly shaped their place in Algerian society. The history of servitude has stigmatized Black Algerians, generating intense racial discrimination and marginalization.
The invasion of Algiers by France in 1830 resulted in the disappearance of a third of the Algerian population due to France’s policy of extermination in the country. The conquest faced resistance well into the early 1900s, starting with Emir Abdelkader and Ahmed Bey, and ending with the Tuareg in the south. In 1845, France created a three-tiered governance system for Algeria: one for European-majority areas that enjoyed self-government, mixed appointed and elected government for majority Muslim areas, and continued military rule for indigenous communes. In 1848, Paris declared Algeria to be an integral part of France, by which time European settlements were encouraged through the appropriation of rural land.
Amazighs and Arabs resisted oppressive French rule. In 1954, the National Liberation Front (FLN) launched a guerrilla war against France that lasted for almost eight years. French forces targeted civilians as well as fighters, and the conflict resulted in the deaths of around half a million Algerians.
Algeria’s independence in 1962 was accompanied by the emigration to France of around one million people, mostly from the European-descended population. Algerian-born people who fought with the French army or supported a French Algeria were known as pieds-noirs and Harkis. Post-independence, residual hostility towards both these groups resulted in violence and forced exile during the 1960s and 1970s. The FLN urged Jews to support independence and promised tolerance. Jews were sympathetic to nationalist interests even though many identified culturally with France. Attacks on Jews and the desecration of Jewish holy places in the late 1950s and 1960s led to large-scale emigration to France and Israel.
Colonel Houari Boumediene overthrew Algeria’s first President in 1965 and consolidated a one-party system under the FLN, strengthened by the army. Boumediene was an Arab nationalist who worsened the plight of Algeria’s remaining Jews. By 1970, there were fewer than 1,000 Jews left in the country. Military rule continued after his death in 1978.
High youth unemployment, inflation and corruption sparked massive popular unrest in the late 1980s. In December 1991, Algeria held the first round of what were probably the freest parliamentary elections the Arab world had seen up until that time. The populist Islamic Salvation Front party (FIS) won in a landslide. Three weeks later, the Algerian military staged a bloodless coup, arguing that if the FIS had been allowed to take power, those elections would have been Algeria’s last. The military dissolved parliament and suspended the Constitution. In March 1992 the military outlawed the FIS and imprisoned thousands of its members. This strengthened the position of Algeria’s radicals, such as the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA), who argued that violence was the only solution. After only six months in office, military-installed President Mohamed Boudiaf was assassinated by one of his own bodyguards—an alleged Islamist. Fighting between the GIA and the Algerian military escalated into a full-blown civil conflict marked by insurgency, terrorism and state violence.
Defense Minister Liamine Zeroual was appointed President in 1994 and elected to office in 1995. Many Algerians assumed that the new administration would commence negotiations with Islamist opposition leaders, many of whom remained in detention. The President did so, but the talks collapsed. The Armée Islamique du Salut (AIS), an armed wing of FIS, and the more radical GIA, took control of tracts of the high plateaus which lie behind the coastal strip.
In December 1996, the government-sanctioned a constitutional referendum outlawing religious parties, stripping power from Parliament, and allowing the President to rule by decree, arguing that it had been approved by 86 per cent of Algerians. No independent verification of the vote was allowed. Algerians were by then quickly losing their confidence in the military-backed government. In a climate of fear and violence, moderates of all persuasions were pushed to the margins of public life. Former foreign minister Abdelaziz Bouteflika came to power in a flawed election in 1999, running unopposed after the withdrawal of all opposition candidates. Bouteflika introduced an amnesty for Islamist rebels that found some resonance; however, Islamist movements were still banned. Amnesty meant that Bouteflika offered neither ‘truth’ about past violence nor ‘reconciliation’ with the Concorde Civil, the President’s initiative to end the conflict. War-weary Algeria turned towards an unsteady peace, marred in the ensuing years by violence.
Meanwhile, post 9/11, attention focused on the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat. This became Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), an armed extremist group designated by the US as a foreign terrorist organization. The group traces its provenance to Algeria’s civil war in the 1990s and has in the past decade become an al-Qaeda affiliate with regional ambitions, operating in the Sahara and Sahel. This perceived threat has led the US government to strengthen military links with the Algerian government, through training and intelligence-gathering.
Algeria has a presidential form of government. Most Presidents have so far played a role in the independence movement and the National Liberation Front (Front de Libération Nationale, FLN). More importantly, the President has always either been a member of the military establishment or has been endorsed by the army. Formally, the President has substantial powers and may overrule other branches of government. In reaching decisions, he must nevertheless agree with the heads of the military and security apparatus. This makes the Algerian system different from those of other countries in the Middle East and North Africa, where the President personifies the system.
Abdelaziz Bouteflika was in power for two decades (1999-2019) and was credited with the end of the Algerian civil war, also known as the Black Decade. His national reconciliation initiative did not provide, however, justice to the victims of the civil war. The Black Decade (1990-1999) was a brutal armed conflict between the ruling regime and the armed elements of the Front Islamique du Salut (FIS), an Islamist opposition party, over the course of which 150,000 Algerians died.
Bouteflika was re-elected four times, albeit in contested elections. The President wielded the main executive powers and was supported by the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers. Since the 1997 elections, most cabinets have been coalitions established between the ‘institutional’ parties FLN and RND (Rassemblement National Démocratique, National Democratic Rally) with one or more Islamist and secular parties involved.
Following riots in Kabylie in 2001, which led to the killing of 130 people by the forces of the gendarmerie, President Bouteflika expressed a willingness to accommodate popular demands through constitutional and political reforms. Tamazight was recognized as a national language in 2002 and then as an official language in 2016.
In January 2018, the 12th of January was decreed as a national day. The date corresponds to the first day of the Amazigh year. This was perceived as a gesture of openness to and official recognition of the Amazigh dimension of Algeria.
The Preamble of the Algerian Constitution states that the fundamental components of the identity of the Algerian people are ‘Islam, Arabity and Amazighity’. The text of the Constitution stipulates in Article 223 that any constitutional revision cannot affect Tamazight as a national and official language.
In addition, Article 37 states: ‘Citizens are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection thereof, without any discrimination on the grounds of birth, race, sex, opinion or any other personal or social condition or circumstance.’ Although race is mentioned as a ground of discrimination in the Constitution, the fact that the Preamble makes no reference to Algeria’s Black community or African roots can attest to the complete disregard or invisibility faced by this group.
Women constitute approximately 52 percent of the Algerian population but represent only an estimated 18 percent of the workforce. The increasing Islamization of Algerian society in the 1980s under the influence of rising Islamist political movements, led to the undermining of women’s role in Algerian society. This culminated in the introduction of a new Family Code in 1984 that placed women under the guardianship of men. This Code was revised in 2005, however, to reduce the legal dependence of women on men.
In December 2015, Algeria’s parliament adopted Law No. 15-19, criminalizing some forms of domestic violence in its Penal Code, including psychological and some economic abuse. The new law makes assault against a spouse or former spouse punishable by up to 20 years in prison and by a life sentence if the assault results in death.
A positive trend in politics has developed since 2012 when a 30 percent quota was introduced that led to the election of 146 women, equal to 31.6 percent of the vote in the Algerian Parliament. However, the number decreased to 117 in the 2017 elections.
Algeria ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in 1996 and was ranked number 136 of 156 in the 2021 Global Gender Gap Index, with a negative trend compared with the previous years.
The Algerian Hirak (meaning ‘movement’ in Arabic) began on 22 February 2019, as millions of Algerians began to protest peacefully in the streets of the country’s main cities, demanding that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika step down, and opposing his candidacy for a fifth Presidential term.
The discontent of many Algerians was due to Bouteflika’s absence from the political scene following a debilitating stroke in 2013. Since then, perception had grown across the country that Bouteflika was a puppet President, with figures from within his entourage holding the strings.
Algeria is a rentier state and one of Africa’s leading oil and gas producers; however, it remains one of the world’s least diversified economies as it depends heavily on external factors (international oil and gas prices). Since coming to power, Bouteflika’s regime has crushed political dissent and fostered the proliferation of corruption at all levels of state. This has led to an overreliance on oil revenues at the expense of the potential for development in other sectors. This has amplified national discontent.
Additional factors including high unemployment, economic stagnation following the decline of oil and gas export revenues in 2014, and social inequalities, have led the Algerian population to take to the streets. What started as a protest opposing Bouteflika’s candidature evolved into a national social movement demanding a complete overhaul of the political system.
Under army chief General Ahmed Gaid Salah, a member of Bouteflika’s regime, the military initially supported Bouteflika’s candidacy. However, following the protests, the armed forces intervened to end Bouteflika’s control. Since then, the military has refused to withdraw from public life and continues to be heavily involved in domestic politics.
Bouteflika announced his resignation on 2 April 2019, before the planned April elections that year. This followed the pressure of several weeks of peaceful protests held throughout the country. Many high-ranking politicians and businessmen within Bouteflika’s entourage have since been tried on corruption charges and imprisoned.
Senate President Abdelkader Bensalah replaced Bouteflika temporarily until new elections were to be held on 4 July. This date was, however, was postponed by General Salah to 12 December, to end several months of protests.
Since 22 February 2019, Algerians have been protesting peacefully every Friday on a regular basis and have continued to do so even after Bouteflika’s resignation. Human rights violations have been reported by NGOs, including the disproportionate use of force and arbitrary arrests by police.
On 19 June 2019, General Salah prohibited protestors from carrying the Amazigh flag during protests, criminalizing its use and leading to the arrest of hundreds of Algerians.
The absence of Black Algerians in the Hirak movement and the ongoing debate surrounding democratization, national identity and belonging in Algeria is evident. This is further worsened by the concentration of this population in the Saharan south of the country, which makes them not visible to other Algerian citizens.
Algerians continued protesting and making demands for an open and fair election, free from figures close to former President Bouteflika’s entourage. Nonetheless, the five presidential candidates include former prime ministers, a culture minister and a tourism minister.
The 12 December 2019 elections had a low turnout of 40 per cent and led to the appointment of Abdelmadjid Tebboune as President. Candidates belonging to the prior government were largely rejected by the population because they were perceived to be a perpetuation of the status quo. Since taking office, President Tebboune has undertaken several political and legislative reforms, including the adoption of a new Constitution in November 2020, albeit in a controversial popular referendum marked by a historically low voter turnout (24 per cent). Repression against peaceful Hirak activists, human rights defenders, journalists, bloggers and political opponents has increased, while laws have been passed since November 2020 that flagrantly violate fundamental rights, particularly targeting minority groups.
Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, Algeria has been among the most affected countries in Africa. Authorities began to implement containment measures in early March 2020. These included the closure of schools, universities, restaurants and shops, the cancellation of public and private events, and the shutdown of public transport and flights. A lockdown of affected areas was ordered, and a curfew was put in place in several cities, including the capital city, Algiers.
In fact, the country has suffered not only one but two recent shocks: the spread of Covid-19 and a sharp decline in oil prices. The government tried to protect salaries in the public sector and healthcare spending. Many efforts were also made to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
On 22 March 2020, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune prohibited any dissemination of country statistics on Covid-19, except from the Ministry of Health. This sowed doubt about the government’s willingness to manage the healthcare crisis in a transparent manner. A vaccination campaign in Algeria started on 29 January 2021 and as of 9 February 2022, Algeria had fully vaccinated only around 15 per cent of its total population. In a study conducted by MRG between November 2021 and March 2022, it was found that there were dramatically different levels of official information available in Tamazight (an official national language, albeit one that was recognized as such relatively recently), compared to Arabic (an official national language) and French (not an official national language). Amazigh social media users in Algeria were more likely to express no confidence in Covid-19 vaccines than the general population (28 per cent compared to 18 per cent). Among the Amazigh community in Algeria, conspiracy theories were the most frequently mentioned reservation: 25.3 per cent versus only 13 per cent of social media users from the general population, while in all other settings, there was doubt over vaccine safety. Both low levels of confidence and spread of conspiracy theories may have been influenced by a lack of information in Tamazight.
Updated January 2023
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