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Algeria is the largest country in the Maghreb region, which is thesection of northwestern Africa that includes Morocco and Tunisia,and that lies between the Mediterranean Sea and the AtlasMountains. Algeria is also the second largest country in Africa(after Sudan). Its name comes from an Arabic word Jaza'ir(islands), referring to the islands north of the capital, Algiers.

Independent for less than 50 years, Algeria was ruled by Francefrom 1871 until 1962. The years of independence have not beenpeaceful ones. An eight-year civil war ended as recently as 2002,and the country is still gaining strength. And despite Algiers'whitewashed sparkle and recent growth, the city is far fromperfect. Unemployment is high; petroleum revenues have not beenadequately diverted to much-needed infrastructure upgrades; waterand power supplies are not entirely reliable; and extremist groupshave become increasingly active.

For the foreigner who does venture there, caution is required,as is knowledge of some local customs. Arabic is the officiallanguage, and Algerians speak their own version of it (known,conveniently, as Algerian Arabic) which differs from the standardArabic used by the government and media. Berber has nationallanguage designation, and French is taught in schools and isspoken by many. Recently, schools have introduced English in thehigher grades. For doing business and daily living, some knowledgeof Algerian Arabic is necessary and appreciated.

Algeria, independent from France for 45 years, is a democraticrepublic. Its constitution was ratified on September 8, 1963, andhas been revised four times since then.

The chief of state is the president. Historically, the presidentwas elected for a five-year term and eligible for a second term.But in 2008, president Abdelaziz Bouteflika removed the position'sterm limit and was re-elected to a third term himself in April2009, under heavy protest citing voter fraud.

Universal age of suffrage is 18. The president appoints theprime minster, who acts as head of government.

Parliament has two houses. The National People's Assembly's(Al-Majlis Ech-Chaabi Al-Watani) 389 members are elected tofive-year terms by popular vote. The Council of Nations' 144 seatsare split: two-thirds are elected to six-year terms, one thirdappointed by the president. Half the council is replaced everythree years.

Prior to independence, Algeria's economy was based on agriculture.Today, natural gas and oil form the economic basis, accounting foralmost a third of GDP and about 97% of export revenue.

The years between 1962 and the present have not represented aneasy ride to rich resources. Foreign debt burdened the country foryears; government-run industry favored red tape over efficiency;lack of adequate, reliable water and power sources limited industryand caused health problems.

But, thanks to IMP-supported monetary reforms and the steadyprice of oil, Algeria has reduced its foreign debt and has tradesurpluses and higher GDP even as the government works to diversifybeyond the energy industry. Still, some of the old challenges– and new ones caused by increased violent activity byextremists - keep improvements from progressing at a predictablysteady rate.

Algeria is a member of the United Nations, African Union, ArabLeague, Arab Maghreb Union, OPEC and OPAEC (Organization of ArabPetroleum Exporting Countries), Group of 15, and OIC (Organizationof the Islamic Conference).

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Official Name: People's Democratic Republic ofAlgeria
Capital City: Algiers
Official Language: Arabic
Area: 2,381,740 sq km/919,595 sq mi
Population: 34.5 million
Religion: Muslim (Sunni) 99%; Christian and Jewish 1%
Currency: Algerian dinar (DZD)
Time Zone: GMT plus 1 hour; N. Eastern Standard Time (EST)plus 6 hrs. Daylight Saving Time is not observed.
Weights and Measures: Metric system
Country Domain: .dz
Country Tel Code: 213