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Algeria forms part of the Maghreb, the mountainous farmlands along the northwest coast of Africa. Once part of the Roman Empire, it went its own way after the fall of Rome and became Muslim in the seventh century CE. In the second millennium, it formed part of the Barbary coast, notorious for its pirates. Eventually, it came under the weak control of the Ottoman Empire, until French rule came in 1830. The French ruled it as part of France, just as if it were Normandy or Provence; however, the locals had fewer rights than ethnically-French settlers, which led to a growing resentment. Finally, Algeria exploded into an eight-year war of independence from 1954, the winning party establishing a one-party socialist republic, depending heavily on its oil and gas reserves to pay its way.
Front Islamique du Salut
Translated as the Islamic Salvation Front, this organization was the political wing of the mass movement to turn Algeria definitively Islamic. The military wing was the Groupe Islamique Armé. The FIS put in a full slate of candidates for the legislative elections of December 1991. When they came out as winners of the first round, the incumbent government panicked and canceled the second round. Not very surprisingly, this triggered a brutal civil war which lasted until October 1997. Perhaps as many as 100,000 Algerians lost their lives.
Algeria's involvement in the Arab Spring has been low-key; after mass demonstrations in late 2011, the government lifted the country's state of emergency and held multi-party elections the following year. However, as the 2013 attack on a Saharan gas installation shows, Algeria is by no means out of the woods.