Addendum on “Regionalism”

UPDATED: Scroll to the bottom to see an update and new chart.

In response to the previous post on “regionalism” in Algeria, Houwari writes:

The east also has proportionally more Algerians. The habitable strip narrows down as you go West. The East has more populous Wilayas, Setif and Constantine are thought to have overtaken Oran in population, add to that Annaba, Constantine and the huge concentration of population from Jijel to Boumerdes. That could partly explain why there is more domination from the East (and why the fighting against France was fierce there).

What do you think of the South? it is not populous, but many think that Ouargla has a disproportionate political influence over other southern Wilayas, or even over many other Wilayas in general. There are currently 5 senators of Ouargla and I believe one minister.

There is truth in this. Historically, the largest cities in Algeria were Algiers, Constantine and Oran. Annaba, Setif, Tizi Ouzou, Bejaia and the cities/towns around Algiers grew to become ever more important population centers. According to the French Wikipedia (which uses population projections based on the 1998 census), the twelve most populous wilayat are: Algiers,  Setif, Oran, Djelfa, Tizi Ouzou, Batna, Chlef, M’Sila, Bejaia, Tlemcen and Skikda. All have more more than 900,000 people; all but Bejaia, Tlemcen and Skikda have more than one million. Of the top twelve most populous wilayat, four are “eastern” (Setif, Batna, M’Sila, Skikda) two are in Kabylia (Tizi Ouzou and Bejaia), three are western (Oran, Chlef, Tlemcen) and two are central (counting Algiers  and Djelfa as “central”). Annaba, the major eastern port, is 28th (of 48) for population. Now take the most populous western and eastern provinces by area and by density. This gives a pretty good idea about the geography of northern Algeria:

Setif: 6,504 sq. km.; 230 persons/sq. km.

Batna: 12,1920 sq. km.; 92.5/sq. km.

M’Sila: 18,718 sq. km.; 53/sq. km.

Skikda: 4,026 sq. km.;  224.6/sq. km.

Oran: 2,121 sq. km.; 680.4/sq. km.

Tlemcen: 9,061 sq. km.; 104.4/sq. km.

Chlef: 4,975 sq. km./ 203.8/sq. km.

In the Batna-Tebessa-Souq Ahras/Skikda triangle, the largest cities are Constantine and Batna. Tebessa, Souq Aharan, Oumm el-Bouaghi and the other provinces in that vicinity have somewhat sparse populations, widely dispersed. It is notable that in the western part of the country, the important population centers are clustered close together while in the east the population centers are more spread out (which is also true in Naama or southern Sidi Bel Abbas). What is telling is that the Tlemcen-Magnia-Nedroma triangle, from which Bouteflika is said to draw his close confidants is entirely inside the Wilaya of Tlemcen, although many other westerners in his “clan” come from Oran or the provinces neighboring Tlemcen.

Population density.

The map above gives only the major cities in particular regions, but not provincial boundaries or minor cities; it illustrates the point that eastern Algeria is somewhat more populous than western Algeria, though western Algeria is more densely populated for the reasons Houwari mentions. Additionally, Kabylia is just full of people. There is a thick concentration of people from the areas just outside Algiers through Jijel; this area is relatively greener compared to eastern or western Algeria; it has many “villages” that nowadays qualify as small cities. Eastern Algeria has a more semi-arid climate the further south-east one goes, characterized by rocky and hilly terrain. The population in Kabylia is historically sedentary (more or less), unlike in much of eastern Algeria where semi-pastoralism was the norm until fairly recently. Western Algeria has some of that too; note that the mountains south of Tlemcen and Oran give way to the dry, desert like High Plateaus. The difficult Saharan Atlas help to provide some of the water that creates the oases in eastern Algeria.

Wilaya divisions are out of date.

So what this means is that it makes some sense for there to be a larger number of easterners to be involved in national politics in Algeria; there are more people concentrated in that part of the country and for its cultural influence to be larger relative to someplace like, say, Adrar or Ouargla. The same would go for other major population centers like the area around Oran or Algiers — and that is generally what happens in Algeria’s national politics. Very few personalities come from the south, though as Houwari notes Ouargla has 5 senators when its population is relatively puny and a minister (for reasons neither of us could figure out) —  its population is 552,539. What is interesting, though, is that Ghardaia tends to take a great deal of representation where the “south” is concerned; in cabinets it is usually the only southern wilaya to have a member, due to it being the largest population center and its peculiarities ethnically and religiously. There was no desire to allow an area like that feel estranged from the state. Ouargla has Hassi Messaoud (not be confused with Hassi R’mel), a major center of the hydrocarbons industry; this is its only notable feature of late, other than it being home to several military installations. It thus has economic importance that might help explain its outsized representation in government.

UPDATE: Consider the following chart, relative to the above information and comments:

Think about this in the context of fears of Bouteflika having a “western” bias. Though Tlemcen out number all other provinces in terms of ministers, it is itself outnumbered by all other provinces. “Tunisia” and “Morocco” account for men born outside Algeria to Algerian parents (such as Interior Minister Zerhouni whose family is from western Algeria). Note that Tlemcen has more ministers than any other western province (Relizane has but one). The eastern provinces have at most two a piece. Constantine only has one.

4 thoughts on “Addendum on “Regionalism”

  1. As for the East being a centre of resistance against us (French), I believe it also comes from two other fairly logical reasons. The first is that it was the last part to be actually colonized (if I am not mistaken). That would make it the first likely to rebel. The second and I think the most important reason, on top of the demographic aspect explained by Kal, is the external support. Most support for the FLN and other resistance movements was coming from both Egypt and Tunisia (and of course other countries, but mostly via Tunisia). Morocco on the other side, was much better controlled by the remaining French influence.

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