Algeria is located on the Mediterranean coast of Africa. The Sahara Desert rests along the country’s southern border, while the coastal plains of Tunisia and Morocco line its eastern and western edges. The Tell Atlas mountain chain splits the country between its desert interior and its temperate coast. This coastal region supports Mediterranean agriculture, including olives, citrus, vines and vegetables. The country also boasts deposits of coal, iron and phosphates. But for the most part the energy sector dominates the Algerian economy, leaving the state exposed to the rise and fall of the oil market. Algeria’s Saharan interior, bordering Libya, Mali, Mauritania and the Western Sahara, plays host to many of the country’s oil and natural gas fields, which account for about 94 percent of Algerian exports. Throughout Algeria’s history, most of its population has lived north of the Tell Atlas mountain chain. Because the nation’s power and politics center on the coastal cities of Algiers, Constantine and Oran, it has long been exposed to the influence and might of its neighbors rimming the Mediterranean Sea — especially northern powers such as ancient Rome and imperial France. But fortifying the coast comes at a price: The Algerian government’s grip is weaker in the desert interior, where the country is vulnerable to smuggling and infiltration from nearby countries. Since gaining independence from France in 1962, Algeria has navigated between competing ideological forces like pan-Arabism, communism and political Islam. All of these belief systems came from other Mediterranean powers like as Egypt and France, transiting the coastal plains or the Mediterranean sea to reach Algeria. To avoid being subsumed into these various transnational movements, successful Algerian states have focused on controlling the country’s coastal heartland, extending power south of the Tell Atlas once this critical region is secure.

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