An Algerian flag flutters as people gather during a protest over President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's decision to postpone elections and extend his fourth term in office, in Algiers, Algeria March 15, 2019. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Algerian people fly it proudly, and in all circumstances. But what is the precise meaning behind these colors and this crescent moon decorated with a star? The vexillology, the study of flags, is a precious source to understand the history of a country: it often reveals the personality, the strengths and the values of a people. Here is the decryption of the Algerian flag.
Plenty of symbols
The flag as we know it dates back from the 1920s/1930s, but earlier versions already existed in the Middle Ages. The Algerian flag became the symbol of the independent Algerian state in 1962. It displays three colors on a two-color background with green and white vertical stripes, adorned with two red symbols, a crescent moon and a five-pointed star in its center.
These colors are far from being randomly chosen: indeed, green is often associated with Islam but can also evoke the cultivation of the land and agriculture, and white purity, or peace. As for the red color, it is said to represent vigor, or the blood of martyrs.
Regarding the crescent moon and the star, it is a very old and widespread combination from the 3rd century BC, across the Mediterranean basin to India!
These signs are often used in religious symbolism and iconography, which is the set of visual art representations on the same subject: indeed, this representation of the moon illustrates the last crescent of the lunar cycle which marks the end of Ramadan, and the 5-pointed star, the 5 pillars of Islam.
We can therefore distinguish a strong symbolism of Islam, as for most flags of the Arab and Muslim world. But the Algerian flag has another particularity: it is a clever combination of the flags of several Berber peoples present in the country, and thus pays them tribute. Indeed, in the Middle Ages, Algeria was not a unified country, but a territory under the control of the most powerful dynasties, which succeeded one another over half a century, from 909 to 1556. These include the Fatimids (909-1127), the Ifrenids (790-1066), the Hafsids in the East (1230-1574), and the Zianids (1235-1556), various Arab-Muslim dynasties. And it is clear that their flags and coats of arms are strangely reminiscent of Algeria’s, proof of their influence on the country.
Finally, the flag that we know today was adopted by the FLN (National Liberation Front), a political movement at the heart of the emancipation of Algeria, and then became the official flag of the Algerian state at the time of its independence, on April 25, 1963.
The elements of the flag are used for the official coat of arms of the country, the coat of arms of the city of Algiers, or the presidential flag. Symbol of the recovered freedom and the fight for independence, the famous flag is displayed on public buildings on Independence Day July 5, and during the anniversary of the Algerian Revolution on November 1st.
But you may also come across it during less official events, such as football games and any other sports competitions…