In May 1958, and four years into the Algerian War of Independence, a revolt again appropriated the revolutionary and republican symbolism of the French Revolution by seizing power through a Committee of Public Safety. This book explores why a repressive colonial system that had for over a century maintained the material and intellectual backwardness of Algerian women now turned to an extensive programme of 'emancipation'. After a brief background sketch of the situation of Algerian women during the post-war decade, it discusses the various factors contributed to the emergence of the first significant women's organisations in the main urban centres. It was only after the outbreak of the rebellion in 1954 and the arrival of many hundreds of wives of army officers that the model of female interventionism became dramatically activated. The French military intervention in Algeria during 1954-1962 derived its force from the Orientalist current in European colonialism and also seemed to foreshadow the revival of global Islamophobia after 1979 and the eventual moves to 'liberate' Muslim societies by US-led neo-imperialism in Afghanistan and Iraq. For the women of Bordj Okhriss, as throughout Algeria, the French army represented a dangerous and powerful force associated with mass destruction, brutality and rape. The central contradiction facing the mobile socio-medical teams teams was how to gain the trust of Algerian women and to bring them social progress and emancipation when they themselves were part of an army that had destroyed their villages and driven them into refugee camps.
This chapter provides a general contextualisation and interpretive framework to set the scene for the more detailed investigation that follows. The term 'emancipation' is used in the sense that it was used constantly during the Algerian War by the colonial government and military. The French emancipation agenda was built on a Eurocentric cultural model of domesticity through which Muslim women would reach true freedom by a modernisation process that would 'westernise' them in every respect. It is argued that the French army had a much stronger motivation to deploy a discourse and practice of liberation than the Front de libération nationale, which assumed a more reactive position. In the drive to bring Algerian women on side, the military had come to share one of the key ideological beliefs of Algerian nationalism, the view that women and the family constituted the last remaining bastion of religious, cultural and social identity.
The origins of the Algerian women’s movement, 1945–54
This chapter provides a brief background sketch of the overall social, economic and political situation of Algerian women during the post-war decade. It looks at the movements to show the new forms of activism and organisation that emerged after 1944, and the differing ideological currents at work. The chapter looks at Algerian women's movements to show in more detail the new forms of activism and organisation that emerged after 1944, and the differing ideological currents at work. The chapter discusses the role of Union des femmes d'Algérie, Union démocratique du manifeste algérien, and Association des Ulema musulmans algériens. In May 1945, the colonial regime unleashed an extremely violent repression at Sétif and imprisoned thousands of nationalists, but far from bringing the independence movement to a halt this simply deepened the political crisis and drove the nationalists towards the preparation of an armed insurrection.
This chapter, which covers the first half of the Algerian War from 1 November 1954 until the coup of '13 May' 1958, falls into two parts. During a first phase from 1954 to mid-1956, which was dominated by the governorship of Jacques Soustelle, the Algiers government made little attempt to formulate a policy that was directly aimed at Muslim women. The second phase, which lasted from 1956 until 1958, saw the appearance of an intense debate that was focused on Algerian women. The Algiers government of Robert Lacoste responded with a range of initiatives that included a propaganda campaign on emancipation and un-veiling. The psychological warfare officers of the Fifth Bureau were interested in the counter-insurgency and repressive implications of women's emancipation. Jean Servier appears to have been the first person during the war to design a military programme that was directed specifically at peasant women.
Throughout the period from early 1956 to early 1958 putschist forces had been gathering strength both within the army and among rightwing settler organisations and these eventually coalesced on 13 May 1958 when crowds gathered in the Forum and stormed the General Government buildings. This chapter examines the all-male 'fraternisation' ceremonies of 16 May, before moving on to the symbolic unveiling from 17 to 18 May, because of the light that it sheds on the organisation of the psychological warfare offensive. The centrality of the Forum parades during the journées of '13 May' can be considered as a form of ralliement. The chapter also examines how the Fifth Bureau got Algerian men to assemble on 16 May for the displays of 'fraternisation'. It explores the social, political and class background of the women on the unveiling demonstrations.
The French army faced a major problem in its campaign of emancipation, how to reach out to the mass of over four million women, most of whom were illiterate and scattered over the surface of a huge territory in villages or secluded settlements. The task of developing contacts that could reach all Algerian women presented a formidable challenge. This chapter looks at the role of mass media communication which was developed centrally by the government and military to reach women across the entire geographical space of Algeria. It looks at the propaganda use of film which provided a powerful, visual means for reaching an uneducated audience. The chapter examines the content of the radio programmes that were specifically designed for women. The French army had experimented with radio propaganda in 1951 during the war in Vietnam but had abandoned the idea because of the paucity of receivers among the population.
There has been much research on the process of 'domesticating the empire', the methods by which French and other imperial regimes attempted to intervene in, regulate or remake indigenous family life in its own image. This chapter aims to investigate the overt and implicit meanings of the model of family life, companionate marriage and gender roles that underpinned the emancipation campaign. It was French policy in Africa, Indochina and elsewhere to encourage wives of the military and colonial service to volunteer for welfare work with native women. The wives of senior army officers and certain types of female army personnel (mainly nurses) played the key role in forming the Mouvement de solidarité féminine (MSF). The chapter presents three case-studies of three circles, Héliopolis, Rio-Salado and Palissy, to illustrate the inner workings of the local MSF.
The French attempt to elaborate a strategy of contact was important in the isolated regions of Algeria since this is where most of the population lived and in which the Armée de libération nationale maquis found its local support. This chapter looks at the larger oeuvre of Marc Garanger, which consists of over 10,000 photographs of local women of the isolated village of Bordj Okhriss, who were coerced by the army to remove their veils in order to be photographed. It examines the direct impact of the French army on civilian populations in the zones of combat, and the destructive process of resettlement. At the core of the military pacification programme was the mass resettlement of the rural population into camps. The chapter also shows that peasant women were faced with the extraordinary ambiguities and contradictory pressures of civil war.
The French army faced a particularly daunting task in its ambition to create a strategy of contact, which would enable it to penetrate into the lives of the great mass of Algerian women that inhabited the interior. The key instrument of contact that was developed during Operation Pilot and then extended to the rest of Algeria from late 1957 onwards was the mobile socio-medical teams (EMSI). This chapter considers the role of the EMSI. The Fifth Bureau and army commanders frequently expressed high hopes that the EMSI, through their ability to reach over to peasant women and penetrate the previously impermeable fortress of the Muslim family, would provide important intelligence. The chapter examines the inherent weakness and incapacity of the organisation and the extent to which the official propaganda drive, concerning an efficient, trouble-free organisation, impressive in its humanity and scope, met resistance from the Algerian peasantry.
While some attempts to transform the position of women involved long-term change, most notably access to education and the personal status law, leant themselves to interventionism and attempts to impose radical transformation from 'above'. This chapter looks at the issue of women's franchise and examines the marriage code. The key features of Algerian marriage law and custom on the eve of the 1959 French reform meant that young single women would have a marriage arranged for them by the father or legal guardian. After the success of the women's vote in the referendum of 28 September General Salan sent a telegram to General de Gaulle noting that the 'massive participation of Muslim women' had given a green light to the next stage of emancipation. Crucial to Algerian reactions to legal reform was the fact that through many centuries Islam had adapted to the 'ground rules' that regulated marriage strategies.