Open Access (free)
The Algerian war and the ‘emancipation’ of Muslim women, 1954–62
Author: Neil Macmaster

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.

Neil Macmaster

2 The origins of the emancipation campaign, November 1954 to May 1958 The military coup of 13 May 19581 was marked by demonstrations of ‘fraternisation’ when Muslim women unveiled en masse on the Algiers Forum. This has been widely seen as a quasi-revolutionary moment that dramatically initiated the emancipation campaign. However, as will be seen in chapter 3, the illusion of a revolutionary break in May 1958 was successfully created by the propagandists of the psychological warfare bureau. Emancipation, far from springing forth perfectly formed as a triumphant

in Burning the veil
Neil Macmaster

10 From women’s radical nationalism to the restoration of patriarchy (1959–62) The final stages of the war from late 1959 until early 1962 saw the most overt and radical phase of women’s nationalist activism and evident signs of the failure of the emancipation agenda to make any significant or durable impact on Muslim women. However, this apparent sign of female radicalisation proved to be illusory since at a more hidden, but potent level, it was paralleled during the final years of the war by two developments that in the long term were to carry enormous

in Burning the veil
Neil Macmaster

Algérie française.7 For Salan the goal was not only to win the ‘Yes’ vote but also to maximise the number of women on the electoral rolls and of participation so as to demonstrate to the world that Muslim women were fully prepared to integrate and to engage as citizens in the political process.8 This concerted campaign for registration and the ‘Yes’ vote was carried out at local level with the aid of the MSF and EMSI, as well as through radio broadcasts and the distribution of specially made films such as ‘Vote Yes’ and ‘How to Vote’.9 Lucienne Salan, the quasi

in Burning the veil
Open Access (free)
Neil Macmaster

of the events of May 1945, the rebels orchestrated ceremonies of mass unveiling by Muslim women and quickly promulgated a raft of ‘emancipation’ policies. One of the questions that this book explores is how and why this U-turn came about. Why was it that a repressive colonial system that had for over a century maintained the material and intellectual backwardness of Algerian women now, in the M1822 - MACMASTER TEXT.indd 2 21/7/09 12:16:10 Introduction 3 midst of a bloody war of decolonisation, turned to an extensive programme of ‘emancipation’, which included

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Army wives and domesticating the ‘native’
Neil Macmaster

attempt to form Muslim women in a particular mould. During the last two decades there has been much research on the process of ‘domesticating the empire’, the methods by which British, Dutch, Portuguese and French imperial regimes attempted to intervene in, regulate or remake indigenous family life in its own image.1 This chapter aims, in part, to investigate the overt and implicit meanings of the model of family life, companionate marriage and gender roles that underpinned the emancipation campaign. The paternalistic origins of domesticity are complex and varied from

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The origins of the Algerian women’s movement, 1945–54
Neil Macmaster

challenge by close police surveillance of the new women’s organisations, and by careful structuring of the Algerian electoral system and ‘representative’ institutions so as to totally exclude Muslim women. This containment, which was symptomatic of the overall blockage of reform by settler interests intent on preserving their domination, helped drive the nationalists from a reformist towards a revolutionary solution. The failure of reform through the decade 1944–54 enables us to see how the military-led programme of emancipation after 1954, examined in M1822 - MACMASTER

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Open Access (free)
The failure of history
Neil Macmaster

that was later powerfully reinforced through Pontecorvo’s Battle of Algiers and the works of Franz Fanon, was one of heroic armed fighters that were actively dynamiting all the Orientalist stereotypes of Muslim women as secluded and supine slaves of male domination. But this misperception provided evidence more of the successful nature of FLN propaganda than a meaningful transformation of the role of women. Algerian women did break through some of the constraints of gender, as have women almost universally in modern times under the exceptional conditions of ‘total

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Making contact with peasant society
Neil Macmaster

, and be able to locate and recruit one or two young Muslim women of sufficient skill and potential to train ‘on the job’ as ASSRA. Each EMSI, generally a mixed team of one European and one or two Algerians, was thus formed over a period of time in each locality, and once it had achieved a solid basis of support through ‘in depth work’, the EMSI leader was supposed to move on and restart the process in another group of douars so that the process of emancipation could spread gradually throughout a sector. M1822 - MACMASTER TEXT.indd 246 21/7/09 12:16:24 The mobile

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The ‘revolutionary journées’ of 13 May 1958
Neil Macmaster

propaganda success that Psychological Action officers of the Fifth Bureau decided to extend ‘fraternisation’ to include Muslim women, a far more novel and controversial action. On the evening of the following day, Saturday 17 May, the dramatic arrival of the hero of the Algérie française crowds, Jacques Soustelle, after his escape from virtual house-arrest in Paris, was marked by unprecedented scenes as a group of young Algerian women removed and burned their haïks before the General Government. The next day this M1822 - MACMASTER TEXT.indd 115 21/7/09 12:16:16 116

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