Neil Macmaster

6 Military ‘pacification’ and the women of Bordj Okhriss So far the study of the MSF has centred mainly on grass-roots emancipation processes in urban society, but in many ways the French attempt to elaborate a strategy of contact was even more important in the isolated high plains and mountains of the interior since this is where 80 per cent of the population lived and in which the ALN maquis found its local support. This terrain provided an excellent base for the insurgents, zones that were almost impenetrable to modern armed forces, and in which the

in Burning the veil
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.

Making contact with peasant society
Neil Macmaster

socio-medical teams (EMSI) 247 Thérèse Vieillefon, posted to a resettlement camp, almost certainly Mesdour or Bordj Okhriss, described in a letter the typical conditions faced by a young ASSRA on first arrival: I am quite alone, but I think that soon I will find an assistant from among the population. The inhabitants are very poor and hungry. Since the departure of the rebels they can move about freely and come to the weekly market every Tuesday. The women are very fearful as well as the children that I find difficult to get near. But one has to proceed cautiously

in Burning the veil
Neil Macmaster

getting married in the town-hall of Bordj Okhriss after implementation of the 1959 Personal Status law if the new arrangements for marriage and repudiation clash too much with the peoples customs or interests, they will ignore them just as they have done up to now for all the laws relating to the état civil, without invoking for that matter any argument of a religious nature’.89 The reports show a strong consensus that the popular masses that made up over 90 per cent of Algerian society, ‘an extremely conformist society’, clung doggedly to custom. Fauque reported that

in Burning the veil
Open Access (free)
Neil Macmaster

particular the photographs of M1822 - MACMASTER TEXT.indd 14 21/7/09 12:16:10 Introduction 15 Marc Garanger have served as the starting point of a detailed case-study approach (chapter 6) to the situation of peasant women within the context of military violence and ‘reform’ in the isolated village of Bordj Okhriss. In chapter 1 it is argued that an organised Algerian women’s movement appeared much later than in many other states in the Maghreb and Middle East. During the decade 1944–54 a militant and dynamic organisation first appeared in the major urban centres as an

in Burning the veil