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Making contact with peasant society
Neil Macmaster

7 The mobile socio-medical teams (EMSI): making contact with peasant society The 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. Here, as chapter 6 has shown, conditions were particularly adverse to such a project due to a combination of poverty, illiteracy and isolation, combined with forms of military action that alienated rural communities. The key instrument of contact that was developed during Operation

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.

Neil Macmaster

forms of intervention, from unveiling and propaganda campaigns, to mobile socio-medical teams, improved access to schooling for girls, youth training programmes, the joint European–Muslim women’s circles, to the granting of voting rights and promulgation of the 1959 personal status law. This emancipation, for a variety of reasons, made very little durable impact on the bed-rock of Algerian society: as Omar Carlier notes, ‘If the weight of colonial history is enormous, if the responsibility of the former coloniser for the post-1962 order is not insignificant . . . the

in Burning the veil