The mobile socio-medical teams (EMSI)
Making contact with peasant society
in Burning the veil

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.

Burning the veil

The Algerian war and the ‘emancipation’ of Muslim women, 1954–62

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