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Our fighting sistersNation, memory and gender in Algeria, 1954-2012$

Natalya Vince

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780719091070

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9780719091070.001.0001

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Continuities and discontinuities

(p.102) 3 1962
Our fighting sisters

Natalya Vince

Manchester University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter considers 1962 from two perspectives. Firstly, its symbolic importance, as the end of the war, the birth of a new Algeria, and what is, in many accounts, the beginning of the end – ‘where it all went wrong’. It explores how interviewees fit into popular narratives about the ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ of independence which have developed since 1962, but, secondly, it also examines, on an individual level, the opportunities which independence presented. In 1962, the Algerian economy and infrastructure were destroyed. The desperate need for a qualified, or at least literate, workforce presented new opportunities for educated women and men, although for many women without formal education, the new roles available to them were much more limited and there were many continuities across the colonial and post-independence periods.

Keywords:   1962, Winners and losers, Opportunities, Continuities, Education

Tents and villas

Lucette Hadj Ali spent six years of the War of Independence living in clandestinity, as a member of Combattants de la Libération (Combatants of Liberation, CDL), a network within the PCA which allied with the FLN in 1956. Obliged to change safe house constantly to avoid arrest, at one point in 1962 she was living with communist leaders Bachir Hadj Ali (whom she would marry in 1963) and Sadek Hadjeres on a road leading from the centre of Algiers up to the heights of El Biar, a favoured residential location amongst the European population. From the vantage point of the balcony of her rented apartment, she caught a glimpse of many of the key events which would mark the end of French rule and the birth of independent Algeria. She saw members of the OAS, the right-wing paramilitary group composed of renegade army officers and settlers who refused to accept the loss of French Algeria, murder an Algerian man who had stopped to fill up his car at the petrol station across the road. She saw the first soldiers from the wilaya IV (the region around Algiers) arrive in the capital straight from the maquis: ‘They went down [what is today] the Boulevard Bougara,1 totally ragged and with their uniform in shreds, it was really something, just before the declaration of independence’. Lucette vividly remembers the declaration of independence on 5 July 1962:


  • Bachir [Hadj Ali] and Sadek [Hadjeres] had left [the apartment] beforehand to go into the Algerian districts [of Algiers]. We didn’t know what the OAS was going to unleash, so it was better to be protected. I was with Eliette Loup [a fellow communist activist and wife of Hadjeres]; we ran the last copy of our newspaper (p.103) [Al Houriyya] and wound everything up. We needed to go to an area with more Algerians.
  • NV:

  • To protect yourselves from the OAS?
  • LHA:

  • Yes, and also to protect ourselves from certain elements in the FLN, we didn’t really know what the impact would be on the party [PCA]. So 5 July – it was extraordinary. We found ourselves at the Ruisseau junction [an area in the centre of Algiers], we were meant to be heading up towards [the district of] Kouba. I saw the last French cop leave, there were crowds of people streaming out, we couldn’t go any further. I was banging on the side of our car [chanting] ‘Algerian Algeria, Algerian Algeria’. Algerians were passing by, they were heading towards the Grande Poste [main post office] in the centre of town, and they smiled at us, two European women who were chanting ‘Algerian Algeria’. No one confronted us. It was joy everywhere. Those are memories which are unforgettable, unforgettable, unforgettable.2
  • In rural Kabylia, Chérifa Akache describes similar scenes of elation:

    After independence, I went back to Kabylia [she had sought refuge with her parents in Algiers in the last years of the war], we paraded, we climbed up on to lorries, we said ‘Long live Algeria, tahya al-jaza’ir’, there were lots of drums, we danced for nights and nights, we spent the night outside. The mujahidin called us ‘our mothers, our sisters’; they said to us ‘Nothing will happen to you, you’re safe’.3

    The accounts of Lucette Hadj Ali and Chérifa Akache not only capture the enthusiasm and delight of the days which followed independence, they also depict a revolutionary moment, encapsulated by the disintegration of the boundaries separating ‘male’ space from ‘female’ space, ‘European’ districts from ‘Muslim’ districts, rural maquisards and urban areas. Women occupied public space in ways that would have been unthinkable before – dancing alongside men and staying out all night. The Algerian inhabitants of towns with significant European populations both literally and symbolically appropriated the urban geography. They marched and partied through districts which were previously almost exclusively European; they moved into the houses of departing European families, most of whom fled, fearing rightly or wrongly their only choice was between ‘the suitcase or the coffin’. Ferroudja Amarouche migrated from her village of Bouzeguene to Algiers at the end of the war and acquired the former apartment of a European family. She (p.104) explains: ‘We took the house of some French people at Champ de manoeuvres [today Place du 1er mai], and my mother-in-law said to me, ‘Al-hamdulillah [Thanks to God], they smashed up our homes, now we live in theirs’.4 Not everyone, however, got a new home, as Chérifa Akache explains:


  • Those who sorted themselves out, they took the villas, they took the houses, and people like us didn’t take anything. We were given tents.
  • NV:

  • Who got the villas?
  • CA:

  • The smart ones, they gave them to their brothers and sisters. Those who really sacrificed themselves, they never came back so they couldn’t do anything. The mujahidin who came back, they helped their fathers, their mothers and their brothers. Those who really sacrificed are dead and their families didn’t get anything.5
  • Chérifa Akache’s husband was one of those who never came back.

    The undercurrent to all this joy was political uncertainty, infighting and internecine violence and the beginning of arguments about the ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ of independence. Moreover, whilst there was a feeling of jubilant recklessness at the usual order being turned upside down, there was also an intense yearning for a semblance of normality and order, which Chérifa Akache underlines when she talks about the mujahidin reassuring civil populations that they were now ‘safe’.

    As independence approached, the FLN–ALN imploded. At a basic level, this implosion was the public combustion of a conflict which had long been simmering behind closed doors, pitching the negotiators of the March 1962 Evian Accords – that is to say, the GPRA, presided over in Tunis by Benyoucef Ben Khedda from August 1961 onwards – against the army generals of the EMG, led by Colonel Boumediene, with strongholds in the border towns of Ghardimaou (Tunisia) and Oujda (Morocco). After his release from prison in France in March 1962, the founding FLN member Ben Bella made a strategic alliance with the EMG, bringing his popular legitimacy to their military manpower and firepower, although the relationship was not without tensions. Within Algerian territory, Ben Bella and Boumediene could count on the support of the wilayat of the Aurès (wilaya I), some officers in North Constantine (wilaya II) and Oran (wilaya V) and some dissenting groups, organised by emissaries of the EMG, within the (p.105) Fédération de France (wilaya VII). The wilayat of Kabylia (III), Algiers (IV), the head of the wilaya I (Colonel Salah Boubnider), the Federal Committee of the Fédération de France and the founding FLN leaders Boudiaf, Aït Ahmed and Krim Belkacem opposed the EMG but were not necessarily united.

    This was a confused and complicated situation, far from a straightforward confrontation between politicians and military men, supporters of democracy and advocates of authoritarianism, or between soldiers of the interior against those of the exterior. As Amar Mohand Amer argues, the FLN was ‘more an agglomeration of leaders than the expression of a party with democratic mechanisms to take power’.6 The choice between the EMG or the GPRA – or, as alliances developed in the summer of 1962, between the ‘Tlemcen group’ (where Ben Bella set up his base in July and created a Political Bureau to replace the GPRA) and the ‘Tizi Ouzou group’ (the headquarters of his opponents) – was in many cases a strategic one for key FLN–ALN figures, aimed at strengthening their positions in preparation for the post-independence order.

    These divisions meant little to the vast majority of the Algerian population. The inhabitants of Algiers were perplexed to see fighting break out between supporters of the Ben Bella–Boumediene alliance and maquisards of the interior, notably from the wilaya IV. They took to the streets to shout ‘seven years, that’s enough’. It would be the Ben Bella–EMG alliance and their superior military might which would win out, and their factions of the FLN would metamorphose from a wartime front into a state apparatus which has maintained its hold on power to the present day.

    In this context, Lucette Hadj Ali’s reference to the dishevelled soldiers she saw arriving in Algiers from the wilaya IV is not just a description: it is also a coded political statement. Their ragged appearance and shredded uniforms are both the physical evidence of their real participation in the war, fighting on Algerian soil to free Algeria, and the explanation for why these men and their allies and supporters failed to outmanoeuvre the Tlemcen group in summer 1962. By September 1962, Ben Bella was installed in Algiers as president. At the start of December 1962, he dissolved the briefly reformed PCA and Lucette and her fellow communists were forced back into a clandestine, or semi-clandestine, existence. Key figures of the Tizi Ouzou group such as Aït Ahmed and Boudiaf would soon be exiled.

    (p.106) This chapter examines 1962 through two approaches. The first approach is that of social history. The chapter seeks to evoke a revolutionary moment, challenging the vision of women going ‘back into the kitchen’ in 1962 after the ‘parenthesis’ of the war, whilst at the same time exploring how continuities between the colonial and post-colonial periods – and women’s levels of education and socio-economic status – determined to what extent independence would offer them new opportunities. In women’s testimonies, 1962 is neither a cut-off point nor a year zero, but a whole new world in which many things stayed the same. Precisely because we are working with oral history, the second approach engages with the highly politicised historiography of Algeria. The chapter explores the symbolic significance which 1962 has acquired in accounts of independent Algeria, as the watershed moment when either independence was consolidated or the revolution betrayed. It seeks to unpick how women’s narratives of where they were and what they were doing in 1962 are entwined with anxieties about their own political legitimacy and relationship to power in Algeria then and now. We begin with this second approach.

    Narratives of political legitimacy: Where were you in 1962? Who were you with and what were you doing?

    Unlike Lucette Hadj Ali and Chérifa Akache, Khadjidja Belguembour did not celebrate independence on 5 July 1962. When I interviewed her, Khadjidja Belguembour lived in a working-class district of Algiers, but her origins are in a small village, Douar Ben Yeftah, in what is today the wilaya of Jijel. She had little access to formal education and says that she had never seen a settler or a Frenchman before the War of Independence. A maquisarde in the east of Algeria (wilaya II), Khadjidja describes the period between March and July 1962 as one of very limited communication, in which infighting between different factions of the FLN–ALN manifested itself in assassinations and violence which baffled most maquisards. Indeed, her maquis unit did not initially know that a ceasefire had come into place with the signing of the Evian Accords in March 1962 – they had no radio. In the months that followed, the head of Khadjidja’s wilaya, Colonel Boubnider, tactically allied with the GPRA, whilst one of his commanders, Larbi Berredjem, sided with the EMG. But Khadjidja did not know this at the time: ‘I was (p.107) apolitical so I didn’t even know there was an interior [army] or an exterior [army]. I didn’t know.’

    Following her marriage in the maquis, in May 1962 Khadjidja left her rural guerrilla unit to join her new husband in the city of Constantine. She saw him twice before he disappeared, kidnapped, she says ‘by the army of Tunis, the army of Ben Bella’. She then thinks the brothers of her husband – who were also mujahidin – managed to get him released, and he was in Morocco, or maybe even France: ‘Independence for me, it wasn’t joyous. We didn’t have a home, we didn’t have anywhere to go, and we didn’t have any money. Our lives were threatened every second of the day, there was a price on our heads, all those who were in the maquis, who were in the interior.’

    In mid-June, Khadjidja Belguembour returned to her parents in Mila, a town fifty kilometres from Constantine, but a few days later she says that she too was kidnapped by supporters of the Ben Bella–EMG alliance:


  • The women, they stuck us in barracks, we were three hundred girls. Three hundred mujahidat stuck in the Beni H’Miden barracks, a kilometre outside Constantine. You needed to see in what conditions! They housed us in tents, it was a former French army barracks, and the conditions were appalling. The leaders, the maquisards with whom I carried out the revolution, I never saw them again. Other people came – it was strange, we asked the question, ‘where are our brothers from the maquis?’ These people, we don’t know them, they don’t look like soldiers. First off, the night before we saw them in civilian clothes. They are rude, vulgar; they are there to get revenge on us. They don’t know how to carry their weapons, they don’t look right in their uniforms.
  • NV:

  • Why did they put all these mujahidat in the barracks?
  • KB:

  • Because we were a threat, some men had stayed in the maquis – those who had understood. But we hadn’t […] [In the barracks] we didn’t eat properly, our lives were in danger, we were not safe, they swore at us instead of respecting us. Out of disrespect, at night they came and pissed on our tents.
  • According to Khadjidja Belguembour, these women were being held to stop them joining the men who had remained in the maquis and to serve the new soldiers who had taken control of the city, by cooking and cleaning. These women were also a pool of potential marriageable young women:

    (p.108) One day, I can’t remember the exact date because it was horrible, they brought around a group of men. They made the girls come out, they asked them to take a shower beforehand, and they chose brides. They sold them like sheep, because there were some girls with us who had no family left. So they said: ‘You can marry this one, you can marry that one.’ Like sheep.

    Khadjidja describes terrified mujahidat stealing guns and sleeping with them under their pillows at night as ‘we were scared we were going to be raped’. ‘Even after 5 July, we weren’t freed, they brought us along [to an independence day celebration], they made us put the uniform on, they told us it was “5 July”. We were made to do it.’ This independence day ‘celebration’ nevertheless provided Khadjidja with the opportunity to meet some injured maquisards, who were still in hospital and who wanted to be nursed by women who had been in the maquis – and who spoke Arabic – rather than French doctors. Khadjidja was allowed to go and work at the hospital, but she was picked up and returned to the barracks every evening. ‘Even if I had been allowed to go out, I didn’t have any money […] I saw young women in town with nice haircuts, fashionably dressed, I was wearing a filthy uniform and shoes one size too big which hurt my feet.’ Eventually, in late July 1962, her former leaders – ‘those that negotiated so they wouldn’t be killed’ – and the ‘Tunis leaders’ – by whom she means the Ben Bella–EMG alliance – came to a deal. The women were released, albeit ‘into the wild, we had no housing, no care, no money’.7

    Khadjidja Belguembour’s detailed account of her experiences in the months just before and after independence is difficult to cross-reference. The broad brushstrokes of her story fit with what was happening in her wilaya at the time. Some elements of her story might seem vague, or even unclear. Not least, it is difficult to locate the myriad of anonymous ‘theys’ and occasional names she uses within the already complex political factions outlined in the existing literature. Although she states that she never again saw the maquisards with whom she had carried out the revolution, suggesting the liquidation of genuine veterans, she did actually meet a number of them: some came to the barracks where she was imprisoned, seemingly as visitors; she describes another officer whom she had fought alongside being well placed enough after independence to be able to help former maquisardes such (p.109) as herself acquire employment in hospitals. All of this is symptomatic of the highly confused situation at the time, in which individuals switched sides, rivals were assassinated and compromises negotiated.

    The significance of Khadjidja Belguembour’s account lies not so much in the detail but in her (re)reading of 1962, which is deeply impregnated with a post-hoc vocabulary of revolution betrayed. Her moral division between those who are the rightful – and righteous – children of the revolution and those who are opportunistic impostors is unequivocal and presented in the most vivid terms. Legitimacy is expressed in morality and dress. The army of the exterior do not look right. The uniform sits uncomfortably on their shoulders, it is suspiciously new; their weapons are props rather than the instruments of the revolution. The maquisards of the interior have the war impregnated in their worn-out uniforms and ill-fitting boots, in their wounds, even in their grime. Khadjidja and her fellow maquisardes got put in tents, whilst presumably these outsiders received better accommodation. Worse, the exterior army imprisoned the mujahidat in the barracks of the former colonialenemy.

    These new arrivals are depicted as not only politically illegitimate but also morally bankrupt. Khadjidja’s description of the fears of the mujahidat about being raped or forced into marriage is in sharp contrast with her depiction of her experience in the maquis as a very young teenager. The rough-and-ready maquis, was, she says, a milieu that was ‘healthy’ and ‘pure’. She immediately felt ‘safe’ with her ‘brothers’, even though of course she was in the most dangerous of situations. In her words, the post-independence FLN single-party state, and its new army, the ANP, ‘weren’t clean’. She concludes: ‘Since 1962, since I left the army [the ALN], I have never felt safe’.8

    Political illegitimacy expressed through moral corruption, misogyny and box-fresh uniforms is a common theme in a number of women’s accounts of post-independence Algeria. Interviewed for the newspaper El Watan in March 2005, the former member of the Algiers bomb network Zhor Zerari described how, on 3 July 1962, she went to attend a political meeting about independence at Sidi Fredj, a coastal town on the western outskirts of Algiers. ‘At one point, a young man in a brand new military uniform came up to me and said in an authoritarian and aggressive tone, “Go with the women”’.9 When Zhor protested, he threatened to shoot her and (p.110) she was forced to leave the meeting. This meeting, and what happened at it, are loaded with symbolism: on 3 July 1962, Algerians reappropriated Sidi Fredj, almost 132 years to the day after French forces had used this coastal town as their beachhead for the invasion of Algiers. At the same moment, an eleventh-hour mujahid sought to assert his authority by imposing a separation of men and women at the meeting, thereby excluding a woman who had fought alongside men during the 1956–7 ‘Battle of Algiers’, and who, in her own words, was brought up ‘like a boy’ and lived alongside women for the first time when imprisoned for her anti-colonial activism aged twenty.10 As Algerians reclaimed public space, Algerian women seemed to be excluded from it.

    Yet whilst there was certainly a moral backlash in the first years of independence, as Chapter 4 explores, those fuelling it were not all false mujahidin or men of dubious wartime credentials. Moreover, when I interviewed Zhor Zerari a few months after the publication of this El Watan interview and I asked her about this incident at Sidi Fredj, she seemed to minimise its importance: ‘It was little jokers trying to be zealous’.11 Should we interpret this episode as an ominous presaging of independent Algeria and the marginalisation of women, or an annoying, but ultimately insignificant, incident in a period of major upheaval? Zhor Zerari’s two interpretations of her own story point to the near impossibility of separating the event from its subsequent politicised interpretations.

    The different ways in which Lucette Hadj Ali, Chérifa Akache, Khadjidja Belguembour and Zhor Zerari depict ‘old’ and ‘new’ soldiers echo a broader counter-narrative to the top-down official discourse on independence, one that cuts across gender, geography, age and social class in Algerian society. This is a narrative of revolution confiscated that puts into play a set of dichotomies familiar to all Algerians – true/false mujahidin, insiders/outsiders, authentic/foreign rulers and legitimate/illegitimate power. In its most politicised form, the term ‘Oujda clan’ – taking its name from the Moroccan town ten kilometres from the Algerian border where the EMG was based – evokes a powerful politico-military faction within the FLN, including the current president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, which snatched power and prosperity for themselves in 1962. At the very least, passing part of the war in Morocco or Tunisia – even if it was only the last few months – seems to suggest that an individual was not doing much for the war effort.

    (p.111) This is a noticeable theme in fiction about this period. Assia Djebar, who worked for the FLN’s wartime journal El Moudjahid in Tunis during the war, published Les Alouettes naïves in 1957. Set in Tunisia, the novel’s central characters are nationalist militants who seem to while away the time in cafés, pursuing aimless political discussions and falling in love, as much as they work in refugee camps with Algerians fleeing the conflict.12 In La Grotte éclatée (1979), a semi-fictionalised account of the experiences of a maquisarde working in the Aurès mountains and then on the Algerian– Tunisian border, trying to save wounded and dying maquisards, the author Yamina Mechakra fustigates those who in Tunis ‘told me to have a rest, and spoke to me about my country without knowing anything about my country’.13

    Even if this version of the uninformed, unengaged, opportunistic ‘men on the borders’ would be vigorously denied by those targeted, few would proudly foreground that they spent much of the war in Morocco or Tunisia. In a nation-state built on the sacrifice of one and a half million martyrs – and this is not just an official slogan, it is widely held to be true – not spending the war on Algerian soil suggests you did not give much up. Indeed, taken to its logical conclusion, having anything left at the end of the war might be seen as suspicious: as Chérifa Akache puts it, ‘those who really sacrificed are dead’.14 This celebration of sacrifice, a cult of the dispossessed, serves as a critique not only of the EMG but also, by ricochet, of the GPRA, marginalising the role of political action and international campaigning in winning the independence struggle. Thus, rather than a confrontation between ‘official’ and ‘counter’ history in Algeria with clear demarcation lines, it is more useful to think about the relationship between ‘official’ and ‘counter’ history in terms of a Venn diagram, sharing at the centre a dominant history which is widely held to be true, although it might be put to different political ends.

    The impact on women’s narratives of both this popular rejection of what the Ben Bella–EMG–Tlemcen group–Oujda clan is seen to represent and the lionisation of an anonymous, authentic Algerian interior is illustrated by the way in which Salima Bouaziz describes how the war ended for her. Between 1961 and August 1962, Salima and her husband Rabah Bouaziz – a senior figure on the Federal Committee of the FF–FLN – played a leading role in creating a Section des Femmes (Women’s Section) within the Algerian migrant (p.112) community. This Section sought to place women’s rights at the heart of the programme for the soon-to-be independent state.15 Salima Bouaziz has a clear position on what should have happened in 1962 – the GPRA should have taken power and organised free elections:

    I returned [to Algeria] upon independence, but not straightaway because there was the coup d’état. Independence didn’t take place as it should have done. We had the president of the GPRA, Ben Khedda, and Ben Bella came to take his place. In the Fédération de France, we were legalist, legitimist […] We were against this coup d’état and so we only went back three months later in September, via Paris. The factions who were fighting it out in Algiers sent envoys [to Paris] to try and convince us to side with this camp or that camp.

    In the first months following the March 1962 ceasefire, Salima describes organising political and professional seminars for Algerian women living in France, preparing to send them back to rebuild a country that had been destroyed. After the official declaration of independence on 5 July 1962, a seminar was held to identify women from the migrant community who could be potential candidates for elections to the Constituent Assembly:

    We hadn’t yet chosen the camp we were going to follow […] Amongst the women who participated in this seminar, five were chosen – I was one of them – as a candidate for the National Assembly. Unfortunately, none of us were ultimately selected, because there was a problem between those who were in the immigrant community and those who were here [in Algeria]. We weren’t living the same situation. In France we were more politicised, in Algeria they were in the action.

    Salima Bouaziz is very assured in explaining that she was firmly against the EMG’s ‘coup d’état’ – an unequivocal word choice. Her actions once this coup took place are more ambiguous, and reflect the desire to move on and find a way forward despite, or perhaps because of, the confusion that reigned. Whilst she fundamentally disagreed with the marginalisation of the GPRA, she nevertheless considered becoming a candidate for the Constituent Assembly, even when it was becoming quite clear that the Tlemcen group would win the internal power struggle. When her candidacy for the Constituent Assembly failed to materialise for political reasons, she still returned to Algeria to make her contribution to society. (p.113) The distinction that Salima makes between those who suffered in Algeria and those who had a greater margin of manoeuvre for political activity in France is telling. This could be a coded critique of the failure of the wartime FLN–ALN to effectively accompany armed action with a programme to educate the masses politically. But a second explanation is more likely. Being in Algeria, spending the war in Algeria trumps everything in terms of legitimacy. ‘I wish I had gone to the maquis,’ Salima tells me.16

    The contemporary resonance of spending part of the war on the borders presents a potentially uncomfortable subject for interviewees who did. The three maquisardes I interviewed who were in the wilaya V (Oran) were evacuated in late 1957 to the Moroccan border, where they worked in refugee camps. Fadila Attia had made her way to Morocco on a clandestine mission in summer 1957. Fadéla Mesli, arrested in the maquis, and many members of the Algiers bomb network who were also arrested, were in prisons in metropolitan France when the Evian Accords paved the way for their release in March 1962. Given the ongoing violence in Algeria, many did not, or could not, return straightaway, and were thus repatriated to ALN bases in Tunisia and Morocco.

    Interviewees who today clearly express their political affiliation with the current political system quickly insist on the utility of their presence on the borders. Saliha Djeffal is a former member of the FF–FLN and at the time of the interview was a senior figure within the FLN. She explains that she was working as a nurse for military personnel in the EMG and for Algerian refugees on the Algeria– Tunisia border near Souk Ahras from early 1960 to the end of the war. The fact that Saliha was working with refugees – and she provides a lengthy description of this – is also her way of underlining to the listener that, whatever one thinks of the ‘side’ that she appears to have been working for, she was doing something worthwhile.17

    Some of the mujahidat who had become well-known figures during the war were housed in the luxurious homes of senior Moroccan or Tunisian dignitaries upon their release from prison. This materially comfortable situation did not always sit well morally with the individuals concerned: as one woman put it, under the cover of anonymity: ‘we were full of idealism […] this really bourgeois milieu was not at all our ideals’. Zhor Zerari, released from prison in France after the ceasefire in March 1962, and taken to Tunisia to protect her from OAS revenge attacks, explains: (p.114) ‘I went to Tunisia, in a big villa, very nice, I hung around there. [But] I wanted to go home. I wanted to vote for the referendum [on independence, held on 1 July 1962].’18 The opposition between those who got tents and those who got villas is once again foregrounded, with women such as Zhor Zerari keen to underline that they did not belong to the group that got the villas, i.e. those who profited – and profiteered – from independence.

    Fadéla Mesli arrived in Morocco in late 1961, having been released from prison in France in 1960. She explains that her departure from France was precipitated by a threatening letter that she received from the OAS: ‘“Terrorist of [GPRA President] Ben Khedda, you kill the innocent and you steal from the poor. The OAS is here, it will strike when it wants, how it wants and where it wants.”’ The fact that Fadéla could still recite this letter word-for-word forty-five years later underlines to the listener that staying in France was not an option. Yet Morocco, she says, was not ‘easy’. When I asked her what she meant by this, she initially evoked the very concrete difficulty of returning to Algeria, because of the electrified fence built by the French army during the war to prevent ALN movement across the Algerian border with Morocco. However, as the discussion continued, it also became clear that Fadéla wanted to be back in her country, doing something she considered to be useful. In the meantime, and with great difficulty – because she was an Algerian in Morocco, who had recently been released from prison – she managed to get permission to work as a volunteer in a Moroccan hospital:

    I worked there for a few months, and when I learnt that there was a plane which was returning [to Algeria], I begged, I said to them, ‘I’m going back, I know I will be useful’. They let me go back, I was the only woman on the plane. I was so moved to be going home, to go back to Algeria, I was crying so much I became breathless. In the end, it was Mr Akbi, a former ambassador who at the time was an officer in the ALN, who came over to speak to me just before I got on the plane: [he said] ‘You’re crying so hard you can’t breathe, have they made you go back? I am a commander, and I can get you back to Morocco.’ I said, ‘No, I’m crying because I’m so happy to go back to my country.’19

    These were perhaps also tears of relief. If Fadéla Mesli was relieved to physically arrive back in Algeria in 1962, in my 2005 interview (p.115) with her she also seemed much more at ease when her story got back on to Algerian soil. She explains that she went straight to the seat of the Provisional Executive at Rocher Noir (today Boumerdes), forty kilometres outside Algiers. The Provisional Executive, composed of Muslims and Europeans under the presidency of the moderate nationalist Abderrahmane Farès, was created as a result of the Evian Accords to organise the transition of power. Although the Provisional Executive was in theory an independent body, Farès recognised the GPRA as the legal representative of the FLN and anticipated transferring power to it. In addition to the presence of the Provisional Executive in the Algiers region, Commander Azzedine (Rabah Zerari, uncle of Zhor Zerari) had been sent by the GPRA to fight the OAS but also to re-exert the GPRA’s authority over the FLN–ALN’s Zone Autonome d’Alger (Algiers Autonomous Zone, ZAA). In summer 1962, the former ZAA head Yacef Saadi, freshly released from French prison, would succeed in taking control of Algiers and would offer up the capital to the Tlemcen group after allying with Ben Bella and the EMG against the GPRA and the rural guerrillas in the area surrounding Algiers (the wilaya IV).

    This struggle for power, which at a number of moments spilled over into violent clashes on the streets of Algiers, is not part of Fadéla Mesli’s account of this period. Instead, she describes joining the ZAA’s sanitary services team, working to open medical facilities safe for Algerians to be treated in during a period when the OAS could finish off in hospitals those whom they had injured in street attacks, and when the OAS was also implementing a scorched-earth policy, seeking to leave as little working infrastructure behind for the nascent Algerian state. Her story is one of the OAS against all Algerians rather than one of internecine violence. When Fadéla Mesli began working in Algiers, the ZAA appears to have been at least partly under the control of Commander Azzedine – at one point in summer 1962, she was briefly detained at an OAS road block, and she describes Azzedine’s threats to ‘unleash carnage’ ensuring her rapid release. After a birthing clinic was requisitioned in the Clos-Salembier district of Algiers (today El Madania), Fadéla Mesli worked twenty-four hours a day – ‘I know it is difficult to believe’, she says – alongside two doctors who had come from metropolitan France: ‘The shootings started at six o’clock in morning, the OAS was completely out of control by that point. They started at six o’clock in the morning and they went on into the evening. We (p.116) were constantly receiving injured people.’ Fadéla then helped negotiate the requisitioning of a Red Cross hospital in Algiers, where she had carried out work placements as a student before the war.

    Even though they lived in Algiers, Fadéla Mesli did not have time to go and see her parents and she missed the independence celebrations: ‘Unfortunately, I didn’t even see all the population [out to celebrate independence], I’ve seen it on television, but I didn’t see the ultimate happiness of the people. Women, even without the hayk, abandoned their husbands, their children, they came out to dance in the street. But at least I was useful.’20 Once again, we see the importance of being, and being seen to be, in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing and being useful. At the end of summer 1962, the Provisional Executive transferred power to the Constituent Algerian Assembly dominated by the Tlemcen group. Fadéla Mesli became a deputy in the Assembly.

    Interviewees’ desire to put physical distance between themselves and Tunisia and Morocco, not just literally at the time, but also – and especially – in subsequent retellings of their story – is also a way to distance themselves from the political crisis of summer 1962. To a certain extent, women’s lack of discussion of infighting in interviews makes sense. Women were not key figures in power struggles because they were not in senior positions. This was a period of significant confusion with few, if any, actors in possession of a global view, particularly those only recently released from prison where the circulation of information was limited and where stories about infighting were dismissed, not without reasonable cause, as French propaganda. Yet women’s reticence might more convincingly be explained not so much by a lack of first-hand, detailed knowledge of the political and personal conflicts of 1962, but more as the result of acute sensitivity to the post-hoc frames through which Morocco and Tunisia in 1962 have been read.

    Zhor Zerari tells me: ‘I saw the leaders coming and going.’ When I ask her if the various camps tried to convince her to take a particular side she says that they did not. The men spoke to her ‘like brothers’. She adds, ‘After imprisonment, exhaustion, we were lost. It was after the events that we realised’: suggesting that physical and mental fatigue made it hard to engage with the unfolding political situation. For Zhor, this feeling of being disconnected from events continued after her return to Algiers: ‘In Algiers, they were partying day and night. But for me too many people were dead. I could (p.117) neither sing nor dance.’21 She looked in vain for her father, who had disappeared after his arrest and torture by parachutists.22

    Zhor Zerari also reminds us that the political confusion needs to be located within the widely documented phenomenon of the difficultly of adapting to postwar life, for both soldiers and civilians.23 Amongst the twenty-seven mujahidat I interviewed, such difficulties often express themselves through references to their post-war marriages. Ten women were already married before the war began (including all five rural women) and seventeen were unmarried. Sixteen of these unmarried women got married either just before the end of the war, or straight after. Nearly all of these women married a fellow mujahid. As one interviewee put it, under the cover of anonymity, at the end of the war, she wanted to socialise only with men who had also been involved in armed combat. She felt that they had a different language because they had shared a similar life. She said that her status as a former combatant frightened some men off, and that for women like her a ‘civilian’ was not considered a worthy match. After the war she went out on a date with a student who had been in the FF–FLN, and he spent the whole time talking about the revolution. She describes herself sitting in silence, thinking ‘you don’t know who I am’. Not disheartened, the young man persisted, and, in the end, they got married and were happy: ‘He brought me something else. Between maquisards we were all a bit not right […] we had kind of lost touch with reality.’ Zohra Drif, who married Rabah Bitat, a founding member of the FLN, also touches on the idea that young, educated mujahidat perhaps had a distorted view of how a mujahid might be different from an ‘ordinary’ man: ‘Coming back to everyday, daily reality, you take a while to understand that the mujahidin were not different, it was the situation that prompted different behaviour’.24 Personal relationships begun in the intense conditions of the anti-colonial struggle could fail in the cold light of the postwar period when veterans realised that apart from the war they might not have much in common at all. One interviewee, a devout Muslim, realised with horror that the man she had married – a key figure in the FLN during the war – was a communist and an atheist. They rapidly divorced.

    As well as the continual references to being lost and exhausted, the vagueness of women’s language when talking about the leaders around them in 1962 – i.e. military and political figures within the FLN and ALN – is striking. The vocabulary is one of ‘those in (p.118) charge’ [responsables], ‘brothers’, ‘they’ and the impersonal French pronoun ‘on’ (variously translatable as ‘we’ or ‘they’). Bahia Ben Ali, a former maquisarde in the wilaya IV (Algiers region), uses similar language to talk about infighting: ‘I didn’t want to have anything to with it, I said, “Now we’re independent, there is no need to be against this one or that one.”’25 Mimi Maziz, a member of the FF–FLN, talks about the efforts made to recruit her by supporters of the Ben Bella–EMG faction:

    They came to get me and they said ‘Come and join the Tlemcen group’. I said ‘I am joining neither the Tlemcen group [nor, her sentence implies, any other group], I am free and independent, I am for Algeria, and now you don’t know me, and I don’t know you. I am joining no one; I am going back to Algeria and my family. I’ve had enough.’26

    At this point in the interview, Mimi’s friend Salima Bouaziz – they were interviewed together – joined in. As we have seen, Salima has a very clear narrative of stolen independence. Yet she simply adds: ‘It was very difficult, that period’.27 Mimi then continues: ‘When independence came we were split between wanting to go back to our childhood and becoming adults’.28 This sentence has more than one layer of meaning: on one level, young women who had joined the FLN–ALN as teenagers had lost out on their adolescence: they had left their parents as children and they were coming back as women. However, the context in which Mimi expresses this view hints that this end of the ‘age of innocence’ is also political.

    Interviewees’ expressions of exhaustion, of confusion, of feeling disconnected or indeed depressed at the end of the war thus have a dual meaning. Through the lens of 1962, interviewees evoke what it felt like to win independence but lose loved ones, the sense of being emptied of everything they had to give, of seeking out a normality which had been irrevocably transformed, yearning for a return which was impossible. At the same time, their narratives are constructed in the post-hoc knowledge of the existence of discourses which have developed since independence about ‘the interior’ and ‘the exterior’, the ‘Oujda clan’ and ‘stolen independences’. In this context, personal narratives of being tired, fed up and homesick become a political necessity. They simultaneously bear an unspoken or semi-spoken narrative of (personal) legitimacy and integrity: ‘I was not part of a clan which benefited politically or economically from independence (p.119) and I am a real mujahida who fought on Algerian soil’. This narrative is necessarily unspoken. To say these words aloud would be a powerful and potentially dangerous act, because one would have to assume its political and social implications – excluding ‘others’ and menacing the idea of the war as kind of social glue, the foundation of Algerian society. Few are prepared to make such a full frontal attack on this dominant history – Belguembour is the exception rather than the rule, and she does so safe in the knowledge that she is a maquisarde who was still in the interior in spring and summer 1962, in a wilaya opposed to the EMG.

    New opportunities, old continuities

    Amidst this internecine conflict and post-hoc political sensitivities, there were also more mundane, but essential, questions. On a national level, how could a functioning state be built? On an individual level, how could men and women start to make a living? The trajectory of Mimi Maziz helps us to begin to explore these questions.

    Mimi Maziz’s entry into the FLN came through the activities of a cousin, who built bombs for the FLN. The teenage Mimi helped him to transport materials. Arrested in 1957 and imprisoned without trial, she was released a year later. She spent the rest of the war as a member of the FF–FLN, moving between France, Germany, Switzerland and refugee camps on the Moroccan border where she worked to prepare Algerian refugees for the return to Algeria by undertaking censuses, delivering vaccinations and detecting cases of contagious diseases such as tuberculosis. Briefly returning home in October 1962, Mimi soon left again, as she felt that, politically speaking, ‘the heat was still on, it wasn’t yet safe’ for her: ‘So I said to myself, I’m going back to Switzerland. I had wonderful parents who trusted me. They said “Go, my girl, let God protect you.” I left hoping to start my studies up again.’

    Yet Mimi was unable to make the right contacts to recommence her studies and she was unemployed. One day in 1963, sitting on a Swiss café terrace drinking a coffee with the last coins in her pocket, she began to talk to a French-speaking African man sitting next to her. He asked her if she was French. Mimi enigmatically replied, ‘I used to be, now I’m not. Guess.’ After a while he gave up guessing: ‘When I said that I was Algerian, he stood up, kissed me on the head and on the shoulders’.29 It emerged that this fellow customer (p.120) was a Madagascan ambassador. Thanks to this chance encounter and a self-taught crash course in typing, Mimi found herself in a lucrative job working for the United Nations in Geneva.

    Mimi’s story is full of revolutionary role reversals. In terms of generational change, Mimi’s parents happily let her leave the family home alone to go abroad, something unthinkable a generation previously.30 In terms of upsetting hierarchies of gender and social class, as an unemployed, female student, she was shown the ultimate mark of respect by a male ambassador kissing her on the forehead, his gesture an expression of the enthusiasm which Algeria generated as a model for anti-colonialists in these heady first years of independence. And perhaps in the most striking demonstration of the reversal of fortunes between coloniser and colonised, Mimi even had a Swiss cleaner to polish her floors at home, a radical inversion of colonial ‘European’ and ‘Muslim’ roles.

    Yet Mimi’s veiled mother and grandmother were unwilling to visit her in Switzerland as neither wished to unveil or walk around in the hayk in a European country. Homesick, Mimi resigned, went to Paris and sought out the Amicale d’Algérie, the organisation created by the post-independence Algerian state to control and organise the Algerian migrant community in France:

    I told the head [of the Amicale], ‘I want to return to Algeria’. ‘Yes’, he said. I said to him, ‘Will you pay for the ticket?’ ‘Yes’, he said. I said to him, ‘I want to be a journalist’, ‘Oh!’ he said, ‘A journalist?!’ I said, ‘Yes, a journalist’. Because it was [the Amicale] which had got me to leave the UN. They said, ‘Come and work with us’, and I said yes, on the condition that I could get work experience on a newspaper, but afterwards they put me answering the phones. They didn’t keep their promise. I got angry, and I said, ‘I’m going back, call a newspaper called Le Peuple [which existed 1962–65], once I’ve got my ticket, tell the director the day and time when he’s going to pick up a journalist. Don’t say who it is. Otherwise, I swear, I will smash this place up.’ He said, ‘OK, don’t get angry’. And who came to the airport? Tayeb Belloula [director of the paper, a lawyer by training], thinking that the journalist was a foreign woman. We said hello to each other and I said, ‘What are you doing here?’ He said, ‘I’m waiting for a journalist’. I said, ‘No need to wait any longer, it’s me’. He said, ‘It’s you?!’ I said ‘Yes, it’s me, and yourself, have you got experience in journalism? And now you’re chief editor? Well, I’m a journalist too.’ He was disappointed, disappointed. He said to himself, damn, another useless one.

    (p.121) When Mimi arrived at the newspaper, she met another familiar face from the Fédération de France, Salah Louanchi, who founded Le Peuple in 1962, having worked in the 1950s on the review Consciences maghribines and wartime publication Résistance algérienne. Louanchi also asked where ‘the journalist’ was, and then, his disappointment put to one side, sent Mimi out to cover the next day’s presidential activities. When Mimi arrived home to her family, she proudly announced her new employment. Her mother was less than impressed.

    I said to my mother, ‘I’ve found a job, I’m going to work on a newspaper’. She said, ‘Well yes, what can you do my girl, we the indigenous’ – her thinking was still in the French era – ‘we’re newspaper sellers and shoe shiners’. I said ‘No, I’m not going to sell newspapers, I’m going to be a journalist.’ She said ‘Whatever, it’s the same thing.’31

    The story of Mimi and her mother tells us much about the opportunities open to some women in the immediate post-independence period. For Fadéla M’Rabet, student activist in the Fédération de France and radio presenter in post-independence Algeria until her exile in 1971, ‘Algeria was going to be the model for the world! At the radio there was a revolutionary spirit.’32 Algeria had been devastated by seven and a half years of war. The economy had ground to a halt. The countryside had been bombarded, including with napalm. The vast majority of the settler population, which had dominated public administration, institutions and the majority of private enterprise, had fled Algeria, meaning state employees – civil servants, the judiciary, police and teachers – disappeared overnight. As the pieds noirs (settlers) were leaving, many people were arriving: nationalist leaders and refugees who had been exiled in Europe, Tunisia and Morocco, Algerian émigré workers from France hoping to rebuild their lives back in the newly independent state as well as tens of thousands of coopérants and pieds rouges. Coopérants were technical advisers and specialists, sent by the French state within the framework of co-operation agreements with Algeria. Pieds rouges, a wordplay on pieds noirs, was the term coined to describe the international revolutionaries and left-wing sympathisers who flocked to Algeria after independence, seeking to create a Third Worldist utopia which would eschew both capitalist exploitation and the repressive aspects of communist regimes.33 There was an immense desire to make it work.

    (p.122) And yet post-independence Algeria was not really being built from nothing. The kinds of roles that women and men would play in (re)construction would depend on their skills and level of education as well as their political allegiances. The kinds of roles women would be able to play would also depend on attitudes towards what was permissible. Interviewed in 1968, the Révolution africaine journalist, and future Mrs Ben Bella, Zohra Sellami declared that independence had changed nothing for Algerian women: ‘It is very simple and it is to be expected because social structures cannot be changed in one year, or five years, or ten years unless there is a real revolution’.34 On this ‘blank slate’ of 1962, engrained conceptions of gender roles persisted, although they were also constantly challenged. The simple fact of desperately needing men and women who could read and write – a small minority of the largely illiterate Algerian population – meant that independence potentially provided a wealth of professional opportunities for the tiny minority of women who possessed such skills, particularly young women without family responsibilities.

    The story of Mimi and her mother shows that Fadéla M’Rabet’s sense of a ‘revolutionary spirit’ and Zohra Sellami’s vision of social inertia could co-exist. Part of the tiny, educated minority with a useful set of wartime contacts, Mimi was able to make a place for herself within the professional sphere, contributing to the creation of Algerian journalism as a sector. For her mother, the horizons that this had opened for her daughter were so far out of reach that they were impossible to imagine. The career of ‘journalist’ was meaningless to this older, informally educated woman. Mimi’s mother’s vocabulary reflects the idea of continuity rather than change between the colonial and post-colonial periods; her world-view continued to be structured around a socio-ethnic class of the ‘indigenous’ poor ruled by a distant elite.


    Describing her childhood memories of summer 1962, the left-wing politician Louisa Hanoune says: ‘I still remember the men from the prefecture who took to the streets to ask all the families where there were girls who knew how to read and write, or type, to free them up to come and work’.35 A publicity pamphlet prepared for the Afro-Asian congress – the ‘Second Bandung’ – which was due to begin in Algiers on 29 June 1965 (it was postponed indefinitely (p.123) when Boumediene overthrew Ben Bella in a bloodless coup on 19 June 1965, but also because of Chinese–Soviet rivalry) depicted July 1962 as ‘a black month in Algeria’:

    Not enough doctors for the mutilated victims of the last bombs. Not enough typists, civil servants, or secretaries; one lone telephone operator lost in the vast Oran exchange to answer calls and replace, if possible, her two hundred European colleagues who had fled. A single preciously guarded typist in the cabinet of President Ben Bella. In the office of the newly appointed minister of education, not a file, not a folder, not even a telephone was left. The departing French officials had left nothing but emptiness behind them. There would be no bread, perhaps no water … Alarming rumours spread through the back streets.36

    Many of the ‘missing’ roles described here were ones often filled by women – secretaries, nurses, typists and telephonists. ‘Women’, states the former member of the FF–FLN Akila Ouared, ‘did a monumental job because it was them who replaced the former French employees and who participated in the construction [édification] of the country in exactly the same way as men’.37

    Amongst the twenty-two fida’iyat, maquisardes and FF–FLN activists whom I have interviewed, who lived in Algeria in the 1960s, all exercised a professional activity after independence. Five went into the medical profession: Salima Bouaziz and Akila Ouared became doctors, Fadéla Mesli was an anaesthetist, Yamina Salem was a pharmacist and, after some difficulties, Khadjidja Belguembour obtained a job as a nurse. Five women worked in various state agencies, or in the civil service: Fadila Attia was a presidential secretary, Djamila Boupacha worked for the Bureau de Main d’Oeuvre Féminine (Office for Women’s Employment) and also participated in Algerian official visits, Annie Steiner was a judicial adviser, Jacqueline Guerroudj prepared the Journal officiel (the official gazette publishing key legislation) and El Hora Kerkeb worked as a social worker in the police. Zhor Zerari and Mimi Maziz worked in print journalism, Fadéla M’Rabet was a radio presenter and Djamila Bouazza worked for the state press agency. Zohra Drif became a lawyer, Lucette Hadj Ali a teacher, Malika Koriche a telephonist and Bahia Ben Ali helped run the family business. Louisette Ighilahriz and Habiba Chami were in the UNFA, Saliha Djeffal was in the Jeunesse FLN (Youth FLN, JFLN) and (p.124) Fettouma Ouzegane concentrated on her oppositional political activities.

    Indeed many women who had professional careers were also involved in political life: Fadéla Mesli and Zohra Drif were in the Constituent Assembly in 1962, Akila Ouared was in the UNFA in the 1960s and 1970s, Jacqueline Guerroudj was an activist in the Union Générale des Travailleurs Algériens (National Union of Algerian Workers, UGTA) and Malika Koriche was a local FLN councillor. Lucette Hadj Ali was in the PAGS, an underground communist movement created in 1966.38

    The social ascent and political engagement of these women embody the moment. They most certainly did not ‘go back into the kitchen’. And yet, the profiles of these individuals demonstrate that they were able to take on the roles that they did in the public sphere because they already had significant social and educational capital, dating from before independence. With the exception of the three women of European origin, who were all married with children and in employment, and with the exception of Bahia Ben Ali (a housewife married with one child), Malika Koriche (divorced after a brief marriage aged fifteen following only three years at school) and Khadjidja Belguembour (from a small village in the mountains with limited formal education) and Fettouma Ouzegane (married, five children), all of these women, at the point of their engagement in the nationalist movement, were single, educated young women. Some were still at high school; a few were even university students. They were a tiny minority in colonial Algeria – less than five per cent of the female population was literate – and their access to education had been determined by the social class of their family or their geographical location: that is to say, if they were fortunate enough to live near a school which would give places to ‘French Muslim’ girls.

    In the first years of independence these women, who had the educational background to capitalise upon the opportunities that independence created, notably the urgent need for a literate work-force, were still a tiny minority. In 1966, only 1.82 per cent of women in Algeria were recorded as being in paid employment.39 This statistic needs to be taken with significant caution: it is highly likely that it omits rural women working on family farms, urban women working from home in cottage industries such as weaving, and widespread undeclared employment. However, it is likely that (p.125) this figure of 1.82 per cent does include all the women working in the public sector: doctors, teachers, nurses and government employees – that is to say, the kinds of roles which urban, educated interviewees filled.

    For women who did not have the same social and cultural capital, such opportunities were further from their reach. With her husband, Bahia Ben Ali established a furniture business in Algiers after independence, but she says that in her home town of Blida this would have been a tricky endeavour: ‘Blida was strict, the women were veiled and they didn’t work [outside the home]’.40 Having learnt nursing skills on the job in the maquis, Khadjidja Belguembour struggled to find work after 1962. Alongside other maquisardes, she was initially given a placement in a hospital as an auxiliary, but when a doctor encouraged her to take the exams for a nursing diploma she ran into difficulty: ‘The placement opened my eyes a bit. I failed the exam because my writing was poor. I carried on working, as an auxiliary, without the CAP [Certificat d’aptitude professionelle, i.e. a professional qualification]. And then the husband appeared after a year and a half.’

    At this point in the interview, Khadjidja pauses and lights a cigarette before continuing. Her husband – she describes him as ‘an intellectual’ – had interrupted his studies to participate in the war, so he wanted to finish his degree. They moved to Algiers and scraped by a living, and then her husband went to Egypt to continue his education: ‘I couldn’t follow my husband abroad, he was in a country where I didn’t speak the language, well, I was a bit in Egypt, I liked it but it didn’t last longer than four months, I lived here.’41 The slip Khadjidja makes, before she corrects herself, is telling: Egypt is of course an Arabophone country, but for a speaker of Algerian dialect (derja) who, moreover, has never studied classical Arabic (fusha), ‘Egyptian’ might well seem a foreign language. Eventually, an officer whom Khadjidja knew from the maquis campaigned for a number of former maquisardes to be automatically attributed the status of professional nurses in recognition of their contribution in the maquis, and these women began to receive a small salary. The ability of female – and male – veterans to use their wartime contacts to find employment was hampered by a lack of overall strategy. Chronic material shortages and practical problems, especially illiteracy, meant that, in this period of great change, there were also many continuities from the colonial period.

    (p.126) The continuities in the kinds of roles available for uneducated women were seen as a troubling situation in 1960s Algeria. This was not just a gendered problem: Ben Bella was equally keen to take shoeshine boys, who under French rule were a daily reminder of colonial humiliation, off the streets and into education and training.42 In a similar way, women toiling in menial and domestic labour seemed starkly at odds with the revolutionary fervour so enthusiastically repeated in official speeches and on the world stage. Describing her job as an employee of the Office for Women’s Employment after independence, Djamila Boupacha, a former member of the Algiers bomb network, suggests that she was uncomfortable sending women looking for work into that old colonial role for ‘indigenous’ women, femme de ménage (domestic cleaner): ‘There were illiterate women who wanted to be cleaners, I sent them to learn a trade, such as seamstress, which doesn’t need a lot of schooling. Those who had a good level [of education], they went into accounting, into secretarial roles.’43 A photograph published in 1967 in Algérie actualité shows a female cleaner in a school, standing in front of a blackboard upon which is inscribed a Third Worldist ode to African unity, written in classical Arabic. The cleaner is not looking at the words, but wringing out her floor cloth. There is no accompanying text, the caption simply reads: ‘Ah, if only I had been educated’.44

    In January 1965, the journalist and war veteran Zhor Zerari produced a series of reports for the newspaper Alger ce soir on the issue of women cleaners. She interviewed Aïcha Hamdaoui, a fifty-three-year-old school cleaner, and revealed that independence had brought Aïcha few material benefits: ‘[Aïcha] asks me if I understand Kabyle. I say yes, and the ice is broken. In a roundabout way, she tells her story.’ Before independence Aïcha had been regularly and relatively well paid. But since independence, when teaching became universal and free, pupils had been obliged to club together to pay her wages as the head teacher had no funds.45 Zhor’s approach in this text is rather subversive: it makes unfavourable comparisons between the colonial and post-colonial periods, and her interview is pointedly conducted in Kabyle (Berber/Tamazight) as the political drive to ‘rediscover’ Algeria’s Arabo-Islamic identity was gathering pace.

    In March 1963, journalists from El Moudjahid visited Le Centre des Trois Martyrs (The Three Martyrs Centre) in the working-class district of Bab el Oued in Algiers. This was a weaving workshop (p.127) created by the state to provide paid employment for the wives and daughters of men killed in action. Its director, Madame Allouache, had already run textile workshops during the war, making ALN uniforms on the Tunisian border. To the journalists, she insisted that women’s employment was empowering: ‘You know, I’m not a theorist of the emancipation of women. But I know some simple things. The war left us with thousands of orphans and widows, all breadwinners. To give aid is good, but I think it’s better to teach a trade.’46

    The pied rouge Catherine Lévy, who worked as a secondary-school teacher and UGTA activist in Bab el Oued, has a very different perspective on such workshops. She describes women working ten hours a day making hospital sheets and army and police uniforms, doing unpaid overtime and being fobbed off with till receipts rather than given proper pay slips.47 Newspapers from the 1960s refer to a number of cases of women struggling to make ends meet. In Mme Allouache’s workshop is Keltouma, a twenty-three-year-old war widow whose husband died in the mountains of Kabylia during the anti-colonial struggle, leaving her the only breadwinner for her four children and mother-in-law. It was the Ministry of Mujahidin which had sent her to the workshop. A fellow employee, Fatma Boussat, another war widow with an eight-year-old son, is described as having arrived in the capital at the end of the war, but obtaining a job in the workshop via the Ministry of Mujahidin only after waiting for a year with no income whatsoever.48 Moreover, it seems unlikely that many of these female employees would have framed working outside the home in the language of ‘emancipation’, even in less exploitative working conditions. When I asked the war widow Chérifa Akache if she ‘worked’ after her arrival in Algiers she did not immediately understand what I meant. The interpreter gave her the hint ‘weaving frame’ and she replied: ‘I wove, I sold, I did knitting too, jumpers’.49

    For educated men and women, independence offered new opportunities. For the majority, who had not received a formal education (according to the 1966 census, 63.3 per cent of Algerian men and 85.9 per cent of women were illiterate),50 and despite mass literacy campaigns (80 per cent of adult women were still illiterate in the mid-1970s),51 it was likely that they would take up an occupation with a similar socio-economic status to that which they had occupied in the colonial period. For illiterate women, working outside the home was likely to be a low-paid, low-status job which would (p.128) be accomplished for reasons of financial necessity in the absence of a sufficient male wage.


    When I ask Chérifa Akache whether relations between men and women remained as open as they had been during the war, when she mixed with men who were not family members, she is amused: ‘Just after the war it was finished. We had a good time, we said “tahya al-jaza’ir [Long live Algeria]” and everyone went back to where they were before, the relations weren’t the same.’52 Fatma Yermeche gives a similar account of her post-independence life: ‘On independence each woman returned to her place. What can I do? I never went to school, I can’t do anything! I didn’t have a choice.’53 Yet despite Chérifa Akache’s and Fatma Yermeche’s claims that they did nothing after the war and everything went back to how it was before, this was a period in which women were adapting to significant change. Two of the key themes which emerge in rural women’s accounts of their postwar lives are the return (or not) of male members of their family and whether or not they feel that their contribution to Algerian independence was recognised. This latter debate is tied up very much with war pensions and war widows’ pensions. Both these themes raise key questions about changes in the position of these women within family structures and the relationship these women have with the state.

    A ‘return’ to how things were before was not really possible. Many ‘rural women’ were not even ‘rural’ any more. The war had led to massive displacement, including the forcible removal by the French army of more than half of the 6,900,000-strong rural population into temporary camps and alternative villages.54 Villagers had also fled to Algerian towns and refugee camps on the Tunisian and Moroccan borders. Aerial bombardment had destroyed homes and livelihoods, making much rural to urban migration permanent. By 1966, when the first postwar census took place, 16.9 per cent of the population of the wilaya of Tizi Ouzou, where these rural interviewees’ villages of origin are located, had migrated to towns both within and beyond the borders of Algeria.55

    The village of Agraradj had been flattened by French bombs, bulldozers and arson, reducing to rubble the homes of Fatima Berci, Fatma Yermeche and Fatima Benmohand Berci. In the village of Aït Abderrahmane, Chérifa Akache’s house was smashed to pieces, as (p.129) was the home of Ferroudja Amarouche in Bouzeguene. In 1962, all five of these women were living in other villages in the region or in Algiers. According to Fatma Yermeche: ‘Everyone had gone. After the bombing, people were reluctant and they didn’t want to come back. They returned little by little.’56 Chérifa Akache and Ferroudja Amarouche chose to migrate permanently to Algiers in the first years of independence.

    With many men dead, missing or pushed to migrate to France to find work,57 women outnumbered men. In a breakdown of the 1977 census of the population according to age and sex, statistics from the wilaya of Tizi Ouzou reveal that below the age of twenty-four, males and females were equal in number. This age group constituted 64.12 per cent of the population. It was in the category 35–9 that the gender differences became dramatic: there were 11,644 men in this age group in Tizi Ouzou, compared to 21,185 women. The oldest men in this category would have been seventeen when the war began and twenty-four when it ended. In 1977, these men would also have still been young enough to be migrant workers in France. There were around twice as many women for the number of men up until the age of fifty-five, when the difference began to decline, although women still outnumbered men.58 In the 1970s, the anthropologist Camille Lacoste-Dujardin reported that some families in Kabylia had been obliged to break with the custom of exclusively male inheritance and pass land on to women because there were no surviving male relatives, although the author believed that this would be a temporary phenomenon.59

    In August 1963, the former member of the Algiers bomb network and deputy in the Constituent Assembly Zohra Drif was quoted in the newspaper Le Peuple as saying that she had heard reports that in Kabylia men back from prison, exile or the maquis had repudiated their wives because these women had taken over the household responsibilities.60 In her study of ten women in the Aurès, Zoubida Haddab states that one of her interviewees experienced great difficulty being accepted by her parents-in-law when she married after independence simply because she had mixed with men in the course of her wartime activities.61 This was not an issue for the five women whom I interviewed, nor did a radical reorganisation of gender roles within their families take place. As Chapter 2 shows, new relations during the war had been framed in a familiar and familial language of brothers and sisters, mothers and sons; women had not (p.130) necessarily experienced their demanding wartime responsibilities as heads of household in a time of shortage, want and suffering as a taste of liberation; and demographic domination by women does not automatically lead to a renegotiation of gender roles.

    When I asked rural interviewees what their hopes had been in 1962 for independent Algeria, one of the most common responses was that the men would return from the war. For Fatma Yermeche: ‘I was waiting, hoping that the children, the husbands, those who had left [would return]. My husband was imprisoned in France, and he was only freed after Independence.’62 Ferroudja Amarouche describes her joy at seeing her maquisard husband for the first time after four years’ absence: ‘I was very happy, he had come back from the dead, and what’s more he was the only son of his mother, he didn’t have a brother’. She adds: ‘When he came back, there was a relative of mine who asked him: “Has Ferroudja done her hair?” because I hadn’t done my hair since my husband had gone [she laughs]. Of course, I did my hair for my husband!’63

    Chérifa Akache’s husband did not return. As the mother of two children, she had already fulfilled the procreative purpose of marriage in the eyes of her community, and was not expected to remarry. Now that her husband was dead, custom dictated that she live with her parents-in-law. Indeed, Fatima Berci’s sister, whose husband died in combat when she was eighteen, was married to the deceased’s brother, her former brother-in-law – a way of keeping the children of the first marriage within the paternal family whilst also providing for the widow. In the end, Chérifa Akache preferred to stay with her own parents, and, after two years in Kabylia, she came to Algiers and bought a house where she lived with her father and mother. She also entered into paid employment, and applied for a war widow’s pension.

    The creation of a pension for war widows in the months following the end of the war meant that many women acquired an independent source of income for the first time. In many cases, this source of income was essential to the subsistence of their family and/or community. In her study of the commune of Iflissen (wilaya of Tizi Ouzou), Camille Lacoste-Dujardin found that, in 1962, only ten maquisards from Iflissen were still alive. In 1970, the total population of the commune was 6,700, with 900 women holding widows’ pensions. Women outnumbered men three to one, partly as a result of the economically active male population (p.131) migrating to Algerian cities or to France, but also as a consequence of the war dead.64

    Acquiring a war widow’s pension was not a straightforward process. For a start, it required filling in forms, a task which was impossible without help for those who could not read or write. The process also required a workforce to process claims and the Ministry of Mujahidin was initially reliant on recruiting student volunteers to do this: in June 1964, Alger républicain reported that high-school students who had volunteered to work every Thursday at the Ministry of Mujahidin were getting through 1,500 to 2,000 files a day, and had already completed 54,000 applications.65 There were delays, as the journalist Albert Paul Lentin discovered when he set off for Kabylia in autumn 1963 to try to find out why there had been such a low voter turnout in the region in the elections to ratify the first constitution. He cites the case of a war widow who had been waiting six months for her claim to be processed: ‘In Algiers, those who are victims of these delays when they happen at least get some aid from the town hall or charitable organisations. Here there is nothing.’66 This financial explanation masks a far deeper political problem – Lentin goes to Kabylia in the middle of the FFS revolt, an armed rebellion against the seizure of power by Ben Bella and his allies – but the journalist’s choice of example highlights what is, in the accounts of rural women I have interviewed, a major bone of contention between them and the state.

    ‘Those who sorted themselves out’ – i.e. were quick off the mark and had the necessary skills at their disposal – ‘they got their pensions,’ says Fatma Yermeche.67 She is talking about pensions for veterans, rather than those for war widows, but Fatma Yermeche’s experiences, and those of rural women like her, reveal the general difficulties these women faced when seeking to access state benefits. Fatima Berci and Ferroudja Amarouche have only recently – i.e. in the 2000s – begun to receive a pension for their own actions. Fatima Benmohand Berci and Fatma Yermeche do not have a pension of their own, but as wives of mujahidin benefit from their husbands’ pensions, as do the other two women. Fatima Benmohand Berci says she had her application prepared but that the paperwork was stolen from her house: ‘When I went to redo the dossier they refused’.68 Fatma Yermeche says her husband did not sort her paperwork out for her in time. Ferroudja Amarouche’s husband did not want his wife to have a pension on principle: ‘He said, “Look, you did that (p.132) for our country. Me, if I had come back [from the maquis] with my health I wouldn’t have asked [for a pension].”’69 It was the son of a colonel who knew Ferroudja from the war who finally organised her application for her.

    For Chérifa Akache, who today has a pension both as a war widow and in her own right, the fact that she did not get a pension immediately after the war was not just an unfortunate combination of practical difficulties and slow-moving bureaucracy:

    Once the war had finished I hurried to get my papers. In the office where I was supposed to do my application I found a harki who told me, ‘We don’t recognise you’. This harki discouraged me. I’m angry with him to this very day. But I still did my application, I got my papers, and some people say to me ‘You should have been amongst the first to get your papers’. As well as the pension, I know that some mujahidin got property, money, I didn’t get that.70

    Here we return to one of the key themes in many interviewees’ accounts when they talk about 1962 and after: they explain their disappointments in the post-independence period as the result of betrayal from within. The figure of the fraternal mujahid is replaced by that of the harki. Algerians who fought in the French army are depicted as opportunistically sneaking into positions of power to the detriment of genuine veterans who sacrificed all to free the motherland. Whether or not this man in the office actually was a harki is perhaps less significant than the way in which Chérifa Akache explains exclusion and injustice by stigmatising post-independence enemies in the same way as foes from the anti-colonial struggle. Fatima Berci makes similar criticisms to those of Chérifa Akache: ‘I’m seventy-two years old. It’s only in the last ten years that they give me a very small pension, all the rest is lost, what they should have given me since independence.’ And whose fault is this? Again the outsider is accused: ‘Algeria is not in the hands of its children’,71 she explains. Fatima Benmohand Berci declares: ‘Al-hamdulillah [Thanks to God], the war is over. We make do with what we have. We wanted it to be over. France has gone. Apart from some of them, the mujahidin have betrayed us.’ Later on in the interview, she repeats: ‘They forgot us. They betrayed us.’72

    The war pension is not understood by these rural interviewees as a source of independent financial income or a means to (p.133) renegotiate their position within their family. Indeed, as a recipient of a war widow’s pension, a woman could become the target of ‘pension chasers’. This term referred to men who would marry war widows in religious ceremonies, but avoid officially registered civil marriages, because the war widow’s pension ceased to be paid if its recipient remarried. These unscrupulous men would acquire financial control of the pension, and then abandon the widow, often leaving her with illegitimate children. The post-independence state considered ‘pension chasers’ a significant social problem, and women who found themselves duped were subject to a mixture of condescending compassion and moral condemnation. A 1973 UNFA investigation into ‘The condition of widows of shuhada ten years on’ exhorted these women to protect the memory of their heroic first husbands and to set a better example for their children, who were, after all, the children of martyrs.73

    The rural women whom I interviewed do think that women’s position within their communities has changed, but they do not necessarily make a connection between these changes and the war. Fatma Yermeche states: ‘Before there was no way women would go to France, never’, implying that this is not the case today.74 Female members of her family belonging to younger generations have gone to school and university and have professional careers. Fatma Yermeche would situate this as part of an evolution in morals, customs and access to education over time rather than linked to the historically specific moment of women’s participation in the War of Independence. Indeed, the fact that she sees such changes in attitudes and opportunities as being logical developments with the passage of time, rather than triggered by specific events or policies, is clear from her next sentence: ‘When France was here [i.e. under colonial rule] we had to go and search for wood to make a fire. Now we’re independent and we cook with gas. Before there was all the smoke, it made us cry.’75

    In the decade following independence, and subsequently, younger women with access to formal education seized upon ‘women’s participation in the war’ as one of the key factors in explaining transformative change in ‘the condition of women’. This is reflected in a major survey into attitudes of and towards women, carried out in the early 1970s in the Constantine region. Hélène Vandevelde-Dallière and a team of researchers from the University of Constantine interviewed 925 women and 367 men of (p.134) different ages and social backgrounds, from urban and rural areas. In response to a question about whether women’s attitudes towards men had changed since the revolution, 90 per cent of female high school students responded that women were ‘less oppressed’ since the war. Uneducated rural women who had not been to school had very different responses: only 32 per cent said that women were less oppressed, 50 per cent said attitudes had not changed and 18 per cent said women were more oppressed.76 Clearly young, urban, educated women had very different opportunities in the post-independence period from older (or at least married), rural women without formal education. Yet these responses reflect not only their lived experiences but also, and perhaps more interestingly, the importance of examining how these lived experiences were perceived and explained.

    Another question in Hélène Vandevelde-Dallière’s survey was about women’s interest in political life. She calculated that only 15 per cent of all women questioned were interested in politics compared to 50 per cent of men. To measure informants’ engagement with political life, they were asked to state what names of government ministers they knew, what Algeria’s political institutions were and who their local councillors were. One woman in the forty to forty-nine age group with an unemployed husband was recorded as stating: ‘Since independence, our lives have been miserable. All the efforts we made during the war have not been rewarded.’77 This is presented by the researchers as a reason why women were not ‘interested in politics’ – yet such a declaration is in fact profoundly political. The rural women whom I interviewed do not refer to institutions, politics and parties, but when they talk about the pension they are most definitely making a political statement. The pension is a bond which creates a direct link between rural female veterans and a state which they might otherwise have little contact with. As Chapter 6 explores further, they consider that they have done their duty for Algeria and that the Algerian state has a ‘blood debt’ towards them.


    Describing women who got involved in planting trees on national reforestation day, the cover photograph of the newspaper Révolution africaine on 7 December 1963 was of a woman in a hayk holding a (p.135) pick. The accompanying slogan read: ‘In December [19]60 Algerian women were at the forefront of demonstrations. For the day of the tree last Sunday, they also got involved.’ Comparing the mass anti-colonial demonstrations of December 1960 associated with the FLN’s greatest diplomatic success – United Nations Resolution 1573 in favour of the right of Algerian people to self-determination – with symbolic tree planting involving a select few in 1963 might seem a rather incongruous juxtaposition. The hyperbole nevertheless captures the revolutionary fervour of the first years of independence.

    When we seek to cross the colonial/post-colonial divide, we uncover a history of continuity and change that has been buried under fifty years of self-justification by the Algerian state and the rankling resentment of many Algerians who consider the revolution betrayed. The conflictual and potentially problematic nature of 1962 as both symbol of political (il)legitimacy and signpost signalling one’s relationship to power then and now is expressed by interviewees in a number of ways: through an emphasis on their apoliticism, through the metaphor of moral corruption, through their insistence on being useful citizens, despite everything.

    The extent to which independence offered new opportunities for female veterans would depend on their socio-economic circumstances, level of education, family status and geographical location. For the minority of women who had begun to acquire educational capital in the colonial period, the blank slate of Algerian infrastructure in year zero could present significant opportunities. For the majority of women who were without this capital, family structures and social expectations of women’s roles proved resistant to change, even in the context of the major wartime upheaval. For these women, 1962 barely registered as a tremor on their daily lives because it had an imperceptible effect on engrained conceptions of their place within family and society. Yet at the same time, 1962 indicated a seismic shift in shaping the way in which all these women, literate or illiterate, rural or urban, would view their relationship to the state. From the colonial power to which nothing was owed and of which nothing was expected, the post-independence state was meant to fulfil its citizens’ hopes, and, at the same time, citizens now had a moral obligation to contribute to state-building. This was a shifting and unwritten social contract, but a social contract nevertheless.


    (1) Colonel Si M’hamed (Ahmed Bougara) was head of the wilaya IV (region around Algiers) between 1958 and 1959. He died on 5 May 1959, officially killed in action by the French, although the circumstances of his death have not been fully elucidated and there are rumours he was victim of an internal settling of scores.

    (2) Interview with Lucette Hadj Ali (18 December 2005).

    (3) Interview with Chérifa Akache (21 June 2005).

    (4) Interview with Ferroudja Amarouche (10 December 2005).

    (5) Interview with Chérifa Akache (21 June 2005).

    (7) Interview with Khadjidja Belguembour (14 June 2005).

    (8) Ibid.

    (9) El Watan (24 March 2005).

    (10) Interview with Zhor Zerari (21 December 2005).

    (12) A. Djebar, Les Alouettes naïves (Paris: Juillard, 1967).

    (13) Y. Mechakra, La Grotte éclatée (Algiers: SNED, 1979).

    (14) Interview with Chérifa Akache (21 June 2005).

    (15) For more on this Section des femmes, see Macmaster, ‘Des Révolutionnaires invisibles’.

    (16) Interview with Salima Bouaziz (18 December 2005). This is a view Salima Bouaziz repeats in an account published in El Watan in 2009. ‘Autour du 8 mars, contribution au souvenir des sportives et sportifs algériens’, El Watan (26 March 2009).

    (17) Interview with Saliha Djeffal (21 June 2005).

    (18) Interview with Zhor Zerari (21 December 2005).

    (19) Interview with Fadéla Mesli (20 December 2005).

    (21) Interview with Zhor Zerari (21 December 2005).

    (22) The loss of her father is a major theme in Zhor Zerari’s book of poetry, Poèmes de prison (Algiers: Bouchène, 1988). The last lines of the book are: ‘Que importe le retour / Si mon père / N’est pas sur les quais / De la gare [What does the return matter / If my father / Is not on the platform / Of the station]’. The difficulty of postwar re-adaption is also a theme which she explored in a series of short stories, which became a series of film shorts, Faits divers (c. 1981–2).

    (23) The difficulty of returning to civilian life after armed conflict first began to be documented in post-First World War literature, by authors such as E. M. Remarque, Drei Kameraden (Amsterdam: Querido, 1938 [1936]), and Colette, Chéri (Paris: Fayard, 1920) and La Fin de Chéri (Paris: Flammarion, 1926).

    (p.137) (24) Interview with Zohra Drif (11 June 2005).

    (25) Interview with Bahia Ben Ali (19 December 2005).

    (26) Interview with Mimi Maziz (18 December 2005).

    (27) Interview with Salima Bouaziz (18 December 2005).

    (28) Interview with Mimi Maziz (18 December 2005).

    (29) Ibid.

    (30) Fadéla M’Rabet underlines how exceptional it was that her father, an erudite, open-minded man, allowed her to go and study abroad in the 1950s: ‘I went to France because my brother was there; otherwise my father wouldn’t have let me. If there hadn’t have been my brother, I wouldn’t even have been able to have studied in Algiers. My father kind of delegated the power to my brother.’ Interview with Fadéla M’Rabet (1 November 2005).

    (31) Interview with Mimi Maziz (18 December 2005).

    (32) Interview with Fadéla M’Rabet (1 November 2005).

    (33) At the end of summer 1962, the French Embassy in Algiers registered 200,000 French citizens in Algeria, compared to 900,000 the previous year. A non-official census on 1 April 1963 identified 13,800 French civil servants working in Algeria within the framework of coopération, C. Simon, Algérie, les années pieds-rouges: des rêves de l’indépendance au désenchantement (1962–1969) (Paris: La Découverte, 2011), p. 12; p. 34.

    (34) Interviewed for the documentary Les Filles de la révolution (André Harris and Alain de Sedouy, Office national de radiodiffusion télévision française, 16 January 1968).

    (35) L. Hanoune with G. Mouffok, Une autre voix pour l’Algérie (Paris: La Découverte, 1996), p. 43.

    (36) Algeria on the Move (Algerian National Centre of Documentation and Information, 1965). Quoted in D. Ottoway and M. Ottaway, Algeria: The Politics of a Socialist Revolution (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970), p. 9. Note that Ben Bella was not actually president until September 1962, despite what this pamphlet suggests.

    (37) Interview with Akila Ouared (13 June 2005).

    (38) These figures for the mujahidat’s subsequent employment are largely confirmed by Amrane’s work. Amrane interviewed fifty-one women who fell into the categories of fida’iyat, maquidardes, members of the FF–FLN or women of European origin. The annexe to her book states each interviewee’s post-1962 socio-economic situation. These fifty-one women included seven who went into the medical profession, five who became teachers, three who became lawyers and three telephonists. Amrane describes only fifteen of these fifty-one women as housewives or without a profession. Therefore, even though Amrane argues that after independence women withdrew from public life, her own research (p.138) suggests that for a certain group of women this was not true. Amrane, Les Femmes algériennes dans la guerre, pp. 286–92.

    (39) A. Lippert, ‘Algerian women’s access to power: 1962–1985’, in I. L. Markovitz (ed.), Studies in Power and Class in Africa (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 222.

    (40) Interview with Bahia Ben Ali (19 December 2005).

    (41) Interview with Khadjidja Belguembour (14 June 2005).

    (42) R. Merle, Ben Bella, trans. C. Sykes (London: Michael Joseph, 1967), pp. 30–1.

    (43) Interview with Djamila Boupacha (11 June 2005).

    (44) Algérie actualité (27 April 1967).

    (45) Alger ce soir (30 December 1964 and 1 January 1965).

    (46) El Moudjahid (30 March 1963).

    (47) C. Lévy, ‘La journée du 8 mars 1965 à Alger’, Clio: histoire, femmes et société, 5 (1997), www.clio.revues.org/pdf/415 (accessed 19 May 2014).

    (48) Révolution africaine (18–24 November 1966).

    (49) Interview with Chérifa Akache (21 June 2005).

    (51) J. Minces, L’Algérie de Boumediene (Paris: Presses de la cité, 1978), p. 74

    (52) Interview with Chérifa Akache (21 June 2005).

    (53) Interview with Fatma Yermeche (16 June 2005).

    (54) A third of the 6,900,000 rural inhabitants in Algeria were ‘regrouped’ into French camps de regroupement, and a further 1,175,000 ‘displaced’ into villages de recasement, neighbouring villages which the French army considered less threatening because geographically more exposed. A. Mahé, Histoire de la Grande Kabylie: anthropologie historique du lien social dans les communautés villageoises (Paris: Bouchène, 2001), p. 418.

    (55) Adjusting this figure to include a very young population and family migration, this represents sixty to seventy per cent of the active male population. Mahé, Histoire de la Grande Kabylie, p. 449.

    (56) Interview with Fatma Yermeche (16 June 2005).

    (57) Abdelmalek Sayad is widely recognised as one of the finest sociologists of Algerian migration to France. See The Suffering of the Immigrant [La Double absence], trans. D. Macey (Cambridge: Polity, 2004).

    (58) ‘Répartition de la population selon sexe et âge de 1977, Direction de la planification et de l’aménagement du territoire (DPAT)’, in M. Dahmani, Atlas économique et social de la Grande Kabylie (Algiers: Office des publications universitaires, 1990).

    (60) Le Peuple (22 August 1963).

    (61) Z. Haddab, ‘Les femmes, la guerre de libération et la politique en (p.139) Algérie’, in iMed Institut Méditerranéen, Les Algériennes, citoyennes en devenir (Oran: MM Editions, 2000).

    (62) Interview with Fatma Yermeche (16 June 2005).

    (63) Interview with Ferroudja Amarouche (10 December 2005).

    (64) C. Lacoste-Dujardin, Opération Oiseau bleu: des kabyles, des ethnologues et la guerre d’Algérie (Paris: La Découverte, 1997), p. 145.

    (65) Alger républicain (27 June 1964).

    (66) Révolution africaine (21 September 1963).

    (67) Interview with Fatma Yermeche (16 June 2005).

    (68) Interview with Fatima Benmohand Berci (17 June 2005).

    (69) Interview with Ferroudja Amarouche (10 December 2005).

    (70) Interview with Chérifa Akache (21 June 2005).

    (71) Interview with Fatima Berci (16 June 2005).

    (72) Interview with Fatima Benmohand Berci (17 June 2005).

    (73) El Djazaïria, 22 (1972).

    (74) Interview with Fatma Yermeche (16 June 2005). Whilst it may have been the case in Fatma’s village that women did not migrate to France, the work of Amelia Lyons challenges the long-held view of Algerian migration in the 1950s as a phenomenon involving young, single men. See ‘Invisible immigrants: Algerian families and the French welfare state in the era of decolonization (1947–74)’ (PhD thesis, University of California at Irvine, 2004).

    (75) Interview with Fatma Yermeche (16 June 2005)

    (77) Ibid., p. 234. The choice of the Constantine region was, according to the author, based on its typicality: in addition to high levels of illiteracy, unemployment and low levels of industrialisation, it was more homogeneous with less ‘Western influence’ (i.e. there had been fewer settlers) than the Algiers or Oran regions, there was a local, inward-looking economy of cereal production, and thus ‘Arabo-Islamic culture’ and ‘properly Algerian traditions’ had been best maintained. The categories of analysis of the study very much fit with official ethno-cultural definitions of Algerianness of the time, although the fact that the study considers attitudes to gender roles as a valid field of enquiry and seeks to explain the marginalisation of women goes against the dominant line that there was not a ‘woman problem’. This wide-ranging study, covering topics from the war and politics to marriage and social life, provides a fascinating insight into how educated urban women in the 1970s conceptualised the ‘woman problem’ and how the researchers’ questions, informed by this gendered framework, were understood by women of different social classes and geographical locations.