Arab Women in Revolution: Reports from the Ground

Part: 16

Algerian Women Test the 'Arab Spring' Winds

Thursday, March 17, 2011

To appease "Arab spring" protesters, Algeria lifted a 1991 law that banned public assembly, but a longstanding women's vigil for the country's "disappeared" complains it doesn't help them. Other political women debate the effects.

ALGIERS, Algeria (WOMENSENEWS)--The late-February lifting of the state's emergency powers law hasn't helped the women who keep a weekly vigil here for relatives who disappeared in the country's 1992-2001 civil war.

"We are prevented from demonstrating, we are still under surveillance and each time we try to march police violently shove us around and flood us with vulgarities," said Amel Boucherf.

For years she and other women whose relatives disappeared during the war have convened at the same place: the headquarters of the National Advisory Commission for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights.

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The female protesters, who have been gathering for 12 years, are a fixture of capital life. They wear headscarves, raise portraits of their missing relatives and chant slogans for "Justice and Truth" as well as against "Oblivion and Impunity."

"They say they've lifted the state of emergency but that is just a PR move, as in reality nothing has changed," said Boucherf.

Lifting the emergency law--which banned demonstrations and restricted assembly--was a key demand of opposition groups who have been staging weekly protests in the Algerian capital of Algiers as part of the "Arab spring" of pro-democracy unrest.

Arab leaders from Algeria to Yemen have been making concessions in the hope that their governments will not be the next to be toppled in unprecedented protests inspired by the popular uprisings of Tunisia and Egypt.

But Boucherf says no concessions are reaching her group of demonstrators. For months, police have stopped the protesters from gathering at their customary meeting point.

Farouk Ksentini, president of the National Advisory Commission for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights has said that the case of missing people is closed and he will not tolerate the staging of further demonstrations linked to this cause in front of the institution.

6,544 Officially Missing

Officially, 6,544 were declared missing during the civil war.

"We reject that number because our files show 8,000 people went missing," said Bousherf, adding that police on several occasions dragged her on the ground to prevent her from demonstrating.

Nassara Dutour, who heads the Collective of Algerian Families of the Disappeared, echoes Boucherf's disappointment.

"We thought that the lifting of the state of emergency would permit us to express ourselves, but we are seeing the same dramas unfold," she told Women's eNews.

The Algerian conflict, which pitted rebel Islamists against the government, cost 200,000 lives overall and displaced nearly 1 million people, according to official figures. It also weakened the women's rights movement as activists received death threats from fundamentalist groups.

But since the end of the war in 2002, human rights groups have complained that the main purpose of the state of emergency was to control civil society and choke political opposition through limits to the right to assembly and arbitrary detentions.

The emergency law is still palpable in every day life and makes it hard for women in rural areas to reach the capital, said Maache Zine, president of Wafa, an organization that promotes handicraft production in rural areas and is headquartered in M'sila, about 185 miles southeast of the capital.

"We are faced with dozens of checkpoints that create considerable delays," Zine told Women's eNews at a conference on the economy, held here in the capital on March 3. "Each time we have to show we have permission and each time we have to prove that we have no links to terrorism."

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The World

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