When, in the early 1990s, Ali Benhadj, the most media-exposed Algerian opponent and the second-in-command in the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), declared that “Louisa Hanoune is the only man in the Algerian opposition,” he meant to deride the rest of the opposition to the regime in Algeria. Equally, he acknowledged the rise of active women who have been fighting to make their voices heard and to break into the public sphere, which has so often been judged as men’s sphere.
Armed with professional expertise, social science data, and political commitment, these women campaigned for sociopolitical change and denounced injustices, abuses of power, and political violence. Yet, women like Salima Ghezali, Louisa Hanoune and Messaoudi Khalida developed different definitions and visions of sociopolitical progress, and those differences led to conflict. Paradoxically, these divisions multiplied the forms of their activism and thereby expanded their influence in the public sphere.
Of course, not all these women activists were critical; fundamental tendencies in a postcolonial context, I want to make a clear-cut distinction between “functional women activists,” who serve to reproduce and legitimate the values of the regime, and “criticaloppositional women,” who oppose and combat the existing order. This paper also explores the ways the Algerian regime has tried to maneuver women’s organizations, such as the main state association, whose raison d’être supposedly represents women’s needs within a gendered civil society, and how many women leaders have been instrumental in keeping a modern façade.