The feminist and poetic protest of the Algerians

An Instagram photo of a girl making a ballet step in the middle of a demonstration against the Buteflika regime went around the world and focused on the role of young people


  • A photo on Instagram of a girl making a ballet step in the middle of a demonstration against the Buteflika regime went around the world and focused on the role of young people and women in the revolts that ended with the 'rais'. It is the peaceful and artistic symbol of the women's struggle in Algeria , where, to this day, laws tolerate polygamy.

Algeria is experiencing a historic moment. The end of an era is breathed throughout the country. The peaceful demonstrations that broke out at the beginning of last February have led to the resignation of Abdelaziz Buteflika's presidency. The rais, harassed by the street and lacking in support among the main pillars of the regime, submitted his resignation on April 2. For the first time in the history of this North African country a popular revolt has succeeded in removing the head of state from power. A milestone that all social classes have participated in. Activists, political opponents, liberal professionals and ordinary citizens have starred in a social response that has also been transversal, with people of all ages, but especially with young people at the forefront. And women have been in the front line.

Young and veteran, veiled and without him, they have taken public space and have protested, side by side with men, against the perpetuation of Buteflika and his clan in power. The prominence that Algerians have acquired in social demands has an iconic image: that of 17-year-old dancer Melissa Ziad performing a ballet step in full demonstration. Dressed in cowboy, black leather jacket and ballet shoes, her 'retired' went viral. The photograph was taken at a protest in Algiers, a week before the commemoration of International Women's Day took to the streets thousands of Algerian females with a dual purpose: to reject the regime and claim their rights. Since then, they are unstoppable.

Rania G., 21, is the author of the symbolic photo. Melissa used as a stage the emblematic avenue of Diduche Murad, in the center of Algiers, a framework through which the protests have passed every Friday. There he took a few steps of classical ballet, with young people who waved the Algerian flag in the background as witnesses of his feat. The image captured a magical moment that combines beauty and desire for freedom. "The 'retired' is my favorite ballet step," Rania told France 24. "The protesters were encouraging us to continue," he says of how he immortalized the scene. She calls it "poetic protest".

An image that symbolizes "poetry, freedom and lightness, with a movement in ascent", in the words of the photographer. A whole declaration of intentions of what young Algerians expect from the future. And a whole demonstration that art can be an inspiration for change. "It provides an incredible opportunity to express yourself and young people like me do not want more than that," Rania adds. Melissa said it in a similar way on her Instagram account, where she shared the photo: "The alternative to the dominant system can be expressed through artistic creativity, just like initiating a revolution in the way of thinking".

Melissa Ziad takes a ballet step in a demonstration. The image, captured by the photographer Rania G, is titled Protesta po├ętica.FOTO: RANIA G.

The generation of Rania and Melissa is opposed to a system that leaves aside young people and women. While 70% of the population of Algeria -42 million people; half, women - are under 30, the key positions of politics, economy and society are taken by those who won the war of independence against France, between 1954 and 1962. Buteflika belongs to that club, with 82 years, and his clan in the powers of the State. Also the military leadership, which directs in the shade the designs of the country and that in the last weeks of protests has been strategically placed on the side of the people, has claimed the immediate departure of the president and his people, and hopes to continue managing power while piloting a transition to your measure.

But many voices warn of the risk that the regime will regenerate and the real change will not come. Among them, one of women has emerged strongly: that of Yamila Buhired, icon of the war of independence. She was a combatant during the years when the Algerians were struggling to free themselves from French colonization. Called the Algerian passionflower, she was imprisoned and tortured with 21 years by the Gallic Army. Condemned to death, she saved her life with the end of the conflict, in 1962. But after the victory of the anticolonial revolution she was forgotten, like so many other veteran women of war. Then they were told to go back to their homes. And they, who claimed equality, never saw this fight fulfilled.

These days of protests in 2019, Buhired, who is now 84 years old, has been on the street participating in the mass demonstrations. In a letter published in full response, alerted young people, but in particular women, that "not let them steal your victory." He gave them words of encouragement: "I would like to convey to you all my joy, all my pride in seeing you recover the torch of your elders, we liberated Algeria from colonial domination, you are returning to the Algerians freedom and pride stripped after independence" . In her letter, the ex-guerrilla explains how the legitimacy of the Algerian people was usurped by a clan that took power and continued to oppress it. And he pleads for "an Algeria in which all its citizens have the same rights, the same duties and the same opportunities, and enjoy the same freedoms without any discrimination".

Yamila expresses what women like her suffered in a country that venerates the heroes of independence. But only to men. During the anti-colonial war, others militarized in the front line of the struggle. They were maquis, part of the urban militia, transported and hid weapons for the partisans, suffered injuries, jail, torture and some died. But when Algeria freed itself from the French yoke, its contribution was erased from history and only men took the honors.

The leaders of the National Liberation Front (FLN) have governed the country since 1962, including Buteflika, the last of those mujahidin who appropriated the struggle of an entire people. The disregard for all those women who were in the vanguard materialized in the Family Code approved in 1984, which institutionalized a legal inferiority for them, who called it the "code of infamy". Even today the laws in Algeria tolerate polygamy.

Even so, their fighting spirit was never stifled and the women returned to the advance of the 1988 protests, in search of political and social freedom. Then they got the FLN to approve the multi-party system and hold the first free elections in the history of Algeria. They would also be the last, because the Islamist Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) took the victory in the first round and the military aborted the second. Then began the bloody decade, a civil war that confronted the Algerians and claimed the death of between 150,000 and 200,000 people. Women continued to face, both the Islamists and the military. Both sides committed massacres, forced disappearances and human rights abuses.

Melissa, Rania and Yamila are linked by a historical thread. Yesterday and today Algeria has always had women on the front line. Today, prominent figures lead the citizen movements behind the protests. But women's rights remain to be consecrated in the Mediterranean country. In the demonstrations on Friday, March 29, a group that asked to reform the Family Code was rebuffed and finally had to abandon the marches. The men argued that it was not the time for feminist demands, that they had to be united against the system. "I am sure that the women know the history of their own country: they fought valiantly for the liberation against France and against the Islamists of the FIS, but their contribution was eliminated from the story." Now, for the third time, the Algerians stand for freedom I hope that my sisters have in memory the times that have been raised and have been erased and this time insist that the feminist revolution is on the street and that it is against all patriarchates and all dictators.The revolution is always feminist " , explains to Yo Dona the Egyptian writer and feminist rights activist Mona Eltahawy. She has just published the book The Hymen and the Hijab (ed. Captain Swing), which, she says, is a source of inspiration for many Algerians who contact her through social networks.

"They are fighting a double fight: for a true democracy and for their rights as citizens, this moment is vital," says Alice Schwarzer, author of the book My Algerian Family, a portrait of the country through three generations published in France, in a interview with Marianne. Melissa Ziad froze the crucial moment of Algerian women in the beautiful execution of a ballet step. "This image represents the Algeria of today and the wind of freedom that is currently blowing in the country," he told Huffpostmaghreb. An arabesque with a leather jacket and slippers tied with silk ribbons for the desired equality of Algerian women

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