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Bouhired, Djamila

By:
Jeremy Rich
Source:
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Bouhired, Djamila

(1937–)

rebel, was born in the Algerian capital of Algiers. Her mother was from Tunisia and her father was Algerian. Bouhired’s family was relatively well-off, and she attended French primary and secondary schools in Algiers. By the time of Bouhired’s adolescence, she had committed herself to Algerian independence. After the onset of the revolt against French colonial rule in Algeria—launched on 1 November 1954 by the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN)—Bouhired became a revolutionary sympathizer. Yacef Saadi, the head of FLN military operations in Algiers in 1956, recruited Bouhired as well as other young women such as Zohra Drif as guerillas. Both of Bouhired’s parents were killed in fighting in Algiers between the FLN and the French military. Bouhired’s aunt Fatiha lost her husband, an FLN soldier, when he was killed by French soldiers as he tried to escape prison. Under Saadi’s tutelage, Bouhired dressed in European women’s fashions to disguise herself so that she could set bombs without being noticed by European settlers or French soldiers. After bombs were prepared in September 1956, Bouhired placed some of the explosives. Some accounts state Bouhired placed a bomb at the Air France terminal at the Algiers airport which failed to go off, and it was widely believed she was responsible for placing a bomb at the Milk Bar café that killed a number of children. In early February 1957 Saadi’s chief bomb transporter identified Bouhired to French paratroopers under the command of Jacques Massu. Bouhired was apprehended by French troops on 9 April 1957. At the time she was walking with their main target Saadi, and Saadi considered shooting Bouhired rather than allowing her to be captured. Bouhired’s experience in prison has been a subject of discussion for many years. During Bouhired’s subsequent trial she testified that French soldiers had placed her on an operating table and then placed electric wires in her vagina to electrocute her repeatedly. French military officers and doctors denied this treatment. Captain Graziani, one of her interrogators, initially struck her when he first questioned Bouhired on 17 April 1957. They supposedly developed a romantic relationship, and she informed him where some bombs were located and gave away the identity of another female FLN operative, Djamila Bouazza. The truth regarding these conflicting accounts has remained a topic of debate.

Charged with murder Bouhired went on trial in late 1957. Jacques Vergès, a French lawyer, took on her case. Vergès decided to make Bouhired’s case into an open discussion of how French soldiers regularly employed torture. Vergès presented Bouhired as a nationalist heroine victimized by the French army. French newspapers put Bouhired’s story and photograph on their front pages. When the French court sentenced Bouhired to death, Vergès led an international effort to have this sentence commuted. By May 1958—the same month Charles De Gaulle seized power in France—Bouhired’s story and cause had become a major debate within France. Ultimately the French government decided to change Bouhired’s penalty to imprisonment. From 1958 to 1962 Bouhired remained incarcerated in Rheims, France. When De Gaulle’s government signed the Evian Accords with FLN representatives in March 1962 that granted independence to Algeria, FLN prisoners were freed in the next few months. Bouhired married Vergès in 1965, and he converted to Islam. They had two children together, Meriem and Liess, prior to their divorce several years later. Bouhired’s story became immortalized in several films, including the Egyptian film Djamila Bohired (1958) and the Italian-Algerian film The Battle of Algiers (1966). She and Zohra Drif rallied fruitlessly for a new Algerian family legal code in 1967, and Bouhired publically voiced her disgust with the 1984 Algerian family law reforms, which in her view restricted women’s rights. In 2011 Bouhired returned to public attention when she asked to go to Egypt to join protestors demanding democracy in Tahrir Square in Cairo. She condemned Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika in 2014 as well. When Bouhired sought medical attention in Paris in 2012, former European settlers from Algeria who had fled to France after Algerian independence condemned her hubris for seeking help from the same country that she had fought against. Bouhired is an example of the women who fought for the FLN and the embattled legacy of Algerian decolonization.

Bibliography

  • Arnaud, Georges, and Jacques Vergès. Pour Djamila Bouhired. Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1961.
  • Lazreg, Marnia. The Eloquence of Silence: Algerian Women in Question. New York: Routledge, 1994.
  • Semmar, Abdou. “Djamila Bouhired: ‘Sellal a trahi l’Algérie et moit je descendrai dans la rue pour manifester contre Bouteflika.’” Algerie-Focus.com. 25 February 2014. www.Algerie-Focus.com/blog/2014/02/ djamila-bouhired-sellal-a-trahi-lalgerie-et-moi-je-descendrai-dans-la-rue-pour-manifester-contre-bouteflika.
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