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The Ambiguous State: Gender and Citizenship in Algeria.

The Ambiguous State: Gender and Citizenship in Algeria.



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The Ambiguous State: Gender and Citizenship in Algeria.

Author: Boutheina Cheriet
The Ambiguous State: Gender and Citizenship in Algeria.

Author: Boutheina Cheriet

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11.The Ambiguous State:Gender and Citizenship in Algeria
Boutheina Cheriet 
hat is the best way to examine the problem of citizenship and gender in theemergence of civil society and its dialectical relationship with a monolithicstate in Algeria?One way is to analyze the Algerian debates over personal status in order tocapture the nature of the relationship that links the triad of state, civil society and citizenship. is allows us to investigate the ambivalence that characterizesthe nature of the state and women’s access to citizenship.Indeed, women are caught between the ambiguities of modernity and theregressive local traditional values. is ambivalence has hindered women’s accessto a full-fledged citizenship based on the individualization of their allegiance tothe state.It is worth noting that the ambiguities are those of the political class. In Algeria this class is mainly represented by the state technocracy, a group whichhad proved instrumental in erecting the normative and institutional bases of thestate structures after independence in 1962. eir characteristics and reflexescorrespond most closely with Hishem Sharabi’s concept of neo-patriarchy inthe Arab region.
is argument purports to demonstrate that the ambivalentattitude towards modernity—which has been taken as a “technical” infrastructuraldevice, rather than a total phenomenon—has sown the seeds both of radicalIslamism and of a gendered notion of citizenship, instead of that of universalenfranchisement.However, it is not in women’s limited access to the public realm that thehesitations of the neo-patriarchal state are most cogent but rather in women’sempowerment as individual decision-makers in the domestic realm of the
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family that is the reproductive space par excellence. In this cloistered space, theambivalent attitude of neo-patriarchy feeds into the resolve of resurgent religiousfundamentalist claims in tailoring a lame or subordinated citizenship for womenin Algeria. e end result was the promulgation, in the early 1980s, of a Family Code bill. ese laws entrenched women within the confines of a “minority”status in exchange for their access to the polity. To be admitted to the polity asinto the public space, women in Algeria are asked to sacrifice their majority statusin the family, thus ensuring that their access to citizenship will not underminebelief in the conjugal and familial cosmogony.
Debates over personal status started as early as 1963 and were, at first,dominated by the revolutionary euphoria of Independence. is was wellillustrated by the adoption, on July 25, 1963, of a law (Loi 63-224) establishinga minimum age for marriage. e law was intended to curb the early marriageof young girls. However, the bill was never enforced, as conservatives in thelegislative and executive bodies quickly denied its legitimacy and denounced it asa “secularist” move (secularism being understood as a menace to the social order).Further attempts at issuing progressive provisions favoring an individualizeddecision-maker status for women were made in 1966 and 1972. However,these too were aborted after negative reactions from conservative quarters. Mostsignificant in this contest was the systematic ambiguity of the elite in powerregulating the place of secularism, and that of women.
State and Kin vs. Women
e list of participants in the process of state- and nation-building in Algeria is by no means binary, and one could easily discern differences among revolutionary radicals, nationalist apparatchiks and technocrats, and religious conservatives asearly as 1962. Despite a unitary façade and an obligatory post-colonial rhetoric,radical opinion seemed to dominate early socio-political and ideologicaldiscussions of the polity; this was demonstrated by populist measures such asagrarian self-management, free education and health care, and a widespreadsocial security system. However, a 1965 coup d’état by Col. Boumediene (1965-1978) put a sharp end to the radicals’ revolutionary euphoria. e coup markedthe first rupture with the “ideological” legitimacy of national unity implied by the 1954-62 anti-colonial war, and replaced it with a “technocratic” legitimacy of state-building efficacy, sustained by a new discourse of “specific socialism.”For over a decade, a large consensus had apparently emerged in supportof the vast populist measures undertaken by the state technocracy. eir signalachievement was co-option of all trends of public opinion in the name of economic efficiency and social egalitarianism. e most notable co-option was
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of targeted left-wing radicals (following a wave of repression in the mid and late1960s), and women, who were integrated into areas of mass consumption suchas education and health. Last but not least was the co-option of the advocatesof religious conservatism, whose “cardinal sin”—the endorsement of socialistpolicies—was lavishly compensated for by the promulgation of Islam as thereligion of the state and the establishment of colleges and institutes dispensingreligious education. ese educational institutions, by and large, constitutedveritable breeding grounds for the later, more transparent fundamentalist claimsof the 1980s.e technocratic nature of state- and nation-building during that periodhas left a deep imprint on the later development of what I would call a“commodity” notion of citizenship. Indeed, within a dynamic of rapid socialchange, from a pre-industrial formation into a dependent post-colonial one,universal enfranchisement could not be incorporated as a gratuitous right of atranscendental Republic, but rather brandished as a “barter good” in exchangefor carefully tailored allegiances. is is where universal access to the Republica isnegotiated against the preservation of allegiances of an ascriptive type, specifically  with regards to women’s empowerment as individual decision-makers in thedomestic space. Article 2 of the 1976, 1986 and 1989 constitutions stipulates that Islam is thereligion of the state. e heterogeneity of the official ideological discourse aboutSocialism and Islamism, and also about local traditional communitarianism,has abetted a growing individualism. It has also helped legitimize regressiveconservative claims against the ideal of modern citizenship. Furthermore, thepresent economic liberalization has simply dragged along, as a corollary, a clearpolitical and social fundamentalist expression. is has occurred notwithstandingthe monolithism of the technocratic neo-patriarchal state, which has attemptedto excoriate both conservative and radical progressive opinions, in an effort tomaintain, indefinitely and exclusively, the mythical unitarianism of the nebulousnotion of nationalism. In this, the Algerian case mirrors its sister Arab neo-patriarchies.Indeed, contrary to the broad support for a) the confinement of Arab womento the private domestic boundaries of the family and b) the marginalizationof Arab women from decision-making processes in the public arena, one hasto marvel at the formidable monopolization of family and personal statuslegislation by exclusively male-dominated executive, as well as legislative andstate structures.
 e classical typology, which draws a clear line between categorizations of “public” and “private,” ought to be handled with care where the role and status

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