Khalida Messaoudi – Algeria

In 1993, a handwritten envelope arrived in Khalida Messaoudi’s mailbox. In it was an official communique announcing that she had been condemned to death by the Islamic Salvation Front. This letter came after a series of threats and an attempt on her life in retaliation for her role as a leader of the feminist and democratic movements in Algeria and a fierce opponent of Islamic fundamentalism. Khalida Messaoudi did not flee from this threat by seeking refuge outside her country. Instead, she went into hiding within Algeria, where she continued her fight for emancipation and independence from religious extremism … to restore in Algeria what she describes as “the basics of dignity”—a woman’s right to pursue her studies, practice a profession, make a living, marry and divorce freely, and walk the streets without a veil. She is a former mathematics teacher.

Khalida Messaoudi – Algeria

She said in 1995: “More than 80 people a day have been killed by Islamic fundamentalists. They concentrated on journalists, because writers symbolize freedom of expression, which the fundamentalists find intolerable. Intellectuals, teachers, writers, thinkers – these are the people killed because it is they who defend traditional notions of liberty. But sometimes simple citizens were killed too, randomly, just for the purpose of terror. One day ordinary people may decide to say ‘No’ to the fundamentalists’ ambitions and they want to avoid that happening. They killed women who opposed their views of how we should behave. They cannot allow difference. That is why they insist on veils to cover the difference. They are fascists who claim Allah is on their side and that they are marching under the banner of righteousness.” (Read this and more on this Third World Traveler page).

Khalida Messaoudi received the LI Prize for Freedom in 1998 for her efforts in the promotion of Human Rights and for her fight for the position of women in Algeria. Since the elections of April 1997, she has been a member of the Algerian National Popular Assembly as a deputy for the RCD (Rassemblement pour la Culture et la Démocratie). Khalida Messaoudi continues to be an activist in the feminist movement while also working energetically for democracy and Human Rights. (Read the rest on Liberal International).

Khalida Messaoudi is exactly four years older than Algeria, her country of birth, which succeeded to independence from France in 1962 after a series of bloody wars. She grew up with four brother and sisters, two boys and two girls, in a respected Kabylic family. Here she became acquainted with the Islam of Algeria, which is tolerant and laicistic in its traditional essence. Each person is responsible to God alone, and the privacy of belief is respected. Her father, a civil servant, wanted to provide her with as good an education as possible. Which meant that Messaoudi went to a respected lyceum (girl’s grammar school). She had to confront the Arabisation of the school system here, one of the many wrong decisions made by the ruling socialist-military unified party FLN (National Liberation Front), a system characterised by corruption and mismanagement. Messaoudi began working as a maths teacher in 1982. She attempted to counter the wave of Arabisation and Islamisation and argued in favour of a level of education for children that corresponds to the world standard. At the beginning of the 80’s she made her first political appearance by attempting to make inroads against the new FLN government laws hostile to women. The new voting law allowed men to vote in place of their wives. The new travel law made travelling alone for women forbidden. The new family law determined that women would immediately become wards of their male relatives or husbands for the period of their lives. They were also exposed to strong prejudice when it came to divorce and inheritance law. These laws represent a break in the constitution, which prescribes the same rights and obligations for men and women. Together with feminists, communists and the “Mudjahedat”, the old women partisans from the war of liberation, Khalida Messaoudi collected 10,000 signatures against the family law and demonstrated on the street with thousands of women. The travel law had to be repealed due to the strong pressure of the women, but the family law was ratified in 1984. This represented one more step taken by the government towards Islamism and away from democracy. On 15th March 1985 Messaoudi founded the “Association for the Equality of Women and Men in the Face of the Law”, which existed until 1989 (=”Association pour l’egalité devant la loi entre les femmes et les hommes”), She was a vanguard for the civil movement for women’s rights in Algeria and also sympathised with the rise in the cultural movement of the Kabyles (Berbers) who are demanding the recognition of their language and cultures. In 1988, following serious unsettlements, the government decided to search for a way out of the country’s economic and social crisis by creating a democratic opening. This led to the formation of more than 50 parties and newspapers critical of the government. This policy does not just allow new democratic parties such as the left of liberal RCD (Rally for Culture and Democracy) to be formed, which Khalida Messaoudi is close to, but also all Islamic parties such as the FIS (Islamic Salvation Movement). In 1990 Messaoudi founded the feminist “Independent Association for the Triumph of Women’s Rights” (”Association indépendant pour le triomphe des droits des femmes” AITDF), whose president she became. In the growing conflict between the government party FLN and the Islamic FIS, Messaoudi acts as a representative of the “third force”, which demands a civil democratic and laicistic Algeria, that respects and reflects the traditional features of the multiracial state. She says: “I stand between the old FLN, which has systematically exploited Algeria for almost 35 years, and has exploited the country and the almost illiterate jobless and homeless youth, who are fascinated by fundamentalism. I want neither the one society nor the other, and have been fighting for a new model since 1979.” (Read the rest of this article on the International UNESCO Education Server ‘dadalos’).

Her book in french: Khalida Messaoudi, Une Algérienne debout, 1995 Flammarion. (1998 in english: ‘Unbowed: An Algerian Woman Confronts Islamic Fundamentalism’). A series of private conversations with Khalida Messaoudi, a feminist and opponent of Islamic fundamentalism who has been threatened and even sentenced to death for demanding basic rights for Algerian women. Messaoudi has chosen to remain in Algeria and live in hiding rather than seek asylum elsewhere.

She was met by the UN Mission in Algeria near the time of publication.

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