Bouhired, the woman who sang “Algeria is our Mother” in French Schools

Masters of Freedom

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   CAIRO – 19 February 2018: Algeria's activist and revolutionary Djamila Bouhired, arrived on Saturday in Cairo to participate in the second “Aswan International Woman Festival” scheduled to kick off on February 20.

 Upon her arrival to Cairo; the National Council for Women (NCW) in Egypt honored Bouhired in a ceremony attended by the Minister of Culture Enas Abdel Dayem, the Egyptian ambassador in Algeria Omar Abu Aish and other key figures from Egypt and the Arab world.


 Former Egyptian President, Gamal Abdel Nasser, honoring Djamila Bouhired in Egypt

This is not the first time for Bouhired to visit Egypt and surely not her first time to be honored in the Arab world, and especially in Egypt. She was officially received and honored by former Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, who was known for his support of the Algerian resistance against the French colonialism since 1952. Moreover, she was the subject of Egyptian director Youssef Chahine’s 1958 film “Jamila the Algerian” and a number of prominent Arab poets wrote about her as a freedom icon and example of women role in the fight for freedom and liberation.

 Moreover, the legendary Lebanese singer, Fairuz, glorified and sang the Algerian Revolution through “a letter to Djamila” a song released in 1959 and dedicated to Algerian female fighters in the Algerian Revolution, among which the heroine Djamila Bouhired is mentioned. On the international level, Bouhired was one of three Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) female bombers depicted in the 1966 film “The Battle of Algiers” and the documentary film “Terror’s Advocate”.

 Currently in her 80s, Algerian nationalist, activist and revolutionary Bouhired is considered a freedom fighter, Arab icon and a hero. She is best known for her contributions to the fight against French colonial rule in Algeria as a member of the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN). Despite being educated in French schools, she refused to sing the French anthem, and instead she would say “Algeria is our Mother”.

 Bouhired was born to a middle class family; from an Algerian father and a Tunisian mother and she was the only daughter amongst seven sons. Aged 20, she started her national activism against the French colonization when the revolution broke in 1954 after 130 years of French occupation. She worked as a liaison officer and personal assistant to FLN commander Yacef Saadi in Algiers, and was the first to volunteer to plant bombs on roads used by the French military occupation. Her brothers were also involved in the underground struggle.

 Due to her slightly European appearance, Bouhired was able to pass through roadblocks set up by French authorities; a major asset in the struggle against the FLN. During a raid in June 1957, Bouhired was arrested and accused of planting bombs in French restaurants around the Algerian capital. Bouhired said that she was severely tortured to force her to reveal about FLN leader, but she did not and for that reason she was sentenced to death.

   In the same year (1957), Bouhired was tried, convicted and sentenced to death by guillotine. However, Jacques Vergès, a French lawyer who was against France’s occupation of Algeria represented her during the trials. The Arab countries started a campaign that resulted in immense pressure being put on France by international governments and human rights organizations. As a result, Bouhired was sentenced to life imprisonment. Following the end of the French occupation in Algeria in 1962 Bouhired was released.

 She eventually married Vergès in 1965 and had two children, Maryam and Fatima. The couple also established Révolution africaine, a publication that focused on Pan-Africa and African nationalism movements. She also served for two years as the head of the Algerian Women’s Union.

 In addition to her vital role in the struggle for the freedom of Algeria, she continues to be a strong promoter of Human Rights in general and women’s rights in particular. She calls for legal, social, political and economic reform to empower women and enhance their circumstances. After Algeria’s independence, Bouhired organized the first demonstration on women’s rights and presented a progressive family law draft that was not adopted by the government.

 In her book “Sheroes of History”, the Director of the Center for Transnational Development and Collaboration, Nof Nasser Eddin, met Bouhired and quoted her saying, “I am pleased that my life has meaning and a direction that I chose from the very beginning, which is that of the Algerian people’s struggle against colonialism and oppression from foreigner.”