Algerian ‘bikini rebellion’ may be hype but harassment isn’t

August 20, 2017
Not many bikinis. An Algerian woman plays with a child on the sand at a public beach in the capital Algiers. (AFP)

Tunis - European news outlets re­ported that thousands of Algerian women staged a “bikini rebellion” to pro­test conservative norms at beaches but local journalists found little substance to the claim.

Media outlets, including Ital­ian newspaper La Stampa, French daily Le Parisien and British news­paper the Daily Telegraph reported that approximately 3,000 women flocked to Algerian beaches in biki­nis to protest harassment.

“It is a kind of bikini revolt that it is staged in Algeria in reaction to a campaign launched to stigmatise women who do not hide their bodies on beaches,” wrote Le Parisien.

“Can we get through the summer without the inescapable hubbub over the burkini and the bikini?” asked La Stampa. “Certainly not.”

Local journalists who scouted the country’s beaches on one of the days in early August the planned dem­onstration was reported said they found nothing unusual and report­ed a familiar scene of coexistence between women wearing bikinis, bathing suits and burkinis — the full-body swimsuits that set off contro­versy in Europe last year.

While women were spotted enjoy­ing a swim in the Mediterranean, there was nothing resembling the revolt anticipated by the European media, local reports said.

“It is an ordinary day at the Alge­rian beach where various swimming suits coexist,” wrote Kamel Mejdoub in the Algerian daily El Watan.

“Bikinis and burkinis are side by side in tolerance,” added Al­gerian journalist Wahida Bahri of L’Expression after visiting beaches at Annaba, Tarf, Skikda and Jijel.

Zineb Hamdi of the Tout Sur l’Algerie (TSA) website spoke to several women at Skikda’s Larbi Ben M’Hidi beach who told her that wearing bikinis has been “part of Al­geria’s traditions for a long time.”

Algerian sociologist Yasmina Ra­hou said the story was overblown due to the “fantasy of foreign media (outlets)… to fill the summer with a sequel to the burkini saga of 2016.”

Last summer, controversy erupt­ed after European countries banned the burkini, a swimsuit that covers the body and head.

In France, authorities said they were concerned that allowing the conservative apparel could feed into Islamists’ ideology but activists ar­gued the choice of what to wear is a civil liberty.

The controversy grew after a pic­ture of four French police hovering over burkini-clad women on Nice’s Promenade des Anglais beach went viral.

“Algerian society is finding itself between the hammer of Islamist extremists who want beaches for women under the watch of police squads… and the anvil of turning women’s bodies into market prod­ucts as some unbridled form of mod­ernisation by Westerners’ wants,” Rahou said.

“If today the bikini becomes a subject to feed the French media this has to be assimilated to a suspi­cious campaign,” Bahri said.

Despite questions surrounding Algeria’s “bikini rebellion,” Algerian women, like many women in the Maghreb, regularly face harassment in public spaces. For many, even walking in the street can be a source of discomfort as they are often sub­jected to hostile comments and har­assment from men.

“In the past, women’s bodies had no place in public spaces,” said Yas­mina Chouaki, an activist from Alge­ria’s Berber-speaking Ferwa Fadhna N’Soumer feminist group. “When women were obliged to leave their private spheres, they were forced to entirely cover their bodies.

“Today women and their bodies seek to win place in all public spac­es. On the beach, there is a kind of bargaining between the woman and society through clothing.”

Moroccan writer Tahar Ben Jel­loun said women are harassed not only in public but also frequently at the workplace.

“A society where these kinds of ac­tions occur is a cause for worry,” Jel­loun said. “We have to say it bluntly, it is a sick society. We do not have ei­ther the sense of civility or the sense of respect for other people.

“We do not know anymore how to respect the minimal laws of living together the way our grandparents lived in harmony and intelligence.”