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