Louisa Hanoune, First female candidate to stand for the Algerian presidential elections
Daikha Dridi - 15/03/2004
Unlike many women she does not hide her age but actually has a tendency to flaunt it, in April she will be fifty: “ The age of the Algerian revolution” she says. This is how she likes to present herself, Louisa Hounane, proud and touching spokesperson for the Workers’ Party, the only political party in Algeria to be led by a woman.
Leader of a far leftwing party, Louisa Hanoune, is a well known political figure and has been for fifteen years already, but this year Louisa Hanoune has created a precedent. Her candidacy in the presidential elections, to be held on the 8th April, has recently been recognized by the constitutional council, making her the first woman in Algerian history to officially set her sight’s on the position of president of the Republic.
This event is not only a first in Algeria but in the entire Arab world. Only six candidates were recognized by the constitutional council. Many candidates presented in the press as ‘political tenors’ were refused access to the presidential election campaigns, while other ‘tenors’ preferred to throw in the towel. It’s in this context that we can justly appreciate the achievement of this woman.
The « Louisa phenomenon » as the Algerians affectionately call it, is however viewed differently by society, the media and the Algerian political communities.
In the French-speaking political microcosm, where it is pretended that the leader of the workers party is a political foil for the current regime, Louisa’s Hanoune’s performance is received with scorn and sarcasm.
Newspapers – with the exception of a few glowing editorials – prefer to react with caution. A cautiousness which from time to time suggests, in bad taste through newspaper caricatures, the extent of the misogyny in these circles despite the fact they portray themselves as traditional avant-garde groups in support of women’s rights.
For most Algerians, the spokeswoman of the Worker’s Party represents a sort of archetype of the “man-woman” who is admired for her courage, but whom one still remains slightly wary of.
As spokesperson for a Trotskyite party so therefore assumed atheist and moreover a woman, it has cost Louisa Hanoune dear to eliminate all the suspicions that such a reputation has earned her in the Algerian working classes.
A combatant who doesn’t mince her words, is how she seemed the first time she appeared to the public at the democratic opening in 1989, and it is how she continued to make herself known throughout the years of civil war which followed, when she openly deplored the brutal repression which the military regime subjected the Islamists to.
It is probably for these reasons that no-one was surprised when Algeria’s most popular and most radical Islamic leader, Ali Benhadj visited Louisa Hanoune to thank her when he came out of twelve years imprisonment. When one knows the personal development and especially the ideologies on which these characters each base their political battles, the situation is enough to leave anyone speechless.
If today, amidst the devastated political scene of the Algerian opposition, the Workers Party is still present, it is not to play a ‘bit part’ or because its spokesperson has imposed respect and consideration. It is mainly due to her steadfastness and political coherence - qualities that are somewhat rare in the heart of the Algerian political community.
During the last general elections of 2002, the Workers Party was already the talk of the town by monopolizing 21 seats at the general assembly, making Algeria one of the only countries in the world where there are “so many” Trotskyite members of parliament.
In this presidential election, out of six candidates, the spokesperson of the workers party will be the only one not defending the extreme liberalism of the economy but its numerous victims.
This voice, absent from previous polls, will make itself heard throughout the electoral campaign, and that is the most stunning victory for Louisa Hanoune and her party.
Louisa Hanoune, leftwing candidate at the Algerian presidential election, is also the culmination of a particular personal evolution. Born on the 7th April 1954 into a family of poor mountain peasants from Jijel in Eastern Algeria, she had to flee in the midst of war with all her family to the city Annaba, after her parent’s home was bombed by the French army.
After independence in 1962, she was the first woman of her family to go to school. “It is this right to education which will completely change the position, the representation of women in our society and of which I am partly a product of” (1) she says. A right for which once pubescent she will have to fight fiercely for. Against her own father.
She will eventually end up choosing to totally break off contact with her father in order to study law at the university of Annaba, after passing her baccalaureate. It is then within the ‘socialist turmoil’ of Algeria’s newfound independence that Louisa Hanoune formed her political conscience: “The whole country was still pulsing from the war of liberation, everybody was talking about socialism, of justice, of progress. Algeria was at the height of its anti-imperialist battle…we were completely united with the Palestinians, their cause was also ours. We were against apartheid in South Africa, we talked about Vietnam, I grew up like all my generation in this militant atmosphere, of struggle” (2).
Under the dictatorship of the one-party system, Louisa Hanoune campaigns in feminist groups who are protesting against the family code, adopted by the Algerian assembly in 1984 and is still in force today. As a member of an underground far left party, the Workers socialist organization (OST) she will be arrested in 1986 and will spend six months in prison. When, under pressure from bloody riots, Algeria adopts a pluralist system in 1989, Hanoune is part of the founders of the Workers Party of which she has always been the spokesperson.
In 2004, she is the first Algerian female candidate in the presidential election and she will most probably never be president of the Algerian Republic. Never?
To conclude this extravagant portrait, it might not be superfluous to remind in which terms Louisa Hanoune mentions her first heroines from her childhood, the Algerian partisans: “Throughout my childhood; my mother told me about them with a contagious admiration (…). She had seen them write a letter or draw a map on a piece of paper and it was the first time in her life she had seen women write. She had been deeply moved. I think it is this emotion, the anxiety of my mother which made it so that as a child I knew that I too, when I would be older, would make ‘plans’”(3).