Dossier 25: Algeria: Morality Militias are Back

Publication Author: 
Malika T.
October 2003
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Who remembers the “cleansing campaign” under President Chadli, more precisely in 1982? When you went out for a walk with your girlfriend/boyfriend, you could not walk 2 steps without running into ‘gendarmes’ or policemen who demanded your marriage certificate, or if you could not produce it, would take down your identity. It [seems to have] started all over again just like in 1982, couples in search of some green in Tipasa (a small town on the West coast of Algiers) have been taken to the police station by gendarmes or municipal guards – What’s the crime? Walking hand in hand. Caught in the “net” of a gendarmes patrol, N. and R. recount their story of about 10 days ago.

We stopped on the side of a country road. My girlfriend had her head on my shoulder, nothing more. At that point gendarmes turn up and ask for our I.D. and ACR registration papers. After staring at us the first question was, “How is she related to you?” I said she was a friend. They confiscated our I.D.s and hold my girlfriend, “We are going to inform your parents so that they know what you are doing. It is immoral to go out with a man who is not your husband.”

Immediately N. got scared. “I was supposed to be at a cousin sister’s who would cover up for me in case of problem – but this problem was too big.” I started imploring the gendarmes.

“If you tell my parents, they will kill me, please, let us leave.” N said to the gendarmes, “We have not done anything wrong.”

“Indeed you did,” replied one of the gendarmes, “this is a violation of decency. You will be brought to justice.”

R. was frustrated, “What is going to happen?” – “We are going to get you two married,” said one of the gendarmes. “We were taken aback by this incredible response.”

The couple indeed stood accused in a court of law on charges of violation of decency.

During our investigation we met young people who were having a nice time in a zoo. We asked them their opinion. Lakhdar and Amiena were taking a walk alongside a railroad. “What if you were caught walking hand in hand and you were forced to get married?” Lakhdar answered first, “Marriage? First of all it is not in my plans, I do not have a job.” Other couples who listened to the conversation were adamant, “The state should take such means to ensure its policies! Marriage, we don’t mind, but what do people want? The state should give us what goes with it, a place to live in, a job. Forcing us to get married, OK, but what then?”

At the small fast food place near the zoo, two young girls were having lunch. We approached them to discuss this problem. “No way to get us married with some guy, just because we went to a movie with him. As for myself, I want a real marriage. We have a girlfriend whose identity papers were confiscated because she was in Tipasa with a guy.”

In Tipasa, the little creeks which normally shelter sweethearts are deserted. Two or three couples sit at tables inside a small inn without music facing a plate of fish. Two slow moving Nissan’s of the gendarmes pass by; they scrutinise the beach. Two of gendarmes come down. Is it a routine check or is it a witch-hunt against lovers?

It is surprising how few cars are parked here. We go around and get information regarding the rumour circulating. The beach and rocks behind the bungalows are desperately empty. Security agents check everywhere. We walk with them.

“What’s going on? There’s nobody here, is it because of the weather?”

“Not at all, even if it were to snow they will come here to transgress morality.”

“Who is ‘they’? Are you turning into a morality militia?”

“There are many minors all over and we take them to the gendarmes.”

“And what about adults? How are you concerned with them? Don’t you think you are trampling on their individual rights?”

“Nowadays, there is no more morality. In the past, one would not witness all this.”

Other times, other morals. However in the wilaya (area) of Tipasa, the authorities don’t seem to want to accept it.

Translated into English from Courrier International No. 424, 17- 2,
December 1998, p.42.
Originally appeared in: Le Matin (Algiers), 1998).