Hannoun, Louisa (1954–)
Algerian politician, political activist, and feminist Louisa Hannoun (Luiza Hanoune, Hanoun, Hannun) came to prominence with the political opening allowed by the Algerian government's ruling party, the Front de Libér-ation Nationale (FLN; National Liberation Front), in the late 1980s. In 2004 she became the first female candidate for president in the Arab world. Head of the Trotskyite Parti des Travailleurs (PT; Workers' Party), she is respected by many in Algeria and the world for her efforts to moderate the military's harsh response to the Islamist wins at the polls in 1991, and to push for a truly multiparty democratic political process to include all factions and allow freedom of opinion and expression.
Hannoun was born in 1954 in the douar (a small village of related families, common in North Africa) of Irdjana, near the town of Chefka, in the mountainous northeastern Kabyle region of Algeria. The Kabyle is an ethnically distinct, Tamazight (Berber language)-speaking region that has traditionally been the site of resistance to Arabization and most recently of political mobilization for regional autonomy. Born on the eve of the Algerian revolution against French colonial rule, which achieved independence from France in 1962, Hannoun witnessed the destruction of her family's home during the war when she was five years old. This prompted the family to move to Annaba, a city on the Mediterranean coast, where she became the first girl in her family to attend school.
Name: Louisa Hannoun (Luiza Hanoune, Hanoun, Hannun)
Birth: 1954, near Chefka, Algeria
Education: Law, University of Annaba, Algeria, 1979
- 1970s: Founding member, Socialist Organization of Workers and Algerian League of Human Rights
- 1980s: Arrested in 1983 and 1988 for opposing the government's single-party system
- 1989: Founds Workers' Party
- 1990s: Chair and spokesperson, Workers' Party
- 2004: First Arab woman presidential candidate
She continued her studies and completed her high school diploma despite the persistent opposition of her father. Algerian society was strongly patriarchal, and since girls were destined to become wives and mothers, there was no perceived need for their formal education. While the enrollment of girls in school increased after the revolution, it still took the support of the rest of Hannoun's family for her to remain in school each year; eventually she became estranged from her father when she entered the University of Annaba to study law in 1975.
It was in the 1970s at the university where she first became politically involved in the struggle for women's rights and equality in Algeria. With other women she fought the official organization for women, the Union Nationale des Femmes Algériennes (UNFA; National Union of Algerian Women), an agency of the FLN that paid lip service to women's rights but effectively upheld the status quo. In 1980 Hannoun moved to the capital city of Algiers, just in time for the growing protests against the FLN government's push to implement a set of laws called the Family Code, which codified women's second-class status, based on Islamic law. Despite the protesters' efforts the code was passed in 1984. The protests were significant, however, in catching the nation's attention and bringing the topic of women's rights into the public sphere.
Hannoun had already become involved in labor concerns at the airport of Annaba, which was her place of employment after high school, and at the university she was involved with unions to press the government for workers' rights and a multiparty political system. In Algiers in 1981 she joined the illegal Organisation Social-iste des Travailleurs (OST; Socialist Organization of Workers), and it was as a result of this association that in 1983 she was arrested and held for six months for distributing "traitorous" material. In 1985 she established, with others, the Algerian League of Human Rights, the first such organization in Algeria. As she has throughout her struggles for women's and workers' rights, Hannoun sought to frame them in the broader context of human rights and democracy.
In 1988 she was arrested again, accused of fomenting the riots in October of that year. The riots had provoked a crackdown by the government, with many jailed and tortured. She was released after several days, and continued to work with colleagues pressing for the end of single-party rule and the legalization of political opposition. The following year, 1989, the FLN legalized opposition parties and organizations. Hannoun was one of the founding members of one of the new political parties, the PT, based on the previously outlawed organization, the OST. As with the OST, the PT's political platform was Trotskyite in orientation (of the radical, non-Stalinist, socialist left), focusing on workers' rights and opposing control of the Algerian economy by foreign corporations and international organizations that support capitalist globalization, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The pluralistic multiparty system was short-lived, however. The main Islamist party (advocating a central role for religion in the state and society), the Front Islamique du Salut (FIS; Islamic Salvation Front), won the local elections in 1991. The electoral success of the FIS was feared by many, including the army, which canceled the next round of elections, dissolved the FIS, and removed from office President Chadli Benjedid, who had legalized the multiparty system. The other, non-Islamist, parties were still allowed, however, and Han-noun played a very interesting role in the tragic drama that unfolded between the military-controlled Algerian government and the marginalized and radicalized Islamist factions.
Hannoun opposed the actions of the army and was vocal in her opposition to the cancellation of the elections and the outlawing of FIS, alienating her from many colleagues in the women's movement. Many fellow feminists, including Khalida Messaoudi, a former colleague who had called for the cancellation of the elections after the FIS victories, supported the government's silencing of the Islamic movement in the political arena, viewing the Islamist agenda as antithetical to the struggle for female equality. Islamists, for example, had argued in 1981 that the Family Code did not adhere strictly enough to Islamic law (shari'a). Hannoun, however, maintained her position in support of political pluralism, denouncing the suppression of political expression despite her disagreement with Islamist ideology.
Her efforts at a negotiated settlement and national reconciliation with freedom of political association continued, and in 1995 she was one of a small group of Algerian political leaders that met in Rome and called for the reinstatement of the FIS and new open elections. One of the main FIS leaders, Ali Benhaj, was quoted as calling her "the most courageous politician [in French, the word he used meant "male politician"] in Algeria." (Labat, 1995, p. 125)
As leader of the PT during the 1990s and into the 2000s, Hannoun has continued to work on behalf of the party's ideals, as well as to push the army and the government to create a truly multiparty democracy. She has also been involved in multinational conferences and organizations outside of Algeria, such as the communist Open World Conference of Workers, where she opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq and was active in promoting Iraqi workers' rights. In 2004 Hannoun became the first woman to run as a presidential candidate in the Arab world. She continues to pressure the government for open and fair elections, as well as for policies that preserve Algerian political and economic independence, calling in 2006 for an end to the privatization of the country's hydrocarbon industry, which had been pushed by the economic restructuring plan of the IMF.
INFLUENCES AND CONTRIBUTIONS
Hannoun's feminist convictions came out of her experiences growing up in patriarchal Algerian society, and in particular events that happened in her own family. When she was young her older sister was repudiated by her husband (unilateral divorce is allowed for men in Algeria) after giving birth to seven children. Their father's reaction was to blame his daughter and sequester her at home, separated from her children. Witnessing her sister's emotional pain, the young Louisa was shocked by this event, perceiving it as part of the larger society's injustice toward women. Further, her struggle to stay in school against her father's wishes heightened her awareness of the lesser opportunities available to women in Algeria.
Her far-left political ideas were also formed at an early age, influenced first by the ruling FLN itself, which framed the revolution against the French in terms of overthrowing the oppression of imperialism and bringing equality to Algerian society. In high school in Annaba she reports having had many leftist teachers, from all over the Middle East, who further exposed her to Marxist ideas.
During her university years these perspectives became more integrated. Hannoun entered the public sphere in an era when women were feeling the disappointment of the promise of the revolution for democracy and equality, as it turned into single-party rule reinforcing the patriarchal system. Many women had taken part as fighters in the war against the French, and then faced a return to their second-class social status. Likewise, the socialist ideals expounded by the FLN did not materialize for Algerian workers, whose unions were under government control.
Hannoun's fights for women's and workers' rights were integrated into those of a broad coalition of activists in a struggle for human rights and democracy in Algeria. Besides being a strong female role model, she played a large part in bringing women's issues into the public sphere as an important topic of debate, as well as uniting women's and labor rights into the larger struggle for Algerian democratization.
THE WORLD'S PERSPECTIVE
Hannoun is admired as extremely strong in character to have persisted in her political activities despite working in an arena traditionally reserved for men, particularly in the 1990s when the government and the Islamist radical factions were prosecuting a violent civil war (in which it is estimated that as many as 150,000 to 200,000 people were killed), and many prominent women were murdered. She has also been appreciated as a moderate and rational voice during this polarization, calling continually for negotiations and the toleration of political dissent, and condemning the government's repression of Islamism.
Her Marxist views would win her less support in the early twenty-first century. Her support for the policies of socialist leaders in Latin America, for example, would put her out of favor with those in charge of the strongly capitalist world economy during the era of globalization.
NOTHING IS INEVITABLE
But there is also another indisputable victory—namely that for the first time in Algeria, in Africa and in a Muslim country, an independent workers' party candidate stood for national office, defending the rights of workers and their children, the small farmers, the civil servants, the youth converted in pariahs [sic], the disinherited and weakened layers, against the devastating policies of the globalization led by the WTO, the World Bank and the IMF and other institutions for the profit of multinationals—policies which are refracted in the horrors of occupied Iraq and Palestine.
Yes, in this national mobilization campaign that we carried out, the candidate and the militants of the Workers' Party introduced fundamental national questions into the political debate. These questions, both national and international, are directly tied to the terrifying world developments. Our party alerted the Algerian people to the dangers ahead while also establishing that solutions exists [sic], that nothing is inevitable from the moment that it is the very existence of human civilization that is at stake.
"DECLARATION OF LOUISA HANOUNE, CANDIDATE OF THE WORKERS PARTY IN ALGERIA IN THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS, ON THE RESULTS OF THE ELECTION OF APRIL 8, 2004." ILC NEWSLETTER 75 (20 APRIL 2004). AVAILABLE FROM HTTP://WWW.OWCINFO.ORG/ILC/NEWS/ILC_75.HTML.
It is clear that Louisa Hannoun has made a strong impact on Algerian politics, demonstrating how political discourse, even in strong opposition, can take place in a rationally articulated and nonviolent public arena. Her struggle to empower the underdogs of Algerian society, and her ability to rise above her own political ideology in support of a higher purpose, that of a multiparty democracy able to allow all viewpoints, will have a positive influence if Algerian political culture evolves in the direction of tolerance and political institutions that follow the rule of law.
Cheref, Abdelkader. "Engendering or Endangering Politics in Algeria? Salima Ghezali, Louisa Hanoune and Khalida Messaoudi." Journal of Middle East Women's Studies 2, no. 2 (Spring 2006): 60-85.
Hanoune, Louisa. Une Autre Voix pour l'Algerie: Entretiens avec Ghania Mouffok. Paris: Éditions La Decouverte, 1996.
Labat, Severine. Les Islamistes Algeriens: Entre les Urnes et le Maquis. Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1995.
Zerrouk, Djamel. "Louiza Hanoune: Plaidoyer pour le Retrait de la Loi sur les Hydrocarbures." El Watan, 29 June 2006. Available from http://www.elwatan.com.
Mary Jane C. Parmentier