Algeria’s Choice: Minority and Women’s Rights in New Constitution

For journalists, critics, women, and minority groups in Algeria, the new constitution’s disingenuous rhetoric symbolizes a continuation of the oppression of rights and an unjust status quo.

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In the conclusion of our three-part analysis of Algeria’s proposed constitution, we evaluate what the promised “new Algeria” means for minority and women’s rights in the country. This analysis follows our review of Algeria’s proposed constitution and its failed promises to create a legitimate democracy, fight corruption, and expand rights of free speech and press freedom.

Minority rights in Algeria’s draft constitution

In the midst of the 2019 protest movement, authorities arrested dozens of demonstrators for carrying the Amazigh (Berber) flag. These examples of repression in Algeria demonstrated once again the disregard of the Bouteflika regime for its own constitution. Since 2016 Algeria’s constitution has included Tamazight as an official — albeit secondary — language.

The existing constitution recognizes the country’s Amazigh roots but in practice, but many Amazigh people continue to suffer oppression in Algeria, often facing prosecution for promoting “atheism.” Article 4 of the new constitution allows for an “assembly for the Tamazight (Berber) language,” again under the control of Algeria’s president.

Many Islamist parties continue to oppose any recognition of Tamazight and other Algerian minorities and have stated their opposition to the new constitution based on this inclusion.

Yet in practice, Algeria’s newly proposed constitution does little to improve on the already disregarded Amazigh rights. The only notable addition is the stated but vague intent to “promote” the language for “later” use.  

The stipulation that Arabic will “remain” the official state language leaves little doubt that Tamazight will never reach full recognition as one of the country’s foundational languages.

Article 3: The Arabic language is the national and official language.Arabic remains the official language of the state.Article 4: Tamazight is also a national and official language.The state shall work for its promotion and development with all its diversities used throughout the national territory.An Algerian assembly for the Tamazight language happens to be placed at the disposal of the President of the Republic.The assembly relies on the work of experts and is tasked with providing the necessary conditions for the promotion of Tamazight in order to translate its status as an official language later.The modalities for the application of this article shall be determined by organic law.

Women’s rights

Women’s rights activists were an important component of Algeria’s 2019 Hirak. The issues of equality, rights, and protection from sexual violence are again a key focus of Algerian society after the brutal rape and murder of 19-year-old Chaima on October 2 shocked the nation. 

While Algerian women make up half the population and were an integral part of the country’s independence struggle, as with minority rights, women receive little attention in the new constitution.

Article 68: The state works to promote parity between men and women in the employment market.The state encourages the promotion of women to positions of responsibility in public bodies and administrations and at the institutional level.

Algeria’s new constitution mentions women only twice in a 47-page document. The new amendments do not explicitly include the empowerment of women and their social inclusion. Instead they focus on the vague promise to “encourage” greater female participation in government. 

For women in the workplace the constitution only promises to “promote” equality without enshrining any additional legal protections to ensure or mandate such equality in Algeria. There is no mention of gender-based violence and the document offers no oversight or punishment to those who continue to oppress or harm women.

Unfortunately Algeria’s draft constitution does little to protect women and their rights and there is no indication that the proposed document could do anything to prevent incidents such as the infamous case of Chaima.

A constitution of broken promises

After months of overtures from Algerian politicians on the noble intentions of the new document, it fails to impress. In the light of day, the constitution provides ample evidence that Algeria’s government is actively opposing any meaningful change. 

Mentions of new freedoms and guarantees are frequently directly undermined by further clauses and the continuing dominance of the presidency. This demonstrates that the new constitution will likely effect minimal change in Algeria. Instead it appears the document aims to fool those who give it a brief glance, while enshrining the powers of a top-down authoritarian presidency with near complete power over the nation.

Read also: Algeria’s Choice: Protests and Press in New Constitution

Many in Algeria doubt whether changes in the constitution matter at all, given the blatant disregard for the nation’s foundational document that the previous regime displayed. It appears that the government is banking on this mistrust and hoping for a large turnout of its supporters in order to present a facade of legitimate progress.

For journalists, critics, women, and minority groups in Algeria, the new constitution’s disingenuous rhetoric symbolizes a continuation of the oppression of rights and an unjust status quo. 

Approving this constitution would help legitimize Tebboune’s oppressive rule internationally while removing any incentive for Algeria’s government to contemplate meaningful change. Such manipulation of the country’s most important legal document indicates that the struggle for true freedom in Algeria is long from over.

Read also: Algeria’s Choice: Separation of Powers, Oppression in New Constitution