In the cross-fire of civil war


Rachida, an Algerian mother
SBS. Tuesday, March 14, 8.30pm
Reviewed by Jennifer Thompson

This French documentary, made in 1994, captures many of the terrible difficulties and choices facing ordinary Algerians today. Rachida and her seven children live in a tiny apartment in an Algiers housing estate. Rachida is a courageous, independent woman who trained as a nurse to support her children after she and her husband divorced.

The family has been deeply affected by the civil war between the military government and the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), in which up to 40,000 people have been killed. The conflict has been going since 1992, when the military cancelled elections the FIS was sure to win. Many Algerians have been driven by economic desperation to seek an alternative, leading many to support the FIS and other Islamist groups.

As part of an International Monetary Fund-sponsored program, the dinar has been devalued by 43% in the last year. The 3% economic growth projected by the IMF has not eventuated, reaching only 0.4%. Approximately 40% of Algerians are unemployed.

Rachida is a devout Muslim who also believes in an independent life for women and does not wear the hijab. Her eldest son, Mohamed, is a member of the FIS, and after being caught by a stray bullet, was arrested in hospital and held in jail without trial. Rachida has heard stories of his torture in prison.

Her second son, Samir, a policeman, was assassinated during filming of the documentary. He explained his choice, saying that in Algeria "either you go to the barracks or the mosque". Another son, Abdelkhader, is unemployed and believes there is no future in Algeria for young people despite the fact that 60% of the population is under 24.

Her daughter, Salima, is a champion judo player, and the only female member of the Algerian Olympic judo team. Rachida started her daughter's sport involvement and has given her great encouragement, despite the prejudice against sport for women. Salima and her husband say she will stop training and begin wearing the hijab "soon".

The only failing of the film is that it doesn't provide much explanation of how the country came to such disaster. The economic background and the role of the French government, which has been the strongest backer of the military, are neglected. Well worth seeing.

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