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ALGERIA

Algerian women take to streets to bring back traditional veil

3 min

Women across Algeria are organising events to defend an iconic garment worn by their ancestors but now almost completely forgotten. Some of them prefer this traditional veil, the haik, to the hijab that they view as imported from the Middle East.

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Procession of women wearing the 'haik' in Oran.

Women across Algeria are organising events to defend an iconic garment worn by their ancestors but now almost completely forgotten. Some of them prefer this traditional veil, the haik, to the hijab that they view as imported from the Middle East.

The haik [Editor's note: also known as the 'hayek'] is a long veil made from silk or wool that comes with a piece of embroidered triangular fabric to hide the lower part of the face. From Ottoman times onwards, it was worn by city-dwelling women who ventured outside the home and was considered a sign of purity. It has seared itself into Algeria's collective memory because of the role it played during the country's war for independence. Members of the National Liberation Front [Editor's note: the FLN waged an eight-year war of independence against France] - both men and women - hid under the long garment to secretly carry arms and avoid French army security controls.

The outfit also symbolised Algerian society's resistance to French colonial authority, according to Sihem Raheb Ramdani of the department of Islamic and Arabic studies at the University of Madrid. The colonial power considered that a woman's “unveiling” went hand-in-hand with her “emancipation”.

Nowadays, the haik has virtually disappeared from Algeria’s streets. Since the rise of Islamism and the pressure put on society by the Islamic Salvation Front [FIS] and the Armed Islamic Group [GIA] during the 1990s, the wearing of the scarf-like hijab and a long tunic called a djellaba has become far more commonplace. However, the haik appears to be making a comeback. The 'Miss Hayek' prize was created in 2012 to "promote the traditional Algerian veil", and during the past few years women wearing the haik have staged processions in Algiers, Oran and other cities to restore the veil's place in Algerian society

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