Zohra Drif Bitat (born 28 December 1934) is a retired Algerian lawyer, moudjahid (a militant of the Algerian War of Independence), and the vice-president of the Council of the Nation, the upper house of the Algerian Parliament. Drif was born in Tissemselt, Algeria, part of the province of Tiaret, where her grandfather was an imam and her father served as a lawyer and judge in Tiaret. She is best known for her activities on behalf of the National Liberation Front (FLN) during the Algerian War of Independence.
Drif was married to Rabah Bitat, one of the heads of the FLN and president of the National Assembly. In Algeria, she is considered a heroine in the Algerian War of Independence against French colonisation. She was a part of the FLN's bomb network and during the Algerian War of Independence, she worked with Ali La Pointe, Hassiba Ben Bouali and Yacef Saâdi, head of the Autonomous Zone of Algiers. Her time in the war is most known in connection with the Milk Bar Café bombing in 1956.
Drif (زهرة ظريف) was born into an upper-class Algerian family. She grew up in Vialar, where her father served as a qadi. She attended an elite secondary school, Lycée Fromentin, in Algiers, and later studied in the Faculty of Law at the University of Algiers from 1954 to 1955, but later withdrew when the FLN called for a student strike. While a student, Drif developed ideals that were both feminist and anti-colonial. In school, she learned about the Age of Enlightenment, French Revolution, and individual liberties, which all contributed to her ideology during the Algerian revolution. Drif was outraged by French colonisation in Algeria and looked at how the French treated the local population after the Ordinance of 7 March 1944,
Participation with the FLN
Drif also played an active role in the activities of the FLN around this time. Alongside Djamila Bouhired and Hassiba Ben Bouali, Drif canvassed to gain support among Algiers women for the movement. She also played a role in helping hide male FLN members from the police during a 1956 manhunt.
At the beginning of the insurrection (November 1954), Drif quickly became associated with the FLN, during her time in university. She became active in the Drif joined the FLN with a friend from her university, Samia Lakhdari. The two quickly became involved in the organisations workings and worked continuously with them before her arrest.
Drif and other women were recruited because they could easily blend in with French women, which allowed them to cross the borders between the casbah and the French zone of Algiers. By removing traditional Muslim dress and changing her appearance, Drif and other women of the FLN were allowed to move freely through the city. Drif has frequently explained her role in the revolution as well as the importance of women in the revolution. In January 1957, the French authorities declared the Battle of Algiers and the ZAA is heavily hit by French paratroopers commanded by General Massu. In July and August 1957, Drif attended 2 interviews between Yacef Saâdi and Germaine Tillion on 4 July and 9 August.
Milk Bar Café bombing
On 30 September 1956, her unit was directed to leave 3 bombs; one in the Air France office in the Mauritania building in Algiers, which did not explode, one in a cafeteria on the Rue Michelet, and another at the Milk Bar Café, which exploded killing 3 young women and injured dozens of adults and children. One of the first actions of the Battle of Algiers, Algerian Communist Party-member Raymonde Peschard was initially accused of the bombing and was forced to flee from the colonial authorities.
Arrest and imprisonment
Zohra Drif was arrested on 22 September 1957, alongside Yacef Saâdi. They were hidden in their refuge on the Rue Canton in the casbah of Algeria.
In August 1958, Drif was sentenced to 20 years of hard labour by the military tribunal of Algiers for terrorism, and was locked up in the women's section of the Barbarossa prison. After her initial imprisonment, she was transferred between various French prisons. She published a 20-page treatise, entitled The death of my brothers (French: la Mort de mes frères), in 1960, while still in prison. Drif continued her legal studies while in prison during those 5 years, where she was obsessed with studying capital punishment. She was pardoned by Charles de Gaulle on the occasion of [[1962 Algerian independence referendum |Algerian independence]] in 1962.
After her liberation from prison, Drif went on to create an organization for youth who were orphaned during the Algerian War of Independence, while also working as a criminal lawyer in Algiers. She went on to be one of the first women elected to the Algerian Council of the Nations, where she continued to work for 15 years.
After her imprisonment, she became a member of the Council of the Nation, ultimately becoming the Vice President. She was a member until January 2016. During her time on the Council, she presided over the "le Groupe d’amitié Algérie-France" (Algerian-French Goodwill group), where her role was to "promote relations of friendship between the French people," "relations of confidence" "between the Algerian and French parliaments,"…" to discuss the problems that interest our two populations to be frank". In the same speech, she indicated that "since the Declaration of the 1 November 1954, the FLN said, and remained constant, that they fought against colonial forces and not the French people."
She was one of the founding critics of the "Algerian Family Code" when it was enacted in 1984. The Family Code was subject to much criticism and many of the same female militants, including Drif, who participated in the war continued to march in the 1980s against the Family Code and Islamic fundamentalism and gender inequality in Algeria after the war.
Although she was considered a heroine in the War of Algerian Independence by her generation, her place in political life has become criticised by younger generations. The moudjahidines that fought for the Algerian independence have been accused of taking privileges after the liberation (pensions, priority employment, credit, taxi licenses and debit cards) granted by the Algerian state. The resistors, in part because of their place and influence, were assimilated into a space of privilege that can still cause problems. Drif was appointed to the Senate of Algeria and in her position, like others of the older moudjahidines, was targeted with much animosity. She was a victim of many accusation, all difficult to verify, but all very critical in the Algerian public. Most notably, in January 2014, her old companion in the resistance, Yacef Saâdi, accused her of selling out Ali La Pointe.
Drif is the widow of former Algerian president Rabah Bitat. Drif and Bitat went on to have three children, and now have five grandchildren. They were married until his death in 2000. She is reported to be a close friend of former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
Drif also remained politically active after the war. For example, she was involved in demonstrations against the Family Code in the 1980s. Since her retirement from the Algerian government, she has gone on to publish her memoirs and participate in many speaking engagements around the world.