The prostitutes of Adballah Guech alley: the 'pride' of Tunis

Miss Pompadour, a former prostitute of Abdallah Guech Street. (Photo published on the site harissa.com)

Tucked in the alleyways of the Tunis medina, just a few hundred metres from the oldest mosque in the capital, the Zitouna Mosque, Abdallah Guech alley is an official red light district in the heart of the city. This is highly unusual for an Arab country.
 
The brothel is a fixture of Tunisian culture, and has been featured in several classic films. Previously, when sexuality was less liberal, it was known as a place of sexual initiation for young sons of wealthy Tunisians. Today, however, it is mainly visited by those of more limited means.
 
In Abdallah Guech prostitution is legal, and the sex-workers receive regular medical check-ups. The street remains controverisal, however, and several Facebook groups have been created to demand its removal.
 

Photo published on zizirider's blog.

We have been unable to find recent photos of the alley. If you have any, or could take some, contact us at observers@france24.com.

 
Contributors

"Media in the Gulf criticise this street, but I find it a source of pride"

Zizirider, 40, a blogger in Tunis.

I’ve always known about Abdallah Guech because my family live in the same medina. I used to pass by it on my way to high school [Carnot School as it was, now Bouguiba School] and the police would move us on because we were too young.
 
The Abdallah Guech alley is very narrow. It is hidden, there are no window fronts or neon, like in Brussels or Amsterdam. There are more people in the adjacent roads, mainly men, but apart from that, it is all very discreet. Along the street there are little cubicles every 2-3 metres and, through a half-open door, you can see the scantily dressed prostitutes sitting on chairs, awaiting clients.
 

Photos sent by zizirider.


Abdallah Guech, also known as “The House”, has been around at least a century. It’s one of the so-called “indigenous” brothels that flourished under the French protectorate. Its clients were mostly Tunisians, both Jewish or Arabic. Europeans in the city mostly went to a more luxurious brothel called “The Great House”.

'The prostitutes carry identity cards which say that they are employees of the Interior Ministry'

Most of the ‘girls’ are actually women of a certain age, maybe forty and older. There are rarely any younger ones. They often come from poor backgrounds. They use local services and get regular free health check-ups. Quirkiest of all is that their identity cards state that they are Interior Ministry employees. That is so that they avoid being hassled and helps them dealing with the authorities. It is said that in exchange, they sometimes tip off the police.
 
The women pay taxes, a system that is unique in Arab countries. I travel a lot and I can tell you that you won’t see that in Algeria or Morocco, even less so in Libya.
 
Some satellite channels in the Gulf severely criticise Tunisia because of this street. There is one radical cleric in particular who accuses the country of going against the precepts of Islam for allowing prostitution but not polygamy. However, I believe, that Tunisia may be proud that it protects its prostitutes as they do.

Extracts from the video: “There is a place in Tunisia called Abdellah Guech where, brace yourself, pleasure girls are authorised to work. I repeat: authorised to work, with papers to prove that they are healthy. Imagine a country which allows prostitution and bans polygamy, does this not warrant the wrath of God? What exactly are you trying to do, please the West?"

 

Before, this street was the place for first experiences, as there was such sexual frustration because society was more conservative. Today, the clients are not so young and they tend to be less wealthy. To enter, it is 20 dinar [11 euros]. They are also many Algerians - on the France Gate (Bab Bhar) side of the city where the taxis and rental cars from Algeria stop.
 
Richer clients go elsewhere, and there is also clandestine prostitution. There are prostitutes who solicit in places frequented by rich people, but it is not like Paris, it is very discreet.
 
To get to the alley, you have to pass through Zarkoun Street. It was a street of antiques, which housed the national library and the first musical conservatoire, but since the 1980s fewer people go there. The mothers of many of the delinquents on the streets are retired prostitutes of Abdallah Guech."
 
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