Skip to main content

Tunisia sex workers call for brothel to reopen in resort of Sousse

By Ammar Benaziz, Laura Smith-Spark and Saad Abedine, CNN
updated 12:09 PM EDT, Wed March 12, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Prostitutes hand over a petition appealing for the Sousse brothel to reopen
  • The brothel was closed down by a court order around 16 months ago
  • Veiled official says she will do what she can to help the women sex workers
  • Prostitutes say they're suffering major financial hardship because they can't work

(CNN) -- A group of prostitutes has called on the Tunisian government to reopen a brothel in the coastal resort town of Sousse, after a court ruling shut it down more than a year ago.

A delegation from the sex workers met with the vice president of the Tunisian Constituent Assembly, Meherzia Labidi, on Tuesday to appeal for her help.

They handed over a petition signed by 120 women calling for the brothel to open for business once more, in a meeting filmed by Tunisian radio broadcaster Mosaique FM and shared with CNN Arabic.

Labidi, of Tunisia's Islamist party Ennahda, which holds a majority of seats in the assembly, told the sex workers that deciding whether to reopen the brothel was up to the Ministry of Interior but that she would do what she could to help them.

The official, who had her head covered, added, "But we still have to recognize that any premise where prostitution commonly takes place, here or anywhere else around the world, is a real problem in itself."

A court ordered the brothel to close around November 2012, after a lawyer argued before a judge on behalf of neighbors in the area. The case came at a time when radical Islamists had launched a campaign in several parts of Tunisia against the licensed brothels.

The head of the delegation told Labidi, "There is no problem. ... We were attacked by the Salafists, radical Islamists, who attacked us and closed the premises by force."

Another woman in the group said that "the neighbors do not have any problem with us and they already informed us that they would not mind that we reopen the brothel."

Other brothels that were shut down are operating again in the capital, Tunis, and in the city of Sfax, she said. "We have to go back to our line of work because we are facing major financial catastrophes," she added.

Labidi told Mosaique FM, "These women are Tunisian and they have rights, and our duty is to serve them. I am ready to listen to everyone on the condition that I have the time and if their demands are possible and can be addressed in such circumstances; they have the right to be heard by everyone."

Although it is a conservative Muslim country, Tunisia allows prostitution in licensed brothels. Buying sex elsewhere is illegal.

The country's licensed brothels date back almost a century and were first documented during the French colonial period.

After independence, the Tunisian government reorganized the sector. Brothels were found in many provinces of the country, especially in areas popular with tourists from the region.

Workers at a brothel are normally overseen by a woman and are subject to a regular health check. This is documented and regulated by the Ministry of the Interior, although it does not run the brothels.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:19 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
China and likely other countries have the capacity to shut down the U.S. power grid, says the NSA.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
If it wasn't for a comic's skit, Bill Cosby would still be America's favorite father, says expert.
updated 10:50 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Obama orders the most sweeping overhaul of U.S. immigration in decades, prioritizing the deportation of "felons, not families."
updated 4:06 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Fighters loyal to ISIS are now in control of Derna, a city on Libya's Mediterranean coast.
updated 2:45 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
The founder of a U.S. nonprofit that works with returning soldiers is named CNN's Hero of the Year.
updated 8:24 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
It's a very big challenge but NASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan thinks it can be done.
updated 7:39 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
CNN's Atika Shubert explains how the most recent ISIS video differs from the other previous hostage execution videos.
updated 12:38 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
A Syrian cleric condemns ISIS and its execution of U.S. hostage Peter Kassig.
updated 12:20 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Volunteer fighters in eastern Ukraine dig down just 800 meters from the front line.
updated 12:29 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
TV anchor wears the same suit for a year. Female colleague wears new outfit daily. Who gets criticized?
updated 7:04 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT