Gay Tunisia News & Reports 2006-10

Links & Comments:

Article 230 of the Penal Code of 1913 (largely modified in 1964) decrees imprisonment
of up to three years for sodomy between consenting adults…The Tunisian government tightly censors
the internet and in addition to blocking sites containing political opposition;
Tunisia also filters pornography and gay-related content.

Gay Tunisia forum

Gay Tunisian blog

Gay life (?) in Hammamet, Tunisia: Trip forum postings:
Q: At one club I saw Tunisian Men all dancing with each other (very closely and looked very gay). I was confused about what I was seeing…?
A: It is very similar to Indian and Muslim culture, as homosexuality is illegal and often seen not to exist therefore the men are very affectionate with each other as it is seen as ‘safe’ i.e. they couldn’t possible be gay as it is impossible and/or illegal. It takes some getting used to, as it can appear ‘gay’ when it is genuinely not.

Correspondence to from a European resident of Tunisia:
"Tunisia is by far the most open and liberated Arab society towards homosexuality but always in unofficial and private way as is it still against the law. There is a delicate balance between what is done and what is said about homosexuality in Arab countries that many westerners do not understand. It is not hypocrisy, but respect for other people feelings.
Except the usual 5-10% of the populaton, who are usually gay or lesbian worldwide, the vast majority of Tunisians are straight but indulge in occasional homosexual relations especially with foreigners. If you call them gay you will get an angry response, and rigthfully so. There are some cafés and bar where some gay tourists hang around but there you get there only the worst husslers and you pay for what you get. To meet genuine Tunisian just stroll down a street or sit in a café and let your eyes roll. It wont take long to make a contact. But be careful this year there have been already 4 or 5 westerners gays killed…"

Lonely Planet Guide Information about Tunisia

Lonely Planet Travelers’ Forum about Tunisia

Behind the Mask Gay Africa information

CIA Factbook: Tunisia

BBC Reports

Human Rights Tunisia

1 Tunisian Weekly Réalités Dedicates Series of Articles to Homosexuality 5/06

2 Bloggers debate homosexuality and democracy 5/07

3 Lonely Planet Thorn Tree gay forum comments: Gay Travels in Tunisia

4 Sex and Relations in Tunisia 2007

5 Tunisia: At the Desert’s Edge 7/07 (background story)

6 Training course for human rights activists concludes in Tunis 7/07

7 Gay Israeli travelers frequent Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia…. 11/07

8 Where Europe, Africa and the Mideast Meet in Tunisia 5/08 (background story)

9 Internet Chat Rooms Offer Romance to Maghreb Residents 8/08

10 Tunisia Denies Allegations of Human Rights Abuses 8/08

11 Day 9: Tunisian swimmer Mellouli wins Olympic gold 8/08

12 Tunisians receive Olympic hero Oussama Mellouli 8/08

13 Tunisia seminar targets violence against young female workers 12/08

14 “Reject AIDS not HIV Positive Persons” campaign launched in Tunisia 8/09

15 Tunisians celebrate engagements and circumcisions during Ramadan 9/09

16 Global Peace Index ranks Tunisia 2nd in Africa 5/10

16a Is Facebook a Refuge for Homosexuals in Tunisia? 6/10

17 Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women concludes 10/10

May 24, 2006

Tunisian Weekly Réalités Dedicates Series of Articles to Homosexuality in Tunisia (No.1170)

The independent French-language Tunisian weekly magazine Réalités [1] dedicated a series of articles to homosexuality – an uncommon initiative in the Arab press.

The articles include the personal stories of homosexuals and lesbians, information on their legal status in Tunisia, and a medical assessment by Dr. Kamel Abdelhak, a psychologist specializing in sexual matters. In addition, renowned anthropologist Malek Chebel [2] is quoted as asserting that homosexuality is tolerated in Arab culture. Poems on bisexual love by 10th-century Persian-born Muslim poet Abu Nawas are cited as an example.

The following is a review of the series:

Legal Status of Homosexuals in Tunisia
Lawyer Bochra Bel Haj Hmida argues that the legal status of male homosexuals and lesbians is very clear in Tunisia: "Article 230 of the penal code makes it clear that homosexuals and lesbians are sentenced to three years’ imprisonment… Even if the law is not automatically implemented, it remains a threat and should be abrogated… We must stop confusing homosexuality – the free choice of two adults – with sexual assault or pedophilia." [3]

Homosexuality in Classic Arab Literature
Dr Kamel Abdelhak writes, "According to most psycho-sociological studies, homosexuality is not a culturally or socially related phenomenon. It exists in all social classes and cultures. Greek and Arabic civilizations tolerated it." [4]

Dr Malek Chebel [5] authored many books on love in Islam, including Myths and Sexual Practices in the Maghreb, which reports that "in Muslim society, where genders are separated, young people often have feelings for their playmates… In the Maghreb countries, homosexuality and heterosexuality are not as clearly distinct as in the West. This is partly due to the gradual introduction, in classical Arab culture, of the veneration of bisexuality among the elite. Great poets – such as Abu Nawas, Omar Khayam and a few Abbasid princes – praised it…"

In addition, Chebel notes that "the [Islamic] religious tradition itself is very vague on the issue of homosexuality"… "In Koranic verse 56:17, the ghilman (i.e. youth) [6] – a symbol of bisexuality in Muslim lands – appear together with pure virgins, called houris. From this we may infer that bisexuality is not always considered as a wrong." [7]

Réalités cites renowned 10th-century Arab poet Abu Nawas, who wrote: "Man is a continent, woman is the sea. I prefer the land [to the sea]." The article clarifies that Abu Nawas was often criticized for his homosexual tendencies, but was protected by the rulers on account of his talent as a poet. The article reports, "As in ancient Greece, homosexual culture existed in Persia, as is shown by poems praising the beauty of ephebes (usually Christian slaves of Persian origin.)" [8]

Testimony of Homosexuals Living in Tunisia
In an article describing the lives and feelings of gays in Tunisia, Réalités journalist Nadia Ayadi reports, "The education system, the traditions, and the religious and cultural myths present homosexuality as a perverted and abnormal attitude." She says it is "a painful problem," adding that "everybody remembers the collective lawsuits of homosexuals in Egypt, [9] or the stoning of homosexuals in Iran."

Regarding the policies of Arab and Muslim countries toward homosexuals, she says that Tunisia is more lenient than many other Arab countries, and tolerates homosexuality as long as it is not openly displayed: "In Islam, as in other religions, homosexuality is considered a sin against divine order. The Shari’a very harshly condemns homosexuality, and recidivism may lead to the death penalty. In some Gulf countries, homosexuals may be sentenced to death or lose their civil rights.
In Iran, two teenagers aged 16 and 18 were hanged on July 19, 2005 in Mashhad, because they were homosexual.
Tunisia, which is midway between liberalism and an oppressive implementation of the laws on homosexuality, more or less tolerates homosexuality as long as it is practiced in secret. In rural areas, however, homosexuality may result in shame and rejection – and even in human tragedies [killings] when the family feels dishonored."

However, "…in Muslim countries, homosexuals cannot quietly be themselves, since there is no way they can reveal [they are homosexual], not to mention claiming rights as homosexuals." Samir, 26, says: "One must be very strong to live as a homosexual in our country [Tunisia]. Today, if you discover at age 15 that you are more attracted to men, you are lost. There is no reference, no model." Therefore, most homosexuals in Tunisia prefer to hide the fact that they are homosexual.

Slimane, 22, says he has no problem being homosexual in Tunisia and has never thought of leaving his country, as many others have. He explains that in Hammamet, as in other large cities, there are meeting places for homosexuals: coffee shops, discos and hammans. In Tunis, there is one coffee shop where homosexuals meet at night; it has become their "headquarters," although homosexuals are not the only ones to frequent the place. Only one homosexual agreed to meet the Réalités journalist there. It is noteworthy that the journalist was careful not to mention the name of the coffee shop in the article.

Another Slimane says that a homosexual couple may even feel freer than a heterosexual couple in Tunisia: "It is easier for a homosexual couple than a heterosexual couple to enjoy a full sexual life, since men can live together, travel together, and even share the same room in a hotel. No law bans this, whereas a non-married heterosexual couple will face difficulties…"

Réalités also provides information on the socio-economic function of homosexuality in Tunisia. In homosexual circles, all social classes are mixed, says journalist Ayadi. Often an older man from a rich quarter has a young boyfriend from a poor neighborhood. Money plays an important part in many homosexual relationships: "In relationships between older men and younger men, money alleviates feelings of guilt. There are many such relationships based on money, not only with foreigners but also between Tunisians." [10]

[2] For more on Malek Chebel, see MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 273, "Algerian Reformist Malek Chebel: 27 Propositions for
Reforming Islam," May 5, 2006,
December 1, 2005.
December 1, 2005.
[5] For more on Malek Chebel, see MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 273, "Algerian Reformist Malek Chebel: 27 Propositions for
Reforming Islam,"
[6] The word in the Koranic verse is wildan, which is close to ghilman in meaning.
December 1, 2005.
December 1, 2005.
[9] For more on the subject, see MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 88, March 6, 2002, "Egyptian Press:
‘Since Egyptian Gays Have No Rights, Their Rights Need No Defense,’"
December 1, 2005.

May 3, 2007 – Magharebia – The News & Views of the Maghreb


Lonely Planet Thorn Tree gay forum comments: Gay Travels in Tunisia

Q from rdb: I am going to Tunisia end of june 2007 for a few days. Does anyone know about hotels (in Tunis and Sousse) allowing to have guests in my room, about saunas and cinemas and anything about gay life in general over there?
thank you very much.

A: I traveled in Tunisia for a month about a year and a half ago, and don’t think any hotel (mid-range) I stayed in would have even noticed if I took someone to my room. There’s definitely a vibe in many places in Tunisia, but the only place it was aggressive was in Sousse. Walk along the corniche and one of the many handsome young men there will be chatting you up in no time. Also, the donkey cart boys in Douz hinted strongly/offered sex a couple of times. Tunis has a cinema and hamam with limited activity. Make sure you set a price if necessary.

Q from guilray: Any gay spots in Tunis?

A: If you speak French you are luckier than most tourists who can’t. That is a plus for you. Tunis and Tunisia do not have clubs, etc, in the gay western sense, you are probably aware of that already, right? One has to make do and use one’s talents. With a knowledge of French, you can probably much easier drop small linguistic clues and hints as to what you are looking for.
You will find the men/boys friendly enuff and willing to talk with you. And, they know what tourists are hunting for.
As for taking them back to your hotel, that is problematical–it is not easily done. Maybe easier in a big, expensive, HIlton-type hotel where one going thru the lobby and upstairs is not as easily noted. But in a smaller, family hotel, of course, everything is noted by the staff and other guests. One can make use of the cinemas. In downtown Tunis, the Cafe de Paris on the main street is a gathering spot for all and well known as a place to start a conversation. Most of the men you meet on the street are not participating for the joy of it; they expect some sort of renumeration–taxi fare is a good excuse. There are others out there who are just looking for release. Could be those who actually have a job–policemen?? or the men who work at the Bardot museum?? Still, some may ask for recompense in order to take the stigma from having participated. They want to feel that they did it for some other purpose.

2007 (?) – From:

Sex and Relations in Tunisia

Lifestyles in Tunisia are far more modern than most visitors expect, especially in the larger cities. Young men and women meet freely, and pre-marital relations are far from uncommon. This rests both on the traditional society values, where women played an important role in society and was predominantly responsible for finding a life partner by her own, and on the politics of the country which emphasize the freedom of women.

If you look closely, you will notice that the freedom of both sexes is expressed in a far more direct fashion than in many Western societies. Put on your goggles and notice what happens out in the waves on the most popular beaches. Under the surface! Many female travellers to Tunisia complain about not having been left alone by men, always getting attention and suggestions thrown after them. Note that this is simply the Tunisian way of life, that a bit of friendliness and clear messages will help a lot. Nobody will await you in dark alleys to violate you. Also note that Western men may experience something of the same from Tunisian women. Tunisia is the only place where I have experienced women groping me in crowds!

Tunisian women are usually not condemned if having a relationship with Western men, but modesty is in this case important, and if there has been any sort of openness marriage is considered as the only honorable outcome. Note that according to Tunisian law, a Tunisian Muslim woman can only marry another Muslim, so conversion to Islam will be the only option for a non-Muslim man falling in love in Tunisia.

Relations between Western women and Tunisian men is still the most common, but unfortunately many of these relations are disgusting old woman-young man in return for a visa and a life in the West unions. Quite a high number of the older women (or unsuccessful women in their home country) seem to believe that true love occurs, that finally they have been appreciated. Note that divorce rates for this type of marriage is between extremely high and 100%, and that for a poor young man there is little dishonour in lying to an older woman in return for achieving a better life. All around Tunisia there are young women waiting for their sweethearts to get the divorce through, so that they can be reunited in Europe or somewhere else.

My impression is that love marriage between a Tunisian man and Western women are limited to the ones where he has some education at least and the Western women is of about the same age. Short time relations are far from uncommon in tourist resorts, almost always between Tunisian men and foreign women. Contact is easily made, intentions are direct. Gifts are expected in return for a nice time, but note that many hotels have strict regulations on bringing Tunisians, be it men or women, to the hotel room. Bribing the hotel staff seems to be unavoidable. Note that there are reports of high percentage of HIV-infected among these men.

Female prostitution is common in larger cities, and almost non-existing in smaller places. The system is that a secluded street is sided with tiny "shops" of women waiting in the door for a client. Ages are usually 30 and upwards, prices from 10TD and upwards. The women are regularly controlled by doctors, and the areas protected by police. Homosexuality exists in Tunisia like anywhere else, and gays in Tunisia fare a much better situation than in many other Muslim countries. But there is still a long way to go before they get European-style rights. I remember back in 1994, in Tunis, that I was invited into this bar on the main street. It turned out to be a gay joint, with even a couple of transvestites in the back corners. Since the people there were friendly and not pushy (I’m not gay), I returned another night just to discover that the place had been cleared by the police.

Gay Western travellers should therefore note that Tunisia is a place to act with precaution. Do not be forward, and be careful about whom you trust.

July 2007- –Vanity Fair Magazine

Tunisia: At the Desert’s Edge
(non-gay background story)

by Christopher Hitchens
Where Africa faces Europe, on the ruins of Carthage’s mighty civilization, Tunisia is holding fast against encroaching desert—and fundamentalism’s arid tyranny. Five years after a brutal al-Qaeda bombing, the author explores the pressure points in one of the continent’s most successful countries.

If we all indeed come from Africa, then the very idea of Africa itself comes from the antique northern coast of that great landmass, where the cosmology is subtly different and where the inhabitants look north to Europe and southward at the Sahara. Here was the mighty civilization known as Carthage, which came as close as possible to reversing what we think of as the course of "history" and conquering Europe from Africa instead of the other way around. With its elephants and armies, and under the brilliant generalship of Hannibal, it penetrated all the way through Spain and France and down over the Alps onto the smiling northern plains of Italy. Not even the later Muslim conquests, which surged out of the Arabian Desert and along northern Africa and across the Strait of Gibraltar, ever got so far.

After Rome took its revenge and deleted Carthage from the historical page a hundred and forty-six years before Christ—as I was told by the Tunisian archaeologist Neguib Ben Lazuz as we sat in the shadow of the magnificent Roman amphitheater of El Djem—it cast around for a name to call its new colony.

The most imposing local people were the Afri, a Berber tribe in the northeastern quarter of what is now Tunisia. And the new province of "Africa," or "Ifriqiyyah," as its later, Muslim rulers were to call it, was sophisticated enough to give its title to a continent. There were Roman emperors—such as Septimius Severus—of African descent. In the eighth book of his Natural History, written in the first century a.d., Pliny the Elder made the observation, possibly borrowed from Aristotle, "Ex Africa semper aliquid novi" ("There is always something new out of Africa").

And so there is. If you look at the map now, you will see that Tunisia is like a little diamond-shaped keystone, its different facets constituting a frontline territory between Europe and Africa, North and South, East and West, the desert and the sea. It was from its gorgeous city of Kairouan—the oldest Muslim city in Africa—with its huge mosque built with the pillars of Roman and Carthaginian temples, that Islam was spread to the black sub-Saharan regions of Mali and Nigeria, and also northward to the Spanish region of Andalusia.

And it is here that the crosscurrents between fundamentalism and cosmopolitanism, syncretism and puritanism, are being most acutely registered. From the northern tip of Tunisia on a clear day, you can see the shimmering Italian island of Pantelleria. Spanish and French and Italian coast guards regularly pick up Africans from as far south as Guinea who have traversed the interior to launch their craft across the Mediterranean. (One of these was picked up the other day, having attempted the perilous crossing with no more than an oil-drum raft and a G.P.S. navigation system. Give that man an entry permit! We require people with such initiative.)

On the other hand, so to speak, it was in Tunisia in April 2002 that an al-Qaeda suicide murderer drove a truckload of propane up to El Ghriba, the oldest synagogue in North Africa, a little gem of a building that has been the centerpiece of an ancient Jewish community—the largest in the Muslim world—that dates back two millennia. Nineteen people, mostly German tourists, were slaughtered.

I recently made my own visit to the place, which is on the island of Djerba, where Ulysses is said to have passed his time among the lotus-eaters. I was walking through the old ghetto, in which Arabs and Jews mix freely, when a series of bombs tore through cities in neighboring Morocco and Algeria, apparently to mark the fifth anniversary of this revolting crime. In January, there had been a firefight between Tunisian security forces and the newly named Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, a gang formerly known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, which joined the bin Ladenists and has apparently been granted the bearded one’s franchise. This poses a fairly stark choice. Will the northern littoral of Africa become a zone of tension, uneasily demarcating a watery yet fiery line between Europe and the southern continent? Or will it evolve into a meeting place of cultures, trading freely and cross-fertilizing the civilizations, as it did once before?

Tunisian society contains some of the answers to these questions. On the face of it, the country is one of Africa’s most outstanding success stories. In the 2006–7 World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report, it was ranked No. 1 in Africa for economic competitiveness, even, incidentally, outpacing three European states (Italy, Greece, and Portugal). Home ownership is 80 percent. Life expectancy, the highest on the continent, is 72. Less than 4 percent of the population is below the poverty line, and the alleviation of misery by a "solidarity fund" has been adopted by the United Nations as a model program.

Nine out of 10 households are connected to electricity and clean water. Tunisia is the first African state to have been accepted as an associate member of the European Union. Its Code of Personal Status was the first in the Arab world to abolish polygamy, and the veil and the burka are never seen. More than 40 percent of the judges and lawyers are female. The country makes delicious wine and even exports it to France.

The Tunisian Jews make a potent grappa out of figs, which is available as a digestif in most restaurants. There were several moments, as I was loafing around the beautiful blue-and-white seaside towns or the exquisite classical museums and ruins, when the combination of stylish females, excellent food, clean streets, smart-looking traffic cops, and cheap and efficient taxis made me feel I was in a place more upscale than many European recreational resorts and spas. I remembered what my old friend the late Edward Said had told me: "You should go to Tunisia, Christopher. It’s the gentlest country in Africa. Even the Islamists are highly civilized!" But before I could be seduced into abject boosterism, I had a lengthy, not to say lavish, dinner with some of the country’s academics and intellectuals and writers. The atmosphere in the restaurant was quasi–Left Bank Parisian, and I think I lulled them a bit by recounting some of the Davos statistics cited above.

Then I added two more. Since its independence from France, in 1956, Tunisia has had exactly two presidents, the first of whom, Habib Bourguiba, became a "president for life" before being deposed for senility and megalomania. The current ruler, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, will celebrate his 20th year of uninterrupted power this November. At election times, he has been known to win more than 90 percent of the vote: a figure that never fails to make me nervous. I have not met the man, but within hours of landing in the country I could have passed an exam in what he looks like, because his portrait is rather widely displayed.

Well, you can say for Tunisia that people do not lower their voices or look over their shoulders
(another thing that has made me nervous in my time) before discussing these questions. But the conversation still took on a slightly pained tone. Was the West—that’s me—not judging the country by rather exacting standards? To the east lay the huge territory of Libya, underdeveloped and backward and Islamized even though floating on a lake of oil, and, furthermore, governed since 1969 by a flamboyantly violent nutcase. ("We are the same people as them," said my friend Hamid, "but they are so much en retard.")

To the west lay the enormous country of Algeria, again artificially prosperous through oil and natural gas, but recently the scene of a heinous Islamist insurgency that—along with harsh and vigorous state repression—had killed perhaps 150,000 people. Looking farther away and to the south, Sudan’s fanatical and genocidal militia, not content with what they had done in Darfur, were spreading their jihad into neighboring Chad, extending a belt of violent Islamism across the sub-Saharan zone.

Increasingly, Africa was becoming the newest site of confrontation not just between Islam and other religions (as in the battle between Christian Ethiopia and Islamist Somalia, or between Islamists and Christians in Nigeria, or Islamists and Christians and animists in Sudan) but between competing versions of Islam itself. Why pick on mild Tunisia, where the coup in 1987 had been bloodless, where religious parties are forbidden, where the population grows evenly because of the availability of contraception, where you can see male and female students holding hands and wearing blue jeans, and where thousands of Americans and more than four million Europeans take their vacations every year?

When it’s put like that, who wouldn’t want the alternative of an African Titoism, or perhaps an African Gaullism, where presidential rule keeps a guiding but not tyrannical hand? A country where people discuss micro-credits for small business instead of "macro" schemes such as holy war? Mr. Ben Ali does not make lengthy speeches on TV every night, or appear in gorgeously barbaric uniforms, or live in a different palace for every day of the week. Tunisia has no grandiose armed forces, the curse of the rest of the continent, feeding parasitically off the national income and rewarding their own restlessness with the occasional coup.

And the country is lucky in other ways as well. Its population is a smooth blend of black and Berber and Arab, and though it proudly defends its small minorities of Shiites, Christians (Saint Augustine spent time here), Baha’is, and Jews (there is a Jewish member of the Senate), it is otherwise uniformly Sunni. It has been spared the awful toxicity of ethnic and religious rivalry, which makes it very unusual in Africa. Its international airport is named Tunis-Carthage, evoking African roots without Afrocentric demagogy. I still could not shake the feeling that its system of government is fractionally less intelligent and risktaking than the majority of its citizens.

However, it is not every day that you can go downtown to a university that is attached to a mosque—in this case the Zitouna, or "Olive Tree," mosque, with an old library housing thousands of ancient texts—and sit with a female professor of theology. Mongia Souaihi cheerfully explained to me the many reasons why the veil is not authorized by the Koran and why she is in danger for drawing this conclusion in print. "The fundamentalists from overseas have declared me to be kuffar—an unbeliever." This I know to be dangerous, because a Muslim who has once been declared to be an apostate is also a person who can be sentenced to death. "Which fundamentalists? And from where overseas?" "Rachid Ghannouchi, from London."

Oh no, not again. If you saw my "Londonistan" essay, in the June Vanity Fair, you will know that fanatics who are unwelcome in Africa and Arabia are allowed an astonishing freedom in the United Kingdom. The leader of Ennahda, the outlawed Tunisian Islamist group, the aforesaid Mr. Ghannouchi, was until September 11, 2001, allowed to broadcast his hysterical incitements into Tunisia from a London station.

"Almost everything we have worked for in this country among the young," I was told by Mounir Khelifa, a highly polished professor of English, "can be undermined by any one of a hundred satellite stations beamed into our society." I thought perhaps he was exaggerating, or perhaps feeling insecure. The Tunisian authorities sometimes give the same impression by hovering around in Internet cafés trying to invigilate what sites people are clicking on. In a society where satellite dishes are everywhere, this looks crude and old-fashioned.

So Tunisia’s achievements, though real enough, are fragile. When the terrorists target tourists, they pick the economy’s most vulnerable spot. (The Djerba atrocity had a real effect on that year’s overall figures.) But, of course, they also isolate themselves, first by creating poverty and unemployment and second by violating the inflexible laws of Muslim hospitality. So this is the edge of uncertain awareness on which an outwardly happy and thriving society is poised. Some way to the south of that Roman amphitheater at El Djem, you begin to hit the Sahara. It was in this imposing dune landscape that Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and The English Patient were filmed.

It is also here that the desert ceaselessly, mindlessly, but somehow deliberately tries to move northward. Its rate of progress is uneven, and varies from country to country, and when you do see the Tunisian Army it is often helping in measures—of planting and irrigation—to stave off the remorseless encroachment. An enclave of development, Tunisia is menaced by the harsh extremists of a desert religion, and ultimately by the desert itself. As with everything else in Africa, this is not a contest we can view with indifference.
Christopher Hitchens is a Vanity Fair contributing editor.

31 July 2007 –

Training course for human rights activists concludes in Tunis

Human rights professionals from throughout the Arab world gathered in Hammamet for a ten-day symposium on human rights education organised by the Arab Institute for Human Rights. The training ended Monday (July 30th).

by Jamel Arfaoui for Magharebia in Tunis
The 17th annual Arab Institute for Human Rights (AIHR) training course for human rights defenders in the Arab region came to a close Monday (July 30th) in the Tunisian city of Hammamet. Salhi Oussama, President of the Algerian League for Legal Thought, said, "I learned a lot during this course, which enabled us to become thoroughly familiar with human rights mechanisms and offered us the legal means with which we can confront our opponents in this field."

At the opening of the 10-day course, Adam Abdelmoula, Regional Co-ordinator for the Human Rights Commission in Geneva, said "Such courses are important in the Arab region, which needs specialists in the field of defending human rights." Abdelmoula disclosed that he is a graduate of AIHR’s first course, organised 17 years ago. Abdelmoula told Magharebia, "These courses are very important in empowering human rights defenders. And after the experience acquired by the Institute, we began to see its graduates throughout the world, bearing major responsibilities at human rights organisations."

The course aims to familiarise human rights advocates with the international laws and charters related to human rights, and to train them to determine the type and nature of violations, and to deal with international organisations and governments on humanitarian issues occurring in their countries. This year’s programme received support from the United Nations and the Ford Foundation, which strongly supports the Institute, which has trained more than 7,000 human rights activists. More than 20 Arab organisations participated in this year’s course. Abdallah Ali Thabet, an independent activist from Saudi Arabia, said, "Very rapidly, I was able to become thoroughly familiar with all the various legal and intellectual aspects related to the human rights field. I thus revised many concepts I had understood incorrectly."

Prior to the start of the course, Mokhtar Trifi, President of the Tunisian League for the Defence of Human Rights, told participants, "After completing the course, you will know the extent of the importance of intellectual and legal mastery in the human rights field."

AIHR’s President Taieb Baccouche expressed his group’s determination to provide a professional, well-organised training course. He said he was proud of the institute, which managed "to train thousands of activists and workers in the field through scores of training courses—public and private, regional and national—as well as the scores of those who became trainers, many of whom established associations or took part in supporting existing associations and institutions."

The AIHR is an independent Arab non-governmental organisation founded in 1989 upon an initiative from the Arab Organisation for Human Rights, the Arab Lawyers Union and the Tunisian League for Defence of Human Rights, and with support from the UN Centre for Human Rights. The institute won the international UNESCO Prize for Human Rights Education in 1992.

November 30, 2007 – Haaretz News, Israel

Eastern promises: Gay Israeli travelers frequent Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey and Dubai

by Yotam Feldman, Amman, Jordan
At twilight, the labyrinthine paths of the ancient Roman theater in Amman begin to fill up. Men who have come alone stand in waiting postures, impatient, casting glances this way and that. Others congregate by the wall or on benches, not letting the patrolling police bother them. Occasionally a couple disappears into a clump of bushes or into one of the niches. Many tourists might be confused by the scene, but a gay tourist will get it immediately.
Most of the men who approach the tourists are selling sex for money, sometimes mediated by a pimp lurking in another corner of the theater. Relations with those who are not engaged in prostitution also sometimes have a character that makes it impossible to be oblivious to economic power relations. The tourist will invite them for drinks or dinner, for example, or will pay for the hotel room to which they will go, perhaps, at the end of the evening.

There are other places, too, for those seeking cross-border relations: Thakafa Street (thakafa means "culture" in Arabic) in the Shmeisani quarter is a cruising site for a higher-level crowd. Strolling on the well-lit street, amid the ubiquitous campaign posters for the parliamentary elections, are families with children, groups of students and also gay men (mostly young) who are trying to spot a new face in the city’s small, stifling community. The searchers can be identified by their long pauses every few steps or by their many sidelong glances. Iman, a young literature student of Palestinian origin, whose family comes from Hebron, is here with friends to cruise Thakafa Street – "Not necessarily to look for anything, but if the opportunity arises, why not?" He is not ashamed to say that he’s looking mainly for foreigners. "In a small place like Amman, people we don’t know, with whom we haven’t yet slept, are a refreshing innovation. You can find tourists here from different countries – Americans and Europeans – and also many from Arab states, and occasionally also Israelis." Just that morning, Iman relates, he met, via the Internet, a Saudi student who was in the city for a short visit. "It’s been a long time since I met someone so uptight," he says. "He didn’t stop shaking until we entered the hotel room. Anyway, I won’t see him again."

In the evening, Iman and his friends hang out at Books@Cafe, a coffee shop that is considered "gay-friendly" and whose owner acts as an adviser and mentor to his clients. He tells of efforts by the young people to create a sense of community. Two of them, he says, tried recently to put out a magazine for gays, but quickly found themselves in trouble with the authorities, who threatened them with legal proceedings. They shelved the idea. We meet one of them later in the evening, together with a group of his friends, in the gay bar RGB, a relatively new establishment. It’s not very big – five wooden tables around which two groups of young men are milling. Sitting at one of the tables are two women, a couple, who have come from the lesbian bar that opened recently not far from RGB.

Marwan, a successful young Palestinian entrepreneur, originally from Jerusalem, who is at RGB almost every evening, says he is not concerned by the implications of the ties between Jordanians and tourists. "The westernization and Jordan’s economic dependence on the West are facts of life. The tourists, on the other hand, also alleviate our distress." At the same time, he regrets the fact that forging genuine relations is impossible under these conditions. "The end is more or less inevitable – the tourist will leave and we will probably never talk again. It is also unfortunate that it is impossible to find a place for meaningful encounters – all my recent encounters were in hotel rooms or in my car. Sometimes I feel a little like a prostitute."

The anti-erotic element
"They were an instance of the eastern boy and boy affection which the segregation of women made inevitable. Such friendships often led to manly loves of a depth and force beyond our flesh-steeped conceit. When innocent they were hot and unashamed." – T.E. Lawrence, "Seven Pillars of Wisdom"

Gay Israeli travelers frequent Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey and Dubai. Holders of two passports also visit Beirut, which they say can compete with Tel Aviv as the gay capital of the Middle East, and Damascus, where the gay scene is more secretive. This is not sex tourism, all the travelers who were interviewed for this article emphasized, certainly not in the narrow sense of obtaining sex in return for money. The fear of being exposed as an Israeli heightens the thrill, some of the visitors say. "It’s a state of consciousness, which allows you to overcome the usual inhibitions. The erotic yearning mobilizes additional forces," says Arnon, 35, who works for a human rights organization and makes frequent visits to Arab countries.

The fantasy that lured Western travelers to the Arab world is not new. In the 19th century, writers and other creative artists, Europeans in general and Frenchmen in particular, were drawn to the Levant under the auspices of colonialism. On their return they described places where men slept with other men without being categorized as homosexuals, as in the West.

"What connected me to the East was French literature of the 19th and 20th centuries," Arnon says. "Roland Barthes connected me to Morocco, and Flaubert to Tunisia. My image was of a place where almost every man could find himself in a sexual situation with another man, because you don’t have the Catholic prohibition on sexual contact between males. That is further intensified for a Western man, for whom all the barriers are lifted, in part by material incentives. It is not confined to a bar or a park. The horizon of possibilities is far more dynamic, and it is not just about those who declare themselves gay. It can also be a married man – anyone, really."

And were your expectations fulfilled?
"Very quickly. There are always these types who approach you. For example, in Tunis – you are sitting in a cafe and someone makes eyes at you, comes over and asks, ‘What are you looking for?’ ‘Where are you from? Are you married?’ ‘Would you like to go someplace?’ You don’t necessarily go straight to the hotel. Usually they want to go out, want you to take them drinking, to a discotheque."

And it’s at this stage that the economic dependence is created?
"In the background, there is always the question of what they will get out of it in material terms. It’s not that you are going to send them a hundred dollars a month for the rest of their lives, but relations of dependence form. Some of them told me that their dream is to leave Tunis and live in the West. They asked if I could write a letter to my consul general that will make it possible for them to get a visa. They asked that after 25 minutes of conversation."

What was your reply?
"I think I left it open. I said it’s an interesting idea, maybe I will try."

Does this put a damper on the experience?
"It is the anti-erotic element that bothers me. In Tunisia, for example, someone I met invited me to his cousin’s home. I went with him, even though I did not necessarily want sexual contact. I understood that the sexual thing was the payment I would make in order to see his house.

"We got a cab and drove out to a kind of suburb. It was a large house, what’s known in Israel as an Arab villa, made of concrete, on which construction was completed but hadn’t yet been quite whitewashed or furnished, or maybe would never be whitewashed because the money has run out. The uncle was sitting in the courtyard, holding prayer beads and smoking. We said hello, and the man introduced me in Arabic and spoke with him."

Was the uncle surprised to see a Western tourist in his courtyard?
"Not in the least. Maybe he was thinking that this was exactly what he did with the French who were there 50 years ago. He was completely at ease. Inside we met the cousin – ‘ahalan wasahalan’ – and then okay, let’s go to my room. We entered a room, which may or may not have been his, where there were two wooden beds and a poster of a Hollywood star on the wall. The small talk continued, the same conversation that is repeated on every trip. At a certain point he decides to turn off the light and starts to lean over me. After our pants are lowered the cousin opens the door and turns on the light. I thought there was going to be trouble, maybe he would be appalled, or maybe he would want to join, I don’t know, but he only asked him something, took a pack of cigarettes from him, and left."

Does the political dimension make such encounters highly charged?
"From my point of view, that dimension is critical, because if you leave only the sexual core, nothing would exist. It all comes from anthropological curiosity, political power relations, attraction to him as the representation of something, through my Israeliness and Jewishness. It is absolutely a type of conquest or operation in enemy territory and a speedy withdrawal. I came, I experienced a few things, I pulled out. The moment I have collected intelligence, withdrawal back to the hotel as quickly as possible."

Every trip is political
"The association between the Orient and sex is remarkably persistent. The Middle East is resistant, as any virgin would be, but the male scholar wins the prize by bursting open, penetrating the Gordian knot … ‘Harmony’ is the result of the conquest of maidenly coyness." – Edward Said, "Orientalism"

Lior Kay, 32, one of the founders of the gay forum called Red-Pink in the Hadash Arab-Jewish party, has paid many visits to Arab states, including Iraq. He finds a direct link between his experiences as a gay man in Tel Aviv and his adventures abroad. "There is something very international about being gay," he says. "Gays have a tool that allows them to enter deep into communities that are rooted in the local culture. When you come to someone for a one-night stand, you learn about all kinds of things. You can see the house, meet the friends, have breakfast with them. There is this very deep desire to get to know, even if it is only for one night – things that don’t necessarily happen to tourists.

"I, for example, like parks more than pubs, because there is an experience of disclosure there. You meet people who are outside the mainstream. In parks there are people who have no vested interests. We forget that there are people who do not have vested interests. That’s what I do in Jordan, for example, just talk with people who are wandering around the amphitheater." Kay entered Iraq in February 2004 on a U.S. passport, eight months after the start of the occupation. "On Friday I took a bus from Tel Aviv to Beit She’an. I hitchhiked to the border and then took a taxi to Amman, where I got a taxi to Baghdad. It was a 12-hour trip. We made a night stop in the desert and waited for the dawn, because it was dangerous to enter the Sunni triangle in the dark." There were hardly any tourists in Iraq at the time, he says. He walked around the city and talked to people, but was afraid to look for men.

Are these visits also related to your political attitudes?
"For me, all the trips are political and also social, in the sense that I see up close how people live. In many places I saw the anger at the West’s pillage of resources, and of course at the Israeli occupation.
The trips lent color to my political approach. You have to read books and studies and quotes by Brecht, but you also need color and aroma and soul to determine your political identity."

What is the negative side of being political in this context?
"There is a feeling of a stereotype that is at work on both sides. The fantasy of the West that likes what’s available and hot, and the people who live there, who hope to latch on to the tourists to get out of the disgusting cycle of poverty. Sex in these countries has a very clear economic element: a relationship of exploiter and exploited. Sometimes there is a feeling that you can go with almost anyone you meet, that they want you not because of your personality but because of these relations."

Where is that reflected?
"Everywhere, and first of all in bed. Even the active and passive thing – very often they will not agree to be passive with a Jew. There is definitely a matter of honor."

Do experiences in these countries challenge some of the images of homosexuality?
"Yes. We know the Western definition of the gay person – someone like Oscar Wilde – but in the Arab countries it is formulated in different codes of their culture. There is also liberation from the usual image of the body – less of the Western worship of youth. Many of the normative rules of the West do not apply there. Here we have the gyms, the hair removal; there it is a little less orderly, there are more possibilities."

Legislation is now being formulated that will strip Israelis of their citizenship if they visit Arab countries with which Israel does not have an agreement. Is it possible that you will no longer be able to travel there?

From Egyptian writer Constantin Cafavy "In the Tavernas": "I am a law-abiding citizen, but I don’t know how far my instinct for adventure will be repressed by that. Especially when it’s a flagrantly undemocratic law which is aimed, I think, less at people like me than at Knesset members whose activity might create a chance for peace." Assad watches the men: "I wallow in the tavernas and brothels of Beirut. I live a vile life, devoted to cheap debauchery. The one thing that saves me, like durable beauty, like perfume that goes on clinging to my flesh, is this: Tamides, most exquisite of young men, was mine for two years, and mine not for a house or a villa on the Nile." (translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard)

Russell, an American who immigrated to Israel in 1982, first visited Syria in 1993, entering the country on an American passport. His first encounter with the gay community of Damascus was a chance one. "I went into a pizzeria in Damascus. There was only one empty seat. The young Syrian who was sitting next to me asked where I was from, and we got into a conversation. It turned out that he was in charge of renovating the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Damascus.

"Even though the norms are very different in Syria – for example, it is routine for men to walk hand in hand in the street, and usually it doesn’t mean a thing – he somehow tuned me in and quickly started to pour out his heart. I asked him what was happening and where it was happening. He said it was done with a very low profile, a very traditional approach. The fear is less of the authorities, who monitor everything that goes on in the country, including gays, than of family and friends. He told me that people got together in homes, that there was a kind of group of gays who met every so often, and that there was sometimes sex with married men, too, but that there was no true gay life."

And besides the homes, are there other meeting places?
"In contrast to other Arab states, nothing happens in the hamams [public baths], but there are parks."

Russell’s host took him to a park. "He told me it was the cruising park of Damascus and that everyone went there, of all ages, for money and not for money. In the middle of the park there is a huge statue of Assad, who seems to be watching all the men. We walked around a little, said hello to a few people, and left."

What was the atmosphere like?
"Dark and not very pleasant, not friendly. I didn’t feel that I could have hooked up with someone if I had found anyone. I also drew a lot of attention – suddenly there was this new face, white with blue eyes. A tourist in Independence Park [in Jerusalem] might be an attraction, but not a big deal."

Did you get an unpleasant economic feeling from your encounters with men in Arab countries?
"Not necessarily. I’ve been to Jordan 200 times. If you go to Book@Cafe and want to meet someone, you can put out feelers immediately. If it is someone who speaks English and is well dressed, you know he is not after your money. People who are after money will go to the theater area, where the refugees hang out and where there are more needy people. Of course, it differs from one country to another – Dubai is one big brothel, filled with foreign workers, most of the population is not Arabic, and you don’t walk three meters without someone stopping you, whether it’s in a mall or in Starbucks, it makes no difference."

No consideration for Edward Said
From: Gustave Flaubert, "Flaubert in Egypt": "Here it’s quite well accepted. One admits one’s sodomy and talks about it at the dinner table. Sometimes one denies it a bit, then everyone yells at you and it ends up getting admitted. Traveling for our learning experience and charged with a mission by the government, we see it as our duty to give in to this mode of ejaculation." (translated by Francis

Yair Kedar, who was the editor of the travel magazine Masa Aher from 2003 to 2005, first visited Egypt in 1991, when he was 22. "I went with a gay French friend and an Italian-speaking Korean clergyman who joined us through a travel agency," he says. Kedar started to look for the gay scene where he had been told it was happening: hotel lobbies.

"You are in a very large hotel lobby, in the Hilton, say, and you sit down on a sofa and scan the place. Someone sits down next to you and you start to talk about the weather – ‘It’s really hot today.’ ‘Where are you from?’ ‘What do you do?’ ‘Have you been to the pyramids?’ And then he asks you if you would like to have a cup of coffee, and adds, ‘Just the two of us.’ And from there things develop.

"There is also the boardwalk along the Nile, which is a good catching place, these liminal places along the water, where culture ends. You wander around in the evening, there are groups of two-three guys and they start to talk to you, and suggest that they go with you and visit the room."

Do you feel guilty because gay tourism is also sex tourism, in the negative sense?
"That is a moral dilemma, because the visits also derive from good reasons. Is there a conflict between what they are selling and the regimes in these countries, and the economic dimension that permeates the sexual relations? There is a big contradiction.
But I see these contradictions in other places, too. There were travelers whom I spoke to as editor of Masa Aher, and at first they would tell me, ‘I was at the volcano, I was on a trek, I was here and there,’ and then, when things warmed up, they would tell me what they did at night: 12-year-old girls in Colombia and Thailand."

Is there something distinctive about the gay experience in places like this?
"There is a similarity between gay cruising and tourism: you are sold something that looks terrific from the outside by hiding the moral problem it entails – in that something is promised that cannot be fulfilled. In both cases there is a large dimension of guilt. On the other hand, I always thought that homosexuality is a great treasure that enables you to meet people and embark on new voyages with them. It’s intriguing, and you acquire experiences, until at a certain age you discover that you are becoming less patient and less inquisitive."

Benny Ziffer, the editor of the weekly Culture and Literature supplement of Haaretz (Hebrew edition), has written a great deal, in books and articles, about his erotic experiences in Arab countries. He says he chooses to ignore the feeling of guilt that accrues to the economic relations.

"You walk in Alexandria and people offer themselves to you in return for shawarma. If I were political and Marxist, I would not do anything. If someone offers you something like that, you have to cry out to the high heavens. I am doing something bad: I am fulfilling a desire at the expense of these unfortunates. These relations of power are ancient, you know, it was the pattern in the colonial period. People who were nothing in France became great lords in these countries, because they could control the people."

How do you justify it to yourself?
"Maybe in my writing I purify myself, maybe by saying it now. I always travel in order to write, and I have always written; I can’t bring myself to travel just like that – and I am not original in this, I did not invent it. I go to Egypt with the official goal of writing about bookstores, but the real inner goal is for something to happen from the erotic point of view, otherwise I will be very disappointed."

Don’t political relations interfere, in a period when there is critical talk about the East that was created by the writers you read?

"I immerse myself in the erotic and literary East alike, without taking account of orientalism and without taking account of Edward Said. I have my life and my experiences and my things.

March 07, 2008 – Reuters

HIV and gay in Tunisia: A twin taboo

Reuters South Africa, South Africa Homosexual men living with HIV/AIDS In the Arab world face a twin taboo, but Karim doesn’t look like someone burdened by stigma. Smiling and self-assured, the healthy looking Tunisian says his peace of mind comes from accepting what he cannot change, living in the moment and taking care to present a normal face to the world. The 34-year-old draws the menace from his infection by seeing it as his offspring. "Personally, I accept the illness. I consider the virus my little baby. Together, we make up the same person," he said.

Dressed in jeans and a V-neck pullover, Karim sounds matter-of-act about his condition, but acknowledges that it wasn’t always so easy. Karim first learned he had HIV when he returned to his native country from France in 2005. He was infected during an eight-year relationship with a French man.

"First, I thought I had flu. But my health kept worsening and analysis showed I had AIDS. A person who was so important to me had infected me," he said. "I Was Furious At the beginning, I was furious. I hated everything. But afterwards, I thought that it’s better to be hopeful than crying." He decided to face up to the illness, sensing that a positive mental attitude would translate into stronger physical health. Also, he is on anti-retroviral medication.

"I’m quite good. My health situation is stable. HIV-positives who can’t move or even walk are people who refuse the fact that they’re infected with HIV. They suffer because they’re in very low spirits and not because of the virus. I have a principle in my life which says we must make the most of life while we still have its advantages. So, I still enjoy my life. I consider AIDS a flu."

He lives with his Tunisian boyfriend, who is uninfected. They have protected sex. "I was sincere. I told him the truth and he accepted. His attitude really moved me," said Karim.

May 25, 2008 – The New York Times

Where Europe, Africa and the Mideast Meet in Tunisia

by Eric Lipton
The night air was cold and damp on the narrow, walled streets of Tunis’s medina, and the markets and stores all dark and locked up tight for the night. But all it took was a single rap of the iron knocker on the wooden door at 5, rue Dar El Jeld and in that instant a mystical world opened up.
From inside, a man pulled back the arched door decorated with metal studs, and we were escorted through the lobby and into what looked like an Arabian palace. In an enclosed marble courtyard, my fiancée, Elham, and I could see riotously colorful tiled walls, archways covered with arabesque stucco and, at one end, a seated man playing an antique sitar for the patrons who sat around small dinner tables.

Yes, this was only a restaurant — named after the elegant 18th-century private mansion where it is housed, Dar El Jeld. But it happens to be one of Tunis’s finest, with a menu featuring such tangy delights as kabkabou, a tender dorade, with capers, stewed tomatoes and olives, in a delicious lemon, onion and tomato sauce. But the surprise upon entering Dar El Jeld expresses something you will find more than a few times when visiting this ancient capital city of Tunisia: it is a captivating adventure that exceeds expectations — somehow successfully mixing Mediterranean flavors, Arabic and North African history and a modernist European touch. Tunis, just inland from the Mediterranean, is known quite well by Europeans — particularly the British and the French, who take cheap flights south so they can be on the nearby beaches in just a few hours. But for most Americans, it is off the beaten path, as Morocco is the much more conventional destination for those who venture to North Africa. But the Tunis area has an extraordinary amount to offer — and in a way it features more variety and even history, you could argue, than Fez or Marrakesh. The list includes its unrivaled medina, whose alleys and covered passageways go on for miles, filled with markets, mosques and cafes; the nearby ruins of the ancient Phoenician port city of Carthage; the bustling beach town of La Marsa; and the charming hillside village of Sidi Bou Said, where the blue-and-white painted homes have views reaching out for miles over the gentle waters of the Gulf of Tunis.

It is not a place, obviously, that has anywhere near the range of luxury accommodations found on the European side of the Mediterranean. But it has an increasing number of upscale places to stay and eat, not only in Tunis’s center, but also in the beachside villages and resorts just outside the city. The highlight of a visit to Tunis is the ancient core of the city itself: the seventh-century medina, which, beyond the most intensely touristy spots surrounding Jemaa Ez Zitouna (the Great Mosque), has a more genuine feeling than its counterparts in Morocco. Yes, it is true that during peak tourist times in the summer, the number of foreigners at the central souks packed into the covered corridors that surround the Great Mosque can easily outnumber the locals. And the merchants invite you into their stores, trying to guess what country you come from by greeting you in French, English, Spanish or German. But venture out beyond this area, losing your way through the alternating shadows and sunlight of the twisting streets, and you are overtaken by a sensual assault: the smells of the burning incense and spice stores; the undulating chant of the prayer calls; the blue, beige and orange doors that decorate certain homes; and the local Tunisians, pushing carts or carrying overstuffed bags of goods.

What makes the medina so special is that there is a great deal of real commerce that still goes on there, as at Mourad Bouali’s closet-sized silversmith workshop on Rue Sidi Ben Arous, where he and his brother-in-law make custom-ordered silver lamps using hammers, a hot, blue flame and rolls of fine silver. Take a break at Café Ez Zitouna or Café Essour, both on Rue Jemaa Ez Zitouna, for a coffee or tea and snack. The Halfaouine neighborhood, which starts just outside the medina’s northern walls, also offers scenes that are entirely varnish free, as thousands of residents mill about buying up the endless supply of fresh meats, vegetables, fish and other essentials. A man, at the foot of the main square, holds six live chickens in his hands, bargaining a fair price for his game with particular gusto. It makes New York’s Union Square farmers’ market look like a minimart. Exit the medina from the eastern side and it is like passing through a time machine, as you cross through the appropriately named Porte de France and emerge somehow in Belle Époque Paris. This is the start of the colonial city the French built during their occupation of Tunisia, which began in 1881.

There on Avenue Habib Bourguiba, Elham and I found bustling sidewalk spots like Café de Paris, and the grand National Theater, whose Art Nouveau facade is so overdone with flowing sculptures it almost resembles the icing on a wedding cake. Perhaps most out of place is the Cathedral of St. Vincent de Paul — with its two Moorish/Gothic bell towers — which the French built in 1882 as a clear symbol of their intention to stay. The various layers of cultures that define — and in many ways elevate — Tunisia are most on display along the avenue. There are all these French-style cafes — only some of which serve wine — in what of course is a Muslim country. The street is often described as the Champs Élysées of Tunis, but it is named after the former Tunisian president who wrestled its independence from France in 1956. Down toward the base of Avenue Habib Bourguiba is another remnant of the French rule: a train station built by the French that quickly (and cheaply) links the city center to the string of seaside towns that are an essential part of any Tunis itinerary. Eight quick stops down the line and you are again sent through a time warp: you step out in Carthage, the one-time playground of Dido and Hannibal.

The Romans, when they arrived in this Phoenician city in 146 B.C., did a pretty good job of demolishing the main sites — what is left today really are ruins, surrounded by the well-kept homes of this now-affluent suburb. But the spirit of Dido, who founded Carthage, and Hannibal, the military commander who used it as a base to invade Italy, still survives, in the rolling seaside hills that lead down to the remains of the Punic port. A morning stroll through the different sites and gardens — the Roman baths, and the Sanctuary of Tophet, where hundreds of small stone markers designate the spot where children sacrificed to gods were buried — is a haunting and memorable one. Atop a hill overlooking the ancient port city is Villa Didon, an über-modern hotel designed by the French architect Philippe Boisselier. There is nothing else like it in Tunisia. Everything inside is sleek and white. The doors to suites slide open like some kind of spaceship hatch. An oversized marble bathtub sits right in the middle of the bedroom, not far from the oversized flat-screen TV.

Downstairs is a hip bar, which is popular among rich Tunisians as well as tourists. And while the restaurant that Alain Ducasse opened there in 2004 is no longer run by the French master, Le Rest’ô — as it is now called — still offers a pretty tasty, although pricey, fare. Staying there will cost you dearly — at least by Tunisian standards — as the smallest of the 10 rooms start at 370 dinars a night, about $308 at 1.2 dinars to the dollar. Just outside Carthage lies the whitewashed hilltop town of Sidi Bou Said. During the day, its cobblestone streets can be almost overwhelmingly crowded with tourists. But in the evening, the crowds recede, the tourists depart and the charms of this postcard-perfect town known for its trademark blue-and-white buildings emerge. And within the confines of the Dar Saïd hotel, you are in a private sanctuary, with wide-open Mediterranean views and an Old World feel. There is a tiled courtyard with a pool and bar, where, upon your arrival, a man arrives in an instant, laying out towels on a lounge chair and offering up beverages and snacks. Adjacent to the pool is a small, perfectly manicured garden, where breakfast is served, amid the jasmine and pink bougainvillea. Only five of the rooms have sea views, which are worth the extra price.

On the last night of our stay in Tunisia, after a day trip to the beach at La Marsa, Elham and I had dinner at the restaurant across the street from the Dar Saïd, which is built just at the edge of a ravine that faces the Mediterranean. Entering the restaurant, Dar Zarrouk, you almost lose your breath, the blue expanse reaches out, both from the sky and the sea, for miles without end. We were escorted to a table near the middle of the glass-walled room. A blur of French and Arabic filled the room — no English, except at our table for two. As the sun went down and the first stars of the night started to come out, and we sipped a crisp Tunisian muscat, I could not help but think that this was another revelation — another spot of extraordinary charm and beauty. For us, at least, it was a fitting final face of Tunis.

Layers Of Culture, In Old Alleys And Modern Villas

How To Get There
There are no direct flights from New York to Tunis. You can fly British Airways ( to London Heathrow, and then from Gatwick to Tunis; recently, mid-June round trips started around $1,240. Taking Air France ( through Paris eliminates the airport switch, starting around $1,470 in June. A cab into the city costs about $10.

Where To Stay
In Tunis, Dar el Médina (64, rue Sidi Ben Arous; 216-71-56-30-22; is by far the first choice. It is a former private home that has been turned into a gorgeous and comfortable 12-room inn, still run by the same family that built the house 183 years ago. A double room is $180. Outside the medina, the 49-room Tunisia Palace Hotel (13, avenue de France; 216-71-24-27-00; is an impeccably renovated bank building, with doubles starting at 185 dinars a night, $154 at 1.2 dinars to the dollar. A more budget-oriented option is the plain but decent 80-room Carlton Hotel (31, avenue Habib Bourguiba; 216-71-33-06-44;, which has double rooms for 96 dinars, including breakfast.

In Sidi Bou Said, the Dar Saïd (Rue Toumi; 216-71-72-96-66; is beautiful and luxurious. Its 24 rooms go for 275 to 480 dinars. It is best to avoid two spots near Tunis: Hammamet, which is Tunisia’s Cancún, filled with downmarket, all-inclusive hotels; and Gammarth, a more upscale, just-built, American-style hotel-golf course-resort area that lacks any real Tunisian flavor.

Where To Eat
Dar El Jeld occupies an old mansion in the heart of the medina in Tunis (5-10, rue Dar El Jeld; 216-71-56-09-16; Prix-fixe dinners run 45 to 80 dinars, without wine.

Le Rest’ô at Villa Didon in Carthage (Rue Mendès; 216-71-73-34-33; will cost you about 50 dinars for dinner, without wine.

Neptune (3, rue Ibn Chabbat; 216-71-731-456) offers open-air dining on the waterfront in Carthage. Tasty grilled dorade and dessert is about 25 dinars.

Getting Around
The Tunis-Goulette-Marsa, or T.G.M., train goes from the city to Carthage, Sidi Bou Said and La Marsa. The trip is also not too expensive a cab ride. A rental car is only necessary if you want to go out to the end of Cap Bon, the nearby peninsula.

When To Go
In the late spring and fall, it is still warm enough to go to the beach, but not so hot as to make the city insufferable.

June 2008 –

Tunisia Sex Guide – Gay and Straight

For tourists who prefer not to visit Egypt because of the increased persecution of gays and other minorities in recent years – Tunisia may be the answer. Although police harassment and ocassionally imprisonment of gays is far from unknown in Tunisia, it’s not nearly on the scale of that in Egypt. In Tunisia sex – gay or straight – is very very easy to find if you are either good looking or have money. Even if you have neither the looks or the money you can for just a few dinars experience an amazingly envigorating massage by one of the handsome young masseurs at Hammam Zariba, a relatively unknown hot spring near the town of Zaghouan in the mountainous interior of Tunisia.

The four most important things to remember are
1. Always carry atleast one condom as you may not be able to find one when you most need it.
2. Always be discreet to minimize the risk of your Tunisian friends being arrested.
3. Always ensure that if your Tunisian friend says he’s eighteen or nineteen that you see his ID card to verify his age.
4. Tunisia is safer than most countries but as in any cruising situation – especially with street sex workers – take sensible steps to ensure your own safety and the safety of your valuables.

Tunis Fof Straight Men.
Libyans consider Tunis their "Amsterdam". They cross the frontier of Tunisia in their thousands to travel the two hundred miles to Tunis. Here the straight men visit the hostess bars near Avenue Habib Bourguiba (an extremely espensive and often frustrating experience) or the discotheques such as Pyramids a short drive from the centre. If they are on a budget they can also visit the legalized brothels in the old city. One of them is situated on a narrow street just a hundred metres or so behind the British Embassy and is said to have about fifty prostitutes and equal number of rooms. There is also a smaller brothel on Rue Boussen and doubtless many others. Doctors visit the premises to ensure the sex workers are healthy. But it is still always advisable to use a condom both for your own safety and theirs.

The "rip-off" hostess bars which leach money from those with more money than sense, are not to be recommended. The sex workers, mostly Tunisian but including sometimes workers from Egypt, Morocco and Romania) are ludicrously tarted up with artificial blond-hair and make-up and will almost never agree to leave the premises whatever the financial incentive for fear of arrest by the police. The only chance is to arrange for a rendez-vous outside the premises the next day but the chances of your hostess turning up are slim. They can make a lot of money in commission from every 30 dinar drink they can induce you to buy. The patrons of these bars are mostly either businessmen from Tunisia or from other Arab countries, especially Egypt and Libya although I did see one Moroccan man who seemed to have an almost endless supply of one hundred Euro notes. To give credit to his generousity he bought cocktails for a Romanian hostess to induce her to sit with me, even though I insisted I was quite happy sitting alone with my male friend.

Tunis Fof Gays.
Gay men prefer to cruise the section of Avenue Bourguiba between the two five star hotels – Africa and el Hana – and especially the tables outside the very fashionable coffee and snack bar – Panorama (pronounced banorama). During the afternoon the seats are occupied mainly by families or businessmen savouring the delicious crepes and juices (choose between carrot or orange) but as night falls the number of gays increases. Here you can find both educated middle class gays and also, lingering on the pavement in the close vicinity of the tables, young men – usually unemployed – looking for tricks.
The central strip of pavement in the middle of Avenue Bourguiba is also popular for cruising and many young students also congregate in the evenings on the steps of the municipal theatre which lies approximately opposite the hotel el Hana. The key rule in all these places is to take your time and not necessarily to accept the advances of the first person who approaches.

A Vignette Of Gay Life In Tunis.
In the Cafe de Paris on Avenue Habib Bourguiba I climb some stairs and sit down next to a balcony with a smart glass balustrade which looks down over the customers seated on the ground floor. My eye catches a middle aged Tunisian businessman, with a grey suit and equally grey hair, seated at a table with a cafe expresso and a croissant. He’s reading the French paper La Presse.
Then, in walks his male escort – about nineteen and wearing a bright red casquette – and he sits down next to his patron. The older man feigns complete disinterest and continues to read the paper, while the lad feeling increasinly frustrated by the inactivity fumbles with his cap – adjusting it first one way and then the other. Then the two are joined by a somewhat camp Tunisian student, the businessman lowers his paper and finally a conversation starts.

Cock Sucking In The Cinemas.
I found no difficulty in giving a blow job ("Aiyz shisha ?" or "Veullez faire du shisha ?" is the way Tunisians usually ask for this service.) to a Tunisian acquaintance in a cinema which was then showing the film Kama Sutra. It is welcome news for many visiting tourists that many of the cinemas near Avenue Habib Bourguiba which show the 18 rated soft porn European films double as places for gay couples to have sex.

I asked whether it was safe to have sex in the cinema to which the young man replied. "I know my country. Yes or No ? The police made this cinema for having sex. It’s normal here." Whether the owners of these cinemas and the police are actually complicit in what actually transpires I can’t actually say. They may perhaps just turn I blind eye sometimes or may be they are too preoccupied with other business to really notice. All I can say is that at the end of the film when the lights suddenly came on – me and my friend were caught in a highly compromising and embarassing position but to do credit to their tolerance the other cinema goers – who were exclusively male pairs – seemed to be totally unshaken by what I feared might be a somewhat shocking sight.

However despite the above comments I cannot vouch for the safety of these cinemas. There is some evidence of police harassment and arrests of Tunisian gays – more perhaps in Sousse than in Tunis but even in Tunis it is probably sensible, whatever your nationality, to be careful and discreet.

Taking Back Men To Your Hotel Room
Unlike Egypt there seemed to be no problem at all in taking back men to my hotel room. Normally there was no extra charge but when one night I returned with two totally drunk male friends they requested politely that I book an additional double room for my friends. Indeed it seemed as if I might have gone a little too far in my hedonistic search for homoerotic pleasure – atleast as far as the female receptionist was concerned. Until then she had continually chatted to me for up to an hour every afternoon on the sociolinguistic theories of Chomsky – but after that day she refused even to acknowledge my presence. But I’m digressing needlessly. With the exception of a few easily offended individuals – sexual hedonism in the privacy of your hotel room – whether gay or straight (I met countless female sex workers going up and down in the lift) – seems no problem at all in Tunis.

Most hotels do however ask to see and sometimes to keep the identity card of your visitor but a few hotels – which are virtual brothels and charge for rooms by the hour do not ask for identity either from you or your partner. These hotels however are only known by a few professional sex workers.

Please don’t email to ask for hotel names as for legal reasons it is totally impossible to help you.

Sousse For Women And Gay Men.
Once you’ve read this guide why not browse our new gay Sousse message board – click here !

Sousse almost certainly has more male sex workers catering to visiting European tourists than any other Arab country and I am including cities such as Luxor, Aswan, Tangiers and Marrakesh which I also know well. The main cruising area starts at the main entrance to the medina or old town ( Place des Martyrs ) and extends across the busy Place Farhat Hached and then along Avenue Habib Bourguiba (not to be confused with Avenue Habib Bouruiba in Tunis mentioned above) which leads to the corniche past the unmissable Sousse Palace and Abou Nuwas hotels and then extends along the sea front corniche atleast as far as Dreams discotheque.

The corniche and sometimes the beach itself can be the best cruising ground late in the evening and at all times in the summer when it is crowded with muscular lads and (for those readers who may be lesbian) pretty girls. In the winter the corniche can be a bit quiet. You can find several cafes along Avenue Habib Bourguiba which are popular with hustlers – especially two which are virtually below the above mentioned hotels. Normally it takes only a matter of minutes, at most an hour or two, to find a willing partner. But do ask to see their identity card if the youth doesn’t look older than twenty.

Renting a room in a hotel or a flat couldn’t be easier. There are many flats available north of the city in Hammam Sousse and some of them are rented by the hour. In the two appartment blocks I visited, neither I nor my Tunisian partner was asked to provide proof of identity. Fairly comfortable flats with a television can be had for around 20-30 dihrams for two hours during the week. At peak season and at weekends you may have to pay more. I also visited a small hotel not far from the railway station – I’d better not mention the name – where basic small rooms with an ensuite shower can be rented by the hour for around 10 dihrams. It was extremely busy, with mainly older European men and their Tunisian boyfriends arriving and departing in pairs.

It may take a little while for gay men who wish to meet suitably like minded gay Tunisians. For while there are no shortage of Tunisian men who consider themselves strictly "rajul" or "straight" who will "fuck" Europeans or "sell their cocks" – only a minority of the hustlers actually think of themselves as "gay." You will frequently find that their attitudes towards Europeans are double-edged. On the one hand they seem to admire European open-mindedness and freedom and speak of lack of freedom in Tunisia, but on the other they frequently appear to show little respect for the "bitch" or "gay" who was the partner the previous night, and any flattery you receive shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

Do be careful with your money. Though theft and muggings are rare – they do happen ocassionally. Never carry to much money with you and don’t be easily misled by stories about medical problems, sick parents or of not being able to find a job because of a Palestinian refugee status. Many of the hustlers can speak foreign languages well and have sometimes, often with the help of visiting tourists, done considerable research on life in a particular European city so that if you say you are from England, they will tell you that their brother lives in Manchester and that they visit the city every few months. It also enables them to make unlikely promises – such as that any money they borrow from you they will return on their next visit. Promises that should not be believed but you can pretend to believe them if it makes your trip more enjoyable.

A Vignette Of Gay Life In Sousse.
A European man of about forty years with long blond hair is seated at a cafe table at the end of the corniche. The five star Abou Nuwas hotel lies behind the cafe and the tables look out either across the beach or over the corniche.
Around him are four Tunisian lads, the youngest around eighteen and the oldest about twenty one. Beside him sits a ludicrously wrinkly char-pei dog which would seem exotic enough on Fifth Avenue or Kensington High Street. In Sousse the sight of such an animal seated at a cafe attracts considerable attention from the Tunisians at neighbouring tables, and that’s even before the man gives one of his lads a mobile phone and asks him to take a photo of the dog.

I hear one well informed Tunisian hustler at another table explain to his friends that you can buy mobiles which take pictures but that they are extremely expensive. His friends seem impressed and look enviously at the young men who surround this queenly, if somewhat obese, European who, having made a suitable impression, now stands to leave. He saunters slowly away, with the dog following on the lead, walking in a beautifully feminine manner which belies his obesity. His cauterie of young men follow in tow. The quietest and most handsome sports a red manchester T shirt and a matching red "casquette". He walks closest to the tourist and is no doubt the Prince among the hustlers.

Sousse For Straight Men.
For straight men, the discotheques may prove somewhat frustrating – unless you can really flash the cash or you’re extremely handsome – as the number of men usually far outweighs the number of women. Some prefer the easier option of using a brothel. There is atleast one in the city where you walk down a long corridor and view the women attired in skimpy thongs – one in each room with the door open. Choosing couldn’t be easier. Just look at each woman and when you finally decide, simply enter the room of your chosen partner.

Always make sure you carry condoms with you and be prepared to counter all manner of excuses why condoms should not be used. Frequently Tunisians, and this includes many sex workers, will argue that condoms are only necessary if either you or they are ill – so which of the two are you implying ?! You may then feel embarassed into not using a condom. Don’t ever make such a deadly mistake. Just say you always have sex with a condom because it’s normal in England and you actually prefer it. Or think of some other good and believable reason.

Risks Facing Sex Workers.
Tunisian sex workers face many risks – from HIV – see above – and also from the police who frequently arrest them and let them go in return for financial reward and from other crimminals who, like the police, observe the sex workers with tourists and then wait for them to return to their homes late at night with their money.
This is particularly risky for sex workers living in the medinas (old quarters) of Tunis, Sousse, Hammamet and other cities. They will frequently try to hide the money in their shoes or inside their socks but most of the crimminals know all the usual hiding places.

Frequently sex workers are disowned by their families and do not get the normal protection of revenge which might be afforded by their elder brothers. So they are seen as easy targets, especially in the narrow streets of the medinas at night. Their attackers know they can often get good money from them and face little risk of retaliation. Sometimes they may also rape the sex worker as well.

The Magic Of Hammam Zriba.
Never had such a beautiful hammam (or "Tunisian sauna" as one tourist unimaginatively called it) such a modest description. Zriba in Arabic refers to an area on which farm animals are kept and is sometimes used as an insult to describe an untidy or dirty household.
The Hammam is situated in a mountain village surrounded by farmland. Even from the main street you can watch young shepherds shouting "mooush – mooush" as they drive a small herd of sheep along a hill path. But the village is far from dirty. Indeed it’s one of the cleanest and most beautiful locations in all of Tunisia.

Above the village towers jebel Zaghouan – a mountain which though only just over a thousand metres high – seems much taller than it’s altitude would suggest – for it towers vertically into the sky and even on the sunniest days, its’ flanks are often shrouded by layers of mist and cloud. To reach Hammam Zriba, you need to take a louage – a taxi-like van which usually carries between seven and eight passengers – from either Hammamet or Tunis – to the small hillside town of Zaghouan. The journey takes just over an hour from either city and costs just a few dihrams. You may also be able to take a louage from Sousse but I haven’t checked this.

Once in Zaghouan a short walk takes you to a taxi rank which, hidden in a small side street, can be somewhat difficult to find. But don’t worry – if you keep repeating the phrase – taxi hammam Zriba – someone will help you. The taxi ride to the hammam takes about twelve minutes and costs about four dihrams.

Once you’ve arrived you will need to buy some shampoo sachets and a glove for the massage from a shop adjacent to the entrance. You can then descend along a short stone gangway to the ticket office which lies half between the entrances to the male and female sections of the hammam. If you are a man you then have the option of buying just one ticket for the hammam or also purchasing an extra ticket in order to have your own private room. Make sure you have a towell and a spare set of boxers or swimming trunks with you before you enter.

Once inside – undress in your room, hide your valuables, lock your door and exit wearing just your boxers and carrying just your shampoo sachet and massage glove. You can leave your towel in your room. On exiting your room you will have to make your way down a steamy corridor along which streams the naturally heated spring water. Along the sides you will see many men and not a few young children washing themselves or receiving an invigorating massage.

You will receive several propositions for a massage from the masseurs. But walk slowly and take your time. The masseurs change daily. They don’t seem to be licensed – indeed it seems that any man with the inclination can buy a ticket for the hammam and start working as a masseur. However some undoubtably have considerable skill and experience. Their muscular bodies seem a testimony to the hours of arduous hot work they undertake.

On most days and at most times (the hammam is usually open from 6am to 11pm) you are faced with a heavenly choice of masseurs. There are lads aged eighteen or nineteen with slim fit figures and the most beautiful smiling faces who approach you through the steam, or the fitter more muscular forms of men in their twenties who seem, initially atleast, to have a more serious and professional approach and finally the somewhat corpulent and hairy forms of the fatter and older masseurs of somewhat doubtful attraction but undoubtable ability.

To book your masseur all you need to do is hand him your shampoo and massage glove. Then for a little while you can forget such attractive distractions and enjoy the experience of the hammam itself for at the end of the corridor lies a small plunge pool with a narrow area all around for seating. Above it is a domed ceiling with small square holes to let in a few slim beams of natural daylight through the steam which pours from the hot water.

It takes usually a few minutes to get used to the heat. Most first-time visitors dangle their feet in the hot water first and then slowly slip down until they immerse themselves. Traditionally, and to fully benefit from its’ effects, you should immerse your head also. Once you emerge, you may wish to simply sit by the side of the pool watching the other men come and go, and the youngsters play along the edge of the pool and sometimes diving into it, sometimes showing off with an underwater cart wheel.

When you feel suitably clean, you exit for your massage which takes place in the public but steamy areas which surround the plunge pool and the stream of hot spring water which pours through the surrounding rooms. The initial minutes of the massage can be a little forceful but if you are worried or have a fragile back please make sure the masseur understands this. All the masseurs I had were extremely experienced but I say this just in case you are unlucky in finding yourself with a novice.

Be warned also that later on in the massage, the masseur will begin to rub shampoo along your stomach and the top of your thighs. If you allow yourself to enjoy the sensation too much, you may soon find yourself with an erection showing between your wet shorts despite the very public nature of the massage. This could prove very embarassing. If you are easily aroused, try to think of something tedious and boring such as your last accountancy seminar – and if you doubt this will work then you must undertake the massage strictly at your own risk !

You can then return to your room in order to pay the masseur. My masseur would usually wait in the corridor and I would pay him, making sure to leave my door open at all times so that no one would get the wrong idea. However, one Tunisian gay man thought I was stupid. He said that masseurs would often accompany him into his room. But some say that having sex in the privacy of your room will bring bad luck and although the door can be locked and although you can’t see under it, there are holes in the adjacent walls which though above eye-height, can be easily reached by standing on tip-toe by those wishing to spy into an adjacent room. So your privacy is not guaranteed and any sexual activity is therefore somewhat dangerous.

I did sometimes hear moans from some somewhat indiscreet Tunisian visitors – no doubt being given a shisha job by their partner – but this is not what the hammam is about. If you just want sex you are much better off visiting Tunis or Sousse. Hammam Zriba is all about the magic of the bathing experience itself and the technique and skill of the masseur – so that you emerge from the hammam a new man.

Some of the sex workers in Hammamet seem to be more mercenary and desperate than their counterparts in Sousse. Tourists should also be aware that Hammamet is a very small town and that if you wish to avoid a sex worker you met all too easily the first night, you may find it difficult.
One tourist described being encouraged by a sex worker to have sex in the front garden of a house not far from the city centre until the tourist’s relative prudence won out and they chose instead the walled grounds of some industrial complex in the suburbs. Such activity is of course, as always, strictly at your own risk.

Most of the cruising is concentrated around the central square near the main entrance to the Kasbah and along the short stretch of corniche near by. Hustlers often patronize a German style bar on the square and can also be found in the evenings in a nearby discotheque. Many other discotheques can be found in the hotel areas stretching to the north and south along the beaches but the fashionability of such places with locals changes quickly.

August 1, 2008 – Magharebia News

Internet Chat Rooms Offer Romance to Maghreb Residents–Including Lesbians

The Maghreb region has embraced the trend of meeting strangers in chat rooms and finding a venue for self-expression, even on taboo subjects, in cyber-space.

by Jamel Arfaoui for Magharebia in Tunis
Chat and dating websites like Ab Coeur entice people of all ages to converse openly, despite sometimes strict social taboos. For many people in the Maghreb, the internet has gone from a forum for discussing politics to a place where emotions kept hidden in public can be freely expressed.
In a society still bound by traditions and redlined by religion, people of all ages and social classes prefer to hide their deepest thoughts behind solid computer screens. With a plethora of "virtual clubs" springing up online, cyberspace is the new meeting place for finding a friend or, for some lucky ones, a perfect romantic partner.

Meryam, who is over 30 years old and still single, said the internet helped her achieve her long-desired goal of getting to know the opposite sex "without embarrassment or any obligations". "I’m free to speak to whoever I want and to reject whoever I want," she said. "The environment in which I grew up is conservative and rejects social intercourse between men and women. I had no other option but to secretly log into these virtual clubs where the two sexes can meet."

One website drawing more visitors every day is Ab Coeur. It is becoming increasingly popular among the young. According to the owners of the website, the number of subscribers is currently about 300,000, made up mostly of Algerians, Tunisians and Moroccans. The French also have a notable presence on the site. Subscribers range from 18 to 90 years old. One-third of them are women. Ab Coeur subscriber Mourad ben Saad, a young man in his twenties, said he spends more than 5 hours a day on his computer, either surfing or chatting on the website. "I have become addicted to speaking with girls whom I don’t know," he said. "We speak about everything… without any taboos." Mourad’s internet girlfriends are of different ages, locations and backgrounds. He has also encountered married women, as well as men who wanted to have relations with him. "What surprised me most is that they spoke frankly with me about their sexual inclinations," he told Magharebia, "including sexual preferences that no one would dare to speak about away from the computer screen".

Journalist Mokhtar Tlili has been monitoring the website since it was launched five years ago. "You find the real images of the Arab and Islamic societies," he said. "You discover people who speak absolutely honestly about issues that are not only rejected in our countries, but also religiously and morally banned; issues that family and friends refuse to accept." Tlili thinks that the internet has forever changed the rules for social contact in the region. "After 14 centuries of a male-dominated system that doesn’t allow any discussion of emotional and sexual issues, the web came to destroy all the taboos and forbidden issues. Our young people are now able to find a confession stand on the web, through which they express all their passionate dreams, as well as their concerns and questions, without fear," Tlili explained. "The web has given the young people of our region an unparalleled opportunity to escape from a reality that judges natural emotional relations on a scale of halal and haram."

He also suggests that speaking so freely about emotional matters may relieve some young people from psychological pressures which can lead to violence: "After someone spends his/her night speaking about love and agitated passions, this will make them more balanced the following morning when they walk in the streets."

[Jamel Arfaoui] For many young people, meeting online is easier than arranging to spend time in person. But this virtual freedom does not come without a need for online anonymity. Fake names and fictionalised biographies are common among the Tunisians who frequent these sites. Some use entertainers’ names such as "Jennifer Lopez" or "Monica Bellucci." Others prefer to go political and choose to be called "Obama" or "Kennedy". Subscribers offer a hint about their personality with usernames such as lalatek (your lady), mughamer" (adventurer), aabera (female passer-by) or haera (bewildered woman). Devout Muslims have also joined the trend. Religious net surfers, such as the Moroccan teacher who introduced himself as "Muslim" or the Tunisian woman with the moniker "mohajaba" (veiled woman), do not hesitate to ask that their partner be devout as well. Men outnumber women 4-1 in chat rooms. Most are in their thirties or forties.

No one seems embarrassed to talk about their sexual preferences, even married men and women looking for casual relationships or girls looking for intimacy with other girls. "All males, with all due respect, please don’t try to contact me," one female user writes on her page. Another post says, "I will reject all men. Therefore, they shouldn’t try to contact me and waste my time." During the week, especially in the morning hours, older people dominate the site. Most of them access the internet from work. It is another story on the weekends, however, when young people make web traffic spike. In "a world where there is no time for meeting or getting to know other people", said Tunisian social worker Mongi Saidani, the younger generation is comfortable pursuing online rendezvous. "Unlike the reality they live in," he said, in the cyber-world, "young men are not required to propose or bear the consequent financial obligations".

The web "protects them against everything, including the taboos that are still prevalent in Arab society,"
Saidani added. Although we are in the 21st century, he noted, speaking about sex is still off-limits in Tunisia and across the Maghreb. Online, he told Magharebia, behind the safety of the computer screen, anything is possible and everyone has a voice.
According to statistics released this year by the Arab League, the percentage of internet penetration is 14.36% in Morocco, 5.62% in Libya, 5.33% in Algeria, 3.46% in Tunisia and 0.47% in Mauritania

August 3, 2008 – Mahgreb News

Tunisia Denies Allegations of Human Rights Abuses

Tunisian Justice Minister Tunisian Bechir Tekkari denounced on Saturday (August 2nd) the recent "false allegations on the human rights record" in the country, local and international press reported. Speaking on the sidelines of the congress of the ruling Democratic Constitutional Rally (RCD), he asserted that Tunisia obeys all international conventions concerning the protection of human rights.

He also denied the existence of secret prisons in the country. On Thursday, the Observatory for the Protection of Defenders of Human Rights condemned the continuing "acts of repression against defenders of human rights in Tunisia".

August 17, 2008 –

Day 9: Tunisian swimmer Mellouli wins Olympic gold

Swimmer Oussama Mellouli made history in Beijing on Sunday by winning Tunisia’s first gold medal in 40 years. Olympic medal aspirations remain alive for some other Maghreb athletes in athletics and boxing events. Mawassi Lahcen in Casablanca, Nazim Fethi in Algiers and Mona Yahia in Tunis contributed to this report – 17/08/08 Tunisian swimming champion Oussama Mellouli kisses the gold medal he won in the 1500m freestyle on Sunday. Tunisian swimmer Oussama Mellouli pulled off an upset victory Sunday (August 17th) to claim the gold medal in the 1500m freestyle Sunday (August 17th) at the Beijing Olympics. With 300m left in the race, the 24-year-old took over the lead from world-record holder and 4-time world champion Grant Hackett to win in 14:40.84. After completing 30 laps, Mellouli’s touched the wall just 0.69 seconds ahead of Hackett, who took the silver medal in 14:41.53. Ryan Cochrane of Canada won the bronze.

"I felt good in the first 400m of this race and at 800m and 900m I started believing that I could win," Mellouli told reporters. Tunisia’s swimming sensation came off an 18-month suspension in May after testing positive for the amphetamine Adderall at a 2006 meet. Mellouli has maintained that the incident was an "honest mistake". "I’ve been waiting for this moment for two years. It’s the redemption I wanted and I got it. This year was difficult because of the [drugs] penalty, but I thank God for the talent I’ve been given," Mellouli said. "In the finals you never know what can happen, you could get last or first. At the Olympic Games anything can happen. It was a miracle and for once the miracle was for me," he added.

Another Tunisian athlete did not fare as well. Habiba Ghribi finished 13th in the women’s 3000m steeplechase Sunday in Beijing, completing the course in 9:36.43 minutes. Russia’s Gulnara Galkina-Samitova scored a new world record of 8:58.81 minutes to take the gold. The ninth day of the Beijing Olympics was also disappointing for Algerians who were relying on success in athletics events. During much of the 42km marathon, Soaud Ait Salem looked promising. He was part of the leading pack until the 35th kilometer, when he fell behind and never regained the ground. He finished 9th with a time of 2:28:29. Antar Zerguelaine and Tarek Boukensa were both eliminated in the semi-final of the 1500m footrace.

In the men’s 10,000m race, Moroccan athletes Abdellah Falil and Mohamed El Hachimi hardly stood a chance because Kenyans, Ethiopians and Eritreans dominated the leading positions. Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele won the gold medal, setting a new Olympic record of 27.01.17. The outlook for Maghreb boxers still looks good. Tunisian flyweight Walid Chérif qualified to the men’s +51 kg quarter-final after crushing his Korean opponent Oksung Lee 11-5 on points. Cherif is due to fight Italy’s Picardi Vincenzo on Wednesday (August 20th). Algerian boxers Abdelkader Chadi (+57 kgs), Benchebla Abdelhafidh (+81 kgs) and Nawfel Ouettah (+91 kgs) are the last Algerians in the running for medals at the games. On Monday, featherweight Chadi will face Turkey’s Yakup Kiliç, super-heavyweight Ouettah will meet Ukraine’s Vyacheslav and light heavyweight Benchebla will fight China’s Xiaoping Zhang.

25 August 2008 –

Tunisians receive Olympic hero Oussama Mellouli

by Mona Yahia for Magharebia in Tunis
Tunisian swimming success Oussama Mellouli returned home a star on Saturday (August 23rd), flying in from Beijing where he won gold in the men’s 1,500m freestyle at the 2008 Olympic Games.
Mellouli, who edged out Australia’s Grant Hackett in the final with a time of 14:40.84 minutes, told the press gathered for his arrival, "I return to Tunisia carrying not just a medal, but a gold medal. It’s the gold medal that all Tunisians have been waiting for. Thank God I did what I’m supposed to do, and even more."

He noted that the win was the fruit of huge efforts and months of endless work before the Olympics. "I have realised the goal I set for myself before the start of these Olympic Games," Mellouli said. "I wanted to prove again that Tunisian sports can shine in major international events." He added that he was prepared to raise the bar and achieve new successes in future world championships and the London 2012 Games.

The swimmer’s father and siblings joined a throng of reporters and officials, including Minister of Sports Abdallah Kaabi, at Carthage International Airport to receive the new champion. They all expressed their happiness for Mellouli and his victory. Bands provided a backdrop of folk music to add to the many posters and banners emblazoned with greetings reading "Welcome Tunisia’s Champion" and "Welcome Gold Hunter." Mellouli said he was touched upon seeing the scale of his reception.

Tunisian National Olympic Committee President Abd Hamid Slama said, "The greatest happiness was when the Tunisian flag was raised and we listened to the Tunisian national anthem being played in the biggest international sports event. We hope that new generations will follow in Mellouli’s footsteps." Outside the airport, hundreds of Tunisians waited, chanting Mellouli’s name and carrying banners decorated with photos of the athlete and Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

They rushed to greet the Tunisian champion, who returned their greetings from inside an open vehicle. Mellouli, wearing the gold medal on his chest and a Tunisian flag over his shoulder, waved signs of victory to the cheering fans. Mohammed Gammoudi, gold medal-winner from the 1968 Games in Mexico City said, "We have been waiting a long time. Now the complex is over. We hope to have more than one Mellouli and more than one Gammoudi in the future."

With great happiness, Tunisian Swimming Federation President Arbi Chanhani said, "Mellouli didn’t just honour Tunisian sports, but all African sports." Many Tunisians also followed the closing ceremony of the Beijing Games on Sunday. "I happened to be in a café by coincidence, and watched the closing ceremony which was truly awesome," said 35-year-old Tunis resident Mourad Zmerli. "Actually, I wish one of the Arab states would host the Olympics and do a good job like China did."

Farid Brinssi told Magharebia he was impressed with the event, which gave viewers a glimpse of Chinese culture and civilisation. "I started following the Olympics when Mellouli won the gold medal," said Mona. "Today, I saw a marvellous ceremony. It seems that the London Olympics will be equally impressive, based on what we saw in the event."

24 December 2008 –

Tunisia seminar targets violence against young female workers

Female factory labourers and household maids face harsh working conditions in Tunisia. Activists and labour union leaders met in Tunis to discuss how to help this threatened segment of the country’s workforce.

by Jamel Arfaoui for Magharebia in Tunis
Women’s rights activists and labour union officials demanded better conditions Saturday (December 20th) in Tunis for young and uneducated female workers who suffer abuse and exploitation at the workplace. The seminar, organised in Tunis by the Association of Tunisian Women for Research and Development (AFTURD), in collaboration with Tanasoff Association and the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT), discussed the economic repercussions of violence targeting young female workers in the greater Tunis region.

Participants addressed the harsh treatment of many female factory workers, who live under the constant threat of getting fired and losing benefits specified in the code of labour in Tunisia. They also addressed violence and poor working conditions for female domestic servants. UGTT official Adnan ben Saleh said that although the Tunisian constitution and the code of labor underline gender equality, females appear to be more vulnerable when it comes to layoffs.

"Women always top the list," he said. "In December alone, all workers in an Italian textile factory operating in Tunisia were laid off. Nearly 80% of the laid off workers were women." Ben Saleh criticized what he said was silence on the part of civil society groups, as well as political parties, about the abuses suffered by working women, who are denied rights ensured by the law.

"Most of them have families to support and so they are in dire need of their salaries," said AFTURD’s Radhia Ouizini, adding that the NGO offers them technical training and legal help through volunteer laywers to defend their rights before courts. Household workers are another group affected by violence in the workplace. A survey conducted by Samira Ayed, sociology professor at the Tunisian University, found that 94% of maids do not have social benefits, as stipulated by the law, and 99% of them do not work under contract.

The study further showed that 52% of the respondents were under the age of 16, 71% of them work year-round with no annual vacation, where as 2% work around the clock. A considerable number of the respondents complained of violence, with 23% mentioning physical violence and 11% sexual violence. The majority are paid wages less than 150 dinars, approximately 100 dinars below the minimum wage. The study used a sample of 130 maids working in greater Tunis. It showed that 88% of the respondents are illiterate.

Social researcher Tahar Chagrouch noted that Tunisian law grants household maids rights which were not honoured by employers or enforced by the authorities. The law stipulates that the minimum age for minor girls to work is 14 years, provided that a proper working environment is offered. Chagrouch criticized an education policy adopted in the 1960s that did not make education compulsory and unfair development initiatives that left certain regions impoverished.

No accurate statistics are currently available on the number of household maids hired across Tunisia. Al Hourria, the ruling party’s newspaper, said in 2006 that the number exceeded 78,000, with only 5% receiving social benefits. The seminar participants proposed that the population census conducted in Tunisia every ten years include questionnaires addressing the situation of household workers in Tunisia, so as to identify their living conditions, demographics and levels of education.

August 12, 2009 – Tunisia On-Line News

“Reject AIDS not HIV Positive Persons” campaign launched in Tunisia

Tunisia On-Line News- During a press luncheon on Tuesday, a campaign on “a genuine call for tolerance and for the rejection of all forms of stigma and discrimination towards people living with HIV”, was launched by the Tunisian Association of Fight against STDs and AIDS (ATL) in collaboration with the United Nations joint programme on HIV / AIDS (UNAIDS), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Fund against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

“Reject AIDS not HIV Positive Persons” campaign launched in Tunisia Dubbed “Reject AIDS not HIV Positive Persons”, the campaign was an opportunity to strengthen participants’ potentials and to explore opportunities for partnership between media and specialized organizations. The campaign also focused on the relationship between human rights and HIV. One of the speakers stressed the importance of highlighting the human rights dimension in all programmes and plans of fight against this infection; “the aim is to ensure the profitability and efficiency of the response”, he said.

The chairman of Tunisian Association of Fight against STDs and AIDS (ATL) said that “the major obstacle to the fight against the spread of HIV is the stigma”, attached to it. In this regard, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV / AIDS (UNAIDS) focused on developing a trilingual glossary of vocabulary to be used to combat any form of stigma. Participants stressed the role of the media in response to HIV. They underlined the positive impact that information can have in changing behaviours, and contributing to the creation of an environment conducive to the prevention of AIDS.

11 September 2009 – Magharebia

Tunisians celebrate engagements and circumcisions during Ramadan
– Tunisians hold engagement and circumcision celebrations to maintain Ramadan traditions passed down to them by their ancestors.

by Mona Yahya for Magharebia in Tunis
In Tunisia, Ramadan is not only a month of prayers and fasting; it is also a time to enjoy traditions, hold parties and exchange gifts.
During this holy month, suitors present their fiancées with many gifts, such as sets of fine crystal, fragrances, clothes or even jewellery. Traditionally, the fiancée collects these items as part of the assortment of belongings she takes along with her after marriage.

"This season is important for Tunisian families," said Beya, 56, a confectioner. "A gift can symbolize good intentions, or a man’s interest in his fiancée. Gifts play a key role in bringing families closer so they get to know one another." Another tradition during Ramadan is to bring the families of the couple closer around the iftar table. In addition, many Tunisians wait until the last 10 days of Ramadan, especially the 27th, which is known as the night of al-Qadr, to announce their engagement.

"It is a blessed night and a good omen for newly-weds," said Suhaila. "That is why many Tunisian families choose this night to hold engagement parties or get-togethers for families to meet and get closer." Religion teacher Selim said that these behaviours are not necessarily religious. "These are traditions that were adopted by Tunisian families long ago, and are linked to the last 10 nights of Ramadan, as they are the time of al-Qadr night."

People prefer to celebrate their happy occasions during these days "in a gesture showing keenness on holding on to that tradition," the teacher added. Another unique al-Qadr night tradition is the circumcision of boys. Celebrating circumcision is not a religious event, but rather an important family gathering, Selim said. "From a religious point of view, circumcision does not need be announced," the teacher stated. "These are just traditions that Islam does not condemn since they do not affect it."

In a unique circumcision-day tradition, boys are dressed in the traditional Tunisian silk jebba and chechia. Families prepare dishes and snacks for the guests. Sometimes they hire bands to play. Store owner Hajj Shazli sells jebba and chechia. He has been in the business since 1946 and says he has noticed an increase in customers around Ramadan. "Customers come from all over the country to buy circumcision and Omra (lesser pilgrimage) outfits, especially during Ramadan," he said. "We are still holding on to our customs and traditions in Tunisia."

Between the feasting, engagement parties and circumcisions, retailers have a very busy month. Merchants in the older markets put their goods on display during Ramadan, and typically sell perfumes, henna, baskets of candies, silverware, and supplies for engagement and circumcision parties. "Despite what some people think," said Nabil, another merchant, "I believe that lately Tunisians have returned to traditional Tunisian clothes, particularly on such special occasions."

2010 June 10 –

Global Peace Index ranks Tunisia 2nd in Africa

Tunisia is the second safest nation in Africa after Botswana, according to the 2010 Global Peace Index released in London this week by the Institute of Economics and Peace, reported on Wednesday (June 9th).

Among Arab states, Tunisia ranked third behind Qatar and Oman. The index uses 24 indicators, including military expenditures, respect for human rights, crime rate and levels of democracy.

June 11, 2010 –

Is Facebook a Refuge for Homosexuals in Tunisia?

Tunisian groups dedicated to homosexuality abound on facebook. And if gay men find refuge in Tunisia in the social network is not quite by chance: Facebook works because actively with the U.S. Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

The gay community seems Tunisian particularly active on Facebook. In countries where homosexuality is considered taboo and a hot topic, the web can defy the bans. Recall that in Tunisia, Article 230 of the Penal Code considers the act of sodomy as wrong. It is even punishable by imprisonment for three years. Also a practice condemned by the Islamic religion. Nevertheless. Young, old, men, women, from all social classes in the Tunisia find themselves on the social network to discuss, and most importantly, build relationships.

Several Tunisian groups openly dedicated to homosexuality abound on Facebook. Groups that bear titles like "Gay Tunisia (754membres)," Gay Tunisian "," I’m gay and I assume Tunisian "… The list is not exhaustive but illustrates the trend. The pages dedicated to lesbians Tunisian social network are just as explicit. The gay community seems to enjoy this virtual space free and open to all for posting ads for naughty rendezvous, exchange of phone numbers, links to specialized blogs, articles …. Some groups have turned into outright dating sites like "Meet gay bi Tunisia" and its some 888 members. Engaging in intimate conversations, sometimes very hot, the members (who come from all regions of Tunisia) take their ease for making contacts.

"Hi everyone I am a young man I want a romantic relationship with a faithful and serious man for a relationship lasting two. I am looking for someone else I do not want a cycle or a bi so if you are this person please leave a message "Some launches LS, did not really scared, go straight into the heart of the matter by referring to clearly their "measurements". Others seek pragmatic "partners in El Menzah, El Manar or Ennasr.

However, comments stigmatizing (and insulting) gays also bloom on these pages. But it’s not really by chance that Facebook, with its 500 million members, is a haven for the gay community in Tunisia. The social network is working, in fact, actively with the U.S. Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), which specializes in defending the rights of homosexuals. In an official note published October 19, 2010, officials point out that Facebook’s first social network in the world is "in touch with organizations that can provide help if you or someone you know is in danger."

22 October 2010 – United Nations OHCHR

Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women concludes forty-seventh session

Committee Adopts Conclusions on the Periodic Reports of Burkina Faso, Czech Republic, Malta, Tunisia and Uganda as well as on an Exceptional Report by India

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this morning concluded its forty-seventh session, adopting concluding observations and recommendations on the periodic reports of Burkina Faso, Czech Republic, Malta, Tunisia and Uganda, which it examined at this session, as well as concluding observations on an exceptional report submitted by India regarding the impact of the Gujarat massacres of 2002 on women. The Committee also adopted a general recommendation on the rights of older women and a general recommendation on Article 2 of the Convention.

The six countries whose reports were examined at the present session are among the 186 States parties to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. In ratifying the Convention, these States commit to submitting regular reports to the Committee on how they are implementing the Convention’s provisions. Following an examination of those reports, in the presence of delegations from the States parties, the Committee adopted, in private session, concluding observations and recommendations for each report, contained in the following documents: for Burkina Faso, CEDAW/C/BFA/CO/6; for the Czech Republic CEDAW/C/CZE/CO/5; for India CEDAW/C/IND/CO/SP.1; for Malta CEDAW/C/MLT/CO/4; for Tunisia CEDAW/C/TUN/CO/6; and for Uganda CEDAW/C/UGA/CO/7. These documents will be available on the Committee’s Web page here

In her closing statement, Zou Xiaoqiao, acting Chairperson of the Committee, said that during this session, the Committee had considered the reports of six States parties and had held informal meetings with entities of the United Nations System, national human rights institutions and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Committee members had also attended several lunchtime briefings organized by non-governmental organizations, and they were very pleased by the high level of attendance of NGOs, which once again made a significant contribution to the work of the Committee. The Committee was thankful to those entities which had provided it with detailed information and encouraged them to deepen their advocacy for the promotion and protection of women’s human rights and the implementation of the Convention.

In addition, the Committee adopted a general recommendation on the rights of older women, a comprehensive interpretation of human rights and States parties’ obligations as they apply in the context of aging. The Committee said it was concerned about the multiple forms of discrimination experienced by older women on the grounds of age and sex which was often a result of unfair resource allocation, maltreatment, neglect and limited access to basic services. The Committee recognized the need for statistical data disaggregated by age and sex as a way to better assess the situation of older women. The Committee also recognized that older women were not a homogeneous group. They had a great diversity of experience, knowledge, ability and skills. Their economic and social situation, however, was dependent on a range of demographic, political, environmental, cultural, employment, individual and family factors. The general recommendation on older women and the recognition of their rights explored the relationship between all the articles of the Convention and ageing. It identified the multiple forms of discrimination that women faced as they aged; outlined the content of the obligations assumed by States as parties to the Convention, from the perspectives of ageing with dignity and older women’s rights; and, included policy recommendations to mainstream the responses to the concerns of older women into national strategies, development initiatives and positive action so that older women could participate fully without discrimination and on the basis of equality with men in the political , social, economic, cultural, civil and any other field in their society.

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