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A few hundred metres from the main mosque in the heart of Tunis’s old quarter lies Abdallah Guech Street, a red-light district which has thrived since the 19th century.Here, the Ottomans legalised and regulated prostitution — as they had in much of the rest of the Muslim world.Uniquely, though, in the Arab world, the tradition in Tunisia endured.Every one of the country’s historic quarters boasts bordellos; even, most remarkably, Kairouan, Islam’s fourth holiest city after Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem.In keeping with Tunisia’s deep-rooted secularism and unprecedented championing of Muslim women’s rights, the prostitutes carry cards issued by the Interior Ministry, pay taxes like everyone else and enjoy (along with their clients) the full protection of the law.Or at least they did until last month’s Jasmine Revolution.
Suspected Islamists otherwise preoccupied themselves with slitting the throat of a Polish Catholic priest, which, if confirmed, would be the first such sectarian murder in modern Tunisian history.
And anti-Semitic slogans could be heard outside Tunisia’s main synagogue: this in a country with no history of persecution of its Jewish minority.
When the Tunisian revolution started last month, it was hailed as a template for the rest of the Arab world.
But if revolutions are judged by their outcomes rather than their intentions, then the story of post-revolution Tunisia is equally instructive.
The world’s attention has quickly moved on — to Egypt, Bahrain, Libya or the next theatre of this extraordinary, fast-moving drama.