Tunisia hotel visitors surprised by burkini ban

Some women visiting hotels in Tunisia are critical of policies that ban a type of swimsuit known as a burkini.

The burkini is a garment used for swimming that covers the whole body except for the face, hands and feet. It is worn by some Muslim women who wish to demonstrate modesty. Burkinis are commonly seen on the beaches of Tunisia.

But many large hotels in coastal towns have banned bathing suits from their pools. The policy shows a lasting European influence in the country. It is also proof of the divisions that exist between secular and conservative Tunisians.

On the Tunisiabooking.com site, at least 20 hotels announce that the burkini is prohibited in their hotel, reports the news agency Reuters.

Jannette Mensi recently stayed at the Marriott hotel in the city of Sousse. She said hotel workers told her that because she was wearing a burkini, she had to get out of the main pool and go to another at the back. This pool is usually used by children.

A woman wearing a full burkini swimsuit enjoys the sea at a beach in La Marsa, near Tunis, Tunisia, September 11, 2022. (REUTERS/Jihed Abidellaoui)

She told Reuters that as a Muslim woman she felt the hotel was discriminating against her.

“I respect, I accept next to me a lady in a bikini, or someone who drinks wine… I respect them, they should respect me,” she said.

The Marriott hotel employee did not explain the reasons for the ban. But Mensi has his own theory for politics. “I told them: you are colonized from then until now,” she said.

A Reuters reporter asked Marriott representatives about the incident involving Mensi. A spokesperson for the Sousse Pearl Marriott Resort & Spa has apologized for what happened. The spokesperson said the hotel would begin allowing all adult visitors to use the main pool “in whatever swimsuit they choose”.

The burkini ban in Tunisian hotels dates back to the 2000s and became more common after the 2011 revolution. Around this time, more and more women started wearing the Muslim head covering called hijab. The hijab was banned in the workplace during the 23-year rule of the country’s ousted leader, Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.

A woman, dressed in a full burkini swimsuit, chats with another woman as she stands in the sea at a beach in La Marsa near Tunis, Tunisia, September 11, 2022. (REUTERS/Jihed Abidellaoui)

A woman, dressed in a full burkini swimsuit, chats with another woman as she stands in the sea at a beach in La Marsa near Tunis, Tunisia, September 11, 2022. (REUTERS/Jihed Abidellaoui)

The manager manager of a 4-star hotel in the famous seaside resort of Hammamet spoke to Reuters about the issue. The individual, who did not want to be named, said he banned swimwear in 2008 after complaints visitors.

“The last people I spoke to said it was repugnant swimming in a pool with burkinis on,” the hotel’s general manager told Reuters.

Burkini bans have also been criticized online. In a widely shared TikTok video earlier this year, Emirati influencer Zainab Alsawalhi denounced the burkini-less Movenpick hotel in Sousse for “discrimination and hatred”.

Accor Group, owner of Movenpick, did not respond to questions sent by Reuters seeking a reaction to the critics.

I am Brian Lynn.

Reuters reported this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English.


words in this story

modesty nm be conservative in your dress

secular adj. non-religious or controlled by a religious group

wine nm an alcoholic drink made from grapes

manage v. to do something or manage something successfully

complaint nm a statement that something is wrong or unsatisfactory

repugnant adj. extremely rude


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