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Abderrazak Boukebba. Date of publication: 6 January, The Algerian city of Constantine, known for its beautiful bridges and old markets is often referred to as the capital of Algeria's east. The city attracts scores of Algerian and foreign visitors every year who visit the magnificent bridges or the specialty market streets tucked in the old city. However, the city has a unique feature: Rahbat al-Jammal, a street at the heart of the old town that is possibly the only street in Algeria and perhaps even the Arab world where women are strictly forbidden from entering.
Rahbat al-Jammal was constructed during Ottoman rule in Algeria and contained various rest stops or khans that housed travellers and their horses and camels. The New Arab visited the street to better understand the strange prohibition against women's entry and to see what locals thought of this unwritten rule. As we walked towards the entrance of the street, we knew we had to bid farewell to the women who had accompanied us thus far from the city's nearby playhouse, while people watched intently to see whether the women would dare enter.
Upon entering the street, we asked a young bookseller what would have happened if our female companions had ventured into the street with us. Many of the shops on the street have existed for a century. An old man named Murad runs one of those shops. I grew up knowing that women are not allowed into the street," Murad told The New Arab. We asked many people in Rahbat al-Jammal why women were not allowed and they all gave us the same answer that was repeated by Murad.
The street's brothels continued to operate for two decades after Algeria's independence from the French in , however the ban on women's entry to the street remained in place and became a social custom in Constantine. Murad showed us the only passage through the area that women allowed to pass through to reach the residential neighbourhoods that surround Rahbat al-Jammal.
While there, The New Arab ran into Sabrina, a political sciences student at Constantine's main university who had walked through Rahbat al-Jammal a few years ago. I've walked through this passage since I was a little girl and I would always glimpse the street and smell the various aromas emanating from it," Sabrina told The New Arab. I dressed like a man and walked through without being noticed. It was a great experience," she added.