SEX AND THE CITADEL by Shereen El Feki
Kirkus Star


Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World
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A daring new study finds the newly liberated Egyptians poised to demand more sexual freedom in the face of religious fundamentalism.

The Arab Spring has brought the Egyptians in particular to the brink of a sexual revolution not unlike the movement that struck the West 40 years ago, writes Economist and Al Jazeera English journalist El Feki, who is trained in molecular immunology and serves as vice chair of the U.N.’s Global Commission on HIV and Law. However, Egypt’s new order maintains a liberal minority and a conservative majority (e.g., the Muslim Brotherhood), and the push back against sexual liberation, especially as demanded by women, is daunting and unsure. El Feki, born in England and raised in Canada by an Egyptian father and Welsh mother, embarks on her subject with healthy doses of humor and irony, offering a selected look at erotic classical Arabic writings that flourished famously during the Abbasid period from the 8th to 10th centuries in Baghdad. Arab culture traditionally celebrated sexuality as compatible with elements of the Islamic faith, but what gradually occurred in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world was that sexuality was equated with the “licentiousness” of the imperialists. The response to colonial occupation meant returning to the basics, to Islamic fundamentalism and the Salafi movement, the latter allowed to emerge openly after the recent Arab Spring. With personal stories bolstered by facts and figures, El Feki looks at the tensions between what is halal (permitted under Islamic law) and haram (forbidden) or zina (downright debauchery). She also discusses sex education, abortion, pornography, homosexuality, and even lingerie and cross-dressing. As a daughter of the region, El Feki is also deeply engaged in and hopeful for greater democratization in personal relations.

A surprisingly open, extremely timely examination of the sexual coming-of-age for Egyptian youth.

Pub Date: March 12th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-307-37739-5
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2012


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