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Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World

Shereen El Feki

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Published by Chatto & Windus, part of Vintage Publishing

Format: Paperback


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EAN: 9780701183165
Published: 7 Mar 2013


About the book


'Important, brave and necessary' Naomi Wolf

As political change sweeps the streets and squares, parliaments and presidential palaces of the Arab world, Shereen El Feki has been looking at upheaval a little closer to home – in the sexual lives of men and women in Egypt and across the region. The result is an informative, insightful and engaging account of a highly sensitive, and still largely secret, aspect of Arab society.

Sex is entwined in religion and tradition, politics and economics, gender and generations, so it makes the perfect lens for examining the region's complex social landscape. From pregnant virgins to desperate housewives, from fearless activists to religious firebrands, Sex and the Citadel takes a fresh look at the sexual history of the Arab region, and brings new voices to the debate over its future.

This is no peep show or academic treatise. Sex and the Citadel is a highly personal, often humorous, account of one woman’s journey to better understand Arab society at its most intimate, and in the process, better understand her own origins. Rich with five years of groundbreaking research from Egypt to Saudi Arabia, Tunisia to Qatar, Sex and the Citadel gives us unique and timely insight into everyday lives in a part of the world that is changing in front of our very eyes.

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What the critics say

Important, brave and necessary
- Naomi Wolf

Remarkable... Sex and the Citadel should be celebrated - not least for freeing voices silenced by a mixture of taboo and political repression. It provides crucial oxygen for discussions that will need more airing in the long, conflicted years ahead
- Independent on Sunday

Compelling, revelatory... No one can be sure where the Arab awakening will lead now -- towards fiercer sexual controls or a slight relaxing of them. The one thing El Feki is sure of is that there will be no seismic shifts. This will be evolution, not revolution
- Sunday Times (Culture)

- Mail on Sunday

Frequently eye-popping… The stories emphasise just how bewildering the issue of sex has become across the Middle East
- Daily Telegraph

A bold, meticulously researched mini Kinsey Report, rich in anecdote and statistics
- Spectator

A fascinating survey of sex that is rich in detail
- The Economist

Highly researched and refreshingly amusing... an honest appraisal of a culture and religion in turmoil
- Times Literary Supplement

In talking to ordinary people as well as sex therapists and sociologists, El Feki has been able to produce an original portrait of the region’s youth that sheds light on the condition of women, failing education and health systems, and the uses and abuses of religion to reinforce the status quo
- Financial Times

Serious and ground-breaking study of what goes on in bedrooms away from the public turmoil taking place in Egypt. It also reappraises the sexual history of the Arab world
- GQ

Dr El Feki's position as a western-educated female Muslim, both insider and outsider... gives the book an invaluable perspective and a differnet kind of authority
- Observer

This is a principled book, robustly educative and illuminating without consenting to the kind of vacant voyeurism that the intimate life veiled by Islam can provoke in unthinking outsiders
- Times Higher Education Supplement

In her sweeping, finely researched and fascinating book Shereen El Feki spends five years travelling the Arab world asking intimate questions of the most private people on Earth. She speaks to disaffected wives, single mothers, sex workers, agony aunts, Koranic scholars, infertility specialists. Her findings are endlessly intriguing.... Where this book excels is in locating the territory in which traditional morality collides with the encroaching modern world
- The Times

In her sweeping, finely researched and fascinating book Shereen El Feki spends five years travelling the Arab world asking intimate questions of the most private people on Earth... Her findings are endlessly intriguing
- The Times

A brave, constructive and critical book that unites rather than divides, and attempts to understand rather than to compare and contrast
- Literary Review

There are entertaining moments but the lightness sits alongside El Feki’s rigorous probing
- Independent

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 ... 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
- Kirkus Review

At a fragile moment in Arab relations with the modern world, comes this book about Arab sexuality. Told with candour, humanity and a journalist's sharp eye for detail, it offers a rare insight into the secret world of sexual realities in Arab culture. The author finds messages of hope in the religious traditions of privacy and tolerance. As social networks meet traditional beliefs, to read this book is to understand part of the explosive dynamic that is at work amongst a proud people facing the challenges of truth, science and modernity.
- The Hon. Michael Kirbym Commissioner of the UNDP Global Commission on HIV and the Law

This important and moving book is haunted by the power of the citadel, embodying the weight of tradition in Arab societies, but is simultaneously animated by the diverse voices of sexual need, desire, fear and hope. We are taken on a journey through cultures in rapid transition, suddenly illuminated by the Arab spring, where marriage, the family, relations between men and women, men and men and women and women are questioned as never before, and millions seek to reconcile the challenges of modernity with hallowed and respected faith. Despite all the apparently intractable issues, the book suggests that there is no incompatibility between Islam and sexual fulfilllment, as long as Muslims have the opportunity to think and act for themselves. This book is a spur to thinking and an inspiration for action.
- Jeffrey Weeks, OBE, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, London South Bank University

In talking to ordinary people as well as sex therapists and sociologists, El Feki has been able to produce an original portrait of the region’s youth that sheds light on the condition of women, failing education and health systems, and the uses and abuses of religion to reinforce the status quo
- Financial Times

Shereen El Feki has done something important, brave and necessary. By investigating what sexual experiences and values are in the Arab world, rather than projecting views on them ideologically, El Feki insists on our taking seriously and urgently major social issues - from cliterodectomy to adultery in a traditional context to passion itself - that are shrouded in myth, taboo and disinformation. She has done a major service to those who care about feminism in this region, about human rights, about sexuality, and about the human condition
- Naomi Wolf

No one could ever accuse Shereen El Feki of lacking in courage. To spend five years travelling around the Arab world in search of dildos, questioning women about foreplay and anal sex, is not a task many writers would relish. Sex and the Citadel is a bold, meticulously researched mini Kinsey Report, rich in anecdote and statistics.
- Spectator

An engrossing book with a powerful interrogation of intimate relationships and politics in Egypt. El Feki draws a vivid picture of constructions of sexuality in contemporary Egypt with dynamic narratives of Egyptian women about their sexuality, interwoven with stories of the Arab spring and the Egyptian revolution in the background. This book brilliantly exhibits the complex conjunction between contemporary history and personal lives
- Pinar Ilkkaracan, Bosphorus University, Istanbul, Co-founder, The Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies Editor, Women and Sexuality in Muslim Societies and Deconstructing Sexuality in the Middle East Winner, 2007 Gruber Prize for Women's Rights

Shereen El Feki's book is important and timely. As we watch the unfolding of the Arab Spring she takes us into the heart of some of the toughest debates confronting people across the Arab world, in particular how to reconcile religious teachings with personal emotions and relationships. In debates that too often are marked by prejudice, ignorance and preconceptions she sheds light on a range of issues that are simultaneously personal and deeply political. Neither religious zealots nor Islamaphobes will like this book, but most of us will read it with gratitude for her clear headed insights and exposition.
- Dennis Altman AM, author of Global Sex, Professor of Politics and Director Institute for Human Security, LaTrobe University

All communities have to confront issues of sex on a daily basis. Sex and the Citadel captures the vibrancy of contemporary issues being faced by those living in Muslim societies today. The author brings to life through a wide range of individuals their hopes, fears and challenges of dealing with sex, love and relationships. There is much to learn for both Muslims and non-Muslims. Society and culture can so often dictate behaviour that is at odds with historic religious teachings. This book helps those interested in exploring how views on contemporary life are so varied across different Muslim communities.
- Tewodros Melesse. Director-General International Planned Parenthood Federation

Mandatory reading for anyone seeking to truly know the Middle East, Sex and the Citadel should knock the doors off assumptions held dear by so many Westerners
- Booklist (starred review)

Conversational yet informed, witty yet without succumbing to frivolity
- Boston Globe

She is frank, nonjudgmental and unsentimental, eschewing the kind of stagey shockability that might have tempted a lesser writer when dealing with topics as unsavoury as female genital mutilation or domestic violence.
- San Francisco Chronicle

[A] compelling, revelatory book
- Sunday Times

There are entertaining moments…but this does not detract from the seriousness of El Feki’s purpose
- Independent

A broad study yet necessarily intimate too
- Glasgow Sunday Herald

This is a brilliant study of sex in the Arab world
- Evening Standard

[A] bold sociological study of sexual attitudes in the Middle East
- Sunday Telegraph

El Feki unravels the history extremely well
- Scotsman

[A] brave book
- Guardian

About the Author

Shereen El Feki is a writer, broadcaster, and academic who started her professional life in medical science before going on to become an award-winning journalist with The Economist and a presenter with Al Jazeera English. She is former vice-chair of the UN's Global Commission on HIV and the Law, as well as a TED Global Fellow. Shereen writes for a number of publications, among them the Huffington Post. With roots in Egypt and Wales, Shereen grew up in Canada; she now divides her time between London and Cairo.

Shereen El Feki

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