Sex and the Citadel by Shereen El Feki

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“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, she 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, author of The Beauty Myth

As political change sweeps the streets and squares, the parliaments and presidential palaces of the Arab world, Shereen El Feki has been looking at an 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, tradition, politics, economics, and culture, so it is the perfect lens through which to examine the complex social landscape of the Arab world. From pregnant virgins to desperate housewives, from fearless activists to religious firebrands, from sex work to same-sex relations, Sex and the Citadel takes a fresh look at the sexual history of the region and brings new voices to the debate over its future.

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


“El Feki has spent four years investigating an intriguing and potentially explosive subject: changing sexual attitudes and behavior in the Arab world. . . . A thoughtful study not to be treated as titillation.”—Library Journal

“A clear wakeup call.”—Publishers Weekly

“El Feki, with familial roots deep in Egypt, delves into a sensitive, rarely addressed topic in this tour de force on Arab life. . . . 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

Sex and the Citadel captures the vibrancy of contemporary issues being faced by those living in Muslim societies today. El Feki brings to life the hopes, fears, and challenges of a wide range of individuals as they deal with sex, love, and relationships. There is much here to learn for both Muslims and non-Muslims. This book explores how views on contemporary life vary across different Muslim communities.” —Tewodros Melesse, director-general, International Planned Parenthood Federation

“A daring new study. El Feki embarks on her subject with healthy doses of humor and irony. She 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. A surprisingly open, extremely timely examination of the sexual coming-of-age for Egyptian youth.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“An engrossing book with a powerful interrogation of intimate relationships and politics in Egypt. Sex and the Citadel brilliantly explores the complex conjunction between contemporary history and personal lives.”—Pinar Ilkkaracan, co-founder, Women for Women’s Human Rights (WWHR), and the International Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies (CSBR)

“Ambitiously broad in its scope…A timely, thought provoking, and highly readable study.”—New York Journal of Books

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 for The Economist and a presenter at Al Jazeera English. She is former vice-chair of the U.N.’s Global Commission on HIV and Law, and a TED Global Fellow. She divides her time between London and Cairo.

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