Books | Sex and the Citadel – Reconsidering attitudes towards sexuality in the Arab world

Books | Sex and the Citadel – Reconsidering attitudes towards sexuality in the Arab world

The Middle East is present in media outlets everyday yet, in the West, sexuality in Arab culture is still only tentatively discussed.

The difficult subject matter is made accessible to all readers as Shereen El Feki, a journalist and former medic who has ties to Canada, Wales and Egypt, is able to consider attitudes towards sexuality in Arab culture from a unique perspective. She not only considers the current sexual views and behaviour in the Arab world, and occasionally further afield, but describes the development of sexual ideas over the past century.

El Feki enables readers, unaccustomed to considering this part of Arab culture, to reimagine modern Arab society by drawing on examples from Western social history.

El Feki primarily focusses her discussion and research on Egypt due to her personal connection to the country and her belief that, owing to influences from other Arab countries and the broad range of religion, it is a perfect example of general Arab attitudes. Nevertheless, El Feki draws on research and statistics from across the Arab world, also commenting on the limitations and social implications of government gathered data.

Beyond El Feki’s unique and highly accessible discussion, what makes Sex and the Citadel truly unique and innovative is El Feki’s consideration of how sexuality impacts upon law, politics, economic and religion – and vice versa – on a domestic, national and international scale.

Sex and the Citadel, at times, makes for difficult reading. This has nothing to do with El Feki’s eloquent writing style, but with some of the content matter. The statistics concerning domestic violence, female genital mutilation and sexually transmitted diseases are disturbing, but El Feki perfectly balances the heavy content with anecdotal digressions about chats with her Egyptian friends and even her grandmother on marriage, lingerie and sex toys.

Utimately, Sex and the Citadel not only enables readers to view sexuality from an enlightened and authoritative perspective but prompts questions about our own attitudes towards sexuality and how our societies, regardless of nationality or religion, respond to the wide variety of issues associated with such a diverse subject.

Elinor Cosgrave

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