Chatto and Windus £14.99
Review: Sex and the Citadel - Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World, By Shereen El Feki
Love God, love one another
Saturday 09 March 2013
'In the Arab world, sex is the opposite of sport. Everyone talks about football, but hardly anyone plays it. But sex – everyone is doing it, but nobody wants to talk about it." So declares one interviewee at the start of Shereen El Feki's remarkable book. It's a witty encapsulation of the central difficulty that El Feki has faced in chronicling aspects of sex in the Arab world. Yet her persistence pays off, yielding an extraordinary collection of opinions on everything from online flirting to female genital mutilation.
Sex and the Citadel is not, as El Feki – a trained scientist – warns, either peep show or encyclopedia. It owes as much of its zing to Foucault as to fucking. Taking the French philosopher's assertion that sexuality is "an especially dense transfer point for relations of power", El Feki has meticulously analysed what makes Arab society tick. The sexual climate, she declares, "looks a lot like the West on the brink of sexual revolution". Many of the same "underlying forces" are there, not least the struggle toward democracy, and a large youth population with different attitudes from their parents.
Yet El Feki doesn't believe that wide-reaching change is coming soon, nor that the West has got it entirely right. Many pioneers interviewed here seek solutions by re-evaluating Islamic culture. Sources range from 11th-century Islamic sex manuals to individuals such as Heba Kotb, Egypt's famous TV sex therapist. While Kotb may shock conservatives, she declares that not only is sex advised in Islam, but practising it well makes people "more loving to this religion".
This does not deny the damage inflicted by more predominant, repressive interpretations of Islam. El Feki meets women who have undergone genital mutilation; girls who enter prostitution under the guise of "summer marriages"; and gay men who, after being arrested, are sodomised as an unofficial punishment.
What does the future hold? That is difficult to predict. As El Feki asserts, it depends upon a "complex interplay of law, economics, religion, and tradition". Yet Sex in 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.
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
Best underrated Christmas movies from Trading Places to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga