Potency pill has Middle Eastern men dreaming of 1,001 nights

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The Independent Online
IN Saudi Arabia, it's selling on the black market for pounds 50 a pill. In Egypt, it's banned, but costs pounds 25 a pill under the counter. In Lebanon, no man would even dream of suggesting he needed it - which is just as well because the government refuses to import the drug until it has conducted tests. But Viagra has arrived in the Middle East.

In the Arab world, male potency is not a subject you discuss over the dinner table - or anywhere else - because many men appear to be obsessed with the subject. The production of children is regarded as proof of manhood.

A married man without children is constantly and publicly asked - to the point of harassment - why he has no offspring. So is it any surprise that dreams of male virility are now running amok in the region?

Egyptian chemists claim privately that they have been overwhelmed with requests for Viagra; which is one reason why the Cairo police and health ministry officials have been raiding pharmacies in the capital to hunt for the black market drugs.

According to Gamila Moussa, Egypt's deputy health minister, the Pfizer company has applied for permission to sell the pills in Egypt: "But the drug is illegal and we want to test and try it before we allow it in our market."

Already, three Egyptians have been taken ill after using Viagra, which the health ministry at first claimed the country's highly productive male population did not need.

A spokesman said the government "had taken account of the fact that the nature of the Egyptian man was different to that of an American". None the less 60 married men have voluntarily agreed to take Viagra, a step which was greeted by two of Egypt's best-known humorists, Ahmed Ragab and Mustafa Hussein in the daily Al-Akhbar, with a plea for government subsidised contraceptives to offset the effects of the magical blue pill.

In the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mahmoud Khalifa, an official in the department of Islamic affairs, has announced that a married man may be permitted to use the drug with his wife but it would be banned for unmarried men, as it "provokes vice".

But Dubai pharmacies are being inundated with telephone calls for the drug; one man in his seventies offered pounds 94 for a single Viagra pill.

In Saudi Arabia, a single pill is selling for pounds 33 under the counter in Jeddah, but pounds 80 in Riyadh. What that says about the virility of Jeddah men remains to be seen.

In Yemen, there is talk of Viagra replacing the lethargic effects of qat, the nationally famous drug without which no holiday is complete (its principal effect on the user is to make him fall asleep - the very opposite of Viagra's purpose).

Women, too, have been telephoning chemists in the Arab world, demanding to know if they have stocks of the pill.

In Lebanon, there hasn't been a male potency drug around since the civil war - when armed men would regularly shoot at migrating storks. Boiled down, it was claimed, the beaks could be consumed, transforming the gunman's sex life. If Viagra really hits town, there are likely to be a lot more storks flying over the Middle East.

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