Non-fiction Sex and the Citadel | Book Review Roundup | The Omnivore

Published on January 17th, 2013


Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World by Shereen El Feki

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Blurb: If you really want to know a people, start by looking inside their bedrooms… 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.

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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 gives us unique and timely insight into everyday lives in a part of the world that is changing in front of our very eyes.

(Vintage, 2013)

Janice Turner, The Times 

“[A] sweeping, finely researched and fascinating book … Her findings are endlessly intriguing … Where this book excels is in locating the territory in which traditional morality collides with the encroaching modern world.”

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Jenni Russell, The Sunday Times 

“[A] compelling, revelatory book … As a Welsh-Egyptian Muslim brought up in Canada, El Feki has both a fierce attachment to her religion and a belief in the importance of good sex lives.”

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Caroline Moorehead, The Spectator 

“… a bold, meticulously researched mini Kinsey Report, rich in anecdote … Sex and the Citadel abounds with statistics of every kind, many of them surprising – can it really be true that 70 per cent of Cairene women suffer from some kind of sexual dysfunction? Or that 90 per cent of Egyptians under the age of 50 still undergo circumcision? — but the fuller picture, El Feki concludes, is encouraging.”

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Richard Davenport-Hines, The Sunday Telegraph 

“Sex and the Citadel is full of dismal and upsetting stories of inhumanity and ignorance. It will appal, sadden and anger Western readers. Yet although the Muslim Brotherhood (now politically ascendant in Egypt) is sexually ultraconservative, El Feki is a cautious optimist who believes that fairness will yet triumph.”

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Faramerz Dabhoiwala, The Guardian 

“El Feki suggests that the problem is “not Islam but Muslims”. She goes out of her way to stress the spread of clerical opinion on everything from masturbation, to “hymen repair”, to anal sex within marriage. Yet she sidesteps the more basic fact that as long as the words of the Qur’an and its prophet are treated as infallible, and their exegesis by male clerics remains the ultimate authority in sexual affairs, there can be no proper individual sexual freedom.”

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