cover image Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in the Arab World

Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in the Arab World

Shereen El Feki. Pantheon, $28.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-307-37739-5

"When it comes to sexuality," El Feki writes, "the Arab world can seem like a citadel." For her assault upon that fortress, she mobilizes medical expertise, reportorial skills, and personal experience as a Cairo-based journalist (currently vice-chair of the U.N.'s Global Commission on HIV and Law) and the daughter of an Egyptian father. It's all here: matchmaking, diverse forms of marriage ("official," "unofficial," "summer"), anal sex, oral sex, sexual positions, sexual dysfunction, impotence, infertility, domestic violence, virginity (testing, proving, losing, restoring), female genital mutilation, abortion, illegitimacy, sex education, prostitution, "legal sex work," and LGBT issues. In linking young Middle Easterners making "rebellion against the head of state and openly defying the heads of their families," she makes a case for "sexuality [as] a mirror of the conditions that led to [the] uprisings." "Not an academic tome, nor a slice of Arab exotica," El Feki warns, as she dips into history (Flaubert's travels, al-Katib's thousand-year-old Encyclopedia of Pleasure), talks with diverse contemporaries (beauty parlor owner, female genital mutilation practitioner, herbalist, sex therapist, lawyer, talk show host), and bits of family history. Though El Feki's breadth and detail is wearying, she delivers a clear wakeup call: "The Arab region began this decade with a political big bang; how that will shape, and in turn be shaped by, sexual life is an open question." Agent: Toby Eady, Toby Eady Associates, U.K. (Jan.)