Sex and the Citadel by Shereen El Feki

5191DGfgkML._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Hello February reading slump.

Sometimes I can’t focus on any story I pick up and when that happens its best to turn to non-fiction. This is one I’ve had on my shelf for a while and it certainly told me a lot of things I had no idea about.

Sex and the Citadel sounds like quite a provocative title and when the book started with the author showing a room full of Egyptian housewives vibrators from the West I didn’t have very high hopes about the rest of it but fortunately I was proved wrong. Dr El Feki asks whether the Arab Spring will spur a sexual revolution and covers a range of topics from sexual freedom, single mothers, abortion, sex work, queerness… The Middle East covered in this book, as explained in the books prologue, covers countries from Tunisia to Pakistan but the star of the book is Egypt and the landmark uprising in Tahrir Square:

The achievement of Tahrir Square wasn’t just its grand political movement but the tiny personal battles fought and won against the frictions wearing down Egyptian society: between religions, classes, sexes, and generations.

This book is written by a scientist and the tone varies from informative, chatty, with a thread of humour and irony thorough it. Dr El Feki illustrates the horrific affect that hypocrisy in Muslim nations can bring from sexual tourism, families who pimp out their own daughters, the unequal attitudes to sex before marriage between men and women and the overall tool the patriarchy is for suppressing a nation from head of the family downwards. In contrast to this modern conservatism are quotes from the Quran, Islamic sex manuals from the 11th century and historical sources from a decadent and sensual Cairo. The structure of the book can be a bit disjointed and clumsy but I still recommend this as a very important piece of work.

This book is quite depressing to read. Maybe if I came from a completely detached point of view I could be objective about the analysis of sex across the Middle East but I have come across a lot of these frustrating views and traditions in real life although thankfully in very small doses.