Friday Reads: Sex and the Citadel by Shereen El Feki

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Every Friday I will be recommending a work of fiction or non-fiction written by a woman who has influenced and shaped my intersectional feminist perspective, with special emphasis on women of colour, women in translation, LGBTQIA women and women of different religions.

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Sex and the Citadel

‘If you really want to know a people, start by looking in their bedrooms’.

I was actually about to recommend another book for this week’s Friday Reads but I was reminded of the wonderful book pictured above by Stance Podcast (their latest episode, ‘Coming of Age’, which came out on 1st August, features an interview with the author, Shereen El Feki). A few years ago, when I first moved abroad to Hong Kong, I attended the Hong Kong International Literary Festival where Shereen El Feki happened to be one of the guest speakers there. Promoting her newest book, which was published the previous year in 2013, Sex and the Citadel: Intimate life in a changing Arab world is the result of five years of research into the sexual attitudes of women and men throughout the Arab world.

Still a very hidden and taboo subject, sexual politics is at the forefront of Cairo-based journalist, Shereen El Feki’s book, Sex and the Citadel. Through statistics (which can be hard to come by), interviews, opinion polls and her own personal reminiscences, El Feki explores the question of whether the Arab Spring of 2010 will precipitate a sexual, as well as a political, revolution or ‘re-evaluation’. Covering topics as wide-ranging as female genital mutilation, particularly in Egypt, to homosexuality, forced marriages, domestic violence, abortion and prostitution, Sex and the Citadel attempts to give a voice to everyday citizens and those who are putting the work in to make the Arab world a safer, healthier and more progressive place for women and those who don’t follow societal norms. Focussing more on what individuals and organisations are doing to align their religious and cultural values with a safer and more inclusive society, El Feki lends a hopeful and optimistic air to her exploration of sex in the Arab world.

Shereen El Feki

A journalist, author and activist, Shereen El Feki was born in Britain to a Welsh mother and Egyptian father. She was brought up in Canada, regularly spending time in Egypt to visit her paternal grandmother. After the September 11 terror attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York, El Feki started to learn Arabic and focussed her attentions on emancipation and women’s sexuality. From 2010-2012 El Feki was the vice-chairwoman of the United Nations’ Global Commission on HIV and the Law. Occupying a unique space as both outsider – having grown up in the west – and insider, El Feki focusses more on what people on the ground are doing right to fight against sexual oppression in the Arab world, rather than on what is wrong. She recognises that the sexual revolution of the west was not perfect and may not help the situation in the Middle East and North Africa.

Here is a brilliant TED talk by Shereen El Feki from 2014: A little-told tale of sex and sensuality, and Stance’s most recent episode, Coming of Age, which includes an interview by El Feki on her book, Sex and the Citadel.

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