Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World (英語) ハードカバー – 2013/3/12
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**Kirkus Best Books of the Year (2013)**
If you really want to know a people, start by looking inside their bedrooms.
As political change sweeps the streets and squares, the parliaments and presidential palaces of the Arab world, Shereen El Feki has been looking at an 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.
Sex is entwined in religion, tradition, politics, economics, and culture, so it is the perfect lens through which to examine the complex social landscape of the Arab world. From pregnant virgins to desperate housewives, from fearless activists to religious firebrands, from sex work to same-sex relations, Sex and the Citadel takes a fresh look at the sexual history of the region and brings new voices to the debate over its future.
This is no peep show or academic treatise but a highly personal and often humorous account of one woman’s journey to better understand Arab society at its most intimate and, in the process, to better understand her own origins. Rich with five years of groundbreaking research, Sex and the Citadel gives us a unique and timely understanding of everyday lives in a part of the world that is changing before our eyes.
**Kirkus Best Books of the Year (2013)**
“El Feki has spent four years investigating an intriguing and potentially explosive subject: changing sexual attitudes and behavior in the Arab world. . . . A thoughtful study not to be treated as titillation.” —Library Journal
“A clear wakeup call.”
“El Feki, with familial roots deep in Egypt, delves into a sensitive, rarely addressed topic in this tour de force on Arab life. . . . Mandatory reading for anyone seeking to truly know the Middle East, Sex and the Citadel should knock the doors off assumptions held dear by so many Westerners.”
—Booklist, starred review
“Shereen El Feki has done something important, brave, and necessary. By investigating what sexual experiences and values are in the Arab world, rather than projecting views on them ideologically, she insists on our taking seriously and urgently major social issues—from cliterodectomy to adultery in a traditional context to passion itself—that are shrouded in myth, taboo, and disinformation. She has done a major service to those who care about feminism in this region, about human rights, about sexuality, and about the human condition.”
—Naomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth
“Sex and the Citadel captures the vibrancy of contemporary issues being faced by those living in Muslim societies today. El Feki brings to life the hopes, fears, and challenges of a wide range of individuals as they deal with sex, love, and relationships. There is much here to learn for both Muslims and non-Muslims. This book explores how views on contemporary life vary across different Muslim communities.”
—Tewodros Melesse, director-general, International Planned Parenthood Federation
“A daring new study. El Feki embarks on her subject with healthy doses of humor and irony. She looks at the tensions between what is halal (permitted under Islamic law) and haram (forbidden) or zina (downright debauchery). She also discusses sex education, abortion, pornography, homosexuality, and even lingerie and cross-dressing. A surprisingly open, extremely timely examination of the sexual coming-of-age for Egyptian youth.”
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“An engrossing book with a powerful interrogation of intimate relationships and politics in Egypt. Sex and the Citadel brilliantly explores the complex conjunction between contemporary history and personal lives.”
—Pinar Ilkkaracan, co-founder, Women for Women's Human Rights (WWHR), and the International Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies (CSBR)
“Ambitiously broad in its scope…A timely, thought provoking, and highly readable study.” –New York Journal of Books
“Cheekily titled, eminently readable…While her subject is titillating, her treatment of it is not: A former vice chair of the U.N.'s Global Commission on HIV and Law, she is frank, nonjudgmental and unsentimental, eschewing the kind of stagey shockability that might have tempted a lesser writer when dealing with topics as unsavory as female genital mutilation or domestic violence…intriguing.” –San Francisco Chronicle
“Conversational yet informed, witty without succumbing to frivolity, and buttressed every so often by statistical findings, Sex and the Citadel emerges from a five-year, somewhat desultory investigation of sexual mores in a region undergoing political transformation...She brings to her subject an indignant sensibility recalling in some ways that of the social revolutionaries.” –Boston Globe
“Once inside the book, you’ll still find plenty of humor, but it’s harnessed to an impressively researched work of sociology. El Feki, a scientist, journalist, and academic, has traveled far and delved deep through the Arab world for half a decade trying to get a handle on the customs, laws, attitudes, hang-ups, and religious dicta that shape the sex lives of the region in general, and Egypt and Cairo in particular. Through this understanding, she intends to shine a broad light on what makes the region tick, politically and socially…It’s a serious topic, and El Feki has done a gargantuan and gutsy job of research. She treats her subject with respect but also with a lively irreverence, which is the appropriate tone for a book about sexual customs and foibles. Toward the end, as she becomes increasingly intent on shoring up her thesis, the book grows more serious and loses a bit of the light touch that makes the bulk of it so readable. But she’s fearless, calling a spade a spade and wading into neighborhoods, both physical and topical, where angels might well fear to tread.” –Santa Fe New Mexican
“Will the Arab spring precipitate a sexual as well as a political revolution? It is an intriguing question, which the award-winning Cairo-based journalist Shereen El Feki explores in this account of a highly sensitive and still mainly hidden facet of the Arab world...Dr. El Feki's position as a western-educated female Muslim, both insider and outsider (she grew up in Canada, the daughter of an Egyptian father and Welsh mother), gives the book an invaluable perspective.” –Guardian
“A fascinating survey of sex that is rich in detail…Understanding the attitudes and practices of Egyptians when it comes to sex is intriguing in itself. But Ms. El Feki also uses sex as a means to understand better a country and society that has been rocked by revolution.” –The Economist
“Fascinating.” –The Globe and Mail
“Sex and the Citadel is a bold, meticulously researched mini Kinsey Report, rich in anecdote and statistics.” –The Spectator
“The frisky title of Shereen El Feki’s book, with its allusion to Candace Bushnell and Sarah Jessica Parker, is a measure of what you get. El Feki is an immunologist turned Economist journalist specialising in health issues. She is also an English-language presenter for Al Jazeera, and a member of the United Nations Global Commission on HIV and the Law...As one would expect from this background, she has broad sympathies. She also has a bold, punchy way of expressing herself.” –Telegraph
“This survey of sexual habits across the Arab world is as serious-minded as it is entertaining.”—The Independent
“A cogent account of sexual liberty in the Arab world.”—The Sunday Telegraph
“But in talking to ordinary people as well as sex therapists and sociologists, El Feki has been able to produce an original portrait of the region’s youth.” –Financial Times
“Sex and the Citadel is a fascinating exploration of sexual culture, based on a well-balanced mixture of history, statistical information gleaned from the few surveys conducted by various NGOs, and first-hand interviews, which in many cases show that the official studies have barely scratched the surface.”—Daily Star Lebanon
“This is a principled book, robustly educative and illuminating without consenting to the kind of vacant voyeurism that the intimate life veiled by Islam can provoke in unthinking outsiders.”—Times Higher Education Supplement, Book of the Week
“Combining thorough reportage and sure-handed critical views, El Feki excels at sketching primary themes in images that stick…a supremely eye-opening book.”—The Chronicle of Higher Education
I would recommend this book for the curious and for anyone who enjoys reading about sexuality.
As usual with our book choices, there were a variety of reactions, which is part of the richness of being in a book group.
My own reaction? I liked the mix of facts, anecdotes from individuals, and analysis. I'm amazed at what she was able to uncover in these closed societies, and her looks back at a dramatically different past. The book was far more than I expected. I was particularly surprised and interested in the political aspects - the reverberations of colonialism and backlash against the perception of the "West" and "western" ideas. Lots to think about in this book, especially if one cares about the rights of women and those who are LGBT.
First introducing the topic's touchy context to us in a way we can easily appreciate, she then discusses the problematic facets of intimate life in the Arab world - at once framing her findings and arguments in terms of colonialism, inferiority complexes, societal pressures, poverty, virginity, homosexuality, and marriage.
I appreciate El Feki not only for bringing this book to us in a critical time, but for providing a clear, necessary voice to navigate the tangled terrain of the Arab world. I bought this book before heading to Beirut for the summer and read it while sitting on my balcony in rural Lebanon. As a Lebanese-American living in the midst of "a changing Arab world," I found El Feki's work to be spot on - both accurate and precise - sound, well-researched, and presented with delicacy and respect.
The author is a brave and brilliant woman, and I am so happy to have found this book. El Feki - from Beirut with love - THANK you for writing this! Please write more; you have a new lifetime fan!
The writing is witty, and I am sure once you've read it, you will join the ranks of those who want to have met the grandmother, whose frank remarks make you both laugh and cringe.
1. These chapters are fabulously long. The longest one is 62 pages. The book would have been fine if it were broken up into a smaller number of chapters.
2. It might have been better if the book spent one chapter on some selected sample of countries. (We know that there should not be much difference between Saudi and Yemen. And the UAE might be different to Egypt, since 83% of the population of the former is foreign.) Each of these representative countries could have had a few subsections. (Marriages. Prostitution. Gay Scene. Current trends. HIV rates.) It's not that the book needed to be turned into an epidemiological study, nor a textbook. But some type of consistency would have been nice for purposes of cross comparison. For instance: Egypt is mostly Sunni. How might this notion of temporary marriage work in a majority Shia country? (Iraq. Bahrain.)
3. This book spent a lot of time around Egypt. Egypt is not the same thing as Yemen and Saudi. If someone didn't know that, they would run the risk of making a fallacy of composition type mistake.
4. The number of words in this tome (vasta mole superbus) could have been cut in half, with no diminution.
5. A glossary would have been nice.
What did we learn? Not really all that much for the sheer volume of words.
1. The Arabs *really* like butt-sex. A LOT. Anal sex seems to come up every fifth page or so in this book.
2. There are many different types of marriage. Real marriage. Beard marriages (a gay man marries a woman). Marriages that are entered into for a fixed duration in order to get around prostitution restrictions.
3. The Arab men like to use their fists on their women. (We already knew this, but this author took the trouble to document it.)
4. A lot of marriages are between first cousins. (Gross.)
5. There are a lot of things that you can find anywhere else in the world in the Arab world. (At least in Egypt.) Guys on the Down Low. Men that are bored with their wives and seek external release. Gay conversion therapy.
A lot of this stuff strains credulity
1. The Arab world used to be a den of iniquity, but then when Islam came the transformation from libertine to prig was 100% complete.
2. Egypt is representative of the rest of the Arab world. The author cites the International Sex Guide in this book. And if you look at the Middle East/ North Africa, you will find that there are some places with a reasonable Pay for Play scene (Egypt/UAE) and there are other places that are a desert in the sexual sense of the word (Yemen).
Verdict. This book is worth about $1 to me, and not much more.