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Changing sexual mores in the changing Arab world

"Sex and the Citadel," by Shireen El Feki

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Writer, journalist, and broadcaster Shereen El Feki spent five years exploring how the Arab world is changing, but she does it in the context of sex. El Feki felt sexual politics permeated the Arab world and affected its religion, politics, economics and culture. Although she focuses on Egypt, El Feki set out to understand public opinion on sex. She found religious laws that restrict nudity during sex, a Saudi Arabian man who was beaten and imprisoned for speaking about sex publicly, and young women with mutilated genitals to suppress sexual desire.

The public also disapproves of homosexuality and single mothers, and many believe that husbands may beat their wives if they refuse sex. El Feki wrote her new book, “Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World” from her perspective as a Muslim woman with a Western education. In her book, she wanted to give voices to Arab women through interviews with virgins, housewives, and activists, and El Feki hopes that political change will eliminate sexual taboos.

Are these views concerning sex rooted in history, culture, and religion? Do you think there’s the potential of change? And how does the Arab world’s view of sex compare with the Western world?

Shereen El Feki, Author, “Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World;” Journalist; Vice-Chair, United Nations’ Global Commission on HIV & Law; Ph.D. in molecular immunology